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Book Review - The Virgin Guide to Horror Films by James Marriott
by Matthew Bartley

You always know what you're getting with any edition of the Virgin film guides. Simply titled (no elaborate pun on an obscure work for Virgin, instead they're blandly called 'Horror films' or 'Comic Book Films' or 'Spielberg'), they're neatly titled into 20 films/chapters that the author feels best represents the genre/director. But while this may make the book easy to read, it also leaves a slight feeling of undernourishment.

Marriott then, takes a wide historical range of horror films from 'Nosferatu' through to 'Ringu' and makes two things very apparent: 1) he can write and 2) he loves horror.

For any budding film studies student, Marriott's writing is an excellent example of just how to study, read and write about a film. His exploration of the themes in films such as 'Invasion of the Bodysnatchers', 'Don't Look Now' and 'The Fly' are incisive but easy to understand. It doesn't have the academic tone of say, Darryl Jones' 'Horror: A Thematic History in Fiction and Film', instead reaching out in a much more accessible way. So while we can all recite the 'reds under the bed' reading of 'Invasion of the Bodysnatchers', Marriott finds more unusual ways of reading it and films like 'Nosferatu'

But Marriott's writing to some extent is hamstrung by the strcuture of the Virgin book series. No genre, let alone horror, can be comphrensively covered in 20 films and there are notable exceptions here. Where is 'The Blair Witch Project', for example, the horror film that gave the genre the boost it sorely needed? For that matter, where is 'The Shining'?

This wouldn't be a problem if all the chapters were written with the same passion that Marriott writes about 'The Haunting' with for example. But he confesses himself, that he's not particularly enthralled with 'The Exorcist'. So why not ignore it and write about a different film he's more passionate about? And an entry like 'Deep Red', seems to exist to make a cursory nod to Italian horror rather than because the author has a burning desire to include it in the first place.

So although Marriott's writing and analysis is excellent in places, he's blunted by the rigid structure imposed upon him. This makes the book not as essential or as exhaustive as it likes to think, but rather a casually impressive one, a book to dip into every so often rather than base your entire knowledge upon.

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originally posted: 07/07/05 00:07:05
last updated: 07/10/05 00:30:41
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