They Came From Within (2014)

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As you may have surmised after checking out this site, I’m a bit of a horror nerd. And that is an understatement. When I was a kid, I scoured through rows and rows of horror movies at video stores and grabbed everything I could watch.  Before then, I watched everything on TV, often sneaking viewings with the volume turned way down so my folks wouldn’t know (sorry mom). Little did I know that a chunk of the films I watched came from the great white north, Canada. Still other American movies and shows (most notably the X-Files), were also filmed in Canada on the cheap.

In They Came From Within author Caelum Vatnsdal and written the definitive history of Canadian horror flicks. Every page of this book has been exhaustively researched and cross referenced in what had to have been a herculean feat of researching fervor. I cannot believe the amount of information dispensed in this unassuming book. I mean the damn thing isn’t even that thick, it’s just that the author doesn’t waste time nor space. You can learn a bundle just by skimming a few pages. It really is mind boggling to me. If that sounds like the book would be deathly boring you are very wrong. The book is written in a fun voice that keeps the eye glazing at a minimum. The book had me smiling ear to ear while reading it. It felt like I was hanging out with a very well spoken friendly guy telling the story of Canadian horror. The book could easily have been a collection of information, organized in order and laid down for posterity for future PhD students. It isn’t. It is an entertaining, thorough, and lighthearted history of Canadian Horror that I know I will go back and dig into each time I watch a horror flick from there.

This revised edition updates the book all the way to the very end of 2014 so above everything that I have listed above, it’s also a current history of the genre which is even more impressive. Often books like this never get a chance to be re-published and I’m so glad that this one was.

If your only exposure to Canadian horror are the early Cronenberg films and maybe My Bloody Valentine, do yourself a favor and educate yourself with this fantastic book.

Alternative Movie Posters (2014)

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Genre fans of every stripe often lament the lackluster posters that have dominated the movie marketing world for a couple of decades now. True, some movie posters have been fantastic in the past few years but others are barely worth looking at (wtf was up with the Jurassic World poster?). Today, most folks jump straight to youtube and check out a trailer for a film rather than soak in the poster for said flick. But why would you want to? Most posters are generic and chiefly feature the A-list celebrity on it making a face or something with the name of the movie slapped on the bottom/top of the image.

You don’t have to go to a video store and pick up a movie based on the cover art anymore. Now, you can find tons of reviews and watch the preview before you settle in for the night. Sure we got burned in the past but it was fun looking at all those fascinating vhs covers and movie posters. I’m not alone in this.

Author/artist Matthew Chojnacki has scoured the world over to collect his very favorite unofficial movie posters made by artists. Some of them were commissioned for special screenings and some were commissioned for the book and a whole heap of them were made just for fun. Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art from the Underground  is a celebration of pop art that movie fans can get behind. The book presents the posters in full color and nearly the size of the page itself. Each artist is given credit along with contact information and a short interview below the image. Many different styles are represented here from classic painted posters reminiscent of the 80’s, to minimalist modern posters, to the highly stylized, and everything in between. No doubt there are posters here that you will love and ones that you will hate, we can’t all agree when it comes to art. Every page is very different from the last with a bevy of unique visual styles. You will find new artists to follow and get to see art from folks you’re probably already aware of.

Alternative Movie Posters if a fun coffee table book that you can flip through at your leisure and enjoy. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find your new favorite artist within these pages and buy up all their stuff, or maybe you’ll dig into a film because of the rad poster someone did for it. The book is a feast for the eyes. This one is for those of us who love to gaze at posters long and hard to withdraw all their secrets. There’s a second volume coming out soon too and I’ll be checking that one out too. I can’t wait to see what’s inside.

VHS Ate My Brain (2014)

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Author Andrew Hawnt and myself have something in common: we both grew up during the VHS boom, renting tons of tapes and enjoying every minute of it. The difference? He wrote a whole book about it, I didn’t.

