Archive for July, 2018

I’m saddened to see that John Brosnan died way too young (57), of acute pancreatitis, in 2005, because this post is effectively the letter I’d have sent to him if I could. He wrote many books of both fiction and nonfiction in my chosen genre of horror, SF, and fantasy; I’ve never read any of his fiction, which was written under a variety of names, but there’s a delightful circularity to the fact that Carnosaur (1984), a pre-Jurassic Park novel under the Harry Adam Knight byline, became a Roger Corman-produced film in 1993. That’s because The Horror People (1976), in which Corman is widely quoted, is a foundational work in my genre reference library, along with Brosnan’s follow-up Future Tense (1978).

I’ve been revisiting The Horror People for a new project—more on that later—and while I have never thought about it this specifically before, it hit home this morning as I dipped into it on my commute that it has probably had the greatest impact on my life of any book I’ve ever read. I’m sure many an author has related a formative experience with the likes of Finnegans Wake or The Catcher in the Rye, and of course there’s that old standby, the Bible, with which (as that curiosity, the church-going agnostic) I am mostly familiar from college. But although I’m a compulsive writer, as this blog attests, I have no aspirations as a novelist, and like Brosnan have become a published author of nonfiction in the field.

I can’t recall how or when I first stumbled on The Horror People, but amusingly, it was published in hardcover by one of my former employers, St. Martin’s Press, and in trade paperback by what became an imprint of another, Viking Penguin. That well-thumbed Plume edition was published in 1977, yet its original copyright date of 1976, the year I turned 13, is too good to ignore (and my librarian Mom may well have brought home the hardcover). That’s when, like many people, I started laying the foundation for my future, e.g., becoming a rabid, rather than a desultory, purchaser of Marvel Comics, and starting to compile the 3” x 5” index cards with which I documented my viewing of genre films.

It’s important for those of us old enough to remember that serious scholarship on them was relatively rare at that time. Off the top of my head, I recall a few key early volumes in my library, most notably the indefatigable Denis Gifford’s Movie Monsters (1969), Karloff: The Man, the Monster, the Movies, and A Pictorial History of Horror Movies (both 1973), several of which I literally read until they fell apart. But aside from those and a few others like Carlos Clarens’s seminal An Illustrated History of the Horror Film (1967)—which I don’t think I obtained until a bit later—there really wasn’t too much out there on the genre when I first encountered Brosnan, and much of it was largely pictorial.

The timing of The Horror People is also important in other ways. Although he gave the silent and Golden Age stalwarts like Chaney, Universal, Browning, Whale, and Lewton their due, Brosnan devoted much of the book to such then-current purveyors as Hammer, AIP, and Amicus; what we didn’t know at the time was that each of those was within just a few years of ceasing production. Most important, though, he extensively interviewed a cross-section of current or recent genre practitioners, e.g., directors (Jack Arnold, Terence Fisher, William Castle, Freddie Francis, Roy Ward Baker), producers (Milton Subotsky), screenwriters (Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch), stars (Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing).

It’s this aspect of Brosnan’s book, entering my life at a highly impressionable age, that had such a profound influence on me. Mind you, the wealth of information provided on those topics, on which I have cumulatively published hundreds of pages myself, would be well worth the purchase price alone, and even now, it serves as an invaluable overview to refresh my memory. Yet giving said subjects—all of whom have since died, and many of whom came to dominate my life in various ways—so much ink to recount their careers in their own words was quite revelatory, making me delighted to learn that he used the same approach in Future Tense, a companion volume devoted to the cinema of science fiction.

Among other things, this was probably part of the process that led me to start connecting the dots regarding Matheson, and to realize that, Forrest Gump-like, he seemed not only to be omnipresent at the nexus of genre films and literature, but also to have influenced both in seminal ways. Out of this borderline obsession grew a friendship that lasted until his death in 2013, and a virtual cottage industry in which I exhaustively documented his career. And that all came about because, without my even having a guaranteed market for it at the time, he was characteristically gracious enough to submit to a career-spanning interview, my maiden effort at getting such first-hand accounts on paper while we could.

This brings me back to that new project, which began life as The Group: An Oral History of the California Sorcerers on Screen, weaving my interviews with Matheson, Bloch, Ray Bradbury, George Clayton Johnson, William F. Nolan, and Jerry Sohl into a Group portrait. But, like most of my projects, it has mutated into something bigger, because as comprehensive as those interviews were, they couldn’t cover everything, and I wanted to make sure that the book represents, at least in passing, the full measure of the cinematic renaissance they effected. So I’m adding a wealth of interstitial and background material while still tinkering with the subtitle to qualify the “Oral History” aspect of it; stay tuned.

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