Thursday 19 July 2012
Taking A Kim View
Nightmare Movies by Kim Newman
Bloomsbury. ISBN: 9781408805039
It’s funny. I’ve always had kind of a schizophrenic relationship with the work of Kim Newman.
I’ve always loved his literature, the original Anno Dracula trilogy in particular is a shiny set of works which no lover of pulp fiction should be without. When it comes to his film reviews, however, I’ve never really agreed with a lot of his final verdicts on the various creations concocted by the vast flora and fauna of budget-wise movie makers over the years. In fact, I gave another book he worked on a bit of a bad time, although I believe he only plugged in some small chunks of the contents of the book if I’m not much mistaken (see my review of Horror! 333 Films To Scare You To Death here if you are so inclined).
That being said, I do realise that, whether I agree with Mr. Newman’s final verdict or not, his writing style is excellent and always very readable. Which is the case with his completely revised and re-vamped book Nightmare Movies. I have to say though, that I was a lot more sympathetic with the majority of his views in this book so perhaps my tastes are changing as the passage of time leads me shambling, zombie-like to my final resting place. It’s also an extremely entertaining read... which helps a lot and is another testament to Mr. Newman’s knack at "turning a nice phrase".
I knew what my main complaint with this book was going to be even before I started reading it... pretty much the way in which various people define what is a horror film is not something which can easily be pinned down and agreed upon, and I’ve got very rigid and crotchety in my view of what constitutes a horror film over the years. However, Newman deftly sidesteps my main concern here right from the outset by opening up with a view that this is not a book specifically about horror movies (indeed it isn’t and in spite of the fact that the publishing company have felt the need to subtitle this edition as “Horror On Screen Since The 1960s”) but about “nightmare movies.” That is to say, movies which contain horrific or nightmarish content (I don’t personally buy into the prescription that things which merely horrify a person subjectively are concrete enough to define a genre for the use by the general population) and, for the most part, the writer steers clear of that definition throughout the course of this weighty tome although, to be honest, he did let me down when he started talking about Hannibal Lector... yes, I understand he is an influential presence on the horror genre, but I don’t buy into the fact that a psychotic serial killer is in any way a monster. A serial killer is a human being who has serious issues... he is not the defining inhabitant of a horror film... that’s my personal view anyway and I’m sticking to it.
However, that minor gripe aside, this book is a strange journey of a read and I’m not sure I’m the right chunk of the movie going public that this is levelled at. Rather than spend a lot of time on individual films (there are individual reviews in here for important works but not so many as you might expect), he presents us with a blisteringly entertaining overview of an array of “nightmare movies” many of which I already knew inside out, and which lead me to suspect that this tome was more written for the novice reader. However, having said that, there were, especially towards the end of the book, a lot of movies which I’d equally not heard of. I think this is probably just one of the perils of writing an overview of a particular genre and it must be very hard to try to second guess how much of your subject your readers will be familiar with. Thankfully, Mr. Newman makes no apologies and whizzes through various movies at a rate of knots which, while sometimes frustrating in terms of items I was personally not familiar with, was ultimately, I’m sure, the absolute best way to approach writing something of this nature.
Mr. Newman weaves words as if they were a needle and thread sewing the eyes of a freshly dead corpse and, although it’s quite a long read (nearly 600 pages of main text in a fairly small, compared to many recent release, type size) there’s seriously never a dull moment and you certainly won’t regret picking this one up if you’re a fan of this particular type of movie. I can see why a lot of people consider it to be one of the key texts on its subject and I certainly wish I’d have read this when I was a lot younger and knew less about these kinds of gaudy entertainments. Certainly, readers new to the field will find this book extremely valuable but, as I alluded to earlier, seasoned veterans of the visually macabre and ghoulish celluloid dishes over the years will also find something to discover lurking within the pages of what I now refer to as Newman’s Necronomicon.
This one’s definitely a recommended read from me and, if you like it and you’re a reader of fiction and enjoy catching numerous movie and pulp literature references, I would also suggest you catch the new editions of Newman’s Anno Dracula trilogy (which I’m going to have to buy again myself now they’ve been updated) as there’s a lot in these particular tomes to delight all fans of the genre.