VHS Ate My Brain is a love letter of a book to a time and place in movie watching history that will never be repeated. The release of VHS tapes to the masses was a huge cultural shift in our movie watching habits. Remember, before VHS the only way to catch a movie was at the theater or maybe on tv and if you missed it, you missed it. For guys like us VHS inhabits a special place in our past, one filled with monsters, explosions and instant rewind. The book is a grab bag of whatever subject the author wanted to write about and each page is bursting with enthusiasm. We get early tales of renting videos, where he used to purchase them as a kid and as an adult, we writings on why collecting vhs is fun and how to do it online and in the real world. We get a list of all the video nasties (Andrew is an author from the UK so those films loom large for him), with a complete review of every single one which is no mean feat considering some of the films are still 100% banned in the UK. There are other articles filling the book as well, all VHS related. The man loves the format and so do I.

VHS Ate My Brain is a personal journey through Andrew Hawnt’s experiences and thoughts on the format and it’s importance in his life. As such the book is not a history of the format nor does it have in depth research on the cultural impact of it. It’s just one man’s story about his passion for cult films during the VHS boom. It’s that personal touch that makes the book fun to read. Sure, it could have been a dry historical book tracing the impact of the format on our society but that wouldn’t be much fun would it? The book feels like hanging out with Andrew as he talks about various subjects relating to the format as they come to mind which I think was the whole point of the book anyway. If you dig VHS and are into collecting it, you’ll dig this book too.

Pumpkin Cinema: The Best Movies for Halloween (2014)

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Yes I know it’s the middle of June and this is a book about Halloween movies but hey it’s never to early to start planning right? For many of us cinema hounds Halloween and the month of October is a favorite time of year. It’s the time of year when suddenly we crave horror movies and watch them all month long, voraciously tearing into the genre like a zombie into a person’s guts. Now we’ve got a book dedicated to films that play best during the spooky season.

The book begins with a fantastic introduction that sets the tone of Halloween perfectly by describing several different people in a neighborhood celebrating Halloween in different ways that we can all relate to. He captures the vibe right away which helps bring the reader into the head space of Halloween even if you’re reading it, like me, in June.

Author Nathaniel Tolle set up this book perfectly. He rejects films that aren’t fun to watch so don’t look for any reviews regarding Saw or Hostel films. He also tosses out movies that could be considered sci-fi and gives films that take place during Halloween extra attention. The films selected in the book are especially chosen for their Halloween appeal and for their watchability in a group. The movies are generally fun and run the gamut from universal classics, to 80’s cheese, to kids films, to modern masterpieces. Each film is given a lengthy review along with a highlighted synopsis. The layout of the book is clean and inviting and top notch. Full color posters and stills are crammed in the book giving it plenty of eye candy. There are hundreds of films reviewed and he even gives space to made for tv movies and Halloween episodes of numerous tv shows. Whatever you’re looking for, he’s got you covered. I was impressed with the selections in the book. He digs deep to find perfect Halloween goodies, including some films that you can only catch on VHS or on youtube. As I thumbed through the book i couldn’t help but nod my head in appreciation and agreement: He did it right. I exclaimed at some of his picks which I haven’t seen in a long time and some that I haven’t seen ever.

Pumpkin Cinema: The Best Movies for Halloween delivers on it’s promise and even gives you extra for good measure. This Halloween, be prepared for your spooky marathon. Pick up the book.

Giallo Meltdown (2015)

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It’s been awhile since I’ve watched any giallo films in earnest. For a while, I couldn’t get enough but after seeing a few misfires in a row I suppose I moved on to other interests. Author Richard Glenn Schmidt did not. His obsession with gialli is like an ever burning flame and that flame can not be put out by the occasional turd. Giallo Meltdown is his love letter to the genre and boy is it a fun one!

The concept is simple: Richard loves giallo films and wanted to see them all. In order to do this he carefully planned weekends where he would do nothing but eat, smoke cigars, and watch as many gialli as he possibly could, even going so far as to take vacation days to do it. That is true dedication.

He decided early on it would be important to document his marathons and the book is the result of those notes that he took. Crammed inside this book are 200+ reviews of gialli, most of which I’ve never heard of and neither has anyone else for that matter. Some of the films are so obscure that even the people that made them probably don’t even remember them, but Richard does.

