The sec­ond install­ment of the Basic Schlock Bookshelf lifts us up from the under­ground and into tonier, more high-mind­ed ter­ri­to­ry.  This might make your inner grind­house fan flinch but it’s a good thing.  While zines and gen­re pub­li­ca­tions are the lifeblood of schlock stud­ies,  it’s also good to mix it up every now and then by read­ing some­thing that’s a bit more intel­lec­tu­al; the kind of crit­i­cal ref­er­ence that seeks out a meet­ing point between schlock and the crit­i­cal ortho­doxy.

The fol­low­ing trio of entries illus­trate this approach.  All the authors involved in the­se books uti­lizes a clas­si­cal “film stud­ies” approach to cult cin­e­ma.  None of them have an exclu­sive schlock focus but each dips into schlock ter­ri­to­ry with­out shrug­ging it off in an indis­crim­i­nate man­ner.  There isn’t as much rab­ble-rous­ing fun in the­se books as you might get with some­thing penned by Michael Weldon or Bill Landis but they do offer a line of think­ing guar­an­teed to chal­lenge your aes­thet­ic.

mid-movMIDNIGHT MOVIES by Jonathan Rosenbaum & J. Hoberman (reprint­ed 1991 – DaCapo): Probably the best-writ­ten book in the Basic Schlock Bookshelf – both Hoberman and Rosenbaum are sea­soned film schol­ars and jour­nal­ists with years of news­pa­per work and books to their cred­it.  Fittingly, they approach the tit­u­lar sub­ject with respect and intel­li­gence as they explore both the rise of the the­aters who invent­ed the con­cept of the mid­night movie and the left-of-cen­ter film­mak­ers who pro­vid­ed the nec­es­sary screen­ing mate­ri­al.  Everyone from John Waters to Alejandro Jodorowsky gets their day in the sun, plus the authors make an inter­est­ing con­nec­tion between the exper­i­men­tal film­mak­ers of the New York scene and the film­mak­ers who would become mid­night movie stal­warts – this dis­tinc­tion helped me broad­en my tastes to appre­ci­ate avant-garde fare and illus­trat­ed that the dif­fer­ence between grind­house auteurs and art­house leg­ends was often quite slim (after all, George Romero’s best work is as the­mat­i­cal­ly chal­leng­ing as it is vis­cer­al­ly excit­ing).  Plus, all the stuff about the mid­night movie scene and the dis­trib­u­tors who locked into it is fun read­ing and edu­ca­tion­al for any­one who ever won­dered how this phe­nom­e­non came to be.

horror-encHORROR (THE OVERLOOK FILM ENCYCLOPEDIA SERIES) Edited by Phil Hardy  (1995 – Penguin):  This is one of a series of film gen­re ency­clo­pe­di­as mas­ter­mind­ed by British author Phil Hardy – each is inter­est­ing in its own right but this one is the best of the lot.  I picked it up dur­ing my mid-1980’s peri­od of hor­ror gen­re obses­sion (the Fangoria days, as it were) and it has remained a beloved ref­er­ence ever since.  The for­mat of Horror is sim­ple: gen­re entries from around the globe are cov­ered year by year via cap­sule reviews that doles out plot details, pro­duc­tion info and con­tex­tu­al insights in equal mea­sure.  There are also short essays that pref­ace each decade’s worth of entries to set the scene for the cin­e­mat­ic devel­op­ments of that ten-year peri­od.  What makes this book spe­cial is the qual­i­ty of the writ­ing – the British crit­ics who penned this tome have the appro­pri­ate deep knowl­edge of the gen­re but are refresh­ing­ly lack­ing in pre­ten­sion: H.G. Lewis gore-a-thons and Italian can­ni­bal epics get just as much time and seri­ous crit­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tion as all the acknowl­edged gen­re clas­sics.  Better yet, the crit­ics are will­ing to go out on a limb for obscu­ri­ties – I dis­cov­ered faves like Evilspeak and Alice Sweet Alice through this vol­ume – and the book’s inter­na­tion­al approach will teach the read­er plen­ty about for­eign hor­ror cin­e­ma (I owe at least half my knowl­edge of Italian hor­ror direc­tors to this book).  To sum up, Horror is a ref­er­ence work with a sur­pris­ing sense of per­son­al­i­ty and the kind of book you’ll return to again and again.

cult-movies-bookCULT MOVIES 1, 2 & 3 by Danny Peary (1981 – 1988, Fireside):  These books were a vital influ­ence on my view­ing habits as a high-school­er, shin­ing a light on how to appre­ci­ate my favorite cult films from an intel­li­gent stand­point.  Each of the­se three books cov­ers the gamut of cult cin­e­ma, siz­ing up every­thing from fringe auteurs like Russ Meyer and John Waters to old school Hollywood faves like The Wizard Of Oz and Vertigo.  He even cov­ers a cou­ple of adult films from the 1970’s porno-chic era along the way.  Peary clev­er­ly deals with the trou­ble of bal­anc­ing plot descrip­tion and ana­lyt­i­cal con­tent by divid­ing the two up – each film has two text entries: a detailed plot syn­op­sis and an essay that mix­es crit­i­cal com­men­tary with research that puts the film into its prop­er his­tor­i­cal con­text.  The essays are the main part of each entry, offer­ing a pol­ished com­bi­na­tion of crit­i­cal com­men­tary and film fan pas­sion.

cult-movies-2Another great aspect of the­se books is that the essays work in a wealth of cool behind-the-sce­nes info that you’d have a hard time find­ing else­where: for exam­ple, Peary’s Billy Jack essay lays out the fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ry behind the film­mak­ers’ epic strug­gle to retain con­trol of both the pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion of the film (and how the­se efforts helped make it a grass­roots cause célèbre).  My one crit­i­cism is that Peary tends to get uptight when deal­ing with the extremes of cult cin­e­ma – the essays on Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls and Pink Flamingos in par­tic­u­lar get bogged down in a lot of moral­is­tic hand-wring­ing over polit­i­cal­ly cor­rect con­cerns.  Despite this flaw, Peary’s work here remains trail­blaz­ing and inspi­ra­tional for the novice cult film fanat­ic: I can’t fault the guy too much because the­se books played a cru­cial role in help­ing me find my way to the par­tic­u­lar avenues of cine-cultism that I found the most appeal­ing.  They remain well worth a read for novice film cultists look­ing to devel­op their chops.