Review: Horror Films by Colin Odell & Michelle Le Blanc

Horror Films makes a democratic survey of the entire global output of horror cinema, and unlike most books gives due weight to the pre-talkie era.

Horror Films, Odell and Le BlancHorror Films (2007 – Kamera Books, 208 pages plus DVD) by British film critics Colin Odell & Michelle Le Blanc is exactly what the title says, a book about horror films, accompanied by a DVD containing 3 short horror films. I grew-up avidly studying books like this, notably Carlos Clarens’ Horror Movies – An Illustrated Survey, and a small British guidebook to the genre whose title I can no longer recall. The difference between those older books and this volume is that Horror Films makes a democratic survey of the entire global output of horror cinema, and unlike most books gives due weight to the pre-talkie era.

Just as they did with their volume on Anime, the authors bring enthusiasm, a sometimes idiosyncratic writing style and a vast viewing experience to a legion of films. They appear to have seen almost everything, from 1940s Indian ghost stories, to Mexican masked-wrestler vs monster flicks to more familiar fare such as Hammer horrors and ‘video nasties’.

The book is divided into five parts, a lengthy and substantial introduction which analyses the nature of the genre, followed by separate sections covering Europe, the Americas, Asia and Australasia. Each of these sections, bar the last, which is very short, offer separate chapters focusing on countries or regions with particular traditions of horror film production. Hence there are chapters on British, Italian, French, German, Spanish, North American & Canadian, and Central and South American, Japanese, Hong Kong, Korean and Indian horror cinemas. Australia and New Zealand are covered together in the Australasia section. Apart from a general historical survey in each chapter, each section ends with a more detailed chronological review of several landmark films from the geographical region under consideration. These reviews are about a page long each, and span the genre from The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919) to Gvozdi (Nails) (2003), from The Phantom of the Opera (1925) to Hostel (2005), from Gojira (Godzilla) (1954) to The Host (2006).

Of course the problem with a book like this, and it would apply just as much if the page count were two or three times greater, and one over which the authors must have agonised at length, is what to leave out, and just how much to say about the films they have included. The book is necessarily a whistle-stop tour. Everyone will be able to carp about something that is missing, and my token grumble would regard the omission of Don’t Look Now (1973). (Yes, I know, recently I seem to mention Nic Roeg’s masterpiece almost every week). But that is really beside the point, because what the authors do with both tremendous verve and considerable knowledge is provide an introduction to the genre on a global scale which even dedicated film fans will find at least in part enlightening, discovering previously unheard of films to add to the ‘must see’ list. Equally the authors provide what amount to warnings concerning certain titles which no one in their right mind would want to watch. But never fear, Odell & Le Blanc have watched them so you don’t have to.

As for the three short films, all are interesting, Savage, at 17 minutes being the most substantial and overtly ‘horrific’.

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The above review originally appeared in Vector #257, Autumn 2008

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