Tuesday, 24 October 2006


Horror: The Definitive Guide To The Cinema Of Fear is a new book about horror cinema. Not just any book, mind you, but the Definitive Guide (or so it proclaims). Any book with the word definitive in its title is asking for trouble, because the author's idea of definitive may not be the same as the reader's.

In this case, the authors are James Marriott and Kim Newman. Or rather, Marriott is editor and principal contributor, Newman wrote introductory essays to each chapter, and six others wrote reviews and shorter essays. It's rather misleading that Marriott and Newman are the only names on the cover, especially because they are not credited as editors - the cover implies that they are co-authors, which is not strictly true.

Newman is, I think, one of the very best writers on horror cinema, and his essays in this new book (overviews of the genre in each decade) are excellent. (He wrote Nightmare Movies, a comprehensive study of the modern film, and was also a contributor to Contemporary American Cinema.) It's a shame, therefore, that he didn't write any of the chronological film reviews which make up the bulk of the book.

Besides Newman's decade-by-decade overviews and the corpus of reviews, there are also short essays on various horror themes (vampires, zombies, cannibalism, ghosts) and styles (gialli, slashers, and urban paranoia which they call "Urbanoia"). These featurettes are an improvement on the capsule articles in the encyclopedic though superficial BFI Companion To Horror (edited by Newman).

Fittingly for a guide to horror cinema, the book is vampiric: it drains the blood of others. Specifically, its format is very clearly modelled on Horror: The Aurum Film Encyclopedia, edited by Phil Hardy. Hardy's book also concentrated on film reviews in chronological order, punctuated by overview essays introducing each decade. Marriott and Newman don't acknowledge their debt to Hardy (even though, or perhaps because, Newman contributed many reviews to Hardy's second edition). Indeed, they have no bibliography at all.

The Hardy volume is the real Definitive Guide to horror cinema, taking an internationalist perspective more than ten years before the excellent Immoral Tales, Mondo Macabro, and Fear Without Frontiers. Also, Hardy's book reviewed 2,000 films whereas Marriott and Newman's manages only 300. True, the reviews in the new book are longer than Hardy's, though only slightly. Hardy's second edition covers horror cinema up to 1992, so this new book is at least more up-to-date, offering reviews of films up to and including the recent Land Of The Dead.

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