Friday, August 10, 2007

New Books from Bryan Senn and Steve Bissette

Now available from McFarland and Company is A YEAR OF FEAR: A DAY-BY-DAY GUIDE TO 366 HORROR FILMS by Bryan Senn ($35 softcover, 560 pp), a hefty trade paperback generously illustrated with 218 B&W photos and ad mats. It's formatted around a very clever idea: go through the calendar year, find historical events for each day and then find a horror film relatable to each event.

For example, the movie for May 21 is THE MAZE (1953), because it was on that day in 1977 that the longest leap by a frog (33 feet, 5 ½ inches) was recorded. On November 11, the date of the first fatal train wreck in the US (in 1833) is DR. TERROR'S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965). September 16's selection is WHITE ZOMBIE (1932), because on that day in 1915 Haiti became a US protectorate. And the movie for November 5, Guy Fawkes Day? No, not V FOR VENDETTA (2006); it's Antonio Margheriti's THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1964), which itself features the burning of an effigy. It's a rare movie fan who could resist at least thumbing through this book looking for the movie assigned to their birthday. (Lucky me: I get MARS NEEDS WOMEN for my birthday viewing.)

What would have likely become an instant White Elephant item if produced as an actual calendar (I know -- I've published a horror film calendar!) becomes a compellingly browsable book (and not limited to use over a single year, either). Best-known for his excellent 1930s horror reference GOLDEN HORRORS, Senn's entries for each film are smart, literate and interesting, and often leavened with quotes from various published sources related to the films. In case you have any doubt that Tom Weaver is the most valuable researcher classic horror films have ever had, just flip through this book at random; Tom's name appears on so many pages, crediting the sources for quotes and background information, he probably deserved co-author credit. Not all the data came from Weaver; there are also citations for works by David J. Skal, Mark A. Miller, Richard Bojarski, Robert Tinnell, David Del Valle, Dennis Fischer, Alan Upchurch, Bob Madison, Tom Johnson and Deborah Del Vecchio, as well as other articles from the pages of FANGORIA, FILMFAX and SCARY MONSTERS. (Me, I'm not so fortunate -- a few Mario Bava films are included herein, and the entries for BLACK SUNDAY [December 29, Barbara Steele's birthday] and BLACK SABBATH [March 7, the day the telephone was patented by Alexander Graham Bell] -- tap into my reseach and use at least one quote I obtained from Lamberto Bava, but other scribes are cited as the go-to people for Bava info. Oh, well.)

Senn's YEAR OF FEAR isn't exclusively horror, incidentally. There are several entries for science fiction films (WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE) and the odd marginal title like RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS. I could find only one silent film included: 1923's THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME, an odd inclusion when you realize that NOSFERATU and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA aren't represented and a later version of HUNCHBACK (Charles Laughton's) is. Nevertheless, A YEAR IN FEAR is commendable for providing a welcome structured curriculum for studying a well-considered cross-section of genre fare ranging from the early sound classics (like DRACULA, 1931) to contemporary releases (like DOG SOLDIERS, 2002). And you just might learn some fun things about history in the process.

In other book news, Black Coat Press will soon begin publishing in book form the collected video review columns of VW's own (occasional) Stephen R. Bissette. BLUR is the umbrella title for these volumes, and because our man Steve is nothing if not loquacious, the first volume will cover June 1999 through March 2000. Literate, informative, well worth reading, and well worth having. The very cool front-back cover design, seen above (and incorporating Steve's inimitable graphic stylings), is the work of Jon-Mikel Gates.

Read more about BLUR over on the official SRB blog MYRANT.

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