When Your Humble Reviewer was a teenage hor­ror fan devel­op­ing his take on the gen­re, the orig­i­nal edi­tion of Kim Newman’s Nightmare Movies was one of the books he cut his crit­i­cal teeth on.  Its focus on mod­ern hor­ror (1968 to 1988) spoke to his youth­ful inter­ests, explor­ing this top­ic with a play­ful­ness that made it fun to read but also apply­ing an intel­li­gence that encour­aged him to think ambi­tious­ly about what the gen­re could be.

A few decades lat­er, Newman has returned to his sem­i­nal hor­ror-crit tome and given it a thor­ough updat­ing.  Thankfully, he has not gone back and rewrit­ten the book to suit a mod­ern van­tage point: instead, he has pro­vid­ed a wealth of new foot­notes to the orig­i­nal text and writ­ten a new sec­tion cov­er­ing the last two decades of hor­ror cin­e­ma that func­tions as a sequel to the orig­i­nal Nightmare Movies.  Simply put, you get dou­ble the book —  at 633 pages, it looks kind of like a small phone book — and this is one of those rare cas­es where more is bet­ter.

The first half of the book is basi­cal­ly an anno­tat­ed ver­sion of the orig­i­nal Nightmare Movies.  Newman starts with the the­sis that mod­ern hor­ror began with Night Of The Living Dead in 1968 and uses that as the start­ing point for an explo­ration of the two decades that fol­lowed.  The chap­ters are usu­al­ly orga­nized around a the­me, start­ing with the dis­cus­sion of a key film for that par­tic­u­lar era of the sub­gen­re before con­nect­ing to sub­se­quent exam­ples of the form in a sort of genealog­i­cal style.  For exam­ple, the chap­ter on occult movies starts with Rosemary’s Baby, the slash­er movie chap­ter gets going with Halloween, etc.

This sur­vey for­mat works well for Newman because he is as much as a sto­ry­teller as he is a crit­ic (between the two edi­tions of Nightmare Movies, Newman won acclaim for his vam­pire nov­el Anno Dracula).  Even those steeped in the gen­re will enjoy his takes on hor­ror ever­greens like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Dawn Of The Dead because he fash­ions them into com­pact nar­ra­tives,  apply­ing a care­ful­ly-bal­anced mix­ture of wit and insight as he brings you into the sto­ry of why the­se key films became pop­u­lar and how their influ­ence spread through sub­se­quent films.

It’s also worth not­ing that Newman adds copi­ous foot­notes in this new edi­tion.  This allows him to com­pare and con­trast his cur­rent view­point with 1988-era opin­ions instead of rewrit­ing him­self.  He’s not afraid to point out where he has learned more or changed his mind — and he often adds high­ly detailed post-1988 updates on par­tic­u­lar gen­re fig­ures that bol­ster the main text of a chap­ter (a great exam­ple comes in the Auteurs chap­ter, where Newman adds gen­er­ous updates on the sub­se­quent career of the five direc­tors he cov­ers).

The sec­ond half of Nightmare Movies delves into horror’s 1990–2010 peri­od.  Newman’s basic crit­i­cal approach remains intact and this serves him well because the ter­rain he cov­ers has grown more com­plex.  For instance, one chap­ter takes the kind of basic hor­ror arche­types (vam­pire, were­wolf, etc.) that might have got­ten their own chap­ters in the first half of the book and explores how they mutat­ed in the 1990–2010 era by being com­bined with oth­er gen­res.  The genealog­i­cal roots become twist­ed so Newman’s thor­ough, schol­ar­ly style becomes a wel­come map that helps the read­er keep it all straight.

Newman also devotes expan­sive chap­ters to how the mystery/thriller for­mat of seri­al killer movie, led by the suc­cess of Silence Of The Lambs, mor­phed into a crossover strain of the hor­ror gen­re as well as one of the most thought­ful, inci­sive explo­rations of the “tor­ture porn” sub­gen­re Your Humble Reviewer has ever read.  Other high­lights of the sec­ond half include an exam­i­na­tion of how indie film­mak­er Larry Fessenden has become a hor­ror auteur and a chap­ter that con­tex­tu­al­izes the mod­ern “zom­bie film” trend as part of a move­ment of films that sub­con­scious­ly explore society’s post-millennium/end of the world fears.

The end result requires a sub­stan­tial invest­ment of time but rewards it sev­er­al times over. You might not always agree with Newman’s opin­ions — Your Humble Reviewer was sur­prised by his dis­missal of Return Of The Living Dead — but he makes his argu­ments in a rea­son­able fash­ion and always leaves the read­er with food for thought.  This new edi­tion of Nightmare Movies is as much a stan­dard-bear­er as its well-loved pre­de­ces­sor — and it deserves a place of hon­or on the shelf of any think­ing hor­ror fan.