Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Fright Favorites: Review by Ally Russell

Photo source: @OneDarkAlly on Instagram

Fright Favorites
31 Movies to Haunt Your Halloween and Beyond 
by David J. Skal
TCM and Running Press
224 pages
September 2020

Fright Favorites Is a Seasonal Treat! 

Was Bela Lugosi buried in his Dracula costume? Would The Thing (1982) be as popular today if it had been directed by Tobe Hooper . . . with Christopher Walken in the role of R.J. MacReady? How many gallons of blood were produced for Scream (1996)?

If these are the kinds of questions that keep you up night—you’re not alone.. because a ghost is probably right next to you! I’m just kidding. I mean you’re not alone figuratively, which is why you should add Fright Favorites: 31 Movies to Haunt Your Halloween and Beyond to your library.

Written by David J. Skal and published by Turner Classic Movies and Running Press, this 224-page book guides readers through a century of horror film history, and boy is it a treat. To put it in terms you might better understand—Fright Favorites is like the full-size candy bar in your trick-or-treat bag: it’s small enough to hold in one hand, delicious, and is written in digestible, bite-sized sections so that you can savor it or eat read all of it in one sitting!

If you usually finish your Halloween candy in one sitting, then you’re in luck. There’s plenty more to read from Skal, whose other books include Hollywood Gothic, The Monster Show, and Something in the Blood.

Fright Favorites is small, but it packs a monstrous punch. The book includes 200 photos (full-color and black and white) on thick magazine-style paper, cast and crew details, historical information, and fun facts. Each section of the book also includes a comparable movie recommendation, so while the cover promises 31 films to haunt your Halloween, readers will actually get 62 suggestions! The book is available as an e-book, but the print edition is so much more delightful to hold in your hands.

Fright Favorites sets the stage with an entertaining and informative history of Halloween in Hollywood, which includes a glorious full-page black and white still of Vincent Price beneath the shadowy image of a bat. Readers are then introduced to classic monster cinema, which begins with Nosferatu and wraps up with The Mummy (1932). From there, readers are whisked into post-war horror films like Them! (1954) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). If you look to your left, you’ll see treats from Hammer Films, William Castle, and Alfred Hitchcock. Literary classics get their turn in the ethereal limelight with films like The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and The Shining (1980). Night of the Living Dead (1968) eventually shambles from its grave to give you a small but yummy taste of zombie cinema. (Except they’re not called zombies in George Romero and John A. Russo’s classic film—they’re ghouls!) Then we make our way into the present—sort of—with classic and new slashers like Halloween (1978) and Scream. Finally, the book concludes with fun-sized treats—horror lovers with a funny bone will enjoy reading about Young Frankenstein (1974), Beetlejuice (1988), and Hocus Pocus (1993).

As excellent as this book was, I have to note that the film selections were lacking in diversity. Only two films feature Black leads—Night of the Living Dead and Get Out (2017). Sure, the book is not meant to be an all-inclusive list of horror films, but I do hope that a second volume is on its way because Black people, Indigenous people, and People of Color have also contributed to the horror film industry and those films deserve a place among these pages.

Skal’s introduction was so engaging and fun to read that I would have liked a proper send off. However, if a book about horror cinema must end abruptly, then I suppose a full-page black and white photo of Vincent Price is a fitting goodbye.

One of the most exciting things about Fright Favorites is the thrill that comes with each turn of the page. Rather than peek ahead, it’s more fun to try to guess which film will come next. Try it—you’ll have a blast while reading.

From its menacing black and orange cover to its full-color end papers featuring horror movie posters, David J. Skal’s Fright Favorites: 31 Movies to Haunt Your Halloween and Beyond is a seasonal treat that horror and classical film fans will want to keep on their coffee tables all season long. 

About the writer: Ally Russell has a ghastly passion for horror writing. She has created podcasts episodes and written content for the Horror Writers Association’s Young Adult & Middle Grade blog, Scary Out There, and has written for Night Worms and reviewed horror films for Out of the Past and QuelleMovies.com. She also hosts the FlashFrights podcast, which can be found on Apple Podcasts and SoundCloud. Ally holds an MFA in writing for children from Simmons University. When her childhood dreams of becoming a full-time witch didn’t work out, she settled for a career in publishing. She lives in Boston but hails from Pittsburgh—ground zero for the zombie apocalypse. She can be found on Instagram at @OneDarkAlly.

Thank you to Running Press for a copy of Fright Favorites for review.

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