Tag Archives: Horror films

The Brotherhood of Satan

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Brotherhood of Satan [Amazon, Amazon Video, Abebooks, Local Library] by L Q Jones.

Jones The Brotherhood of Satan

The Brotherhood of Satan is the novelization of a 1971 horror movie of no great critical note, and it certainly reads that way. While I haven’t seen the movie, I suspect that the book is very faithful to it, because it fails to offer any details that couldn’t be represented on film. (Author Jones was a member of the cast and assisted on the script.) The characters are cut-outs with little or no interiority. Despite that superficiality, some of the scenes are difficult to picture, particularly ones in the Satanists’ lair that involved passage “through” a fireplace. Supernatural occurrences get a gee-whiz treatment that makes them feel cheap. 

As far as the Satanic conspiracy goes, it has a lot of liturgical action, which is what attracted my attention to the film/book in the first place. But the liturgy is decidedly uninformed and clumsy, with addresses to “Ye who penetrates the future” (ouch!) and “Satanacus.” The choice of an “ansate cross” for the principal insignia of the cultists is somewhat spoiled by the fact that the book cover and movie stills show a figure that is not really a crux ansata. The “Satanic” rites involve an unseemly level of self-abasement among the worshippers, and a practically Christian sense of penitence. 

SPOILER: To its credit, the story ends with the triumph of the evil forces, with the hapless “protagonists” merely lulled into a grateful sense of having survived the episode, while their daughter has been spiritually possessed (presumably for life) by one of the creepy old cultists.

Horror Films of the 1990s

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Horror Films of the 1990s [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by John Kenneth Muir

Muir Horror Films of the 1990s

I read this beefy volume after Clark and Senn’s similarly ambitious Sixties Shockers. While the 1960s were a transitional decade for horror movies, the 1990s were allegedly an ebb tide, in which horror was little-produced and hardly marketed as such. Muir does indeed cast a wide net, including such films as Jurassic Park (1993). “Interloper” and “police procedural” themes are among the elements that characterize the typical horror movies of the decade.

The central reviews section of the book is organized by year, and each year’s chapter begins with a timeline inventorying events of major cultural significance for that year. The critical emphasis is on the relationship of cinematic themes to then-current events. So much is this the case, that the reviews tend to omit comparisons to earlier films, except for the most overt sequels and remakes. For example, the review of Body Parts (1991) does not mention the seminal Hands of Orlac (1924, 1960) Nor does discussion of The Masque of the Red Death (DTV 1991) bring up Roger Corman’s magisterial 1964 version of the Poe tale. The stand-out exception is “Appendix D: Movie References in Scream,” which catalogs dozens of film allusions that occur in that 1996 post-modern meta-movie.

The reviews are fully equipped with star ratings and opinionated verdicts, which seemed awfully “accurate” to me, when I was in a position to compare my own views. I was especially pleased with the glowing review of The Ninth Gate (1999) — often the object of critical derision — Muir even placed it at number five in his “Ten Best” list for the decade.

That list is one of a number of clever and useful apparatus elements placed as appendices. “1990s Horror Conventions” provides an index of movies by common tropes, such as “Car Won’t Start,” “H.P. Lovecraft,” and “Vampires.” (The absence of my favorite “Girl on Altar” is sadly due to its general neglect in the movies themselves.) “The 1990s Horror Hall of Fame” is an inventory of notable performers. Having noted that theater horror features were at a disadvantage in the 1990s because of small-screen competition from The X-Files, Muir backs up his claim by tabulating about thirty matches of central plot elements between 1990s horror films and individual X-Files episodes as “Appendix E.” 

On the whole, this book accomplishes its goals capably and with a fair amount of style.

Sixties Shockers

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Sixties Shockers: A Critical Filmography of Horror Cinema, 1960-1969 [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Mark Clark and Bryan Senn, foreword by Robert Tinnell.

Clark Senn Tinnell Sixties Shockers

Designed primarily as a reference book, Sixties Shockers is a comprehensive overview of a wide swath of horror cinema from the 1960s. It is organized into three principal sections. The first is “The Decade,” a chronological set of essays regarding the major cultural trends, social circumstances, and cinematic contributors of the period. It’s a good read, and it emphasizes the positives: innovations and transformations in the movies, along with their contexts and sources. The second section is “The Movies,” organized alphabetically by film title. Each entry includes basic filmographic data, a little clip of promotional prose (often hilarious), and a substantial review, usually with insider anecdotes about the production of the movie. The final section is “More Movies,” supplementing the second section with entries for genre-borderline movies, and movies produced in the 60s, but not shown (in the US, anyway) until later. For ease of use, I would have preferred that the third section have been folded in to the second. It is in a smaller font — presumably to indicate its lesser importance as well as to fit in the surplus material — and that font could have been kept as an editorial convention for the “More” entries, even if they were all alphabetized with the main set. 

The review elements are opinionated, but even-handed, dishing out praise and condemnation with equal facility. Despite their obvious enthusiasm for the genre, the authors are actually a bit harder on the individual films than I would be. For example, they pan one of my favorites: The Dunwich Horror (1969). That makes their enthusiastic reviews that much more intriguing, though.

Much of the movie-specific information in the first section is repeated in the entries for the relevant movies, which is probably for the best. A reader using the book as a specialized encyclopedia can be sure that all of its data on a particular movie are collected under its heading. The genre is rife with variant titles, and these are often given as cross-references at the heading level. The material production of the book is admirable: it’s large and solid, with abundant black-and-white illustrations reproducing stills from the movies as well as posters and other promotional literature. It’s not typo-free, but the text quality is reasonably high. The appended index is very useful for referencing particular producers, directors, and performers.