Book Reviews

When Two Tribes Go To War… Calum Waddell’s CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST Tome Reviewed

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Cannibal Holocaust by Calum Waddell: Auteur. ISBN paperback: 978-1-911325-11-6 ISBN ebook: 978-1-911325-12-3

When I interviewed Ruggero Deodato in the ’90s I mentioned the obvious (to me) affinities between his 1980 films Cannibal Holocaust and House On The Edge Of The Park, only for him to pointedly dismiss any such parallels. Well, I persisted, both films deal with a group of feral outsiders who are ultimately revealed to be less morally culpable than the “civilised” sophisticates whom they encounter… but the director was having none of it. Although both films had been lumbered with the moronic “video nasties” label in the philistine climate of early ’80s Britain, by the time I spoke to Deodato the reputation of his little anthropophagous epic had made the transition from international pariah to postmodern phenom worthy of serious critical – and even academic – attention. House On The Edge, in the meantime, has undergone no such re-evaluation (and admittedly, it’s nowhere near as good a film)… it remains, in the eyes of the world, an irredeemably tacky little knock off of a Wes Craven knockoff (I personally find much to “like” in HOTEOTP but this isn’t the place to go into that) and Deodato didn’t want anybody besmirching his suddenly respectable cause celebre with any comparisons to it. Have it your way, Ruggero…

From my earliest scribblings in Samhain, during the aforementioned video witch hunt, I was agitating for (and I hopefully contributed towards) a criticism that would fuse fannish enthusiasm for such genre films with an intelligent, analytical approach. Subsequently (blame me if you want to… I’ve frequently had the impression that I’m being shot by both sides) there have been comings together of the zine scenesters and the ISBN-totin’ academics, who’ve generally snarled at each other before withdrawing to their respective corners. One gathers there was a particularly mean-spirited poker game at one point but, as yet, nobody’s managed to find the found footage that documents this…

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Calum Waddell is not (and this won’t come as news to him) everybody’s cup of tea or bowl of monkey brain mush. He notably declared himself horrified by Cannibal Holocaust. Gore hounds, horrified by the fact that he was horrified by it, then alleged hypocrisy when he continued to write (very well) about it in genre publications and get paid (nothing like as well, believe me!) to do so, interviewed and befriended several of its principal creators, toured the festival circuit with them and collaborated on the film’s Blu-ray release in The States. But come on, guys… isn’t anyone who’s fascinated by this most notorious “video nasty” also appalled and repelled by it? Isn’t that the very essence of its ongoing “appeal”? Cannibal Holocaust isn’t Marmite (even if one of its most persistent chroniclers seemingly is.) Waddell’s proven track record of willingness to take a wider view, plus his extensive connection with the film’s creators (Carl Yorke – the hateful Yates himself – contributes a thoughtful and witty foreword) guarantee that anyone who picks up this latest entry in Auteur’s (Columbia University Press in the U.S. of A) ongoing Devil’s Advocates  series will find a lot to, er, get their teeth into… much food for thought in, e.g. his survey of which Italian cannibal movies got distributed in which Third World territories, from which you can draw your own conclusions.

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The author gives cursory treatment to Cannibal Holocaust’s seminal role in the aforementioned “nasties” hoo-hah and its roots in the “mondo” school of shockumentary, satisfied that enough has been written on both of these scores, elsewhere (not infrequently by myself.) My own particular interest in these films has always been the extent to which they represent a range of domestic reactions to the failure of Mussolini’s abortive (and ultimately absurd) attempt to refound some sort of Roman Empire. Waddell casts his net wider, framing his (persuasive) arguments in the wider context of The Cold War, which still had a decade or so to run when Deodato took his band of cinematic conquistadores up the Amazon. The proximate inspiration was no doubt Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), though Cannibal Holocaust makes a starker statement about the impact of imperialism on the bodies of “gooks” and “savages” than FFC’s bloated folly, with its relentless focus on the mindset of its American characters, could ever hope to achieve… if, indeed, it was ever interested in doing so. When Alan, Jack, Faye and Mark massacre the yanomami in their huts for the purposes of their tacky little mondo movie it is, as Waddell points out, the spectre of My Lai that haunts our screens…

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“A clump“?

