While his name is more synonymous with laughter than fright, “Animal House” director John Landis has always had an interest in the darker side of the cinematic spectrum. Having directed the classic werewolf picture “An American Werewolf in London” and a “Twilight Zone: The Movie” segment, along with other minor horror projects, Landis has been coined by many of his filmmaking peers as one of the true “Masters of Horror.”
Landis displays his encyclopedic knowledge of monsters and ghouls that have both inspired and terrified him in DK Publishing’s compendium “Monsters in the Movies.” A seemingly endless inventory of cinema’s greatest creatures, Landis has filled this book with his personal brand of wry humor that jells surprisingly well with the dark subject matter.
The book features several hundred pages of horror film imagery, including sought-after vintage posters for classic Universal Studios monster pictures, such as “The Invisible Man,” along with modern horror movies. Each of the book’s chapters is dedicated to a specific type of creature – including vampires, werewolves and even the devil himself.
Tracing these creatures from the very beginning of their cinematic roots in silent 1920s films, such as “Nosferatu,” all the way to modern Hollywood blockbusters, Landis accomplishes the goal he sets in the book’s introduction in providing an all-encompassing look at the iconic characters that have scared audiences on the silver screen for nearly a century.
Yet what works best in the book are the little anecdotes and jabs at certain titles Landis adds. When an image of a sensuous female robot from the 2009 Bruce Willis-starring “Surrogates” is displayed, Landis simply states, “a boring Bruce Willis vehicle, but I think the ad art is cool.”
Never one to avoid being critical of his own films, Landis offers hilarious and sometimes shockingly candid opinions of the less notable films he’s directed, such as the cringe-inducing 1992 vampire film “Innocent Blood.” Also, in the section on make-up effects artists, Landis and Rick Baker both criticize the Academy Award-winning work Baker did in Landis’ “An American Werewolf In London.”
As for those previously mentioned peers, Landis gets to chat with other “Masters of Horror” in short interviews he conducted for readers’ enjoyment. Finding out what scares fear-inducing directors such as David Cronenberg and Guillermo del Toro is a rare delight, and some of Landis’ interviews with legendary make-up effects artists and monster designers such as Baker and Ray Harryhausen are unexpectedly insightful.
Landis really takes his time to pick at just what makes each of those names, whom have themselves helped give so many audiences nightmares, afraid to go to bed at night. The results are often surprising, especially when “Halloween” director John Carpenter simply states, “Monsters don’t scare me, people do.”
That is perhaps what is most appealing about the book. Landis respects that fear in reality is as it is in cinema: Completely subjective because everyone’s fears are different. The fact Landis includes chapters about “Human Monsters” right beside one about “Monstrous Machines” is a pretty telling sign of the book’s breadth.
Landis also recognizes not all monsters are bad, and in fact characters such as the titular creation in 1990’s “Edward Scissorhands” act more as a channel for our own fears of personal detachment or isolation. In short, just because something goes bump in the night doesn’t mean it exists solely to frighten you.
While “Monsters in the Movies” may lead you to checking out a few titles you’ve never heard of before Halloween, it could even spark a lengthier discussion of the role cinema’s monsters play in the context of our everyday fears and paranoia.
This is all because Landis’ book is smart and delivers on its promise of offering “100 years of cinematic nightmares,” but also doesn’t cater to the sort of reader that simply desires blood and guts. Yet don’t fret, because “Monsters in the Movies” offers plenty of that too.
“Monster in the Movies” is now available from DK Publishing through Amazon and other book retailers.