Friday, January 24, 2014

HIDDEN HORROR from Dr. AC (Review) - A Horror Fan's History of the Underdog

Since I was a monster kid and first took out An Album of Modern Horror Films from my local library, too young to watch most of the movies inside but heavily influenced by the forbidden fruit within, I have enjoyed the collected word and opinion concerning what’s worth watching in the horror genre. It’s the same instinct that drives me to read over Best-of lists each year or even take ridiculous quizzes asking me “how many of these great 80’s slasher films have you seen?” on social networking sites. As horror fans, we want to know everything about the genre. We want to see it all, know it all and we want to make sure that when we recommend a movie, it’s a good one. We consider conversations a test of our horror prowess and find the burden of a recommendation that we have not seen as the ultimate challenge; the rarer the better. I’m sure each collector or fanatic regarding a certain specialty has their own version of this recommendation phenomena; wine collectors come to mind as they try to trump each other for vintage and vineyard. We are connoisseurs of carnage. We are the keepers of the keys to a wealth of knowledge, lost to time and collected every so often in well-edited, organized and cataloged works like Hidden Horror. This collection of movies claims to be a “celebration of 101 underrated and overlooked fright flicks”. As any horror fan will tell you, the aggregation of this type of horror is no easy feat. Horror fans pride themselves on having knowledge of the obscure, the strange, the unusual. Does Hidden Horror, edited by Aaron Christensen of Horror 101 and HorrorHound fame achieve his task? The answer should be as subjective as the content of any horror film list, but the answer is in fact yes.

Dr. AC (Aaron Christensen) has previously compiled a list of movies in Horror 101 that stands as more of a true MUST watch list. The movies in Horror 101 are for beginners (thus using the naming convention ascribed to entry-level collegiate courses). With Hidden Horror, Dr. AC peels back the skin and looks at the viscera of the body of horror that is meant for the seasoned fan or ghoul or vivisectionist. The inclusion of older fare, foreign and independent new releases will test your casual horror-thoner. That is not to say that one can expect to plow through Hidden Horror without encountering some popular genre titles. The inclusion of movies like I Spit on Your Grave, Psycho II, The Blob, Halloween III or even Carnival of Souls may feel as though they should really be set for the A list or at least Horror 102. Still it is important to remember that this book has a more general audience. While you and I may be read to death on Pieces (though I find it difficult to be bored of the OTHER chain saw massacre movie) or Season of the Witch, there is a young crew in the horror-verse who thinks the filmography of George Romero begins at Birth of the Living Dead.

This horror fanatic has found quite a few gems to explore within these pages as well as affirmations of movies that I have been longing to enjoy for some time. Movies like Crimes at the Dark House, The House that Screamed and Pretty Poison are very new to me. That’s not to say that I haven’t heard their names thrown around, but the recommendation to watch them by this book affirms I must hunt them down. Typically what I’ve noticed is that the editor’s of the major horror magazines, Chris Alexander of Fangoria and Dave Alexander of Rue Morgue, Anthony Timpone of Fangoria or Nathan Hanneman of HorrorHound, picked more obscure movies than some of the other contributors from either the internet writing world or the actual filmmakers on the list. It is worth noting that I had the chance to enjoy Adam Bartlett and John Pata’s Dead Weight at the same time as I was reading Hidden Horror. Watching a newer independent post-apocalyptic horror movie and then reading about what makes a guy like Pata tick (Pieces in this case) helped to reciprocate my love for both projects. Ultimately, the amalgamation of selections from horror writing “royalty” and the small time bloggers mixes well to create a balanced list. Hidden Horror isn’t so obscure as to render itself an Indiana Jones-esque cinematic archaeological dig, but it also isn’t providing you with a TV schedule for this October’s Halloween movie schedule. Many of these movies have shown up on popular genre “what to watch” lists over the last couple of years, but if anything that simply provides consensus among peers that these movies are worth seeking out.

Hidden Horror fleshes out some of the greatest movies that fly just under the radar, which means that even if you consider yourself well versed in the obscure works of horror that you’ll be able to find new information or an opinion or perhaps an interpretation of a movie’s moral that you didn’t previously consider. There’s more than just the Leonard Maltin movie guide, quick review with stars and turkey. Many of the recommendations and reviews last several pages. There are plenty of black and white pictures to help capture the essence of a movie and to entice a new viewer beyond the opinions of one horror fan to another. Horror fans are a visual lot. We need to see the gratuity to suck us past the sideshow entrance.

My personal favorites and recommendations from the Hidden Horror list include The Devil Rides Out, Night Warning and Pieces to stop at three. You’ll see why when you read the entries.  Of course one of my favorite horror movies of all time made the list, Tourist Trap, which I wholeheartedly agree should be viewed as many times as possible until you understand just why it terrifies me to this day. Bless Pino Donaggio’s heart for creating such a crazy kitch score to make me remember watching it on network television as a youngster with every sting.  If I could pick one movie to include it would be the Haunting of Julia aka Full Circle. Mia Farrow should be remembered for more than Woody Allen and Rosemary Woodhouse. Composer Colin Towers is a genius, and ghost stories like these only come around once in a decade. Several of my good friends contributed to this release (full disclosure) and I found their entries to be absolutely on parr with the quality I have come to expect from them. These are the folks I read when I want to find out if a movie’s worth its weight in latex.

Ultimately you can use Hidden Horror in a number of ways. You could read it straight through and support your already burgeoning well of horror trivia. You can play a game, flipping to a new page each week and trying to locate that particular entry. You might also use this list as a challenge: make a confirmed and resolute goal to watch all the movies in Hidden Horror in a year’s time (which reminds me of when I watched all the movies on the Fangoria 300 list).  A book like Hidden Horror won’t always titillate you and will leave some dedicated fan boys and girls asking for a more comprehensive list of completely off the wall, unlocatable movies, but this volume sets out to find movies that are underrated and overlooked and, by many accounts, these films are just that.  If you’ve been paying attention to some of the major horror magazines over the last couple of years, there’s been a resurgence in reintroducing movies that haven’t really been part of the popular discussion. Distribution companies are releasing ever more obscure titles and the magazines follow suit, affirming the need to release said movies to a digital format, preserved and celebrated. Consider Hidden Horror a roadmap to this new age of availability and celebrate it by watching a horror film that hasn’t graced your player before. There’s a reason William Lustig wrote the foreword as a purveyor of the obscure with his label Blue Undergound (and not simply because Maniac made the list).

or pick up Horror 101 if you're just starting out and need to catch up!

 -Doc Terror

1 comment:

  1. Hi Doc, it's the other Doc. Can't thank you enough for your outstandingly articulate, personal, and passionate words about our literary (or is it liter-scary?) labor of love. When one sets out to pull together a project like this and is fortunate to gather talent such as we were able to procure, the one hope - with each proofreading pass or adjustment of a photo location - is that the intended Faithful Reader will "get it." That the message we're hoping to send, that we love these films and the genre in general, will be received in the spirit in which it is intended. And so, to have our little "Celebration" celebrated in such fine fashion by someone as informed and enthusiastic as yourself...well, it just makes it all worthwhile. Thank you, good sir. See you for round two.

    --Aaron "Dr. AC" Christensen