It’s tough for anyone to have success with a book – and it’s even tougher when you are dealing in a specialized interest like schlock. Plenty of talented, insightful minds have tackled this topic over the years but they don’t always achieve the recognition they deserve. This was doubly-true in the pre-internet era, when authors could only rely upon a few mainstream genre mags and word-of-mouth to drum up interest for their endeavors.
This installment of the Basic Schlock Film Bookshelf is dedicated to those forgotten scribes who have toiled in the schlock mines without ever achieving the notoriety of a Michael Weldon or Joe Bob Briggs. The following selections highlight three authors who plumb the depths of the schlock continuum with wit, intelligence and great writing. Their efforts are worthy of a quick search through your favored used-book vendors and their books will reward you with plenty of choice schlock scholarship.
CREATURE FEATURES: THE SCIENCE FICTION, HORROR AND FANTASY MOVIE GUIDE by John Stanley (2000 – Berkley): This was a big favorite during my Fangoria-reading days and it played a big role in my horror genre education. Penned by a t.v. horror host, it’s a comprehensive collection of sci-fi, horror and fantasy flick reviews in capsule form that covers everything from the classic Universal monster mashes to the skuzziest slasher opuses. Stanley brings the insight of a genre aficionado to the whole enterprise: whether he’s reviewing a vintage black-and-white chiller or a bottom-of-the-barrel gore-a-thon, he brings the same depth of knowledge and Forry Ackerman-esque good cheer to each critique. He’s not afraid to have a little fun with schlock and comes off as an all-around swell guy. Note: Stanley has been publishing his Creature Features guides since the early 1980’s so there are four different editions of this book (each new edition drops some titles from the past one for space reasons, so caveat emptor). I’ve listed the most recent edition since it will be the most up to date in terms of modern genre fare but any Creature Features guide you can get your hands on will offer plenty of good genre lore & reviews.
PHANTOM’S ULTIMATE MOVIE GUIDE/THE PHANTOM OF THE MOVIES’ VIDEOSCOPE by Joe Kane (1989/2000 – Dell/Three Rivers): The Phantom of the Movies is the nom de plume for Kane, a longtime writer for the New York Daily News who, like Joe Bob Briggs, invented a persona for his explorations of cult cinema’s fringes. Kane’s bypasses the rowdy irreverence and whimsical flights of fancy of the Joe Bob Briggs style to focus squarely on the films themselves in a playful, intelligent style. The reviews in both books are broken down into broad genre categories (horror, exploitation, so-bad-its-good, etc.) and approach the films from the basic viewpoint of whether or not they are worth a rental, working in extra commentary for the more memorable titles. A novel aspect of both guides is the fact that Kane counts on the viewer’s savviness with genre classics and gives them shorter reviews to make room for better coverage of lesser-known titles. Thus, his books shouldn’t be the first picks for a novice but they make great companion volumes to your more basic schlock reference tomes. His stylish prose is unusually biz-savvy for a schlock maven, making heavy use of terms like “manqué” and using “perf” instead of performance. This style is not mere window dressing – he’s a very insightful critic and can sum up a flicks’s merits or flaws in less than 400 words… and I’ll always be grateful to the Phantom for turning me on to The Executioner (a.k.a. Massacre Mafia Style), one of the most mind-blowing schlock epics ever made. Note: Videoscope is the more recent of the pair and thus offers more titles plus an array of cool short interviews with genre celebs but Ultimate is still worth getting if it’s your only option.
VIDEO TRASH AND TREASURES/MORE VIDEO TRASH AND TREASURES by L.A. Morse (1992 – Harper Collins): These two comprehensive collections of capsule reviews aren’t anywhere near as well-known as the other books in this section but they deserve to be. L.A. Morse has really done his homework, exploring virtually every film from the 1980’s that haunted the genre section of video stores and delivering concise critiques that balance the intelligent incisiveness of a genre-savvy writer with a comprehensive breakdown of their exploitable contents a la Joe Bob Briggs. Since the book is geared towards home viewing, Morse is also nice enough to group things into festivals of two or three like-minded flicks in each chapter – a touch that influenced me to assemble thematic programs of schlock whenever I’d screen the stuff for friends during my college years. The final benefit is that each book is a sleek, pocket-size paperback, making it just the right size and shape to tote along to the video store for quick on-the-spot referencing. In short, both volumes offer a perfect way to gather a whole lot of esoteric knowledge for minimal cash outlay. Get ‘em and flesh out your schlock education.