Saturday, February 12, 2011

I Grew Up with These Film and TV Books...

Today, I wanted to share with you just a few of the film and TV reference books that I grew up with; that made me who I am. 

Again, I just want to be clear: there are innumerable fantastic film and TV reference books being written right now by the likes of Paul Meehan, Alec Worley, Carol J. Clover, David Skal, Matthew Bradley, Mark Phillips,  Paul Kane, Brad Duke, Stephen Tropiano, Ray Morton, Barry Monush and many, many others.  It's just that for today I'm focusing on my pre-1990 youth.

I'm featuring these texts (below) in the order I encountered them in my youth.

Fantastic Television (Harmony Books)

This 1977 book by Gary Gerani and Paul H. Schulman features episode guides, background information and cogent critical analyses of thirteen landmark genre TV series, from One Step Beyond through Space:1999. The second part of the book gazes at "American Telefantasy," "British Telefantasy," "Kid Stuff" and "Made for TV Movies."

I still utilize this valuable text for reference purposes, especially for the outstanding entry on Boris Karloff's Thriller, for example. I purchased this book in the late 1970s, when I wasn't ten yet, and here I found two authors treating science fiction -- and the medium of television -- seriously. It was something of a revelation to me. Written with intelligence and wit, Fantastic Television still impresses me (though I respectfully disagree with the authorial assessment of Space:1999).

Memorable quote: "As I as being pushed from behind into adulthood and, not incidentally, as space travel became a reality, the Captain Videos and Flash Gordons became camp.  But a younger generation was already waist deep into Batman, Lost in Space and Vulcan lore.  In time, of course, even the Star Ship Enterprise will become camp and another new crop of kids will become enthralled by new TV shows." (Fantastic Television, Introduction, Paul H. Schulman, page 9).

The World of Star Trek (Ballantine Books; 1973)

I must have owned five copies and at least two editions of The World of Star Trek (by David Gerrold) over the years.  Among other things, this fine book taught me that you can criticize something (even Star Trek) because you love it; and want it to be better.  And you can do it without being a jerk about it.  In The World of Star Trek, David Gerrold insightfully pinpointed Star Trek at its best, and at its worst, and meaningfully -- and with critical consistency -- discussed why certain episodes landed at either end of the spectrum.  The World of Star Trek is about TV production, about storytelling, and about wanting something you love to always be great, and not  suffer from  "hardening of the arteries" as Gerrold put it.

Memorable Quote: "This is the essential appeal of drama.  As mentioned earlier, we watch a story because we are really testing ourselves.  We are curious as to how we would react in an equivalent situation." (page 34)


Danse Macabre (Berkley Books; 1981)

It's strange to contemplate, but my all-time favorite Stephen King book isn't even a work of fiction.  Rather Danse Macabre is about the art of horror, and how one horror icon perceives and practices that art. 

I still admire (nay, worship...) King's incredible review of The Amityville Horror (1979), positioning it as a film not about a haunted house, but as a fear of the "money pit" of home ownership.  And while King's dismissal of Kolchak: The Night Stalker might rankle some enthusiasts, his critiques of The Outer Limits and Tales of the Unexpected among others still make for valuable reading.  On a side note, King also helped me develop a thicker skin in preparation for a writing career in an age in which everyone always thinks they know more than you, with these words from his introduction.

Memorable Quote: "You'll get as many things wrong as you do right. And none of those guys [fans] will pat you on the head for what you got right; they'll just drive you nuts with the stuff you got wrong." 

With those words, Stephen King forecast the Internet Age.  And he taught all of us how to be better writers, and better readers.

The Zombies that Ate Pittsburgh (P.M.A. Communications; 1987)

Paul R. Gagne's The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh must be one of the most thorough and detailed "films of" books I've ever  had the good fortune to read. Not only does The Zombies that Ate Pittsburgh feature great color photographs and in-depth interviews with Romero, it lets you know the "hows" and the "whys" behind the artist's works and creative process.   I attempted to model my books An Askew View, The Unseen Force, Best in Show, and Mercy in Her Eyes, on the excellent work  achieved by Gagne here.  Unfortunately, I've read my copy of this book so frequently that it is now falling apart.  And replacing it is prohibitively expensive...

