THIS OVER-THE-TOP HISTORY IS THE DEFINITIVE RETROSPECTIVE ON UNIVERSAL’S HORROR AND SCIENCE FICTION MOVIES OF 1951-1955
After laying eyes on the new book, Universal Terrors 1951-1955: Eight Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Films, all I can say is, “Wow.” Well, I can say more than that; there wouldn’t be anything to read here if I really couldn’t. Publisher McFarland has hit another home run with this 440-page resource that, with a $49.95 cover price, or at any price, is a true bargain.
If you are a fan of The Strange Door (1951), The Black Castle (1952), It Came from Outer Space (1953), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), This Island Earth (1955), Revenge of the Creature (1955), Cult of the Cobra (1955) and/or Tarantula (1955), and who of you reading this aren’t, you must have this book.
In chapters devoted to each movie, ranging from 44 to 84 pages, there are nine sections. Within the first six, Tom Weaver provides a list of full credits (and I do mean “full”), production history, complete synopsis, cast biographies, production information and marginalia. Then, Robert J. Kiss provides release information. Then, David Schechter provides information about the music. Finally, Steve Kronenberg provides critical analysis.
When I say, “information,” don’t think that any of it is presented in simple list format. The average page lengths range from 2 (for full credits) to 14 (for production.) It Came from Outer Space occupies the most real estate with a total of 84 pages. The two gill-man chapters are shorter, without the marginalia sections, considering that Weaver, Schechter and Kronenberg already devoted an entire book to The Creature Chronicles: Exploring the Black Lagoon Trilogy in 2014.
The most fascinating sections for me were Kiss’s release sections. He has somehow obtained paragraphs and paragraphs of detailed information about preview screenings, premieres and theatrical runs, not just for the stand-alone features, but also for the featurette accompaniments, the double-bills and the theatrical reissues. In most cases, he also includes “The Critic’s Corner,” with original review comments from a variety of publications.
I can imagine this “data” came from original studio sources to which the book’s authors had access. I can’t imagine any stones have been left unturned. It may sound trite, but the collection of this information in one place makes Universal Terrors 1951-1955 the definitive resource for anything and everything about Universal Pictures during this era. It also makes my debit card cry for the first volume, Universal Horrors: The Studio’s Classic Films, 1931-1946.
That book covers over three times as many years, but is only less than 200 pages longer than this one. Weaver addresses the difference in his introduction. “…each entry was just a few pages. Well, the Universal fright flicks of the 1950s are (duh!) newer, some as much as 30 years, and therefore much more production paperwork exists and, for a while anyway, many more of the moviemakers still dwelt in the land of the interview-able living.”
Lest you think I gush too much, I will share that, while the information in this volume is unsurpassed, I had some minor issues with the design of the book. Photos appear in red borders, drawing attention to them; however, the red captions below them are hard to read. Also, there are bold text “inserts” separated from the main writing on the top and bottom with red lines; they are a little hard on the eyes, disrupting the relaxing flow of reading. These two factors make the page design sometimes difficult to navigate.
A bigger opportunity for improvement would be to somehow incorporate the notes for each chapter into the chapters themselves instead of combining them together at the end, right before the index. I found myself flipping back and forth a lot, which isn’t necessarily easy in a book of this size and weight. These are quibbles at the most; I almost regret mentioning them.
When I was attending high school and college, I enjoyed researching and writing papers. Going to the library and hunting for sources of information was exciting for me. Well, it’s just a “few” years later now and there’s rarely any time for that. Forget about the shortcuts the internet provides, Weaver and company do it all right here, and I get just as much enjoyment out of reading what they have to share.
Universal Terrors 1951-1955: Eight Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Films is available from McFarland online at:
…or by calling their order line at:
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