My take on…Monsters in the Movies by John Landis

My take on…Monsters in the Movies by John Landis

Monsters in the Movies
100 Years of Cinematic Nightmares
by John Landis
published by DK

“My criteria for inclusion of a particular monster is simple: the illustrations in this volume are there because I think they are cool.”
–John Landis
writing in Monsters in the Movies

John Landis has the geek cred to be asked to write this coffee table book. No question, An American Werewolf in London is an important movie. Landis’ Michael Jackson video, Thriller, has been hugely influential.

I remember seeing John Landis and Rick Baker at a convention somewhere, showing Schlock, which I did enjoy (and have watched more than once). As I recall, Baker’s business card read, “Rick Baker, Monster Maker”.

Geek cred, though, doesn’t automatically make you a great writer of non-fiction. This is definitely the work of a fan, not a film historian.

Movies are described as “boring” (Surrogates), “uninteresting” (Silence of the Lamb sequels), and we are told that Mal Arnold “redefines ‘bad acting'” (Blood Feast).

What gets included seems to follow fuzzy rules. The book appears to be intended to be about the movies (it’s in the title), but a few pictures from TV shows sneak in (a zombie from The Walking Dead, for example).  However, where one might expect to see a picture from TV, it may not be there. There is a photo essay on the Cyclops, for one…but if pictures from TV are allowed, why no Lost in Space Cyclops?

Landis also gets to interview some geek greats, including John Carpenter and Ray Harryhausen. However, as an interviewer, Landis seems to have a rigid agenda for what should be answered, and doesn’t seem to follow the interviewee into the unexpected when the opportunity presents itself. It’s as if John Landis wants to enter the answers into a database, rather than have a more general discussion.

The pictures do include nudity and gore that would not be safe for work, and the interviews include obscenities (including the “F word”).

Spoilers happen some times, and at other times, seem to be withheld.

All of that said, the pictures are magnificent. It’s fun to read a fan sharing enthusiasm, and a broad awareness of the subject.

The book is somewhat loosely organized into sections:

  • Vampires
  • Werewolves
  • Mad Scientists
  • Zombies
  • Ghosts
  • Mummies
  • Myths, Legends, & Fairy Tales
  • Dragons & Dinosaurs
  • Monstrous Apes
  • Nature’s Revenge
  • Atomic Mutations
  • The Devil’s Work
  • Space Monsters
  • Monstrous Machines
  • Human Monsters
  • Monster Makers (real people, like Willis O’Brien and Dick Smith)

Each section has an introductory essay, and then those wonderful photographs with captions by the author.

I enjoyed reading this book, and I think most fans will. I do recommend it…just sit back and enjoy it and don’t expect it to bring you an in-depth analysis of the topic.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.


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