If you’re thinking this is just another reference guide then you are wrong, dead wrong. It’s a diary of one man’s obsession. Each review features a brief synopsis followed by a stream of consciousness as he watched the film. It’s like sitting right next to Richard while he’s watching the films and commenting on them. The book feels like you’re there while he talks about his smoke breaks and pounding soda. We listen as he tells us how awful he feels after watching 20+ films in less than 3 days. It’s that intimate information that makes the book so much fun as Richard cracks endless jokes about the films he’s watching and about what happens in his life around each marathon. Sure he loves these films but he also understands their shortcomings. It isn’t a holy homage to giallo films filled with reverence (read: boring), its a fun silly ride through the funky world of Italian cinema. I enjoyed the humorous reviews filled with actor/director/composer names and references to other gialli films. The dude knows his stuff for sure.

I loved it. The book is a big bucket of fun and I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. Honestly I enjoyed the sections devoted to whatever he was eating/doing while preparing for the marathons as much as the reviews of the films themselves. I felt like I was there instead of reading a sterile guide. It’s a unique concept in the world of film analysis and it works. He doesn’t cover every single giallo in this book but comes damn close. Besides, that just means that maybe we’ll be treated to a second volume!

The Mega Book of Revenge Films (2014)

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When you’ve been wronged, it’s hard not to want to dish out some revenge. If someone insults you in front of your friends or wife, you want to get them back big time. We’re hard wired for revenge though in proper society we are rarely afforded the chance. Revenge is often illegal, at least the ways that we want to dish it out and then there’s the whole problem of escalating the problem and starting a war with someone that has no reasonable end. Most of us just swallow the revenge vibe and try to be a bigger person. I think that’s why revenge films often resonate so well. We can understand the characters motivations and love to watch the bad guys get their just deserts. I adore revenge films (Death Wish flicks anyone?) and knew I had to get my hands on The Mega Book of Revenge Films. I’m glad I did.

As you might expect, The Mega Book of Revenge Films is a reference guide chock full of cold hard justice. The book is separated by the genre of revenge taken. Whether it’s vigilante justice (my favorite kind!), blaxploitation, samurai/ninja films, westerns, comedies, drama, horror, you name it, it’s here. So if you want to see a revenge flick but also want to see a comedy, the book has you covered. It’s fun being able to cross reference the book to find new gems in the various genres to check out on a Saturday night. The book covers the classics as well as big time B movie picks and outright hilariously bad cheese. The author treats them all evenly, recommending the so bad they’re good films as heartily as the legitmately fantastic. I love that! Often films in reference guides are completely cast aside if they are terrible, which is understandable, but the author understands that some films are a huge bucket of fun because they’re bad. The reviews themselves are short and sweet, essentially what I look for in a reference guide. The intent of the book isn’t to inform the reader of trivia but to inform the reader about fantastic films to dig into. Nor does the book deeply analyze the theme of revenge. But the book was never meant to. It’s a fun reference guide that’s a pleasure to flip through and write down a huge list of films to check out.

The book is by no means comprehensive. The author cherry picks some of his favorite films and passes on that knowledge to us. Indeed this is merely the first volume in what will hopefully be a robust series of books about revenge films. Revenge a common theme and there’s plenty of other films out there for the author to mine, watch, and report back to us. I’m looking forward to it! Honestly had the book been comprehensive it might have been a drag. I don’t need to read about a ton of unsuccessful films and dig through a book to find one good review. He trimmed the fat and gave us the goods.

The Mega Book of Revenge Films is a fast fun read that I enjoyed reading. I found some new flicks to check out (Leo Fong!), what more can you ask for?

Funky Bollywood: The Wild World of 1970s Indian Action Cinema (2015)

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In my many years of voraciously consuming films from all over the world and in numerous time periods there is one big fat blind spot that I have: Bollywood. Sure, I’ve seen a handful of films from India and have really enjoyed the films that I’ve seen but it’s such a huge world of film that it’s always been daunting for me to dive into. There’s also the long run times, varying degrees of budget and quality, and the lack of access here in the states (though in recent years that has changed in a big way thanks to streaming services).  In short: I had no idea where to begin. Thanks to Funky Bollywood, now I do.

