The Anatomy of Fear: Conversations with Cult Horror and Science-Fiction Filmmakers
by El Anderson
The Anatomy of Fear, by Christopher Vander Kaay and Kathleen Fernandez-Vander Kay, is an excellent choice for the longtime cult horror fan looking for behind-the-scenes details on the making of their favorite flicks. The book takes pains to cover the many kinds of horror film, treats the genre seriously and goes in depth on the symbolism, inspirations, and goals of the filmmakers who created many of the big-name horror films of years past, and quite a few only the most die-hard buffs will have explored.
The book pays off well on the promise it makes in its subtitle; there are extensive interviews with a wide range of directors and auteurs from the horror genre, from the very well-known to the fairly obscure. While the majority of the films discussed are from the history of horror (many linger right around the era of Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, when the genre flourished in theaters and teenage imaginations), there are older films discussed, clear back to John Wayne’s role in inspiring dozens of horror flicks and sequels, and a handful of newbies, with references to Saw and an interview with the makers of The Blair Witch Project.
AoF is an easy read, despite its considerable length, and takes some steps to keep those less than well-versed in the depths of the horror genre from getting lost in the details, with explanations of each chapter’s theme in the introductory sections preceding the interviews, but make no mistake; this is a book for those who have seen these films, probably more than once. AoF is, at heart, a deep dive into the minds of creators, and it is easy for newcomers or those not fully versed in the genre to be left on the sidelines.
So bust out your Twilight Zone DVDs, boot up Netflix, and make sure you have a stable internet connection to IMDB unless you were suckled on every horror film from the obscure classics Movie Bob loves to highlight every Schlocktober to the big Kahunas of the genre, because this book has expectations of you, and those expectations look a bit like the course syllabus of an undergrad year-long horror class.
A few small gripes exist; I feel the book’s introduction makes grand promises on which it does not fully deliver. The introductory chapter promises to explain the underpinnings of horror, the psychology on which it is based, and the reasons that it is critical to a modern society. Likewise, the introductions to each chapter, while helpful in framing the themes of the interviews to come, often draw grand analytical conclusions of their own. Citations to some sort of authority for these statements, conclusions on each chapter highlighting the common themes in the interviews contained in each chapter, and a conclusion to the book as a whole all would have helped maintain the academic atmosphere the book aims to maintain.
Despite these rough edges, The Anatomy of Fear is an enjoyable read that will be particularly enjoyable for horror-genre devotees, and serves as a must-watch list for newer enthusiasts.