Written by Staci Layne Wilson
Published by Running Free Press
If you consider yourself a horror fan, and certainly you are if you’re a regular Dread Central reader, then you’re no doubt familiar with the name Staci Layne Wilson. Staci is a respected reviewer and interviewer for such websites as TV-Wire, About.com, Horror.com, Fantastica Daily, and Cinescape. She’s contributed a thing or two to us as well. You’ll often see her at premieres and other red carpet events. In addition, she’s an award-winning author in her own right, my personal favorite of her books being Dark Lullaby (review here).
But not only is Staci one of horror’s best friends, she’s also a big supporter of man’s (and woman’s) best friends. As you’d expect, I’m referring to dogs and cats, but for her it includes just about all breeds of animals. As such, she set out one day to track down an overview of animals in film, more for her personal enjoyment and edification than anything else. Amazingly, there was nothing available that wasn’t incomplete and/or terribly outdated. Lucky for us, Staci made it her mission to compile the “definitive” reference book for lovers of films and furry critters alike: Animal Movies Guide.
I saw an abbreviated advance copy several months ago and loved it; when I finally got a finished copy of the Guide in my hot little hands, all I could say was “Wow! – and thanks.” Ms. Wilson fills a long neglected void in the movie trivia arena and doesn’t skimp in the least. Her obvious enthusiasm for the project is contagious. The first third of the book is comprised of 90 complete reviews of films in which animals portray major characters split equally between theatrical and home video versions. There are also nearly 1,000 synopses and capsule reviews of animal films from practically the beginning of cinema itself all the way up to the present day. Next are interviews with celebrities like Don Coscarelli (The Beastmaster); Crispin Glover, James Wong, and Glen Morgan (Willard); Bai Ling (The Breed, pictured below); Kevin Costner (Dances With Wolves); and Eli Roth (Cabin Fever) and respected animal trainers Anne Gordon, Nancy Bacon, Samantha Martin, Rob Bloch, and Steve Martin.
The best supplemental segments of the Guide are Staci’s “Trivia Tidbits,” little nuggets of information gleaned from her convenient access to the actors and filmmakers involved in the movies that receive the full review treatment, and her list of “Film Folks’ Faves,” which is provided as a sidebar in the synopses section. I was pleased to see I share with Andy Garcia a love for (as well as a deep-seated phobia of, at least in my case) Hitchcock’s The Birds. Horror fans especially should enjoy George A. Romero’s tidbit with regard to the chilling Monkey Shines. There are even more sidebars scattered throughout including such subjects are “Horsy Horrors” detailing movies in which horses are treated … well … horribly, “Positive Piggies,” and “Ferret Movies: Few and Far Between,” undoubtedly a call by ferret-lover Staci for more films about her favorite furballs.
Which brings us to the question of whether or not Animal Movies Guide is in fact a horror book and belongs in a horror fan’s library. Absolutely it is and does. While it’s not limited solely to our genre, it certainly accords it the love and respect it deserves, and I can’t imagine that any horror fan wouldn’t also enjoy reading about beloved (and feared) animals in dramas, comedies, westerns, etc. Where else can you learn about both Cujo and Old Yeller? Cat People and The Cat From Outer Space? Apes like Curious George and Amy from Congo? All in one convenient, easy-to-read, and extremely entertaining package. Who among us hasn’t spent a Sunday afternoon or two watching a cheesy Nature-Run-Amok extravaganza on the Sci-Fi Channel or elsewhere?
Truly, the key to enjoying Staci’s Guide is appreciating the bits and pieces of her personality that shine through. Her favorite films are easy to detect (just look at the names of her own pets if you aren’t sure), but I tend to write rather subjectively myself so have no problem there. While she admits right upfront that she doesn’t enjoy giving negative reviews, she pulls no punches, and you can count on her honesty and unaffectedness. The full reviews are catalogued according to alphabetized genre (Staci’s a woman after my heart with her thoroughness and attention to detail): Adventure, Animated, Comedy, Drama, Horror, Mystery, Sci-Fi and Fantasy, Tearjerkers, and Western. As you can imagine, there’s a great deal of crossover among the horror, mystery, sci-fi/fantasy, and adventure categories.
The flash reviews, on the other hand, are grouped according to animal type (i.e., Assorted, Cat, Canine, Horse, and Manimal). Even though Manimal’s subtitle is “Beastly Transformations” and is about people turning into animals in one form or another, don’t get too excited. You won’t be reading about An American Werewolf in London or Interview with the Vampire. As Staci explains, with literally hundreds of films about vamps and lycans, including them here would be too unwieldy. Perhaps another time.
When I reviewed Ms. Wilson’s other recently released compilation, 50 Years of Ghost Movies (review here), one of my biggest complaints was the lack of illustrations and/or pictures. The Guide more than makes up for that shortcoming with an abundance of movies posters, screenshots, and celebrity photos. It’s also noteworthy that a portion of the proceeds from the Guide will go to Actors & Others for Animals and The American Humane Film-Monitoring Division as well as a few other charities that focus on “exotic pets” (i.e., ferrets, hedgehogs, rats, etc.) in need of help. That alone should encourage you to seek out the book.
Staci has imposed a “fur only” rule for the Guide and only covers those films that include mammals with an emphasis on cats, dogs, and horses. This means there’s no mention of classics like Jaws, the aforesaid The Birds, Kingdom of the Spiders, and Squirm. Okay, so maybe that last one isn’t quite a classic, but certainly those lowly worms deserve as much recognition as the rats in Willard. Definitely Spielberg’s shark does. Fortunately Staci doesn’t preclude the possibility of a Volume 2, which makes me hopeful. After all, where can one expect to find the most “feathered, finned, and forked-tongued” creatures, beasts, reptiles, and insects besides in a horror movie? If things go our way, we’ll easily take up at least two thirds of the sequel!
5 out of 5
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