Monsters in the Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares (Book)

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Monsters in the Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares ReviewWritten by John Landis

Published by DK Books

If you’ve ever tried to dream up ways to combine all the classic monsters that first graced the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland with some of the badass new creatures that filled the gore-soaked pages of all those old-school Fangoria magazines we all grew up loving, then John Landis’ recent book, Monsters in the Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares, should prove to be right up your proverbial alley, horror fiends!

Just about every monster you could ever remember from the last hundred years of genre cinema is represented. Granted, there aren’t a lot of newly uncovered goodies to find here, but I can’t remember the last time we were given such a thorough collection like Landis has assembled here, and the book is just too damned enjoyable to really nitpick at as a whole.

Landis, himself a master of wit and the horrendous after directing such films as An American Werewolf in London, Schlock! and Innocent Blood, provides his own commentary throughout by way of photo captions and chapter introductions. It’s often candid and in some instances opinionated, but either way it definitely provides the reader with an extensive journey through Landis’ eyes on the film history of monsters and madmen.

Landis never gets too deep or over-critical of the films and the monsters he features in Monsters in the Movies, and while there’s no doubt that taking that route would have made it a more complete book, the iconic filmmaker tells you from the start that analysis wasn’t his intention here but rather to entertain us visually. And in that department Landis definitely succeeds with the 320 pages of awesomeness assembled for Monsters in the Movies.

Readers will also enjoy Landis providing his own fascinating and entertaining insights into the world of moviemaking while the filmmaker conducts candid and in-depth “conversations” with some of the best monster makers out there, including David Cronenberg, Ray Harryhausen, Rick Baker, Joe Dante, Christopher Lee, Guillermo del Toro, John Carpenter, and Sam Raimi discussing their thoughts on some of the most iconic movie monsters ever. And while it would have been easy for Landis to go into these conversations just to lather his subjects up with nothing but high praise for their overall contributions to the horror genre, the filmmaker actually goes deep and even asks some challenging questions from his peers, which this writer found rather refreshing.

Monsters in the Movies also features a fun little section called “The Monster Carry” celebrating the iconic image of monsters carrying their female prey away where Landis asks you to name as many of the movies as you can, making for a nice diversion for readers. He also explores the historical origins of the numerous archetypal monsters through a multitude of chapters that cover the likes of Vampires, Werewolves, Mad Scientists, Zombies, Ghosts, Mummies, Myths/Legends/Fairy Tales, Dragons/Dinosaurs, Monstrous Apes, Nature’s Revenge, Atomic Mutations, The Devil’s Work, Space Monsters, Monstrous Machines, Human Monsters and The Monster Makers.

At the beginning of each section, Landis provides readers with a two-page overview about the subject or topic that features a brief summary with the touch of humor we’ve come to expect from the filmmaker, and throughout each chapter he digs even deeper into some fascinating sub-categories, including a look at the various incarnations of big baddies like Jack the Ripper, Dracula, The Wolf Man and Frankenstein, as well as several overarching genre themes like Dystopia, Scary Older Women and Monsters on Four Wheels just to name a few. It’s that kind of attention to detail that really sets Monsters in the Movies apart from reading like an overglorified A to Z encyclopedia of the horror genre’s favorite monsters- it’s evident here that Landis truly revels in his love for the subject matter he’s exploring.

With over 1,000 brilliant pictures and beautifully reproduced film posters for fans to gaze upon for hours on end, Landis’ Monsters in the Movies knocks it out of the park as an entertaining, thorough and easily digestible exploration of the iconic (and sometimes not-so-iconic) monsters, madmen and things that go bump in the night that have terrified us on the big screen for 100 years and counting. Monsters in the Movies is an absolute must-own for any horror fan out there!

4 1/2 out of 5

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  • Genrewriter

    I heard Landis talking about this on my usual morning radio show a few months back. Sounds pretty cool.