Category Archives: books

Pop Art: Best of Trek/Signet Edition

As a teenager and avid Trekkie, I came of age in the 1980s absolutely loving these Signet book compilations from Trek magazine, edited by Walter Irwin and G.B. Love. 
I still enjoy the cover artwork tremendously, but you can see that my personal collection of these books is pretty dilapidated in old age. 
The telltale sign of many (enjoyable) readings, I suppose…
If you recall these books, they featured interviews with cast and crew, analyses of the various Star Trek episodes, and articles such as “The Klingons: Their History and Empire” (Best of Trek 1). 
I remember very fondly reading Best of Trek 3 in particular, which was the first compilation after the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  I remember reading “Parallels in Star Trek: The Motion Picture vs. The Series” and fan reviews of the (controversial)  film. 
By the time of Best of Trek #15 in 1990, The Next Generation was being debated in essays such as “Same Sexism, Different Generation.”
I remember many fun hours reading these books, and soaking up fan knowledge and speculation about Star Trek.  I suppose these Best of Trek books provided me an early example, in my youth, of the fact that one could love science-fiction television with a passion and also write intelligently, deeply, and analytically about it.

Anyone else ever read these? 

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20 Questions for Me

Web directory, search engine and “knowledge exchange” site Mahalo.com is currently sponsoring a new series for prominent authors called “20 questions for …. and — yay! — I’m next up in the programming queue.
So, if you have any questions you’d like to ask me about writing reference books,  or specifically about Horror Films of the 1970s, Horror Films of the 1980s and Horror Films of the 1990s, this is the opportunity to pose them! 
I’ll actually get to answer all twenty questions on video, which should be extremely cool… assuming I don’t make a complete fool of myself in the process.
Anyway, follow this link to Reddit, and ask away! 
I’ll be recording the video Friday afternoon, and responding to all your questions then.  I’ll let you know when the video page is posted.

>What I’m Reading Now: Dexter and Philosophy: Mind over Spatter!

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I just received my contributor copies of Open Court’s new book, Dexter and Philosophy
I’ve had a chance to leaf through the text this morning, and thus far the book, edited by Richard Greene, George A. Reisch, and Rachel Robison-Greene looks mighty impressive.
My entry, “The Killing Joke” (comparing Dexter Morgan to a superhero) is the first article following the introduction (“Knowing Thyself”) and is found under  the section called “Maiming and Necessity.” 
My essay is followed by a really intriguing piece that explicitly compares Dexter to Star Trek’s Mr. Spock.  It’s called “Dexter’s Pointy Ears” and was penned by Abrol Fairweather, a Philosophy professor at the University of San Francisco.
Other sections in Dexter and Philosophy include “The Cut of Dexter’s Jib,” “What Would Dexter Do?,” “Bad Blood and Bad Behavior” and “Dexter’s Bloodline.” 
So far, I’ve only had the chance to read four essays in the collection, but they’re all very good.  I maintain Dexter is the finest genre show on television right now, and while reading this book, you can really see how the TV series has inspired a number of authors and professors to consider some basic life issues.  What does it mean to be human?  What value — if any — are emotions?  And can a man who is a serial killer actually be…a hero?  Is murder ever a social good?
You can pre-order Dexter and Philosophy: Mind over Spatter at Amazon.com, here, today.  It’s widely available on June 1st, in both paperback and Kindle editions. 

>I Grew Up with These Film and TV Books…

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Producer and writer Joseph Maddrey’s blog is called Movies Made Me — a great title and a great blog that gazes back at the movie productions influencing his life and persona.  Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to comment back and forth with author Gary Gerani, of Fantastic Television (1977) fame — a writer who has been immensely influential to me over the years — and my mind went to Joe’s phraseology.
So in the spirit of Joe’s blog title and that conversation with Mr. Gerani, I got to thinking about the film and TV reference books that  “made me.”
Now, these are non-fiction reference guides and monographs that I have returned to over and over again across the years, and drawn immense inspiration from.  These are all books written pre-1990 (when I was 21), and ones that had an enormous impact on my writing career, and the manner in which I today express myself and my understanding of cinema and television.
So today, I wanted to share with you just a few of the film and TV reference books that I grew up with; that made me who I am. 
Again, I just want to be clear: there are innumerable fantastic film and TV reference books being written right now by the likes of Paul Meehan, Alec Worley, Carol J. Clover, David Skal, Matthew Bradley, Mark Phillips, Joe Maddrey, Paul Kane, Brad Duke, Stephen Tropiano, Ray Morton, Barry Monush and many, many others.  It’s just that for today I’m focusing on my pre-1990 youth.
I’m featuring these texts (below) in the order I encountered them in my youth.




Fantastic Television (Harmony Books)
This 1977 book by Gary Gerani and Paul H. Schulman features episode guides, background information and cogent critical analyses of thirteen landmark genre TV series, from One Step Beyond through Space:1999. The second part of the book gazes at “American Telefantasy,” “British Telefantasy,” “Kid Stuff” and “Made for TV Movies.”
I still utilize this valuable text for reference purposes, especially for the outstanding entry on Boris Karloff’s Thriller, for example. I purchased this book in the late 1970s, when I wasn’t ten yet, and here I found two authors treating science fiction — and the medium of television — seriously. It was something of a revelation to me. Written with intelligence and wit, Fantastic Television still impresses me (though I respectfully disagree with the authorial assessment of Space:1999).
Memorable quote: “As I as being pushed from behind into adulthood and, not incidentally, as space travel became a reality, the Captain Videos and Flash Gordons became camp.  But a younger generation was already waist deep into Batman, Lost in Space and Vulcan lore.  In time, of course, even the Star Ship Enterprise will become camp and another new crop of kids will become enthralled by new TV shows.” (Fantastic Television, Introduction, Paul H. Schulman, page 9).

The World of Star Trek (Ballantine Books; 1973)
I must have owned five copies and at least two editions of The World of Star Trek (by David Gerrold) over the years.  Among other things, this fine book taught me that you can criticize something (even Star Trek) because you love it; and want it to be better.  And you can do it without being a jerk about it.  In The World of Star Trek, David Gerrold insightfully pinpointed Star Trek at its best, and at its worst, and meaningfully — and with critical consistency — discussed why certain episodes landed at either end of the spectrum.  The World of Star Trek is about TV production, about storytelling, and about wanting something you love to always be great, and not  suffer from  “hardening of the arteries” as Gerrold put it.
Memorable Quote: “This is the essential appeal of drama.  As mentioned earlier, we watch a story because we are really testing ourselves.  We are curious as to how we would react in an equivalent situation.” (page 34)

 

Danse Macabre (Berkley Books; 1981)
It’s strange to contemplate, but my all-time favorite Stephen King book isn’t even a work of fiction.  Rather Danse Macabre is about the art of horror, and how one horror icon perceives and practices that art. 
I still admire (nay, worship…) King’s incredible review of The Amityville Horror (1979), positioning it as a film not about a haunted house, but as a fear of the “money pit” of home ownership.  And while King’s dismissal of Kolchak: The Night Stalker might rankle some enthusiasts, his critiques of The Outer Limits and Tales of the Unexpected among others still make for valuable reading.  On a side note, King also helped me develop a thicker skin in preparation for a writing career in an age in which everyone always thinks they know more than you, with these words from his introduction.
Memorable Quote: “You’ll get as many things wrong as you do right. And none of those guys [fans] will pat you on the head for what you got right; they’ll just drive you nuts with the stuff you got wrong.” 
With those words, Stephen King forecast the Internet Age.  And he taught all of us how to be better writers, and better readers.

The Zombies that Ate Pittsburgh (P.M.A. Communications; 1987)
Paul R. Gagne’s The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh must be one of the most thorough and detailed “films of” books I’ve ever  had the good fortune to read. Not only does The Zombies that Ate Pittsburgh feature great color photographs and in-depth interviews with Romero, it lets you know the “hows” and the “whys” behind the artist’s works and creative process.   I attempted to model my books An Askew View, The Unseen Force, Best in Show, and Mercy in Her Eyes, on the excellent work  achieved by Gagne here.  Unfortunately, I’ve read my copy of this book so frequently that it is now falling apart.  And replacing it is prohibitively expensive…
Creature Features (Creatures at Large Press, 1987)
I’ve owned every one of John Stanley’s Creature Features Guides over the years, and perpetually found them invaluable resources in terms of finding a film by an alternate title, or learning about a film’s availability on video, laserdisc(!) or DVD.  These Stanley books cover thousands of titles, and I remember when I was  in college, my roommate and I endeavored to see every damn movie in the first book, starting with the letter “A.”  I don’t think we ever even got to “B,: but these Creature Feature Guides remain a great resource.  I have fond memories of reading these books at my grandfather’s house in Tom’s River, New Jersey, at the shore.   Again, I don’t always agree with the capsule reviews, but Stanley’s books are like a treasure trove.  How else would I have discovered titles like Three on a Meat Hook?
Indelible Images (University Press of America; 1987)
Last but not at all least is this monograph by my film professor at the University of Richmond, Bert Cardullo.  Trained by Stanley Kauffman and critic for The Hudson Review, Dr. Cardullo was and remains one of the most important influences in my life.  His 1987 book, Indelible Images delivers just what it promises — “new perspectives on classic films.” 
From this book, and from Dr. Cardullo I learned to question conventional wisdom about film, to always research a production’s historical context, and perhaps most importantly, to ask “why” in regards to a film director’s choices.  Cardullo’s film classes and seminars at college were wonderful and illuminating, and this book takes me back to those days and lectures every time I open it to read a chapter.  I have a (prized) signed copy that, to this day, I treasure.  You can check out Bert Cardullo’s Amazon store here, to familiarize yourself with his other film titles.  Cardullo most definitively isn’t into genre film (and we used to have fun butting heads over that on the UR Campus…) but he is one of the finest film critics in the biz.
Memorable Quote: “Cinematic departures from traditional notions of character and empathy interest me precisely because this sort of experimentation has been going on wholesale in literature for some time, but seems to occur only sporadically in films.  The reason, clearly, is that, unlike literature, film embodies rather than evokes the human figure; and unlike theatre (where such experimentation has a long and continuing tradition), film most often photographs actual physical reality instead of attempting to re-create it or reorder it.  We see real people (be they actors or not) in real settings, and as a result we search for the common bond between ourselves and them; we seek to know them, in their allure and complexity (but ultimate knowability), tell us something about our own lives (page ix).”
This is by no means a complete list.  David Schow’s Outer Limits Companion is an amazing book, as is Zicree’s text on The Twilight Zone.  I also grew up reading anything and everything “splatter” by the great John McCarty.  Other beloved reference books from my youth include Ed Naha’s spectacular The Making of Dune and John Brosnan’s James Bond of the Cinema.
What film and TV books did you grow up on?    I may just have to start a meme here (if it already hasn’t been done…) and ask a few of my blogging brethren to pass on their reference book love. 
I’d love to know what film and TV books “made you…”

Book Review: Richard Matheson on Screen

“There’s nothing more of a pariah in this business than the writer after the script is written…”
-Richard Matheson, in Richard Matheson on Screen, by Matthew R. Bradley, McFarland, 2010, page 221.
For the last sixty or so years, there has been no more important an author in genre film and television than Richard Matheson. 
His novel, I am Legend has been adapted to film no less than three times, and the landmark text also inspired George Romero’s living dead cycle. 
Similarly, it was Matheson’s script for Duel (1972) that launched the film career of director Steven Spielberg. 
The accomplishments hardly end there.  Matheson was responsible for adapting to television what soon became the highest-rated TV movie of the 1970s, The Night Stalker (1972).  He also penned the Kolchak sequel, Night Strangler (1973).
Additionally, Matheson has left his indelible, individual stamp on episodic televison.  A primary contributor to Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, he authored the teleplays for such Zone classics as “Nick of Time,” “The Invaders,” “Death Ship” and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.”  
Later, Matheson wrote for Thriller (“The Return of Andrew Bentley”), Star Trek (“The Enemy Within”), Night Gallery (“The Funeral”) and countless other programs that we recognize today as classics of the medium.  This assessment exists, in no small part, because of Matheson’s efforts.  
Ponder, for instance, just how deeply “The Enemy Within” impacted Star Trek history, and how elements of that particular tale (about a transporter malfunction) were repeated in the franchise right up into the 1990s. Voyager’s “Tuvix” is one notable example of this pattern.
Considering the truly impressive breadth of Matheson’s career and its impact on genre programming and movies, a new book by author Matthew R. Bradley — Richard Matheson on Screen   really has its work cut out for it.  Matheson’s career is vast; his subject matter varied, and his creative contributions…virtually ubiquitous.
Fortunately, Bradley is resolutely the right man for this task.  Without relying on hyperbole, without resorting to blind praise, Bradley carefully and patiently charts the multi-decade film and television contributions of this remarkable talent, a man who has achieved more in Hollywood than virtually any other writer you can name.  Yes, even more than Stephen King. 
Because of Bradley’s attention to detail and straight-forward, informative writing style, Richard Matheson on Screen is a work of solid scholarship, and more than that, a compelling window on a one-in-a-million career.  I particularly enjoyed the book’s commentary regarding authorship in film and television; what it means and how it is seen within the industry. 
On page 157, for instance, Matheson is quoted discussing how Hitchcock, not Robert Bloch, gets the lion’s share of the credit for Psycho, and how probably the same  fact is true of Spielberg regarding Duel.  That’s just the nature of how we all “talk” film in the culture, and Matheson  isn’t being strident in pointing it out…merely truthful. 
He’s also admirably consistent in his discussion. After cogently discussing the primacy of a good script, Matheson then proves totally fair-minded when the tables are turned.  For instance, Matheson adapted The Night Stalker from Jeff Rice’s novel, The Kolchak Papers, and he is quick to credit Rice with writing a crackling good yarn in the first place; something that he, as the adapting author, could then move to the milieu of television.  The entire Kolchak section of the book is quite fascinating, in fact, particularly Matheson’s impressions of legendary producer/director Dan Curtis.
Richard Matheson on Screen is organized by chronological order, beginning with The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) and going right up through Will Smith’s I am Legend (2007) and a brief section on “Other Unproduced Projects.”  Bradley devotes considerable space to each production, with over fifty of them highlighted and discussed in exhaustive detail.
Within each section, Bradley provides a clear, concise introduction and background information.  Then generally, he gets out of the way.  He lets interview material with Matheson — from a wide variety of sources, including those the author conducted himself for the great magazine Filmfax —  recount the interesting details of the story.  I think this is a very clever, very thoughtful, very respectful way of approaching the book.  Bradley is excellent with words and with organizing his material, but he never makes the book about him; or how he turns a sentence.  He willfully keeps out of the limelight and at the same time weaves an extremely thorough, extremely involving narrative. His writing is crisp and clear.  He’s a good guide.
There’s an abundance of interesting anecdotes in the book as well.  I enjoyed reading about the manner in which Universal cannibalized footage from Duel for an episode of The Incredible Hulk, and also appreciated the discussion of Somewhere in Time, a film that outlived its box office performance to become a beloved cult movie  There’s talk here of an unmade sequel, as well as a discussion of a third, never-produced Kolchak tele-film, The Night Killers, apparently scuttled by no less a personality than Darren McGavin.
Ultimately the words of Richard Matheson in the foreword provide the best review of this carefully-crafted chronology.  It is a “meticulously thought-out history” of the author’s script work of “50 plus years,” presented with “care and good taste.”  I’ll get out of the way of Matheson’s words too, and just  say I concur with that assessment.
Finally, I would also recommend as a companion piece to this book an August 16th, 2002 live telephone interview with Mr Matheson conducted by Dr. Howard Margolin at Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction.
Matthew Bradley’s Richard Matheson on Screen: A History of the Filmed Works is available for purchase at McFarland or at Amazon.com.

Pop Art: Doctor Who/Pinnacle Edition (1979 – 1982)

New Film and TV Books from McFarland

Irwin Allen Television Productions, 1964–1970

Before establishing himself as the “master of disaster” with the 1970s films The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno, Irwin Allen created four of television’s most exciting and enduring science-fiction series: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, The Time Tunnel and Land of the Giants.

These 1960s series were full of Allen’s favorite tricks, techniques and characteristic touches, and influenced other productions from the original Star Trek forward. Every science-fiction show owes something to Allen, yet none has equaled his series’ pace, excitement, or originality.

This detailed examination and documentation of the premise and origin of the four shows offers an objective evaluation of every episode—and demonstrates that when Irwin Allen’s television episodes were good, they were great, and when they were bad, they were still terrific fun.


Terrorism in American Cinema

The American cinema of terrorism, although coming to prominence primarily in the 1970s amidst high-profile Palestinian terrorist activity, actually dates back to the beginnings of the Cold War. But this early terrorist cinema was centered largely around the Bomb—who had it, who would use it, when—and differs greatly from the terrorist cinema that would follow. Changing world events soon broadened the cinema of terrorism to address emerging international conflicts, including Black September, pre–9/11 Middle Eastern conflicts, and the post–9/11 “War on Terror.” This analytical filmography of American terrorist films establishes terrorist cinema as a unique subgenre with distinct thematic narrative and stylistic trends. It covers all major American films dealing with terrorism, from Otto Preminger’s Exodus (1960) to Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies (2008).


Peter Cushing

From his film debut in The Man in the Iron Mask (1939) through Biggles (1985), here is the movie career of Peter Cushing, known as “the gentle man of horror.” From interviews and extensive personal correspondence, the authors are able to provide Cushing’s own views on many of his 91 films.

A plot synopsis for each film is followed by production data and credits and contemporary reviews.

Encyclopedia of Television Law Shows

When media coverage of courtroom trials came under intense fire in the aftermath of the infamous New Jersey v. Hauptmann lawsuit (a.k.a. the Lindbergh kidnapping case,) a new wave of fictionalized courtroom programming arose to satiate the public’s appetite for legal drama. This book is an alphabetical examination of the nearly 200 shows telecast in the U.S. from 1948 through 2008 involving courtrooms, lawyers and judges, complete with cast and production credits, airdates, detailed synopses and background information. Included are such familiar titles as Perry Mason, Divorce Court, Judge Judy, LA Law, and The Practice, along with such obscure series as They Stand Accused, The Verdict Is Yours Sam Benedict, Trials of O’Brien, and The Law and Mr. Jones. The book includes an introductory overview of law-oriented radio and TV broadcasts from the 1920s to the present, including actual courtroom coverage (or lack of same during those years in which cameras and microphones were forbidden in the courtroom) and historical events within TV’s factual and fictional treatment of the legal system. Also included in the introduction is an analysis of the rise and fall of cable’s Court TV channel.

The Christopher Lee Filmography

The career of Christopher Lee has stretched over half a century in every sort of film from comedy to horror and in such diverse roles as the Man With the Golden Gun, Frankenstein’s monster, Fu Manchu and Sherlock Holmes.

From Corridor of Mirrors in 1948 to Star Wars: Episode II–Attack of the Clones in 2002, this reference book covers 166 theatrical feature films: all production information, full cast and crew credits, a synopsis, and a critical analysis, with a detailed account of its making and commentary drawn from some thirty hours of interviews with Lee himself. Two appendices list Lee’s television feature films and miniseries and his short films.

The work concludes with an afterword by Christopher Lee himself. Photographs from the actor’s private collection are included.


Grande Dame Guignol Cinema

This critically analytical filmography examines 45 movies featuring “grande dames” in horror settings. Following a history of women in horror before 1962’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, which launched the “Grande Dame Guignol” subgenre of older women featured as morally ambiguous leading ladies, are all such films (mostly U.S.) that came after that landmark release. The filmographic data includes cast, crew, reviews, synopses, and production notes, as well as recurring motifs and each role’s effect on the star’s career.

A History of the Doc Savage Adventures in Pulps, Paperbacks, Comics, Fanzines, Radio and Film

Doc Savage is the prototype of the modern fictional superhero. The character exploded onto the scene in 1933, with the Great Depression and1the gathering clouds of war as a cultural backdrop. The adventure series is examined in relation to historical events and the changing tastes of readers, with special attention paid to the horror and science fiction elements. The artwork features illustrations, covers, and original art. Chapters cover Doc Savage paperbacks, pulp magazines, comic books, and fanzines, and an appendix offers biographies of all major contributors to the series.

Dark Dreams 2.0

Greatly expanded and updated from the 1977 original, this new edition explores the evolution of the modern horror film, particularly as it reflects anxieties associated with the atomic bomb, the Cold War, 1960s violence, sexual liberation, the Reagan revolution, 9/11 and the Iraq War. It divides modern horror into three varieties (psychological, demonic and apocalyptic) and demonstrates how horror cinema represents the popular expression of everyday fears while revealing the forces that influence American ideological and political values. Directors given a close reading include Alfred Hitchcock, Brian De Palma, David Cronenberg, Guillermo Del Toro, Michael Haneke, Robert Aldrich, Mel Gibson and George A. Romero. Additional material discusses postmodern remakes, horror franchises and Asian millennial horror. This book also contains more than 950 frame grabs and a very extensive filmography.

Screen Sirens Scream!

These twenty heroines portrayed imperiled women in science fiction, horror, film noir and mystery movies from the 1930s to the 1960s. Some—like Sandy Descher, who confronted the giant ants of Them!—were only girls when they faced their screen perils. Others—such as Mary Murphy, who played opposite Marlon Brando in The Wild One—were leading ladies in other film genres. Yet others—such as June Wilkinson, considered by many as Playboy’s greatest model—came from outside the acting world.

Each interview is preceded by an introduction. Besides the three above, the interviewees are Ramsay Ames, Claudia Barrett, Jean Byron, Linda Christian, Faith Domergue, Amanda Duff, Evangelina Elizondo, Margaret Field, Mimi Gibson, Marilyn Harris, Kitty de Hoyos, Donna Martel, Joyce Meadows, Noreen Nash, Cynthia Patrick, Paula Raymond and Joan Taylor. Among the films they starred in are The Mummy’s Ghost, Robot Monster, Tarzan and the Mermaids, This Island Earth, It Came from Beneath the Sea, Where Danger Lives, The Man from Planet X, The Monster That Challenged the World, Frankenstein, The Brain from Planet Arous, Phantom from Space, The Mole People, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers. Some interviews were previously published in a different form in fan magazines.

Food in the Movies, 2d ed.

Although food has been part of motion pictures since the silent era, for the most part it has been treated with about as much respect as movie extras: it’s always been there on the screen but seldom noticed.

For the most part filmmakers have settled on three basic ways to treat food: as a prop in which the food is usually obscured from sight or ignored by the actors; as a transition device to compress time and help advance the plot; as a symbol or metaphor, or in some other meaningful way, to make a dramatic point or to reveal an aspect of an actor’s character, mood or thought process.

This hugely expanded and revised edition details 400 food scenes, in addition to the 400 films reviewed for the first edition, and an introduction tracing the technical, artistic and cultural forces that contributed to the emergence of food films as a new genre—originated by such films as Tampopo, Babette’s Feast and more recently by films like Mostly Martha, No Reservations and Ratatouille. A filmography is included as an appendix.