Creature Features (Creatures at Large Press, 1987)

I've owned every one of John Stanley's Creature Features Guides over the years, and perpetually found them invaluable resources in terms of finding a film by an alternate title, or learning about a film's availability on video, laserdisc(!) or DVD.  These Stanley books cover thousands of titles, and I remember when I was  in college, my roommate and I endeavored to see every damn movie in the first book, starting with the letter "A."  I don't think we ever even got to "B,: but these Creature Feature Guides remain a great resource.  I have fond memories of reading these books at my grandfather's house in Tom's River, New Jersey, at the shore.   Again, I don't always agree with the capsule reviews, but Stanley's books are like a treasure trove.  How else would I have discovered titles like Three on a Meat Hook?

Indelible Images (University Press of America; 1987)

Last but not at all least is this monograph by my film professor at the University of Richmond, Bert Cardullo.  Trained by Stanley Kauffman and critic for The Hudson Review, Dr. Cardullo was and remains one of the most important influences in my life.  His 1987 book, Indelible Images delivers just what it promises -- "new perspectives on classic films." 

From this book, and from Dr. Cardullo I learned to question conventional wisdom about film, to always research a production's historical context, and perhaps most importantly, to ask "why" in regards to a film director's choices.  Cardullo's film classes and seminars at college were wonderful and illuminating, and this book takes me back to those days and lectures every time I open it to read a chapter.  I have a (prized) signed copy that, to this day, I treasure.  You can check out Bert Cardullo's Amazon store here, to familiarize yourself with his other film titles.  Cardullo most definitively isn't into genre film (and we used to have fun butting heads over that on the UR Campus...) but he is one of the finest film critics in the biz.

Memorable Quote: "Cinematic departures from traditional notions of character and empathy interest me precisely because this sort of experimentation has been going on wholesale in literature for some time, but seems to occur only sporadically in films.  The reason, clearly, is that, unlike literature, film embodies rather than evokes the human figure; and unlike theatre (where such experimentation has a long and continuing tradition), film most often photographs actual physical reality instead of attempting to re-create it or reorder it.  We see real people (be they actors or not) in real settings, and as a result we search for the common bond between ourselves and them; we seek to know them, in their allure and complexity (but ultimate knowability), tell us something about our own lives (page ix)."

This is by no means a complete list.  David Schow's Outer Limits Companion is an amazing book, as is Zicree's text on The Twilight Zone.  I also grew up reading anything and everything "splatter" by the great John McCarty.  Other beloved reference books from my youth include Ed Naha's spectacular The Making of Dune and John Brosnan's James Bond of the Cinema.

What film and TV books did you grow up on?    I may just have to start a meme here (if it already hasn't been done...) and ask a few of my blogging brethren to pass on their reference book love. 

I'd love to know what film and TV books "made you..."


  1. Anonymous8:18 PM

    What a memory trip! I loved my copy of Fantastic Television. In fact, I just dragged a kid down to the basement with me and we poured through stacks of old books until we found it again. A few dings in the cover, but other than that my copy is in really good condition. I see a few hours going down memory lane this weekend.


  2. We had some common influences. Bob Wilkins and John Stanley of Creature Features in northern California were formative. I'd have to add the book on Harryhausen's work, "From the Land Beyond, Beyond" and "Film Fantasy Scrapbook" as influences. Plus mags like Cinefantastique and Starlog. Today's fans don't appreciate how hard it was to track down such treasures before the Internet. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  3. Some great books, John. And some great memories. I remember King's DANSE MACABRE well. Fine post, my friend. Thanks.

    p.s., I love the new blog template update!

  4. right on, thanx for the trip down memory lane - still have my well read copy of fantastic television...

  5. I'm re-reading King's book as we speak. Such a wonderfully smart and personal look at the genre through a truly appreciative fan's eyes. I love film reference books in general. These sound like some great titles.

    One guide I remember from my past was a small book aimed at children named something along the lines of "Monsters in the Movies." It had short writeups about the classic monster films, mostly Universal, accompanied by these lurid, all-green illustrations of the creatures and fiends. Man did that bug bite me good!

  6. Great compilation JKM...remember reading "Fantastic Television" at my college's library (when I should have been studying). I can't believe "Danse Macabre" is (gulp) 30 years old this to see King's ruminations on the last 30 years of the genre. Like the new look of the blog.

  7. Hello everyone!

    Meredith: Enjoy that copy of Fantastic Television. It's still a great read after all these years. I treasure my copy (sittin' right on my desk beside me...). I'm particularly fond of The One Step Beyond chapter.

    John Morehead: Yes, we share a love for John Stanley. He gets some guff from crazoid fans because he occasionally gets a fact or two wrong in these books (like, uh, who doesn't, you know? jeez...) but I still find his Creature Feature Guides to be fantastic, informative and fun reading. One day, I want John Stanley's autograph...

