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BOOK REVIEW: Alan Frank's The Horror Film Handbook

Nicholas Roeg's "Don't Look Now" is one of several films that Alan Frank's 'Horror Film Handbook' spoils for readers.
by Charles Tatum

I'll give you a spoiler alert right here at the beginning, since the book's author neglected to. Alan Frank's book came out in 1980, before the video boom. He sums up horror films released in Great Britain, gives a small plot summary, an even briefer review, then quotes a contemporary review that sometimes disagrees with his own assessment. On the positive, the book is full of films that I never heard of, and I consider myself to be as big a fan as Frank claims to be.

Perhaps DVD will remedy this situation, since the technology has seen the release of many films I never expected to see onscreen. The book is sprinkled with some good black and white stills from some of the films reviewed. There is also a standard index, as well as some lacking biographical profiles of some of the major players in the horror genre world, and brief hurried essays on consistent themes in the genre, such as Baron Frankenstein and the Mummy.

The biggest problem, and the main reason I cannot recommend the book, is Frank's constant use of spoilers in his reviews. Here is the entire entry for the 1973 film "Don't Look Now," directed by Nicolas Roeg and starring Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie:

"Numbed by grief after their daughter drowns, a couple go to Venice where they meet two weird sisters who claim to be able to 'see' the dead child. They warn against staying in the city but when the husband ignores them, a dwarf stabs him to death. Critically overrated, the film is confused and pretentious and its sex scenes undoubtedly helped its commercial success. Only the photography and the Venice locations are memorable."

There are then two review quotes from a couple of magazines. This is actually one of the longer plot summary/reviews, yet it gives away the shocking surprise ending of the film. Not only that, his spoiler makes the horrific murder sound ridiculous. I liked the film better than he did, but come on, he not only ruins it, but gets the ending's context all wrong. Frank also does not hide his hatred of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, blasting the comedy duo for using famous Universal Studios monsters in their comedies. He ignores the fact that the monsters' respective series were declining, and the comedies actually brought about renewed interest in the horror genre.

All of the review quotes are credited simply to the magazine or periodical they were written for, not an individual reviewer. What if this site were credited with a positive or negative review quote, ignoring all other disagreeing reviews that have equal posting here? Some of the review quotes are better than Frank's opinions, I would have been curious to see who wrote them. Frank also attempts to list all the credits for the films, but sometimes leaves out important information like a film's director or screenwriter. Misspellings populate every page, actress Donna Reed becomes Donna Read and the film "Berserk" is spelled "Beserk," and some of the running times of the films are replaced with how long the actual film is, for example: 2400 feet. Did Frank really see these films? Couldn't he set his watch instead of copying down how long unspooled celluloid might be?

I have seen so many horror films, it is ridiculous. But for someone to come along boasting of an even greater love and respect for the genre, then to skewer it with a sloppy "definitive" book on the subject makes me mad. Horror film books are a dime a dozen these days, and Alan Frank's tome is worth about that price

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originally posted: 02/04/04 05:18:47
last updated: 02/04/04 08:20:58
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