The shelves of the film section in your local bookstore positively groan under the weight of the tomes celebrating the best and most revered movies and their stars and makers. But going a bit left-of-field into the world of B-movie biographies and narratives proves to be not only tremendously entertaining but it also provides an enlightening new perspective on the greatest art form. When I spent a year watching bad movies, I was very glad to have these books in my collection; I'd refer to them frequently and with delight.
by J. Hoberman, Jonathan Rosenbaum
This seminal study of the "midnight movie" phenomena is a lively portrait of the emergence of the cult scene and independent film-making and the directors, stars, exhibitors and distributors who thrived on the margins before becoming mainstream names. The authors trace the upbringings, self-funded early dabblings and critical and commercial successes of well-known filmmakers such as John Waters, George A. Romero and David Lynch, along with pioneers like the Kuchar brothers and Jack Smith, and celebrated bad movie maker Ed Wood Jr. Midnight Movies is one of the rare tomes that manages an easy balance between everyman accessibility and informed academic criticism.
by Jimmy McDonough
Few have heard of Andy Milligan, let alone seen his grindhouse efforts such as Torture Dungeon and The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! Jimmy McDonough’s masterly biography of this exploitation auteur, who he befriended in the last hideous years of his life, is a jaw-dropping portrait of a fascinating misanthrope who explored his various hatreds via his seething cinematic pustules. The Ghastly One never varnishes who Milligan was and there's much here that's frankly disturbing, especially his sadomasochism and misogyny, but it's also utterly compelling as it charts his place in both New York's emerging off-Broadway and gay scene post-WWII before taking us on a warts 'n' all tour of 42nd Street in its grim heyday and finally to Milligan's torturous death from AIDS-related illness in 1991. Time Magazine called it the entertainment biography of the year. Fair enough, because it’s a masterpiece.
by John O'Dowd
The tragic trajectories of Hollywood beauties such as Marilyn Monroe, Jean Harlow and Jayne Mansfield have been told and retold so often that cinephiles can recite them chapter and verse. Which makes it astounding that Barbara Payton's story had been all but forgotten until biographer John O'Dowd began the investigations that produced his utterly involving and ultimately heartbreaking account of her brief rise to fame and notoriety and her long, slow decline first in B-movies like Bride Of The Gorilla and then into booze, drugs, prostitution, homelessness and mental illness. It's a shocking and sobering study of the high price of stardom and ought to be required reading for Hollywood's party-animal set.
by Rudolph Grey
Rudolph Grey's oral history of the world's most famous Z-grade filmmaker formed the basis of Tim Burton's brilliant 1994 biopic, Ed Wood, which starred Johnny Depp. But that Oscar-winning film was a sunny-side up slice of the amateur auteur's life, while Nightmare Of Ecstasy is a more warts 'n' all portrait of a self-styled artist whose life was as much about aspiration and optimism as it was disappointment, despair and degradation, especially in later years when he was relegated to working mostly in porn and living in slums as he succumbed to alcohol. Gray's interviews, with Wood's friends, family and the members of his eccentric ensemble are vivid, revealing and amusingly contradictory was they recount the making of such flicks as Plan 9 From Outer Space and Glen Or Glenda.
by Michael J. Weldon
Love your well-thumbed Leonard Maltin movie guides? Well, this is the alternative-cult cinema equivalent and indispensable. Written by Michael J. Weldon as an outgrowth of his equally wonderful Psychotronic Video fanzine, it's amazingly comprehensive, covering some 3,000 or so B-grade flicks across all genres, from action and blaxploitation to werewolves and zombies. Need a short snappy capsule review of Blood Of Ghastly Horror, Frankenstein Island or Take Me Naked? This is your first pulpy port of call. Eminently flickable.
by Stephen Thrower
This massive 528-page tome is packed with production information, insightful analysis, obscure trivia, exclusive interviews, jaw-dropping movie posters, stills and behind-the-scenes photos of varying size — from black-and-white thumbnails to glorious full-pages in full bloody color. But what's really amazing is that Stephen Thrower, rather than recounting the entire history of American horror movies, limits himself to indie output from the 1970s and early 1980s. In his own words, it was "an era in which anything was possible, when the horror genre became unshackled by convention." Happily, Thrower’s an obsessive who's also an accessible writer, careful scholar and intelligent interviewer. He and FAB Press also need to be congratulated for realizing that this subject is best profusely illustrated because seeing is believing when it comes to images from Kidnapped Co-Ed, The Deadly Spawn, Slithis and Death Bed: The Bed That Eats.
by Harry Medved, Michael Medved
As I write this in early 2010, the popular cult TV comedians Tim and Eric are presenting a Z-grade shocker called Birdemic in cinemas across the United States. And every weekend around the country hundreds of the faithful flock to Tommy Wiseau's inadvertently hilarious melodrama The Room. Next week, the day before the Oscars, the Golden Raspberry Awards, aka The Razzies, celebrates its 30th anniversary by "honoring" the terrible likes of Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, Land Of The Lost and All About Steve. Bad movies are now well loved by people from all walks of life and for that we can, to some extent, thank Harry and Michael Medved, whose 1980 book The Golden Turkey Awards dragged schlock out of the midnight movie circuit and into the spotlight. It was their tome that first celebrated Ed Wood as the worst director ever made and championed his Plan 9 From Outer Space as the worst movie. Other favorites they drew attention to included Exorcist II: The Heretic, Night Of The Lepus and Robot Monster. While it has been widely criticized for tone and some inaccuracies, it can also claim to be the first celebration of cinematic schlock to reach the average reader and it’s undeniably entertaining for its plethora of gags, quoted dialogue and pithy plot recitations.
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About Michael Adams
Michael Adams is an editor with Empire magazine, a contributor to Movieline and Rotten Tomatoes, and the author of Showgirls, Teen Wolves, And Astro Zombies, which charts his year-long quest to find and watch the worst movie ever made. He lives in Sydney, Australia, and is working on his second quest memoir.
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