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.

6 Replies to “THE BASIC SCHLOCK FILM BOOKSHELF, VOL. 5: The Lesser-Known Guides”

  1. Wow, I have all these books (well, I sold the first Phantom book long ago). Nice to see a nod for the Morse paperbacks. They must be very obscure today, as I’ve never seen them anywhere or heard of anyone else reading or owning them. I wonder who Morse is, ’cause he knows his (her?) stuff. I second your recommendations, Don.

    1. Thanks for the nod. Morse has written a lot of paperback originals, the kind of stuff you might cover at one of your blogs (sample titles: SLEAZE and THE FLESH EATERS).

  2. “Videoscope” was a really key book for me. I must have read through the whole thing at least a dozen times. It’s wonderful to see it given it’s due.

    1. Yeah, Phantom strikes me as one of the more underrated cult-movie critics. I think he gets less notice because his style is not as ostentatious as a lot of the competitors but he gets the job done in his own unique style.

  3. There is a whole series from a publisher long gone defunct, Creationbooks called CreationCinema
    Some of the most interesting genre studies t come out of the 90’s. I voraciously collected this series

    *Killing for Culture: An Illustrated History of Death Film from Mondo to Snuff (Creation Cinema #1)
    Inside Teradome: An Illustrated History of Freak Film (Creation Cinema #2)
    Deathtripping: The Cinema of Transgression (Creation Cinema #3)
    Fragments of Fear: An Illustrated History of British Horror Films (Creation Cinema #4)
    Desperate Visions: The Films of John Waters & the Kuchar Brothers (Creation Cinema #5)
    House of Horror: The Complete Hammer Films Story (Creation Cinema #6)
    Naked Lens: Beat Cinema (Creation Cinema #7)
    *Meat Is Murder!: An Illustrated Guide to Cannibal Culture (Creation Cinema #8)
    Eros in Hell: Sex, Blood and Madness in Japanese Cinema (Creation Cinema #9)
    Charlie’s Family: An Illustrated Screenplay to the Film by Jin VanBebber (Creation Cinema #10)
    Renegade Sisters: Girl Gangs On Film (Creation Cinema #11)
    *Babylon Blue: An Illustrated History of Adult Cinema (Creation Cinema #12)
    *Hollywood Hex: Death and Destiny in the Dream Factory (Creation Cinema #13)
    A Taste of Blood: The Film of Herschell Gordon Lewis (Creation Cinema #14)
    *Lost Highways: An Illustrated History of the Road Movie (Creation Cinema #15)
    *Addicted: An Illustrated Guide to Drug Cinema (Creation Cinema #16)
    *The Satanic Screen: An Illustrated History of the Devil In Cinema (Creation Cinema #17)
    *Bad Blood: An Illustrated History of Psycho Cinema (Creation Cinema #18)
    *Search and Destroy: An Illustrated Guide to Vietnam War Movies (Creation Cinema #19)
    The Bad Mirror: A Creation Cinema Collection Reader

    * My faves of the bunch

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