An exhaustive and entertaining film-by-film history of an oft-maligned genre that refuses to die.
Horror films are about as old as the medium itself, and Konow (Bang Your Head: The Rise and Fall of Heavy Metal, 2002) begins with Universal Studio’s horror triumvirate of Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney and continues to well-known modern-day horror films like The Ring and the Saw franchise. Along the way, he dissects dozens of great and not-so-great movies, including those by respected directors who entered horror only briefly (Polanski and Rosemary’s Baby, Kubrick and The Shining), by directors who went on to bigger things (Sam Raimi and The Evil Dead, Peter Jackson and Dead Alive), and directors who made horror their genre of choice (George Romero and Dawn of the Dead, John Carpenter and Halloween). For each film, Konow tells the story of how it came into being and why it works. But he is no dry cinephile; rather, he is an informative, knowledgeable fan. So why does a horror film work? We all like to be safely scared, and the right music helps. Would Jaws be Jaws without its trademark music? Obviously, the right makeup and a good story are important. But often, as Konow frequently points out, it’s what’s not there that counts: Rosemary’s baby is never seen; there’s not all that much shown in Psycho’s shower scene; there’s no music in the original Dracula, which makes it that much more unsettling. On the other hand, “Friday the 13th delighted in letting the blood and heads fly.” So maybe the rules are there to be broken. It’s such details that make the stories of these films so entertaining. Of course, there will be arguments: Is Se7en really a horror film? Where’s the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Why do those teenagers keep going into that dark room to be scared senseless?
A well-told account of the films that have scared the pants off generation after generation.