THE OVERLOOK FILM ENCYCLOPEDIA: HORROR
One of the unfortunate things about web sites like the one you’re currently logged onto is that they’ve largely overshadowed books like this one. THE OVERLOOK HORROR FILM ENCYCLOPEDIA is one of several Overlook Press film encyclopedias (others include guides to sci fi and western pictures), and was for me the premiere reference guide to horror flicks.
I can honestly say that during the mid-to-late nineties not a week went by when I didn’t crack this bulky hardback at least once. In more recent years, alas, the book has sat on my shelf gathering dust, the internet having long since overtaken it as my primary movie reference source. That’s a good thing in many ways (I publish on the internet, after all), but also something a part of me regrets.
The book is arranged by year, beginning with 1896 (which features just one entry: Georges Melies’ 2-minute LA MANOIR DU DIABLE/THE DEVIL’S MANOR) and concluding with the “current” year 1992. All films are identified by their original untranslated titles, which makes it a mite difficult for an American viewer looking for, say, the 1983 Hong Kong flick BOXER’S OMEN, which is listed under its Cantonese moniker MO, although an index helpfully alerts us to all the alternate titles.
What really makes this profusely illustrated book special is its sheer exhaustiveness, which is virtually unique among horror movie reference guides. The others--including John McCarty’s two-volume SPLATTER MOVIE GUIDE, THE PSYCHOTRONIC FILM ENCYCLOPEDIA, THE PHANTOM OF THE MOVIES’ VIDEO GUIDE and Chas. Balun’s multi-volume GORE SCORE (all highly recommended, FYI)--tend to limit themselves to a single subgenre.
This one, by contrast, contains something for everybody, touching on everything from obscure foreign productions like the Japanese JIGOKU and the Polish LOKIS to Hollywood spectaculars like THE EXORCIST, FATAL ATTRACTION, BASIC INSTINCT, etc. Quite a few tantalizing obscurities are also described herein. This book helped familiarize me with essentials like the Japanese BLIND BEAST (1968) and the Mexican ALUCARDA (1975), along with intriguing-sounding flicks like the Brazilian AS FILHAS DO FOGO/DAUGHTERS OF FIRE (1978), the German DIE BERUEHRTE/NO MERCY, NO FUTURE (1981) and the Swiss DIE SCHWARZE SPINNE/THE BLACK SPIDER (1983) that I still haven’t managed to track down. Plus the 2,000-plus capsule reviews, penned by Tom Milne, Kim Newman and others, are uniformly erudite and informative, bringing seriousness and intelligence to this most maligned of genres.
Do I agree with all the opinions aired herein? Nope. PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK an exercise in “Macho nature mysticism”? I strongly disagree! Nor do I feel that Pupi Avati’s HOUSE WITH LAUGHING WINDOWS is the finest horror film of the seventies, or that the classic Coffin Joe entry ESTA NOITE ENCARNAREI NO TEU CADAVER/THIS NIGHT I WILL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE gives “the impression of a very sick man’s home movies”. But the book’s arguments are generally persuasive, and the contributors succeed admirably in capturing the essence of the various films under discussion in one (and sometimes two or three) paragraph-long entries.
The net result is an endlessly knowledgeable volume for horror movie fanatics that is, sadly, largely irrelevant now. I recommend it nonetheless, for those days when your computer’s on the fritz!