Fright Favorites: 31 Movies to Haunt Your Halloween and Beyond by David J. Skal
Book Review by Lee Sobel
5 out of 5 stars
David J. Skal has been writing about horror movies for decades so you know when you see his name on a book about fright flicks, it's going to be well-written. This book is meant to be a sampler and you have to respect that it's no easy task to pick 31 movies to represent a genre that author Skal admits, "now compromise such a multitude of genres and subgenres that such an undertaking would fill an encyclopedia set."
Smartly, Skal turns 31 entries into 62 by giving you one recommended extra movie for each title. That said, because the horror genre is so expansive, the book goes for a middle of the road approach, including undisputed horror classics as Dracula (1931) and Night of the Living Dead (1968) and avoiding movies
that are edgier faves like Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974).
Skal dedicates the book to "Monster Kids of All Ages Everywhere" which leads me to expect the inclusion of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) which has to be one of the "monster kids" all time favorites -- perhaps Skal wanted to emphasize fear over laughs and maybe felt that he didn't want more than one appearance by the Frankenstein monster but then again he did include Young Frankenstein (1974) -- so much for that theory. Upon closer examination he does mention the Abbott & Costello movie as a footnote to Young Frankenstein (1974), but I would like to have seen a more expanded chapter on the beloved comedy-horror hybrid.
Some tidbits of info I picked up from this book that I either didn't know or forgot:
The original treatment for the movie THEM! (1954) intended it to be shot in color and 3-D with the giant ants invading the New York subway system but that proved to be too expensive and instead the action was shifted to Los Angeles. They scrapped both the color and 3-D, but the original main title for the movie was in red and blue and was hand-spliced into every print.
No one involved in the making of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) was happy with the title but they couldn't come up with anything they liked better -- a close contender for the title was Sleep No More. The opening and closing of the movie set in a hospital were shot six months after principal photography had wrapped on the movie because the studio was concerned about ending on such a pessimistic note with Kevin McCarthy screaming into the camera, "They're here! You're next!"
The script for Rosemary's Baby (1968) was written by the film's director Roman Polanski and is said to be one of the most faithful adaptations of a book ever set to film. John Cassavettes was cast in the male lead role when Robert Redford became unavailable. (By the way, has anyone noticed how similar the names Cassavettes is to Castavet the name of the couple who are witches in the movie? Weird, no?) Ruth Gordon won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe as best supporting actress. The Catholic Legion of Decency branded the movie with a "Condemned" rating.
William Friedkin clashed with Paramount Pictures executives over casting for The Exorcist (1973). The studio wanted Marlon Brando to play Father Merrin, played in the movie by Max Von Sydow (I can almost picture Brando squeezing his head yelling "Regan!!!!") Paul Newman and Jack Nicholson were considered for Father Karras and Stacy Keach was actually cast in the role before Friedkin decided at the last minute to pay Keach's contract off and cast playwright Jason Miller in the role.
There are many books out there on horror movies, including gigantic encyclopedia like books that hurt your hands just to hold up and read. Fright Favorites is a fun book to pick up in an airport or read on a long car or train ride. You'll visit old friends like Frankenstein and maybe consider the value of some movies you forgot about like Hocus Pocus. It's nice to see what newer movies he makes room for such as Get Out, which IMHO is the best horror movie made in ages but there should have been more coverage of the films by James Wan, who to my mind is the John Carpenter of the 21st Century. It's a well designed book with fantastic photos. Since the horror movie genre is so big, I have to imagine there will be a second volume of this book.