Thursday, February 21, 2013

Horror Films of the 1990s by John Kenneth Muir (2011)

Oh, hi. Wonder where I've been? Mostly I've been simultaneously reading two gigantic books, and Horror Films of the 1990s by John Kenneth Muir (2011) is the one that I just finished! It may seem weird to read a reference book on 1990s horror movies cover-to-cover, but I got a copy through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program, and I couldn't in good faith write a review of it without reading the whole thing.

The 1990s are generally known as being a rather weak period for horror movies, and while there are plenty of one star reviews in Muir's book (and, actually, those are pretty entertaining to read), there are a good crop of four star movies in there as well. It helps that Muir casts his net wide -- the usual suspects like Scream or The Blair Witch Project and standard series like Children of the Corn, Friday the 13th, and Child's Play are joined by movies like Lost Highway, Silence of the Lambs, Jurassic Park, and Eyes Wide Shut. I like that Muir has a broad definition of horror, and I also like that he watched and reviewed all of these hundreds of movies by himself. He has also written compendiums on horror movies of the 1970s and 1980s, so he presumably knew what he was getting into with this one.

While the book cover couldn't look more like a high school sociology textbook, the contents are nicely organized and well illustrated. Muir starts each year off with a timeline of events and then moves into an alphabetical listing of the films reviewed from that year. Each movie includes complete cast and crew information, and many movies also include quotes from external reviews (both contemporary and retrospective), some of which contradict Muir and each other. Enveloping all this detailed information is a well-written introductory essay on the 1990s and how current events influenced the horror movies of the decade, and some intriguing appendices, including common themes from the 1990s (the police procedural, the interloper, the "meta" horror movie, etc.), movie tag lines, and Muir's personal top ten.

That personal top ten goes a long way to explaining why I liked this book so much -- it is a personal look at a huge number of genre movies. I don't always agree with Muir (I didn't like Scream at all and he loved it), but even when I disagreed with him I was interested to see his reasoning. And he always has reasons!

The book loses steam as you get into the late 1990s -- reviews are shorter and sloppier -- and sometimes Muir's quirks can get a little annoying (he is a little nit-picky about plot details) -- but overall this is a coherent and very readable overview of a huge swath of film history. Definitely recommended for horror movie fans, and since I'm married to this guy, you know that I am one of those!

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