By Richard Ostrum
Being a fellow who likes to pass himself off as a purveyor of the critical breaking down of most things cinematic, I figured it was about time to swing some attention over to a fine collection of a wide variety of kindred souls. We’re talking text here, a book named Hidden Horror (Kitley’s Krypt) is a right ambitious little tome that tasks itself with offering any willing reader some well formed and engaging insight into not one but one hundred and one so-called “overlooked” (or “undervalued,” if you will) films crafted and broadcast under the horror genre umbrella. It may be the perfect answer to that eternal query many have put forth when seeking appropriate material for that next movie night, “I wonder if there’s anything good to rent that I haven’t already seen?”
The guiding hand behind this whole concept, from genesis to final published product, is an unabashed horror-nerd cum magazine/blog writer/thespian/other related stuff working out of Chicago calling himself Aaron Christensen (aka-Dr. AC). Christensen (who contributes his own piece examining the merits of Larry Fessenden’s vampire opus Habit) has culled together 101 impassioned and opinionated individuals from all over this damn planet (the states, the U.K., Scandinavia, etc.) and challenged them each to assemble a short list of beloved fright films that they felt would be truly deserving of a second (or in some cases first) chance to shine for a much greater viewing population than what they’ve thus far received. After whittling it all down to a singular selection, each of these eager literati were directed to argue their respective cases as best they could. The final resulting passages may differ greatly in appeal when matched up with the reader’s own specific tastes. Ample debate and discussion is my guesstimate as to the healthy outcome of all this.
The contents of Hidden Horror spans the gamut of the history of the genre entire, the writings contained within touch base on everything from the growing pains of the silent era (Dreyer’s Vampyr, The Hands of Orlac, The Penalty) to the fruitful decades following the spoken word’s invasion of the film form (Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Kill, Baby…Kill, Phantom of the Paradise, Humanoids From the Deep, and on and on…) to the waning years of the 20th Century as well as the dawn of its successor.
The essays attack their selected subject matter from a wide range of angles. Many choose to implant the origin story of their first encounter with the pleasures of the horror film universe, often by virtue of their film of focus. Witness, for quick example, both Mark Allen Gunnell’s and Dave Fuentes’s side-by-side write ups on the Canadian bred, 1983 slasher Curtains and the 1981 television movie Dark Night of the Scarecrow respectively. Both scribes emphasize the long-ago first contact with said films and the lasting impact made upon them as they pursued further frights, while clinging to a love of the pictures that helped to mold their affection for macabre cinema.
Elsewhere, Indiana native and online contributor (blogs and online sites figure into the lives of a majority of Hidden Horror’s participants) J. Nelson Smith relates how some sample bits found on a Skinny Puppy record lead him to the 1973 British chiller The Legend of Hell House. J.T. McRoberts, a micro-budget filmmaker out of North Carolina tells of a convention vendor turning him on to the uber-oddball Japanese freak fest Kairo (or Pulse as it and its obligatory remake are known here), and also there is the case of Lee Marohn who, after years of careful avoidance, and the advent of a handy “31 Days of Horror” marathon commitment, at last uncovered the stand-alone charms of the largely rejected Halloween III: Season of the Witch. A gent named Patrick Mathewes turned his piqued interest in the great, quirky filmmaker Larry Cohen (care of a career retrospective article he stumbled across) into an impetus to track down Q-The Winged Serpent, from 1982, and bask in its’ wonderful, pre-CGI cheese-bag monster effects as well as one grand, over-the-top performance by lead actor Michael Moriarty. There is also a sobering, honest digestion of the grandma of all rape/revenge epics I Spit on your Grave (the 1978 original, mind you) by a lady, B.J. Colangelo, who discloses that she is a victim of sexual violence. This gives her startlingly positive take on this long- loathed shocker extra gravity, as she makes a case for its value as a statement against violence toward women instead of the misogynistic masturbation fantasy most viewers and critics have made it out to be.
Now, as with any compendium of notable size, there are going to be bits that anyone could take issue with. Myself, I spotted but a few choices I never would have made such as The Hills Have Eyes or Psycho II (another choice, Tremors, with its multiple spin offs and Kevin Bacon presence, simply baffled me altogether), but I found a great number more that I heartily agree with (some passing examples: Brain Damage, The Signal, Santa Sangre, May and the mighty, mystical Dust Devil, which I rambled about in this publication many moons ago). There proved to be a fair smattering of flicks I have yet to run my eyes across too, (Eden Lake, In A Glass Cage, Alucarda) some further that I’d never even heard of (where do I even find something called The Other Side?).
Such a vast array of geek-savvy options could only be served up by an equal batch of authors. As mentioned earlier, many an online, blog-chic wordsmith is present and accounted for in addition to print-media pros (the big three genre rags, Fangoria, Rue Morgue and HorrorHound are well represented here, no worries) and even a few local lads. Oshkosh native and Dead Weight main-man John Pata takes a playful stab at Spanish schlockmiester Juan Piquer-Simon’s 1982 gorefest Pieces, and our very own Gavin Schmitt gives up some much needed love to Herschell Gordon Lewis with his lavish appraisal of his 1972 effort The Gore Gore Girls.
In total, Hidden Horror delivers on its promise to fitfully celebrate “101 underrated and overlooked fright flicks.” It even boasts a decent little intro by director William Lustig (whose notorious 1980 sociopath study Maniac gets its due in the book too) to help ease the reader into the fray. All in all, Hidden Horror might just prove to be the new bible you hold by your side as you stalk your local video joint or online queue. Make the commitment to HiddenHorror, starting here: facebook.com/hiddenhorrorthebook and http://www.kitleyskrypt.com/.
Oh, if anybody out there happens to have a copy of the uncut DVD version of Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession I can borrow, hit me up accordingly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks a bunch.