… Cannibal Holocaust could as easily be read as an allegory of the 16th Century European (specifically Latin) conquest of South America and a much more finely nuanced one than, for example, Neil Young’s celebrated Cortes The Killer, which combines musical fireworks with a portrayal of life under Moctezuma and his warrior priests so naively sanitized as to amount to inverted racism. Trust Bernal Diaz, who was actually there with Cortes and whose account, in The Conquest Of New Spain, of brutal life and death in the Aztec empire is all the more trustworthy because he pulls absolutely no punches at all about what a bastard (and indeed a killer) his master was.

Similarly, it’s a moot point (and one made eloquently in the final section proper of Waddell’s book, “Patriarchy In Cannibal Holocaust”) whether the indigenous women here (not to mention Faye) suffer more at the hands of the mondo crew, casual rapists and killers as they are, or their own jealous menfolk, casual abortionists and honour killers that they are.

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Hip as he is to such moral relativism and the irony of an exploitation movie that’s exploiting its own expose of exploitation movies to put bums on cinema seats, Waddell can’t help but multiply rather than resolve the ethical ambiguities of Cannibal Holocaust… as would any self-respecting discussion of Deodato’s film, which remains a hall of distorting mirrors in which the moral high ground is impossible to locate, let alone claim. Nevertheless, those seeking a guide through the arterial byways of Deodato’s Heart Of Darkness (perhaps towards a verdict that will be – to paraphrase a line in another notorious “nasty” – one of self-incrimination) will wait in vain for a better one than this.

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Back To The Future? THE REPROBATE – FIRST TRANSMISSION Reviewed

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The Reprobate – First Transmission. Edited by David Flint. A Colmena Publication. P/B. ISBN 978-0-9955719-0-7

One of the things that the current Mrs F found particularly entertaining about your humble blogger, in the early days of our acquaintance, was the spectacle of me carting my granny’s wonky shopping trolley around Manchester, stuffed with copies of Samhain to be hawked to Forbidden Planet, Odyssey 7 and assorted smaller retailers. Yep, I’ve paid my dues in the  ‘Zine trade…

Mrs F was particularly tickled by the regularity with which the wheels came off and required fixing and how some misaligned spoke or metallic whatnot hanging off this contraption would scour a record of my passage in the pavement behind me. Legend has it that instalments of my progress around Albert Square and up and down Oxford Road are still traceable to this day, which will no doubt be helpful when the burghers and aldermen of Manchester finally get round to putting up some of those blue plaques to mark the landmarks of the ’80s-’90s North West fanzine scene…

… and what a golden age it was, yielding among others (and apart from my contributions to the seminal Samhain) Paul Higson’s Bleeder’s Digest, Ian Caunce’s mighty Absurd (still my all-time favourite ‘Zine) and Sheer Filth, courtesy of one David Flint. David Kerekes and others were lurking in the wings and I also seem to remember a fresh-faced kid called Hayden Hewitt…nice guy but it was always clear to me that he was never going to amount to anything. The acuity of my judgement was recently confirmed to me when I saw Jeremy Paxman interviewing him on Newsnight.

Here we are, towards the end of 2016 and I’m sedately ensconced in the blogosphere. It took me quite a while to get here (The House Of Freudstein hasn’t even been online for a full year yet) but now I’ve arrived, I’m happy to say that it suits me just fine. No more lugging bags and boxes of hard copy around to distributors who might or might not cough up (obviously this became even more of an issue for me when I started running my own show with Giallo Pages, et al)… sure, there’s no prospect of turning the kind of small profit that occasionally came your way in the Golden Age of ‘Zines, but nor are you subject to the kind of loss that was much more frequently your lot … and people still send you stuff to review! So no more ‘Zines, fan or pro, from your truly… uh-huh… and that’s a fact, Jack! But apparently not everybody feels the same way…

