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THE CONNOISSEUR’S GUIDE TO THE CONTEMPORARY HORROR FILM
By CHAS. BALUN (FantaCo Books; 1983/92)

This 64-page horror movie review compilation is notable as (in its original self-published 1983 edition) the first-ever book by the late Chas. Balun. As the title portends, the subject is contemporary horror cinema, which here means largely mainstream offerings from the seventies and eighties, with the obscure Asian and European fare Balun would come to enthusiastically champion being largely absent.

     I’ve never seen the first edition of THE CONNOISSEUR’S GUIDE… and so can’t say how it differs from the 1992 FantaCo Books version. What is clear is that the majority of these reviews were penned before Balun came into his full powers as a writer, what with the preponderance of typos and oft-sloppy prose (from the entry on PIRANHA: “a nifty, though highly derivative little thriller, although the miniscule budget shows a little bit too often”).

     This book is still worthwhile, amply showcasing as it does the wit and enthusiasm that characterize all of Balun’s writing. He also proves himself an eminently quotable writer in outrageous lines like (commenting on THE EVIL DEAD) “it still manages to overcome these near fatal flaws by simply running over you like a charging 275 lb. zombie fullback shot full of amphetamines” and (on RE-ANIMATOR) “one of the best, brightest, bravest, and wettest horror films of the modern era or I’ll eat this fucking book, right here, right now.”

     Of course, for all his fanboyish enthusiasm Balun was quite an astute critic. That’s a fact proven repeatedly in this book, which provides intelligent readings of genre stalwarts like ALIEN (in which “The spacecrafts, suits, planets and rampaging monster are all marvelously conceived originals while the plot is a simplistic re-hash of countless hack sci fi movies”), CREEPSHOW (“a very brave and eclectic attempt to marry horror, homage and hilarity into a weirdly functioning menage-a-trois”) and HELLRAISER (“Barker can’t sustain his illusions without resorting to a convenient and familiar body-count formula”). Even though I disagree with many of Balun’s verdicts--I believe he wildly over-praises supposed “genre classics” like FRIDAY THE 13TH and TENEBRAE--I can’t help but admire the learned and individualistic manner in which he presents them. 

     

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