As a both a fan and student of horror cinema, I just can’t seem to get enough when it comes to books dedicated to my favorite subject. The shelves in my office are adorned with literally hundreds of books about the genre, from biographies of some of the cinema’s most skilled shock artists to weighty volumes dedicated to various franchises and sub-genres, with the bulk of the latter devoted to perhaps my favorite sub-genre; the slasher films of the late 1970s-1980s.
This much-maligned and misunderstood period in horror history has always been something of a cinematic whipping boy for critics and mainstream movie fans alike, but, for true horror aficionados, this era of high hair and legwarmers is considered something of a gold mine filled with undiscovered treasures, guilty pleasures, and the occasional (okay, more than occasional) dud deserving of second look.
Of the many books I own on the subject, there are three I consider essential reading; Adam Rockoff’s Going to Pieces (2002 – McFarland Press), which delves deep into the psychology and theory of these deceptively simple films; Jim Harper’s Legacy of Blood (2004 – Critical Vision), a more straightforward (and slightly spoiler-heavy) look at the film’s from a fan’s perspective, and J.A. Kerswell’s Teenage Wasteland; a gorgeously illustrated and hugely entertaining read that covers the genre from its origins in the blood-soaked theater of the Gran Guignol to its “hip” and self-aware 90s rebirth and beyond. Released in his native U.K. in 2010 (Kerswell is the founder of the excellent U.K. based horror site, Hysteria Lives), the book makes its debut in the U.S. under the new (and somewhat perfunctory) title, The Slasher Movie Book, courtesy of Chicago Review Press.
The first thing readers will notice about The Slasher Movie Book is its extremely attractive layout. This thing is an absolute knock-out, drenched in full color, with posters and movie stills on virtually every page. Heck, even the pages, themselves, are in color, with nary a speck of white space in the whole book! Upon first glance, one might misconstrue the author’s overreliance of photos and ephemera as compensation for less-than-compelling prose, but these images aren’t just pretty pictures; they’re integral parts of Kerswell’s elegant-yet-conversationally scribed essays. I also thoroughly appreciated the fact that the bulk of images Kerswell chose for the book consist of vintage posters and VHS covers for the films he discusses rather than the de rigueur gore stills or behind-the-scenes pictures we’ve seen so often. Seeing these period posters again (some for films I’ve forgotten even existed!) is a welcome walk down memory lane, and punctuates Kerswell’s nostalgia-tinged enthusiasm for his subject.
The Slasher Movie Book is a lavishly illustrated, exhaustively researched, and thoroughly entertaining read that genre fans should consider an essential purchase. This is a book you’ll find yourself referencing again and again, whether for recommendations for movie night, or just for the blast of pure nostalgic bliss its bountiful illustrations provide. Highest possible recommendation!