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… the aforementioned David Flint, for example, has clearly never lost his love for the print medium. After Sheer Filth he was a founder editor of Headpress before flying solo with Divinity and Sexadelic. David’s interest in horror and exploitation has always been part of a wider-ranging focus on transgression that has involved him in many other genres and art forms. Having run the Strange Things Are Happening (Popular Culture Gone Bad) website for several years, he’s now fronting up the The Reprobate, which has maintained an online presence (https://reprobatemagazine.uk) for some time and now here’s the long-gestated first quarterly issue of its namesake magazine “for the modern contrarian.” Is the very act, nay, the very idea of publishing  such a thing in 2016 itself the dictionary definition of contrarianism (if, indeed, such a word can be found in any dictionary)? Well, the evidence is here before me in the shape of 164 glossy, perfect bound A5 pages, dripping with seditious text and heavily illustrated in both black’n’white and colour. Looks nice, now let’s investigate the contents…

The (one imagines) regular “Reprobates In The News” section features, among other scoops, the notorious case of the Devon woman who sexually abused a plastic tyrannosaurus emerging from an egg (the very one pictured below) on Exmouth’s Dino Trail. We Freudsteins were also rather disappointed with this particular “tourist attraction” but none of us felt the need to mitigate our disappointment by masturbating over any of the paleantological tableaux.

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David himself interviews Human Centipede auteur Tom Six but chooses to concentrate on the latter’s notions of personal style rather than the meanings beyond his films, possibly because there is no discernible meaning to those films beyond the idea that shock is, in and of itself, a good thing, an idea towards which I’ve never felt particularly sympathetic. Some would argue that this makes Six a kind of latter-day John Waters, but I’ve always loathed Waters’ films too. Hey, what’s the world coming to if I can’t review this cavalcade of contrariness without tossing in a few contrary opinions of my own?

Daz Lawrence’s profile of “Reprobate Hero” Lord Buckley is engaging stuff. Daz might also have mentioned that Buckley plays a role in one of several competing theories about how Prog Rock pioneers The Nice got their name. He might have but doesn’t, probably on the reasonable grounds that he’s nowhere near as obsessed with such Prog minutiae as I am. The ever readable Mr Lawrence also gives us the amusing lowdown on his quest to bring faux fag wrestler Adrian Street’s music to the masses and remembers Tiny Tim.

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Objects Of Desire that get promoted herein range from luxury chocolates and undies, off-the-peg bar cabinets, a penis-shaped flash drive containing the collected works of some Danish comedians, Arrow’s homounguous Herschell Gordon Lewis box set and the monstrously priced Pink Floyd Early Years collection.

Expensive as it is, I’m more likely to be seen purchasing that Floyd anthology than anything by noise terrorist William Bennett who, under the handle Whitehouse, assaulted our ears and morals with such family favourites as Tit Pulp, Just Like A Cunt, Shit Fun, Rape Master and I’m Coming Up Your Ass. As reported by Bruce Barnard, they signally failed to ignite the anticipated dance craze with their anthemic Wriggle Like A Fucking Eel. Elsewhere Mr Barnard inveighs against the vapidity of the cocaine lifestyle.

Nigel Wingrove returns with a primer on Scandinavian Black Metal and accompanying Chris Bell fashion shoot. Wingrove’s Redemption outfit are allegedly releasing Japanese Cosplay / mutilation epic Mai Chan’s Daily Life in the US and Mister Flint gives us the lowdown on that later in the mag.

Eli Bell interviews Billy Chainsaw, a man with far more strings to his bow than I’d previously suspected, some of his canvases reproduced here (striking collisions of Burroughs and Baphomet, Crowley and comix) being genuinely impressive. The man himself later takes time out from his artistic creations to interview Michelle Mildenhall, “the Latex Queen of the Art Scene.”