Funky Bollywood: The Wild World of 1970’s Indian Action Cinema is a reference guide that doubles as a history lesson in Indian films. The book is a true blue treasure for cinema fans. Beautifully assembled with eye popping colors and slick layouts its a feast for the eyes which directly mirrors the vibrancy of Indian cinema. The book treats the reader like a curious person with zero knowledge which lets face it, most of us are when it comes to Indian cinema. He doesn’t talk down to the reader though, he  assumes that if you’re interested in action films from India, you’re probably a cinema buff. I never once felt lost either. Everything is so clearly laid out and he does a ton of work to help educate the reader on some of the historical/cultural context of the films as well. He tries to paint a full picture and does so quite well. Each film is hand picked for a variety of reasons which he explains. It isn’t  a comprehensive book but that would be overwhelming considering the tremendous volume of films produced in India each year. Besides, we want to know what all the best flicks are, we don’t need to be bogged down by a plethora of reviews for bad flicks. We can get to those after we’ve watched the good ones.

Each review of the film includes an extensive synopsis and a lengthy review along with stills from the film and all the important info about who wrote, directed, starred etc. The reviews also include little signs that denote common themes found in numerous Indian films.

It’s obvious that author Todd Stadtman knows his Indian films backwards and forwards and loves talking about them. The enthusiasm found in the book is infectious. The layout is top notch as is the print quality and binding. But what else would you expect from FAB Press, the premiere funky book publishers?

Creature Feature: Nature Turned Nasty In The Movies (2014)

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Growing up as movie obsessed youth I cut my teeth on Harryhausen dynamation epics, action movies, and whatever monster flick my folks would let me put my hands on. As I grew older I moved on to more grotesque films and pursued the goriest of the gory and the most over the top action films I could find. Somewhere in there I missed a step though, loving simple creature films where the creature was the focus and not the red stuff. I have since mined the various genres for gooey treats and find myself less interested in the mayhem and more curious about more innocent monster movies. Creature Features is an excellent resource that fills that gap.

Creature Features: Nature Turned Nasty in the Movies, is a book with a simple mission statement: expose the reader to a plethora of monster flicks, many of which they may have never seen before. Each chapter is separated by a different kind of creature and the author takes us on a tour of the origins of that particular creature in film (bugs, dragons/dinosaurs/, animals attacking etc), up to films released recently. He cherry picks good examples (and some bad films too) and writes a synopsis of each including interesting trivia and reviews the films as well. After reading a few chapters, names keep popping up and he makes note of this so the reader can start to see how many of these creature films were made by and starring the same people. I love the historical context of the reviews. It’s great to know how each subgenre started and where they went over time. It puts each film in the correct context and paints a clear picture of the time and place in which the film was made so it’s better understood where it stands in the pantheon of creature films. It’s a very organized and clear approach that I appreciate.

The author does not discuss direct to video releases nor does he talk about films where gore is the main selling point. Because of this the book is far from comprehensive but that wasn’t the goal of the author to begin with. It’s clear the author has a passion for these films and has his own personal taste (he finds gore films highly distasteful) which I can understand. The writing is breezy and fun and never too stuffy which makes for an enjoyable read, and one that will have you taking notes on which films to watch next.

To be honest, I’m actually glad he doesn’t include direct to video movies (though I personally love those flicks!) or gore flicks (ditto!), because he doesn’t like them. It would be a chore to read a bunch of reviews for films the author detests. What would be the point? Also, there are numerous books on the subject of gory flicks so his coverage would likely have been redundant anyway.

If you’re in the mood for a good giant bug movie or dinosaur flick and you want to dive into the films of the 50’s and 60’s but don’t know where to start (there’s a lot of garbage out there), Creature Features will help direct you to the right place while educating you about the genre players so you can start to check out favorite director’s filmographies as well. It’s a fun book about a fun subject. What else do you need?

www.mcfarlandpub.com

800-253-2187

Massacre Gun (1967)

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U.K. cult film lovers have been enjoying the spoils of Arrow Video for many years now. Known for their killer artwork, beautiful remasters and numerous special features, they have fast become the cream of the crop. I’m so happy that they have decided to branch out and attack the U.S. market. It is Arrow that I can thank for this rock solid release of a rare Japanese gangster treat.

