Shock Totem #10 (Jan 2016)
- Closing for Submissions
- Shock Totem Returns!
- Apex Publications Acquires Shock Totem Book Line
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 8
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 7
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 6
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 5
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 4
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 3
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 2
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Author Archives: Amber Cash
John Kenneth Muir’s breakdown of the horror fiction genre in his book Horror Films FAQ proves to be a delightful addition to anyone who loves a good, scary movie. Referenced in the book are typical horror staples such as The Exorcist and Psycho, but Muir is not content to only point to the canon of Hollywood classics. Instead, Muir expands his scope to include films that, while under the radar of mainstream Hollywood, helped to establish periods in the genre and pushed films to new and groundbreaking cinematography.
In addition to breakdowns of the movies that helped to shape the growing culture of horror, Muir explores monsters that have made it into the common realm of consciousness, such as the vampire, werewolf, mummy, and reanimated man (re: Frankenstein’s monster), and why the genre has persisted. The work is a dense text, rife with information on the different types of films, how the films evolved, and how the genre as a whole has expanded. Muir puts his considerable movie knowledge to use in the construction of this book, referencing films as early as expressionist “shudder films” through to the sub-genre of “torture porn” which have become prevalent.
The book is set up as a series of expanded lists ranging from directors, characters, and types of horror movies, and prepares the reader for what to find in the rest of the material. Muir pulls together his knowledge of the genre with an expert eye for what constitutes “good” horror movies, constructing a broad and in-depth reference text. Muir makes good use of the sections to explain how the genre has transformed due to a number of factors, not the least of them Americans and their ever-shifting fear mentality. One of the best things about this book is the early breakdown of films by decades, to showcase the way in which media and fear have changed over time to create the scare-and-shock culture of the horror movie today.
The amount of information in Horror Film FAQ can’t be overstated. Muir has compiled dozens of pieces showcasing the best of each sub-genre, and has broken the book down to reflect such. Each section serves as an explanative dictating the way in which the film impacted the horror community, the director’s evolution, and the shifting consciousness that propels the genre forward. The wealth of information and Muir’s keen insight provide both an explanation of the films as well as a great dissection of what actually makes the movie scary. It doesn’t at all hurt that Muir has an entire section devoted specifically to Stephen King films, either.
Muir’s book is dense and vivid, but one thing seasoned horror fans may notice is the very lacking section on both zombies and television. Aside from White Zombie, I Walked With A Zombie, and The Serpent and the Rainbow, the collective of zombie films referenced is fairly limited in scope, with heavy reliance on the Romero film culture of zombies, including Romero’s last (and arguably worst piece) Survival of the Dead. The section on horror television is also sparse, addressing new favorites such as The Walking Dead and old classics like Twin Peaks. But, there are no references to groundbreaking horror series such as Tales from the Crypt, Dark Shadows, or The Outer Limits, though there is a beautiful treatment of The Twilight Zone included.
Beyond the first glance, this book serves as a great beginners text for not only knowing which movies to see, but also for people seeking to have a deeper understanding of the genre. It provides a core understanding for the evolution of the horror movie, and its gradual turn from films bent on simply spooking an audience, to films that are as effective as they are emotive, introspective, and, in some cases (especially in the new day and age of “torture porn,”) disturbing. John Kenneth Muir puts to use an expert wealth of knowledge and keen introspection to render a reference book that would be a welcome addition to any collection.
Arguably the scariest offering from the 1960’s, George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is more than the average zombie flick. For starters, it is the original zombie movie, and its original incarnation has served as inspiration for the myriad of humans-eating-humans in media for the last decade, most notably with television/graphic novel series The Walking Dead. In fact, at New York Comic Con in 2012, the creator of the series said his show was to Romero “What Fifty Shades of Grey is to Twilight.” Epic fan fiction. Even Roger Ebert, a budding critic for the Chicago Sun-Times regarded the film as “…something else.” At the time there was no rating system, and often children would show for the monster movies. No one expected the Romero film to elicit such a visceral reaction.
Though Romero’s zombies were the stuff of nightmares, the film has a very political and social focal point. It plays on many of the themes from the 1960’s—a time of civil unrest and dissension among the masses, and was one of the first horror films to feature an African American lead. Much of the dialogue from the film was ad-libbed, and though there was a script, it was Romero’s intention to capture as much surprise and candor from the actors, often telling them to “explain” a situation with no further notes than that. In many of these cases, there were only one or two takes before Romero moved on.
In a time when cinematography and film were in their prepubescent age, Romero brought a very new—and very dark—insight into what a horror film could be, and how it could touch upon the nerves of an already turbid and volatile apex in a societal realm. Though initially intended to be a dull-witted truck driver, the character of Ben was restructured by the actor Duane Jones. Jones, well-educated and mannerly, decided that if he were to play the character, the character should also be a reflection of the kind of people he knew. He once said he feared that if Ben appeared a lack-wit, that the audience would have a hard time liking him as a hero and respecting him as a leader.
The grainy black and white of 60’s era cinematography adds an additional haunting aspect to the film, the focal point of the movie is not the monsters themselves, nor the fear of them. The true core of the film is the fear of the unknown. In a world where the dead stalk the earth, they are a known fear. But the unknown fear of other people is in finding that, when faced with our own mortality, most people become monsters and would commit horrifying acts to save their own lives or the lives of their loved ones, and the moral codes that act as a cornerstone of our society and civility dissolve in that. The film seeks to explore what constitutes “moral” and “immoral” in a world verging on apocalyptic chaos.
As a movie, the acting is brilliant and the film itself pits strangers in a truly life or death situation to determine what manifests “good.” In a world where the dead come back to life as shambling monsters of their former selves, Romero executes a level of fear—not only from the dead rising, but from those of the living—rendering seven strangers struggling to survive in a world of the sick, the dying, and the dead, proving that the scariest monsters are not creatures of the imagination, but rather are people caught between the fear of death and the fear of the unknown.