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A visit to The Demis Roussos Museum in Nijkerk inspires CJ Lines to remember the great man’s extraordinary career. Keri O’Shea surveys the history of Great British Courtesans and rates the beers and museums of Prague. Flinty flexes his Jeffery-West shoe fetish by interviewing that company’s Guy West in their swanky Piccadilly Arcade store. Then he reviews Victor Matellano’s recent Vampyres remake, comparing it unfavourably with Jose Larraz’s cult original, a judgement with which I concur elsewhere on this blog. Somebody called White Dolemite fills us in on his non-existent films (don’t worry, it’ll all make sense when you read it… or maybe not) and if Gipsie Castigloione’s interview with novelist-turned-perfumier Sarah McCartney doesn’t get your olfactory bulb twitching, I don’t know what will!

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Arguably the highlight of this volume, Gavin and Lucy Morrow’s Close Encounters relates their experiences “travelling the extraterrestrial highway” in words (hers) and photos (his.) Apparently they’ve got enough documentation of their explorations of arcane Americana to fill a book of their own and I, for one, would very much like to see it.

Further reviews of books, film, music, food and drink, grooming and lifestyle, places and events follow before the proceedings close with a personal memoir / true confession regarding a spontaneous S/M orgy that broke out in a nightclub toilet on Valentine’s Night, 1991… more tea, Vicar?

The Reprobate’s First Transmission is a fine maiden effort, most worthy of your attention… a trustworthy map to guide you down the road of excess which will lead you, inexorably, towards that palace of wisdom. Has it tempted me to consider a return to physical ‘zine publishing? Nah… my granny’s shopping trolley has gone the same way as my granny and there are no scratch marks on the sidewalks of cyber space. But do I wish David well with his new endeavour? Sure I do and would urge you to visit, post-haste https://reprobatemagazine.uk/2016/11/29/buy-the-reprobate-first-transmission/

Is the print revival going to take off, then? The outcome will (hopefully) be in your hands…

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With Friends Like These… AMICUS – THE FRIENDLY FACE OF FEAR Reviewed

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“You do The Hokey-Cokey and you turn around…”

Amicus – The Friendly Face Of Fear by Alan Bryce. Ghoulish Publishing. P/B. ISBN 978-1-5272-0271-9

While knocking out issues of The Dark Side under the Stray Cat banner, Allan Bryce also managed to publish a series of nifty film books… among the niftiest of them, I would count (never having found modesty all that forbidding) the third edition of my “video nasties” tome Seduction Of The Gullible and the follow-up Cannibal! (which I still prefer to refer to under its original title “Slaves Of The Cannibal God – 20 Years Of Italian Man Munching Movies.”) After the death of Allan’s business partner Ken Mills, Dark Side disappeared from our shelves for a couple of years before its triumphant re-emergence courtesy of Ghoulish Publishing, which now brings us Allan’s own Amicus – The Friendly Face Of Fear, touted as the “definitive history” of this much-loved low-budget Hammer competitor, named for the friendship between its co-creators Milton Subotsky (the creative schmendrick with the DIY haircut) and Max Rosenberg (the hard-headed money man.)

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Definitive? To assess this claim I would need to have read the various previously published accounts of Amicus  (including one by Stray Cat, 15 years ago) which, I must confess, I haven’t. Safe to say, though, A-TFFOF is a terrific read in its own right, simultaneously eminently knowledgable, fannishly enthusiastic and rigorously analytical as it guides us from the soup of Subotsberg’s pre-Amicus horror effort City Of The Dead (1960) through to the nuts of the daft plastic dinosaur epics from which you might remember Doug Mclure, with all those portmanteau treasures and such endearing oddities as And Now The Screaming Starts (1973) and The Beast Must Die (1974) nicely packed in between. While doing so it steers a middle course between previous accounts of the breakdown in amicable relations between Rosenberg and Subotsky (their ups and downs mirroring those of the company’s fortunes), which have tended to favour one or the other. While reiterating that Milt was the creative heart of Amicus, Bryce acknowledges that turning in a coherent, feature-length screenplay wasn’t exactly his forte (much to the chagrin of literary sources such as Robert Bloch and the consternation of several Amicus directors.)