Massacre Gun is about a high ranking gangster who is loyal to his boss to a fault. In the first five minutes he’s ordered to kill his girlfriend by his boss and does so immediately. His younger brother finds out and decides to tell his brother’s boss to shove it. See the boss was sponsoring the little brother who was being groomed for boxing greatness. The boss lets him go but not before he breaks the boxer brother’s hands. Thus begins a war between the brothers and the boss.

Fast paced and lean, Massacre Gun trims all the fat giving the film a propulsive vibe set to jazz music. Shot in beautiful black and white, the film captures the vibe of late cycle noir films mixed with American gangster movies. This is no yakuza movie. There are no battles for honor or finger cutting, no full back tattoos or sepuku. The film is highly influenced stylistically by Americanism, from the western score to the western clothes and our main characters bucking the system to strike out on their own. One scene takes place at a bowling alley, and others take place at a jazz club. The characters have a thin moral code that they decide and are not dictated by centuries old tradition. This is a truly rebellious film or at least a very American film which explains why it was so easy to watch. It was engaged in the action and the characters and there’s never a moment where the film feels dated. It all feels very current and very hip. It’s like the japanese version of Parker book by Richard Stark. It gets to the point, doesn’t jerk you around, and gives you what you came for. The film itself feels like the embodiment of a tough guy.

If you enjoy Japanese gangster cinema or tough guy cinema in general, you’ll dig Massacre Gun. What it lacks in depth it makes up for in immediacy.

VHS Video Cover Art (2015)

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Film hounds in their 30’s on up fondly remember a time when we could casual walk the halls of various video stores and grab an armload of flicks to watch over a long weekend or a vacation. The basis for those grabs were often based on the absolutely lurid and fantastic cover art. The lower the budget the more extreme the cover in many cases. I believe this nostalgia is what has largely fueled the VHS collecting craze. Many of us want to own and see those flicks that we were never allowed to rent by our frowning parents or the films we always wanted to see but never got around to renting. Thomas “The Dude Designs” Hodge has given us wonderful posters and box art for recent films but creating lovingly like they used to be in the 80’s; painted  with lots of blood, badasses, and babes. He’s the go-to guy if you need a rad poster that will hook viewers. This guy knows his stuff and when he releases a book about box art, you have to check it out.

VHS Video Cover Art is a wonderful hard cover, full color book that reprints nearly 250 (!) covers from front side and back of his absolute favorite tapes. He combed through massive vhs collections in the UK to bring us the best, worst, and funkiest covers he could unearth. This is as close as we are ever going to get to walking through the vintage halls of an old mom & pop video store aside from buying the whole damn store itself. The book contains the artist if it’s known and that’s about it. There is no commentary or reviews or anything else to clutter it up. You just open it up and rub your eyeballs all over the funky covers and wonder if the movies deliver what the posters offer, just like in the good old days. Sure we grabbed bon-i-fide stinkers but there was gold sprinkled through those shelves too. Now you can have the fun of looking at the covers whenever you want without actually having to sit through the stinkers.

The pictures are high resolution, full color, and damn near actual size. There’s no weird “arty” filters put on them, no special lighting or text. You get pure raw vhs cover art the way it was intended to be seen. This could have been a wank fest of the curator putting his own stamp on every piece but instead he treats each cover like the piece of art that it is. Living in the states there are several covers that I’ve never seen before for films that I have actually checked out so that’s pretty neat too. There’s no way I would ever get to see these specific versions of the covers unless I hopped on a plane and broke into his house. It’s interesting to note that the highly regulated video laws (hello video nasties!) in the UK still allowed a load of nudity to be on normal covers. That would never fly in the free-est nation in the world. Nipples are a big no-no here. I would love to see future editions based on country of origin. U.S.A., Japan, and Italy would all be very awesome to own.

If you love VHS Cover Art, you’ll love this book. It’s a simple as that. It’s fun to look at and show your friends. It makes for a great coffee table book and conversation starter. Get your nostalgic fix and give the covers a re-appraisal. Some of them are actually very good. Others are truly terrible. You be the judge.