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The Anatomy of Fear: Conversations with Cult Horror and Science-Fiction…

by Chris Vander Kaay

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Recently added byDonaldBuehler, jwfar

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The Anatomy of Fear

I met Kathleen and Chris Vander Kaay at the UCF Book Fair in April 2015. They were to review their book The Anatomy of Fear as one of the sessions. Their session was the one which convinced me to go (my first book fair.)

Although I enjoyed the other authors I met (especially S.C. Gwynne - author of Rebel Yell a bio of Stonewall Jackson) Chris and Kathleen were the stars of the fair. Early in their discussion, I discovered they were people like me - who loved horror films - who had immersed themselves in the genre.

Immediately, I was impressed with how seriously they took the genre - and the depth to which they had thought about these films. It was clear that I would enjoy their book.

This book is the compilation of interviews that Chris and Kathleen had with a variety of lesser known screenwriters and filmmakers. The interviews/discussions are interesting and shed considerable light on the topic (see below) and the challenges of film making - especially on a tight budget.

I have read a number of books about the horror genre and films in particular, with better known filmmakers (Romero, Hooper, Craven, etc.), but none had the insights into the genre that Anatomy of Fear had. Maybe had Kathleen and Chris interviewed these top names, I would have learned more.

Here are some examples of the insightful comments made in the interviews:

Larry Fessenden (Habit, No Telling, I Sell the Dead): (in response to a comment about why people go to horror movies - especially mindless ones)

“I just find it immensely tiring when people say they just want to go for entertainment. I feel we should re-examine what we mean by entertainment. Do you mean a series of mindless images that ultimately have no sticking power? Is that truly entertainment? . . . We should be entertained by having our minds taken on an unexpected journey. We just assume it’s entertaining to watch dreck. That’s when you start to feel a little outside society, if it isn’t entertaining to you. I just feel condescended to; I feel the weigh of corporatism nudging intro my mind.” (pg. 35)

In the discussion with Stephen Chiodo (Killer Klowns from Outer Space):

“Yes, you’d think a smiling clown would make everyone happy. But I can see little things that create discomfort. First, as you mentioned, their faces are painted. That’s as close as we get to having a masked person walk around in public and still be socially acceptable. At the same time, fake smiles are painted on their faces. You have no idea what they’re thinking because they’re in disguise. In a way it’s haunting.” pg. 43

(I have a number of friends who are terrified of clowns - maybe a result of Stephen King’s “It.”)

Finally a quote from the introduction to the chapter on Monsters: “The measure of a great monster is not how much we fear it, but how much we’re drawn to it.” pg. 57

“Anatomy of Fear” is full of insights and ideas like this.

Throughout the book there is an exploration of 36 movies - only 1/2 of which I had even seen. Yet I learned a lot about the topic being explored even though I had not seen some of the movies being discussed. That is because this book is more about the ideas associated with the horror movies, than just a replay of the movies themselves.

The interviews are separated by topic. Some examples of the topics explored include: Formative film Memories; Real-Life Fears; Not of the World; Science and Technology Gone Wrong; Found Footage; and Nightmares on the Set. Each of the filmmakers’ interviews addressed these issues. Kathleen and Chris extracted the most interesting interviews on the topic and present them together in the same chapter - so the reader ends up with an in-depth view of that topic through the eyes of a number of filmmakers. This is a great structure for a book of this sort.

The insightfulness of the interviewer (Chris or Kathleen) is apparent throughout the book. In many cases the interviewer makes a comment or asks a question in a way that challenges the filmmaker to see his own work in a different light. In a number of instances, the filmmaker thanks them for the comment just made. Evidence that the general viewing audience (and that would be me) probably never saw that point in the film.

Another interesting line of thought throughout the interviews is the conflict between the creative process and the corporate “for-profit” world. Filmmakers are very creative people who have a idea of what they want to get across in their film and the best way to convey it. Film studios are also interested in that, but in many cases the method and the message are secondary to the need to make money. What was apparent was that as filmmakers become more celebrated (and therefore can make “bigger” pictures) they have greater problems with corporate interference in the creative process.

What I found especially interesting was the influence that marketing has on the film. In some instances movie titles, topics and especially endings are changed for marketability. A few of the filmmakers basically say they were proud of the film they made, except certain scenes or endings where they lost creative control - which they felt caused the movie to fail. (except maybe at the box office!)

An additional bonus for those who purchase the book is an on-line resource of interview material (approximately 100 pages) which did not make it into the book. I have read much of it & it is equal to the book.

In conclusion, The Anatomy of Fear is an important contribution to the horror genre. Chris and Kathleen Vander Kaay have an ability to get to the next level in a film and present it in a way which is coherent and stimulating. I am anxiously waiting for their next book which deals with the various sub-genres in horror.

The only down side of “Anatomy” is now my list of “Must See” movies has been greatly expanded.

If you want to read more about or purchase the book, go to:

http://www.theanatomyoffear.com.

All the best

DonB ( )
  DonaldBuehler | Apr 26, 2015 |
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