BOOK REVIEW: BEYOND FEAR - REFLECTIONS ON STEPHEN KING, WES CRAVEN AND GEORGE ROMERO’S LIVING DEAD / AUTHOR: JOSEPH MADDREY / PUBLISHER: BEAR MANOR MEDIA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Author Joseph Maddrey has had a busy year: as well as editing A Strange Idea of Entertainment: Conversations with Tom McLoughlin (director of One Dark Night and Friday 13th Part VI) he has published this study of the careers and works of three of the most important horror masters of all time: George A. Romero, Wes Craven and Stephen King.
Maddrey’s previous study of the horror genre, Nightmares in Red, White and Blue was one of the first (and best) to consider the socio-political context of horror cinema. In Beyond Fear, he poses the question: what attracts filmmakers and writers (as well as audiences) to horror on a personal level? Maddrey explores the private fears and philosophies of these artists, and how they link in with his own as a viewer and critic, and ours as an audience. As he writes of Craven’s infamous Last House on the Left (1972), it’s ‘not just a protest of violence in American culture; it is also the filmmaker’s own therapeutic “primal scream”’; and while some of Stephen King’s work has a socio-political bent, all of it, according to Maddrey, ‘hinges on questions of metaphysical belief: is there a God? If so, what does he want from us? If not, what do we want from ourselves?’ As Maddrey rightly points out, ‘many of the genre’s most successful storytellers – as well as its most avid fans – are often more deeply interested in timeless fears than in timely subtexts. We ask universal questions… and seek personal answers.’
At its heart, Beyond Fear is an in-depth examination of Romero, Craven and King as artists, through their fears and – ultimately - their beliefs: namely, ‘the romantic idealism of Romero, the intellectual spirituality of Craven, and the hard-won humanism of King.’ Maddrey writes sensitively and authoritatively about the creative process of these artists, and takes into account their whole body of work. Almost two thirds of the book is devoted to King, for example, and Maddrey covers pretty much every novel, short story and film adaptation that King has written to date, including unpublished works; his coverage of Craven’s career is equally comprehensive, and includes unproduced projects and little-known scripts. This makes Beyond Fear exceptional as a career overview in itself. But Maddrey goes much deeper than just discussing the oeuvre: he exposes the souls of these artists for all to see. Informed by interviews with King, Craven and Romero conducted especially for book, Maddrey is able to go further than the usual run-of-the-mill account and give a real sense of what makes these artists tick.
At 330 pages, Beyond Fear manages to cover a lot of ground in a lot of detail; some films and novels are, of course, given more space than others, but Maddrey doesn’t give anything short shrift. This, and his personal engagement with the work of King, Craven and Romero makes for a truly engrossing read. As a result, Beyond Fear is a fascinating and impressive book on several levels and comes highly recommended.