Muir Book Wednesday # 2: Horror Films of the 1970s
The year 2002 was a really good one for me, at least professionally. An Askew View: The Films of Kevin Smith was a huge hit for Applause, and so was my 662 page survey from McFarland, Horror Films of the 1970s. In fact, I'm busy working on the sequel right now, Horror Films of the 1980s.
And I guess that's why I wanted to feature Horror Films of the 1970s as my "Muir Book Wednesday number #2." I've been watching a lot of horror movies lately (over 330 since March...), and thinking about them all the time, and well, I just love the 1970s and '80s. But the seventies were the decade of Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, Halloween, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Alien, Dawn of the Dead, Straw Dogs, Deliverance and many other classics that still shape how the genre looks in the 21st century.
I was deeply gratified that Horror Films of the 1970s became my then most recognized book, and was awarded a Booklist Editor's Choice for 2002, and cited as an Outstanding Reference Source for 2003 by RUSA (Reference and Users Service Association) and a "Best of the Best" Reference Book for 2002 by the ALA (American Libraries Association). When you work long hours on something that's a labor of love, and make your wife watch too many really bad movies, it's nice that someone recognizes your efforts. I don't know if it's really true or not, but I always feel in my gut that 2002 was my signature year as a writer, the year I got on the radar, so-to-speak, between Askew View and H70s.
Horror Films of the 1970s features an introduction, a history of the disco decade, and then I proceed to review (with critical reception, cast & crew, synopsis, commentary and legacy...) the films released from 1970-1979. In toto, over 225 films are catalogued here. Finally, the book concludes with a series of appendices, including Horror Film Conventions of the 1970s, The 1970s Horror Hall of Fame, Memorable Ad Lines, Then and Now - Recommended Viewing and The Best Horror Movies of the 1970s. There's a complete index, notes and extensive bibliography too.
Anyway, here's some of the reviews for Horror Films of the 1970s to give you a sense of how the book was received.
"A top notch overview of American horror movies of the 1970s...Muir opens with an entertaining and informative BRIEF HISTORY...Muir's commentaries are well worth reading...an impressive resource for all film collections...highly recommended."-LIBRARY JOURNAL."
"Muir is an irrespressible commentator, his comments are sharp and often very wry, and they make this volume very fun - yes, even for non-horror buffs....it's an entertaining analysis. I don't know how many of you go for these films, but if you are interested, this is an excellent study. Muir's sense of humor even makes some of the undesirable ones sound bearable."- CLASSIC IMAGES, page 29.
"Brilliant and essential guide for the genre enthusiast and casual fan alike, film scholar John Kenneth Muir's comprehensive undertaking is likely to remain the last word on the subject for years to come...it is erudite, incisive and most importantly unassuming...Muir hits all the bases in a beautifully succinct and informative introduction then proceeds to analyze and profile more than two hundred films...seminal..." -Dom Salemi, BRUTARIAN, Spring 2003, Issue # 38.
"Now for the first time ever in one amazing volume, John Kenneth Muir brings us HORROR FILMS OF THE 1970s, a detailed text...Muir's writing is concise, witty and intuitive....Muir gets it right. He sees humor in films where humor was intended. He sees humor in films where it was not intended. He understands, gets the joke and nicely parlays his wisdom to the written page...make room for this book on your shelf. It's an indispensable reference to a decade of truly eclectic extremes." - BOOK REVIEWS BY AL BACA, Page 49.
"...Muir...ventures well beyond the basics where it counts. His academic introduction is actually a pretty good read on its own and uses the art-imitates-life argument as a critical tool to determine how the disco decade spawned a plethora of new horror trends...Perhaps the coolest feature is Muir's extensive and humorous appendix section, in which he offers his Hall of Fame, best movies, recommended viewing and a list of horror film conventions...Good fun for casual fans and hardened intellectuals alike." - Tom Dragomir, RUE MORGUE: THE NINTH CIRCLE (BOOKS), page 67.
"The legendary Cushing stars in many of the films discussed, yet there is more than a retread of his filmography. More mainstream hits (Carrie, The Omen) are here, but the book also highlights such lesser known gems as Count Yorga and Sisters, as well as drive-in trash like Squirm and Grizzly. Everything for the devotee is here as each film is given a synopsis, credits and a look at the production. Another bonus is Muir's pithy critiques...An impressive, dedicated and amusing book. RATING: (FOUR STARS) * * * * " - FILM REVIEW, May 2003.
"Your reaction to learning of this book's existence may be similar to mine: near pants-wetting....[the book] surely will be referenced by horror fans for years (and decades) to come."- HITCH MAGAZINE # 33, Spring 2003.
"The title of this book says it all and fans of the genre have reason to rejoice. Muir, an authority on horror and science fiction cinema, has finally turned his attention to the decade when the modern horror film genre came into its own...The film descriptions communicate well to the reader, even when the film itself is unfamiliar. Each synopsis gives an overview that makes clear the subject and scope of the film; and his commentary is serious, thought-provoking, and helpful in understanding the meaning and importance of the film...I am aware of no similar reference that covers the same territory as Muir does in this work. It merits consideration on that basis alone, but academic libraries and larger public libraries will no doubt find it to be a useful - and much-used addition to their reference collections." - KEVIN BARRON, Reference and Service Users Quarterly, Volume 42, Number 3, Spring 2003, page 267.
