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Monsters in the Movies

When I was a kid, I loved monster movies. Every Sunday morning, a local TV station would show Abbott & Costello movies, all of which I loved, but my favorites were always the ones with monsters in them: Hold That Ghost, Abbott and Costello Meet FrankensteinAbbott and Costello Meet the Invisible ManAbbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy. I have fond memories of birthday parties spent renting monster movies on 8mm film from the library: Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, Gamera, Rodan, King Kong, Mighty Joe Young, The Mummy. And equally fond memories of Saturday afternoon monster movies on TV (they always seemed to be showing monster movies back then, didn’t they?) including one showing of The Creature from the Black Lagoon that sent me and a friend to the basement during a commercial break to find weapons with which to fight the creature ourselves. And what makes the Harryhausen Sinbad movies one of my favorite cinematic series of all time? It ain’t the writing or the acting, it’s the giant cyclops, the skeleton warrior, the sword-brandishing demons, the dragons and griffins and centaurs. It’s the monsters.

Now that I’m an adult, guess what? I still love monsters. So when I saw that John Landis had written a coffee table book called Monsters in the Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares, I simply had to get a copy. Not only was I not disappointed by what I discovered in its pages, but the monster-loving kid who’s still alive and well inside me was jumping for freaking joy.

Filled with hundreds of black-and-white and color photographs, mostly from the Kobal Collection, Monsters in the Movies is a stunning and lavish tribute to my favorite branch of cinema. There’s a short introduction to each of the book’s parts–Vampires, Werewolves, Mad Scientists, Monstrous Apes, etc.–but the bulk of Landis’ writing is in the photo captions. And they’re not just dry who, what, and when captions, either. Often, Landis’ own personality and opinions come through loud and clear, too. You can almost hear his voice when he says things like, in reference to 1986’s awful Maximum Overdrive, “King’s sole directing credit, which is probably a good thing.” Ouch! Or this, in reference to 2007’s Resident Evil: Extinction, “You could take random scenes from each of these films and cut them together and I don’t think anyone would notice.” Zing! (A little fact-checking would have been a good thing, too. Several times, Landis refers to Christopher Lee’s character in The Lord of the Rings films as Sauron, when we all know he actually played Saruman, one of Sauron’s allies. Elsewhere, one of the Cenobites from Hellraiser, Chatterer, is mislabeled as Doug Bradley playing Pinhead.)

Landis has been turning up a lot lately, talking about things I happen to love. I just recently saw him leading a roundtable discussion in the extras on the Criterion Island of Lost Souls Blu-ray, and as one of the featured talking heads in the must-see 2010 documentary American Grindhouse. He strikes me as the kind of guy I’d love to sit down to dinner with and just talk about monster movies until the sun comes up.

Trust me, if you love monster movies, you’ll love this book. It’s indispensable, in my opinion, and belongs in every fan’s collection. Do yourself a favor, though, and don’t get this one as an eBook. Splurge on the oversized hardcover. It’s well worth it, and you’ll want to linger over those gorgeous pictures at full size and in full color.

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