Creature Features

Book review by Thomas M. Sipos

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Creature Features: The Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Movie Guide, edited by John Stanley (Boulevard Books, 1997, 582 pages, $7.99)

 

 

 

Two things about this book: (1) It has much merit. Probably the most complete single volume compendium of horror films, it's only serious challenger the pricer Overlook Encyclopedia. (2) It could easily have been better. This book is intentionally incomplete, for which there is no excuse.

Years ago, Leonard Maltin began dropping old movies from each new edition of his guide, the new squeezing out the old. Perhaps his publisher thought the public wouldn't shell out for two new volumes every year, so it's been kept to one. Worse, Maltin's ax falls disproportionately on obscure exploitation gems.

John Stanley appears well-poised to fill this knowledge gap. A former horror host on KTUV-TV, he has "interviewed and profiled hundreds" of genre talents. He spent a decade writing his Creature Features Movie Guide, self-published in 1981 under Creatures at Large Press, at 208 pages.  Warner published the second edition in 1984. Creatures at Large reverted to publishing the third and fourth editions, by now 454 pages.

This new fifth edition is the first to be released as a mass market paperback, the first without artwork or stills. That's fine. [Since writing this review, there has been a sixth edition released in 2000, a trade paperback, likewise without stills]. A cover blurb cites Fangoria calling Stanley "the Leonard Maltin of horror!" That's sadly too true.

A sales pamphlet from Stanley says: "in order to make this new mass-market paperback size manageable and affordable, several thousand items had to be cut to make way for more up-to-date material." My emphasis. The pamphlet suggests buying the fourth edition "in order to have a complete Creature Features library." The fourth edition also dropped older entries, while keeping all titles and stating which previous edition contained the complete entry. This is no longer true with the fifth.

 

 

It's odd, what's in and what's out. Tenuous "fantasy" fare such as The Nude Bomb and James Bond films remain. Sincere genre efforts like Splatter University and Warren's Terror were dropped. Splash is in, but not Splash, Too. There's no excuse for this. Not when this edition has 582 pages and Leonard Maltin's latest has 1,614.  Not when these missing entries already exist on Stanley's hard drive.

Hear me Boulevard Books: PUBLISH ALL THE ENTRIES! NOW!

I do not condemn Stanley. His is a worthy book, always the first horror film reference I select, from over a hundred plus on my shelves, to begin any research. I only want more.

And oh yes, Stanley should list running times and directors. Maltin's spoiled me for those.

Occasional errors arise. Of Superstition Stanley writes: "a body gutted and chopped in half by a descending window frame, the toes of a swimmer eaten off ... a woman nailed to the floor with spikes (including one through her brain)." Actually, the boy was severed by an ascending window frame, Heidi Bohay's toes remain intact, and there was just that one spike. But Stanley wrote every review in his book, has seen every film (thousands). Noble work by a diligent scholar, so one is forgiving.

Review copyright by Thomas M. Sipos

 

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