This brisk, pocket-sized lightly academic book takes the reader on a whistlestop tour of the history and highlights of what Barry Keith Grant, author and emeritus professor of film studies and popular culture at Brock University in Ontario, describes as ‘monster cinema’. It’s not, fortunately, a dry and po-faced academic tome - although it has its moment of pretension - but rather a well-considered and to-the-point study of monsters in the movies in all their manifestations.
Divided into five handy chapters, Grant considers the classic ‘human monsters’ (best exemplified by Norman Bates in Hitchcock's classic Psycho) but stopping off at Tod Browning’s Freaks and Forbidden Planet’s ‘monster of the ID’, ‘natural monsters’ in which Mother Earth rises up and wags a disapproving finger at pesky humanity (via more Hitchcock in the brilliant The Birds via M Night Shyamalan’s rather less brilliant The Happening and various mutated oogly-booglies in the sci-fi classics of the 1950s and more touching upon enduring contemporary fears of disease and pandemic in Contagion) and more typical ‘supernatural monsters’ such as various demons, devils and zombies. Pleasingly, Grant reasons that Frank Darrabont’s massively-underrated The Mist (not the ropey TV series, thank you) remains hugely relevant in a divided America in the Trump era in its tale of a societal group disintegrating in a time of extreme crisis.
Movie Monsters, an entry in the Quick Takes: Movies and Popular Culture series which allows its contributors to offer both unique perspectives on new area of consideration as well as fresh takes on well-thumbed material is a fine, no-nonsense read, accessible to non-academics whilst offering a good grounding in the tenets of the genre to those studying cinema and popular culture. It’s a tight, concise book which comfortably leaps across and around its subject matter, adroitly highlighting and pinpointing key titles and themes, contextualising the material and putting it into an historical context which allows the reader a broad overview of the genre and its obsessions across the decades.
If nothing else, it’ll encourage the curious to dig a little deeper and further reading will be not only encouraged but pretty much essential. Monster Cinema, however, is a breezy and useful primer which bristles with authority and demonstrates a clear-thinking and rational approach to a massively undervalued subgenre often dismissed as disposable hokum but which is actually capable of making far more salient observations about the human condition than any number of more traditional and critically-acceptable cinematic genres.
MONSTER CINEMA / AUTHOR: BARRY KEITH GRANT / PUBLISHER: RUTGERS UNIVERSITY PRESS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW