A.S. Mott,
Scary Movies
(Ghost House, 2005)

It's no surprise that A.S. Mott, the author of numerous book on ghosts and ghost stories, harbors a fascination for horror films. His new book, Scary Movies, is a marvelous love note to the genre -- a delightful introduction to the frightening, gory and macabre on the big screen, a detailed analysis of the art form and its key players, and a premeditated stab at a body of work that has provided the world with more nightmares and thrillingly unpleasant sensations than any other.

Mott has a wicked sense of humor and an acute understanding of what makes screen horror work. He provides in-depth background of the creation, cast and characters of several key films -- entire chapters are devoted to Psycho, Halloween, An American Werewolf in London, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Fly and Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn. He explains what worked and what didn't in each, as well as the inspiration, genesis and aftermath of each Hollywood project and the mindset, where known, of the directors involved. He also provides several lists of movies in a similar vein that did well or flopped big-time. He illuminates the basic rules by which teenage slasher films live or die. He gets specific about budgets, special effects and studio interference.

The author explains his disappointment at being born too late to experience Psycho in its original, unspoiled form, and mentions the reason an honest-to-god flush toilet plays a pivotal role in one scene. He tells you why I Still Know What You Did Last Summer flopped, and why its predecessor failed to create a visually frightening villain. He reveals the joint-popping transformation of a soda-pop hawker into a creature of the night and the introduction of humor into serious horror. He discusses the pros and cons of sequels. He warns you where you can see a "half-man, half-octopus hybrid running amok in a trailer park" and details the rags-to-riches tale in which a dreamy serial killer turned a small movie distributor into a major Hollywood player.

Scary Movies isn't a very imposing book, but even so I imagined a dull, lifeless handling of the topic. Mott quickly dispelled the fear, however, with his conversational prose, wealth of trivial knowledge and obvious love for the subject. I can only hope there's a sequel, with a bigger budget and grander special effects.

by Tom Knapp
24 September 2005

Buy it from Amazon.com.