Reviewed by Elaine Lamkin
Written by Don Sumner
Published by Krause Publications
In the past few years the world of horror films has been blessed (or cursed, depending on your viewpoint) with books about the BEST horror films of the decade, of all time, etc. Horror Movie Freak by Don Sumner, aka The Horror Czar, is one of the better books on the subject. Sumner, according to the brief bio that accompanied his book, is the CEO of Horror Freaks Media LLC, has served as the expert on horror movie locales for USA Today and has his own website.
His book, which George “Call me George” Romero (inside joke, folks) blurbs is an excellent guide for horror freaks, has, as a bonus, a free DVD of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead with Sumner doing the intro segment. You can check out a video preview here. And for those wondering if Sumner chose all of these films himself, there is a section on What Makes a Horror Movie Great where he introduces himself as well as several staff members from Best Horror Movies, Horror Freaks Media LLC, as well as members of the BHM online community, The Ossuary, who assisted him with this daunting project.
Sumner and his staff know their stuff, and the book is divided into categories such as Asian Horror, Supernatural Thrillers, Zombie Invasion, Psychotics, Evil from Hell, Homicidal Slashers,
etc.. as well as the films he feels should be on any horror newbie’s shelf. Chock full of color pictures as well as some of the more famous lines from the films, Sumner starts at the beginning with the Universal monsters and the Hammer films before diving into the many categories he has set up. Each category has about five films covered so there are obviously quite a few films that have been left out, but I will get to that in a moment.
I was pleasantly surprised at several of the choices, but some of the omissions left me gob-smacked. Probably the biggest “goof” is in the category Ghost Stories, where, among the five films he covers, Poltergeist is included; but the granddaddy of all ghost stories, Robert Wise’s The Haunting, is completely missing. I’m not even sure it garnered a mention in the intro as the index has some problems with missing entries for films that ARE in the book (Sleepaway Camp is one such entry missing from the index)
Now, to get to what bothered me most about the book. I know everyone has their own favorite Halloween movie, but author Sumner has a section of the book devoted to “10 Days to Halloween” where he lists, in chronological order, the films he deems the best to watch in the ten days leading to our favorite holiday. Some of these films are just…not something I would want to watch during the Halloween season, and Sumner left out a few films actually SET on or around Halloween. The films I have a problem with are:
9. Children of the Corn – Not even one of Stephen King’s best short stories let alone a good film adaptation. Why not the Halloween-themed Satan’s Little Helper instead?
7. Friday the 13th 1 and 2 – Uh. Just no. Better to try the also Halloween-set Ginger Snaps.
6. Darkness Falls – Why this turkey is even on the list is shocking. How about the autumnal Pet Sematary or Session 9 (look closely at the bar scene with David Caruso – Halloween decorations all around)?
4. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2004) – Not a bad remake, but why is this in a list of films to watch leading up to Halloween? For sheer weirdness, black humor, lots of snow and ickiness, how about Ravenous?
The other six films Sumner chooses are spot on as far as I am concerned. But I’m not telling what they are…
One other thing, which is becoming all too common, is the lack of a good editor/fact checker. I found multiple instances where the plot synopsis was incorrect: in Mike Dougherty’s wonderful Trick ‘r Treat, the four stories which made up the anthology did NOT include the story of the woman who blows out the jack o’lantern candle too early. It DID include the story of Mr. Kreeg and his run-in with Sam.
In The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, the kids were not heading TO Mexico but FROM Mexico when everything hit the fan. Remember the piñata in the van?
For Hitchcock’s The Birds, it was NOT a friend of Melanie’s who had his eyes pecked out but a friend of Mitch’s mother.
In Jaws, it was Susan BACKLINIE who was the actress playing the first victim. Not BLACKLINIE. And in SLiTHER, no one in Wheelsy, South Carolina saw the meteorite land. The audience saw it land in a scene where Sheriff Bill Pardy is shooting the shit with his deputy and, in the background, the meteor lands.
I was also disappointed by the films which did not merit inclusion such as the aforementioned Robert Wise classic haunted house film The Haunting, Dark Night of the Scarecrow, The Devil’s Rejects (or for the Halloween Top Ten: House of 1000 Corpses), The Strangers, The Hills Have Eyes remake, the über-creepy Let’s Scare Jessica to Death or The Woman in Black. Even Hostel was a no-show. And in the sections on foreign films, The Devil’s Backbone, Inside, Calvaire, L’Interieur and Frontiere(s) were nowhere to be seen.
However, the author DID include several films I was very happy to see as they are usually not included in “best of” books:
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
The People Under the Stairs
And many more…
All in all, Sumner and company did a pretty good job of getting newbie horror fans started with the classics as well as contemporary films and introduced several films to those who think they’ve seen it all but who otherwise wouldn’t know about them (these can be found in the section Honorable Mention). And don’t forget about the free Night of the Living Dead DVD which comes with each book (the only info about the DVD is that it’s the 1968 version; no technical info).
3 out of 5
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