The Pleasure and Pain of Cult Horror Films: An Historical Survey
Hardcover, 248 pages, $49.95
Review by Sheila Merritt
The scope of horror films is vast; it encompasses many countries and lots of languages. Horror cinema’s quirky quality cements its unique universality. In The Pleasure and Pain of Cult Horror Films: An Historical Survey, a Polish writer takes a look at the genre movies which are cinematically subversive. The films that pushed buttons; garnered a following; were made under difficult circumstances; or that deviated enough to be controversial. Some are downright silly. Some are thought provoking. Some are a little of both.
Author Bartlomiej Paszylk adopts a casual style of writing, yet his work is well researched and scholarly. His observation: “You may have noted that the less talking there is in an Italian horror movie, the more impressive it usually is,” employs a conversational tone to establish his point. This does not detract from the book; indeed, it makes it more accessible. The films discussed begin in the silent movie age and extend into present day. They come from varied nationalities and sensibilities. The artist/director of the movies is depicted as someone who reflects, but often refutes, the cultural standards of time and place.
There are many delicious cinematic tidbits in this book. Looking at Peter Jackson’s early foray into genre films, Bad Taste, it is fun and enlightening to learn: “the movie certainly would not have become famous if it weren’t for the grisly and convincing scenes of brains falling out, human heads being severed in half and the like; all this done by the director himself, with a little help from makeup assistant Cameron Chittock and Jackson’s mother who hardened all the latex masks in her oven.” Another anecdote, about Turkey Shoot (also known as Escape 2000) is amusing and startling. It concerns Olivia Hussey and fellow actor Roger Ward: “Olivia Hussey was not only traumatized by the intensity of the shoot but also almost severed Roger Ward’s hands (misinterpreting the director’s ‘Cut!’ in a scene where her character wields a machete.)”
Paszylk’s analysis of the films discussed in the book is wryly entertaining and observant. He says that horror icon Barbara Steele “possesses a certain devilish aura, and a delicate contortion of her lips is enough to transform her from a sweet, helpless girl to a voracious creature who only temporarily took on human form.” He also aptly points out that George A. Romero’s Martin “sinks its teeth deep in the American dream and spits out bloody chunks of it.”
The Pleasure and Pain of Cult Horror Films is pricey; and this is not a coffee table book full of lush color photos. There are some black and white pictures of the films discussed in the book, but they are not remarkable. What makes this book worth its hefty price tag is its extremely intelligent, but warmly embracing, look at movies that hit home in our worldwide pop culture consciousness. Bartlomiej Paszylk reinforces the notion that where horror is concerned, there are no boundaries.