Douglas McEwan | The Q Guide to Classic Monster Movies

book_q-movies.jpgThat’s the spirit of Alyson’s Q Guide series: heartfelt and ironic at the same time, with an ample dose of humor and a very personal approach to the topic at hand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

208 pages. New York: Alyson, 2007. $12.95 (paperback)

Movie monsters are the ultimate outsiders, so it’s not surprising that horror films have particular appeal to those who feel like a loaf of Russian rye in a Wonder Bread world. Douglas McEwan, author of The Q Guide to Classic Monster Movies, recalls the message his teenage self received from Hollywood’s Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, and the like:

It is the intolerant society that is wrong, Hang in there. Fight the good fight. If you get enough sequels, eventually everyone will love you. Once Abbott and Costello show up, you’re home free.

There is hope.

And there you have the spirit of Alyson’s Q Guide series: heartfelt and ironic at the same time, with an ample dose of humor and a very personal approach to the topic at hand. The Q Guide to Classic Monster Movies is a quick and entertaining read which covers both the acknowledged classics and many films you’ve probably never heard of before. Some of the movies included have overt GLBTQ content (Dracula’s Daughter, anyone?), while others are queer in the non-normative, inobservant of boundaries sense. And sometimes a monster is just a monster: McEwan doesn’t strain to find hidden messages in every film he discusses.

Classic Monster Movies is organized chronologically, with occasional digressions. McEwan devotes chapters to the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s (which he deems the Gold, Silver and Lead Ages), with a prequel discussing horror literature and an epilogue looking at the horror film since 1960. Don’t let the Top Ten lists fool you, however. This is not a greatest-hits book, and some movies clearly made the cut not for cinematic excellence as it is commonly understood, but for their delicious badness. Which was a good choice. Bad movies are fun, and dishing bad movies is even more fun.

This Q Guide is a fount of insider trivia. Take for example the momentous question of who really directed The Thing From Another World (1951), a movie considerably better than its title suggests. The director of record is Christian Nyby, otherwise known as a film editor and unremarkable television director, but the trademark style of Hollywood legend Howard Hawks is all over this film. Primary research by McEwan, apparently conducted entirely at a party also attended by Robert Cornthwaite (Dr. Carrington in the film), solves the mystery. Nyby was the director in terms of calling the shots on the set, but Hawks made substantial contributions beyond his credited role as producer, including rehearsing the actors and discussing shots with Nyby. Would-be authors take note: Your most important research skill may be getting invited to the right parties.

McEwan reveals his eye for the telling detail as he traces the decline and fall of Universal’s Mummy franchise through the diminishing care taken with the title character’s appearance. Makeup artist Jack Pierce’s transformation of Boris Karloff in Karl Freund’s The Mummy (1932) is legendary, but it didn’t come cheap: Eight hours were required to apply Karloff’s makeup, and another two to remove it. In The Mummy’s Hand (1940), the trademark Pierce makeup was used for only one day of shooting; the rest of the time, Kharis (played by Tom Tyler, best known for innumerable roles in B-movie Westerns) wore a rubber mask. All pretense at artistry was dropped by In the Mummy’s Tomb (1942): Lon Chaney, Jr. (whose birth name was Creighton Chaney; he adopted his father’s given name for obvious reasons) wore a mask throughout.

Classic Monster Movies is not all snark, however: St. Louisans in particular will be pleased to learn that McEwan’s favorite actor is Vincent Price, and he devotes nine appreciative pages to Price’s life and career. There are also tributes to Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaneys Sr. and Jr., and to perhaps the only horror team in the history of the movies, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

Whether you’re a Q in body or in spirit or just a fan of monster movies, The Q Guide to Classic Monster Movies will give you a new perspective on movies you already know and suggest some hidden gems (or hilarious cubic zirconia) to check out at your favorite DVD outlet. | Sarah Boslaugh

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