    Le0pard13: Hello my friend! Danse Macabre is a terrific book indeed -- still vital and meaningful decades later. And I'm glad you are enjoying the template update. Somehow it makes things look neater around here; more organized or something...

    Hi Scott: Like I said to Meredith, treasure that copy of Fantastic Television! I would love to see an update (or series of updates) from the original authors. Like Fantastic Television: 1970 - 1980. Fantastic Television 1980 - 1990, etc. Probably just a dream...

    Hi Joe Monster! Stephen King's book is really the gold standard concerning the art of horror. I'd love to see an update of this book as well; taking into account new directions in the genre. As I wrote, this is actually my all-time favorite King book.

    "Monsters in the Movies" sounds like it was great too...I don't remember that one.

    Indianhoop: Thanks as well for the compliments on the new look of the blog. After six years, it was time for a change.

    I also agree with you about Danse Macabre and Fantastic Television. And it is always fun to read a book like one of these rather than study at a university library, isn't it? Great time stealers, these books...

    Thanks for the great comments, all.


  8. John -

    I could do a completely separate blog called "Books Made Me." The phrase doesn't have the same ring to it, but it would be fun to elaborate. Stephen King would get a lot of coverage. I heartily agree with you that "Danse Macabre" is the gold standard. Gagne's book is due for an update. Dennis Fischer's "Horror Film Directors" was a very important one for me, along with "Creature Features," "Terror on Tape" and "Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In"... Like I said, I could go on and on...


  9. John,

    Well, still being made I suppose. So many I love.

    I actually bought that Gerrold World Of Trek book not too long ago. I haven't read it yet but I'm so pleased to hear it's a winner in the Muir Book! That is great news.

    I bought it for additional commentary as I progress further into my own coverage of ST:TOS so I'm glad to hear Gerrold's commentary is worthwhile in your expert opinion.

    But, anyway I'm all about reference books. I own a few by a fellow named Muir. Exploring Space:1999 is one of my favorites. Hope to get the Battlestar Galactica book soon. I also love the Films Of John Carpenter. great works.

    Outside of those authored books I loved The Bionic Book, Robot Ghosts And Wired Dreams [Anime], bios like I Am Spock, From Sawdust To Stardust and Memories. I have Farscape Forver in queue. Anyway, great post idea and as L13 mentioned I really like the new look. I was toying with a new look myself. I set it up about two weeks ago I think. It's under blogs I own or whatever. Take care my friend. Hope all is well.

  10. Hello my friends,

    Joe: I agree with you that a new edition of Zombies Ate Pittsburgh is timely. I also remember reading Dennis Fischer's book on horror film directors post-1990, and thinking it was fantastic. A great read. I don't know Terror on Tape, but it sounds fun...

    SFF: Thank you for a lovely comment, my friend, and for your kind words about my own reference books, particularly Exploring Space:1999 and The Films of JC. Your words mean an awful lot to me; you have no idea. Thank you.

    I haven't read Farscape Forever, but I should. I also loved I Am Spock (and even I Am Not Spock).

    There's nothing like a good sci-fi fi film/tv reference book!

    Thank you both for great comments and great additions to the discussion.

    All my best,

  11. Wow, I had most of these books as well. In fact, I still have The World of Star Trek somewhere. Me-mo-rieeees!

    --Rich Handley

  12. As a coincidence, I just tracked down two of the books that fit the definition for me - Days of Thrills and Adventure by Alan Barbour and The Great Movie Serials by Harmon and Glut. Some others from the era: Denis Gifford's Horror Movie coffee table book (I forget the name), The Films of Boris Karloff, Movie Magic, The Making of Star Trek, the Making of 2001 by Agel (yikes! I was 8 when I read this), Tarzan in the Movies, The Great Radio Heroes by Harmon, Movie Comedy Teams by Maltin. Also there was a series of paperback books of Film Criticism that came out ca. 1970; the three I read dealt with Horror, Science Fiction, and Hitchcock. They had white covers with colorful sprocket photos on the left side. Anyone remember these (I'm too lazy to dig them out of the box in the garage)?

  13. Hi Rassmguy and DLR:

    More great memories here indeed. I also loved Steven Whitfield's The Making of Star Trek, and I would love to get my hands on The Making of 2001...

    I don't remember the Film Criticism Books of 1970 dealing with Horror, Science Fiction and Hitchcock, but they sound absolutely great. Dig 'em out of the garage! Dig 'em out of the garage! :)

    All my best to you both,


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