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The dynamic duo first collaborated on an early draft of The Curse Of Frankenstein (1957), maintaining thereafter that they had been bilked out of their due credits (and payments) on Hammer’s horror breakthrough. Thereafter they strove manfully to compete with Carreras and co, poaching their talent from both sides of the camera while never consistently competing with Hammer at the box office. Amicus certainly couldn’t compete in budgetary terms, making a virtue of necessity by hiring multiple name actors for short stints in their beloved multi-story horror films.

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If you’re reading this you’ve probably already got some knowledge of and / or affection for these films… if not, I can do no better than point you in the direction of The Friendly Face Of Fear, 168 perfect bound glossy pages heavily illustrated in both colour and b/w and just bursting with Amicus minutiae… who knew, for instance, that the then Marquis de Sade petitioned successfully to have the family name removed from French marketing for Freddie Francis’s The Skull (1965) on the grounds that it would be brought into disrepute (“Locking the stable door after the cheval has bolted”, as Bryce wryly notes)…  that Rosenberg deep sixed Subotsky’s plans for e.g. a tripped-out revamp of It’s Trad, Dad! (starring The Byrds, The Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful dead!) and film adaptations of Marvel’s superhero characters (no commercial potential there at all, eh?) … that The House That Dripped Blood supported Last House On The Left in the U.S… that Geoffrey Bayldon was an 11th Hour replacement for Spike Milligan in Asylum… that Tales From The Crypt was being shot at Shepperton at the same time as Tower Of Evil, a film with which it shared sets… that the negative response to Vault Of Horror from E.C. Comics’ Bill Gaines scuppered Amicus plans for More Tales From The Crypt, The Haunt of Fear and Tales Of The Incredible (the latter to have been shot in 3D)… that, according to special FX man (and no relation to the author) Allan Bryce, the squirming green innards of a Dalek were cut from Dr. Who And The Daleks (1965) on the grounds that they would upset tiny tots… and who remembered that Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966) was freighted with product placement shots promoting the breakfast cereal Sugar Puffs? (*) If your answer to these questions or most of them is “Me!”… just shut up Darrell and give somebody else a chance, OK?

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A splendid read then, topped and tailed by a characteristically eye-catching Rick Melton cover and irreverent biogs of Messrs Bryce, Melton and Kevin Coward (who acquits himself admirably in the design of this volume) and, for some reason, their respective spouses. Helps to keep things amicable, I suppose.

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(*) Just consider, if that movie had been made in Italy, I Daleki would have been exterminating their way through rivers of J&B!

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Dark Dreams Of A Knight Of The Realm… ALFRED HITCHCOCK by Peter Ackroyd, reviewed

norman1Alfred Hitchcock by Peter Ackroyd. Chatto & Windus. H/B. ISBN 9780701169930

The virtuous man, according to Plato (in a passage frequently cited by Freud) is the one who’s content to dream what the wicked man actually does. If this is true of us regular folk, how much more so of those possessed by “Genius”?

Freud also opened a hotly contested can of worms when he declared that “Biology is Destiny.” Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) was cursed by physiognomy, doubly so by the strictures of a Catholic education. Making a virtue of necessity, he presented himself as a desireless creature, even joking that his daughter Patricia had been conceived in the sort of turkey basting scenario subsequently celebrated in Sunset Beach. On the silver screen he subjected the blonde ice goddesses of his dreams (Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, Tippi Hedren) to his sublimated resentment and revenge.

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On the studio lots they had to suffer his smutty jokes. In later life, encroaching senility (and possibly alcoholism) reportedly reduced him to the level of a sex pest. Critics who are fond of berating the successors to Psycho for explicit violence that Hitchcock would never have countenanced have obviously never watched the maestro’s 1972 effort Frenzy, certain scenes in which pay perverse and explicit tribute to John Reginald Halliday Christie and his misdeeds at 10 Rillington Place and elsewhere, towards which Hitchcock maintained an unabashed fanboy attitude.