"The commentary, which can go on for several pages, puts each film in context and discusses style and filmmaking technique. It also explores how topics such as racism, religion and women's rights are represented in films like BLACULA, THE EXORCIST, and THE STEPFORD WIVES, respectively...HORROR FILMS OF THE 1970s is an important reference tool for film collections in academic and public libraries and a must for fans....an Editor's Choice, 2002..."-BOOKLIST
"In his entertaining and scholarly filmography of over 200 films arranged by year, Muir sees the historical and social happenings of the 1970s as giving rise to the unusually high number of groundbreaking horror films of the decade, as well as the routine ones." - AMERICAN LIBRARIES: Best of the Best Reference Sources, The 2003 Reference and Users Service Association of distinguished reference works selected by public and academic librarians, by Vicki D. Bloom, May 2003
We've all heard the axiom that "art imitates life," and most of us have a pretty good idea what it signifies. Art does not exist in a vacuum. Instead, it is inexorably bound to the time period from which it sprang. Sometimes an insight into a social or historical context in a work of art is entirely coincidental, arising from a set of understandings unknown even to the artist who rendered it. But more often than not, there is intent in art to reflect, compare, reveal, contrast or echo some important element of the creator's universe.
Another truism, one hoisted from the darker side of the aesthetic shelf, might offer an ancillary proclamation. Specifically, horror films have always mirrored the fears and anxieties of their "real life" epochs.
In the 1930s, protean genre films such as Dracula (1931) and King Kong (1933) represented a form of "escapism" for adventure-hungry and romance-starved audiences seeking to forget the daily drags and vicissitudes of the Great Depression. Likewise, 1950s-era horror gems such as Them! (1955), which concerned radiation-spawned giant ants, played on the not-so-hidden fears of the American audience that its own government had opened up a deadly Pandora's box by splitting in the atom. In the same era, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) was viewed by many prominent critics as a thinly-veiled indictment of Communism, a particularly timely target considering the pitch of the Cold War with America's competitor, the Soviet Union, and the rampant paranoia of the McCarthy age.
Not surprisingly, the same paradigm proves true of yet another decade of the turbulent 20th century: the "free wheeling" 1970s. The myriad horror films of the disco era likewise represent a catalog of that time's mortal dreads and anxieties. Perhaps the only real significant difference between the 1930s or 1950s and the 1970s, however, is the sheer number of fears and apprehensions being evinced by the horror fims of the period. Bluntly expressed, there was a lot more to be afraid about in the seventies.
Consider that the decade found people, and especially Americans, anxious about virtually ever aspect of contemporary life. What was to be a woman's role in American society during the post-hippie women's lib, bicentennial world? The Stepford Wives (1975) offered one nightmarish answer. What was to be the upshot of all the random violence in the streets and the worst crime rates yet recorded in American history? Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange (1971) had a few thoughts about that subject. Could the average citizen's inadvertent exposure to microwave ovens, industrial pollution, X-rays, a weakening ozone layer or contaminated water alter the fundamental shape and evolution of human life? Larry Cohen's It's Alive (1973) explored that frightening notion.
Similarly, Robert Wise's The Andromeda Strain (1971) and Michael Crichton's Westworld (1972) fretted that man's escalating reliance on machines might prove his undoing. At the same time, Frogs (1972), Night of the Lepus (1972), Squirm (1976), Day of the Animals (1977), Kingdom of the Spiders (1977), Empire of the Ants (1977), The Swarm (1978), Prophecy (1979) and other '70s horror films about rampaging animals traded on different fears. Beneath the hokey special effects, these films reflected genuine audience trepidation that Mother Nature would not stand for Man's continued pillaging and pollution of the Earth. These "eco-horrors" envisioned environmental apocalypse caused by humankind's own short-sightedness.
Even the innocence of the old King Kong was flipped on its head in the mid-1970s. The big-budget (and much loathed) 1976 remake of the 1930s classic found an American oil corporation (a surrogate for Exxon) exploiting Kong, like some natural resource, on a mission not of unbridled adventure and awesome exploration, but of imperialism and cynicism. Kong's new bride in the 1970s version was no innocent either, but a struggling, opportunistic actress looking to find her fifteen minutes of fame.
And it didn't stop there.
The Watergate scandal and President Nixon's impeachment erupted in the early 1970s, and so the long-standing American pillar of "trust in government" soon crumbled to dust too. Consequently, horror films began to posit "evil" conspiracies at all levels of governmental bureaucracy. The town elders of Amity kept the beaches open in Jaws (1975), even though they knew a killer shark was prowling the waters off their coast. The doctors and politicos of Coma (1978) were responsible for a vast conspiracy exploiting the weak and rewarding the rich and powerful. The presidential candidate of The Clonus Horror (1979) utilized living human clones as a bank of replacement body parts and organized a cover-up to keep it under wraps...all while playing the public role of "populist."...
So there you have it, a look at Horror Films of the 1970s. You can buy the book from McFarland, or at Amazon.com.