Saturday, 25 November 2017

Art Of Horror Movies

The Art Of Horror Movies: An Illustrated History
Edited by Stephen Jones

Applause hardcover $40

***** (5 stars) review by Christopher Geary   

Since the beginnings of cinema, horror on screen has been troubled and distinguished by the difference between the explicit and the merely suggestive. Whether purveyors of generic imagery intended to scare audiences with atmospheric settings and lurking menace, or shock them with raw terror and gory displays of special effects, the results might be just as impressive and quite artistically valid. Perhaps even strong enough... provocative enough in its vicarity to promote catharsis. Celebrating the contributions of painters, illustrators, and creature designers, to a century of delicious frissons and ghastly disgust, this companion to The Art Of Horror (2015), that was also edited by Stephen Jones, delivers the very goodies and nasty baddies in a beautifully presented hardback packed with a stunning range of colour and B&W pictures. 

Writers, directors, and actors made a considerable impact upon horror movies, but it must be acknowledged that genre cinema would not exist without the essential works of visionary artists. After the foreword by John Landis on the iconography of horror, standout chapters are Christopher Frayling’s exhumation of sinister expressionism in the silent era noting the diversity of influences, including romantic literature, theatre, and crazy carnival traditions, upon a veritable onslaught of surreal gothic portrayals.    

Noir of the 1940s is revisited by Barry Forshaw, who notes the decade’s filmmakers’ imagination and ingenuity overcoming the strict limitations imposed by Hays code censorship, by “subverting the permissible” in pursuit of the macabre. Even as horror is almost crippled by parody, the rise of lurid colour cinema as a new standard saved the genre.   

Studios with style in the 1960s, championed by psychedelic pop culture remixed with fetishistic gore, are charted by Kim Newman. Shifting from period settings into more contemporary scenarios distinguished urban horror from traditional source material, and the gruelling spectacle of warfare on TV prompted an escalation of shock as new zombies arrived, straight from hell, in George A. Romero’s groundbreaking Night Of The Living Dead (1968).  
After the creators of major special effects became iconic stars in their own right in the 1980s, when a video nasty scandal and genre revisionism dominated works by horror auteurs, Anne Billson considers the 1990s' offerings that were often driven by pre-millennial anxieties leading a transition from B-movie fun to a fearsome mainstream. But that was before the dismal end-of-century trend for ‘found footage’ threatened to turn genre cinema and no-budget media into a cultural dystopia. As usual with this type of art book, texts and captions provide the chronicle’s broad sweep, while images deliver the depth. And, really, this is worth buying as an Xmas gift for any fans you know if only for its gallery of eye-catching portraits... Dorian Gray, included. 

Tuesday, 14 November 2017


Adrian Tchaikovsky

Solaris hardcover £25 / $30

*** (3 stars) review by Donald Morefield   

New war in Europe rages between US corporate forces and plucky Nordics. While the steadfast Russians invest in formidable reputations and giant ‘Jodorowsky’ helicopter gunships, the mega-wealthy Americans depend on their privileged heirs and favoured brats as armoured ‘Scions’ - protected by the very best battle-kit accessories that dark money can buy. The more progressive states, like Finland, develop meta-were-human combatants with abilities so far beyond the customised but familiar wraparound suits of a captain iron-man and his ilk.

Basically, this standalone novella starts off as a sci-fi version of Saving Private Ryan (1998), with super-soldiers. Sergeant Ted Regan is ordered to lead a small team on a rescue mission behind enemy lines only to find that he’s completely expendable in the on-going conflicts between vast global commerce and seething political idealism. Can the Sarge’s band of wholly underestimated heroes rebel against their elitist superiors, and fight on to save the world from the masters of mankind?

This type of genre storytelling is probably best presented as a graphic novel. Indeed, it’s war-punk themes and hi-tech notions are very similar to a few recent adventures in the world of independent comics. Warren Ellis has tackled such ideas before and he remains the subgenre’s finest practitioner of neo-military SF and political intrigue. Adrian Tchaikovsky sketches in his characters well enough but, ultimately, the merry little band of heroes fail to fully engage this reader’s sympathy and make me care very much about any of their fates or successes, whether they are exploited humans or the underdog superheroes.