Hitch, encircled by his own fears and insecurities, found fame and fortune exploiting those of others. Uneasy with people, he turned himself into a brand, the avatar of which was the physical appearance that so dismayed him. A voyeur, he hated people looking at him. A card carrying cockney, he became a U.S. citizen, then a Knight Of The Realm…rich pickings there for any biographer.

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Although Ackroyd is a respected practitioner of that craft, who’s previously tackled Chaplin, Dickens, William Blake, Wilkie Collins, Thomas More, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, alarm bells started ringing when I noted the slimness of this volume (a mere 259 pages to cover a figure so massive – in every way – as Hitchcock?) and registered the misuse of certain terms (e.g. “neuralgia”) within the first few of those pages. Happily, Ackroyd’s proof readers wake up as he commences a worthy,  economical handling of Hitchcock’s life that concentrates on the filmography but manages to pack a lot of personal stuff around it, revealing (if not fully illuminating) the substratum of dark dreams upon which the cinematic wonders were erected. Initially I was tempted to dismiss this biography as “Hitchcock at half cock” but it’s really a  lot better than that, a useful primer that might well inspire the reader to seek out weightier tomes by Truffaut, Spoto (“The Dark Side Of Genius”, indeed) et al.

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Coffee With Scream… MONSTERS IN THE MOVIES reviewed

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Monsters In The Movies: 100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares by John Landis. Dorling Kindersley / Penguin Random House. P/B. ISBN 978-0-2412-4624-5 320

When I interviewed Harvey Fenton for Dark Side recently, we reminisced about coffee table books by the likes of Alan Frank and Dennis Gifford, from which he has derived much of the inspiration for what he’s achieved at FAB Press. Coffee table books surveying Horror film history have dwindled since the 1980s (when I remember WHS and even M&S having a crack at this market), increasingly so since the advent of the internet, so it’s nice to see D&K attempting to revive the format with John Landis’s Monsters In The Movies: 100 Years Of Cinematic Monster (originally published in 2011, this edition dating back to last year.)

Like many of its predecessors, MITM is more of a picture collection than anything else, with over 1,000 stills and posters from the Kobal Collection (many of them in full colour) beautifully reproduced within its 320 glossy pages and organised into such self-explanatory sections as “Vampires”, “Werewolves”, “Mad Scientists”, “Zombies”, “Mummies” and so on. What strikes you immediately is just how many Horror movies have been made (this is the one cinematic genre, after all, that’s never gone out of fashion) since the heyday of Messrs Frank and Gifford. Indeed, you’ve got to give credit to Landis and / or the people who put this volume together for casting their net so wide and unsnobbishly, despite the odd nits that you inevitably find yourself picking (for instance the fact that Suspiria is represented by one small b/w still, indeed for the fact that Italian offerings in general are a little under represented… but I would say that, wouldn’t I?)

Landis makes no, er, bones in his introduction or any of the micro-essays that preface each section, about the fannish rather than academic orientation he brought to the text of this visual treasure trove. Any suggestion of profundity is defiantly absent from his commentary, though his (?) captions to many of the illustrations are equal parts witty and opinionated. His biggest contributions to the book though are the interviews that he conducts with a coterie of genre luminaries, comprising the late Sir Christopher Lee, Joe Dante, David Cronenberg, Sam Raimi, Guillermo Del Toro, Ray Harryhausen, Rick Baker and John Carpenter. Obviously at ease with his peers, Landis gets some fascinating stuff out of these guys, many of whom (notably Dell Toro) have very precise ideas about what constitutes a Monster Movie or indeed a Movie Monster. Harryhausen, whom many would nominate as Mr “Monster Movie” Incarnate, confides that he doesn’t care for the term at all.

MITM is available for 20 quid on Amazon, where you can also get a skinny-assed “Bookazine” digest of it for nearly a tenner. Save that tenner for the full monty version, available for that price (or less if they’ve currently got a voucher thing running) here. Jeez, Martin Lewis has got nothing on me…

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