Review by C.J. Bunce
Your first glance at the title of TCM’s latest overview of a key genre of Hollywood’s greatest films may give you pause: Fright Favorites: 31 Movies to Haunt Your Halloween and Beyond. Only 31 movies? Quickly you’ll figure out that the 31 highlighted movies in horror historian David J. Skal’s list are only the framework for a larger, chronological examination of the horror genre, with a lean in to Hollywood’s horror classics, the kind you’re most likely to find on the Turner Classic Movies TCM channel. In this list of recommendations, readers are sure to pull their hair out, since it’s very likely nobody’s personal list will match the author’s–or anyone else’s. Yet that’s why we turn to these books, and as you’d expect, Fright Favorites doesn’t disappoint: You’re practically guaranteed to add an obscure–or not-so-obscure–horror film to your future watch list.
For starters, Skal’s knowledge of the genre is sound. The first half of his selections are mostly what you’d expect, beginning with Nosferatu, then The Phantom of the Opera, Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, Cat People, and The Creature from the Black Lagoon celebrate all things Universal, with due nods to Lon Chaney and Lon Chaney, Jr., Boris Karloff, and Bela Legosi. From the later 1950s, the fights will begin. Them! instead of The Incredible Shrinking Man or the original The Fly? No mention of Jaws, Alien, The Ring (or Ringu), The Others, The Sixth Sense, or Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? And Skal clearly likes the Hammer Films era of horror, featuring two in his book, where other film critics might have these on their “worst-of” the genre list.
The only Alfred Hitchcock movie cited is The Birds, an appropriate selection, yet skipping Hitchcock’s other thrillers and his Gothic scares seems a miss. It is a surprise that The Shining is mentioned but no inclusion of Psycho–often considered the top film of the genre. When we arrive at the 1970s and 1980s John Carpenter gets a due nod for both Halloween and The Thing–it probably makes sense to cast a wide net and not include more than one or two films for any single creator. But you can easily see The Fog or Prince of Darkness pushing others from the list.
The book isn’t just about scares, with the inclusion of classic parody-homages like Young Frankenstein and a significant mention of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. No doubt both are worthy classic haunts.
Skal’s list of 31 films immediately doubles since he adds a final page recommending another film for anyone liking his key selection, otherwise readers would miss Friday the 13th, An American Werewolf in London, Creepshow, and The Shape of Water. Get Out is on the list as the most recent entry, but the list also includes Hocus Pocus and Beetlejuice–cult favorites which have their audiences, no doubt necessary for this kind of book so there truly will be something for every reader. In each chapter the author may mention a dozen or more similar or related horror films, remakes, and sequels, so he picks up kaiju monster films like King Kong and Godzilla. True grotesque slasher films are for the most part excluded, with enough other books devoted to that niche audience.
The bottom line is readers will find something new here to add to their watch lists. The photography choices are excellent, with many rare, behind-the-scenes images, and the classic movie posters for these films are a high point.
Fright Favorites: 31 Movies to Haunt Your Halloween and Beyond is available in hardcover with 216 pages and more than 250 photographs in black and white and color, from publisher Running Press. Get your copy now here at Amazon, or via TCM, or your local bookseller. Keep an eye out at the TCM website for future airings of films from the book. And don’t forget to check out the other books in the TCM series I’ve reviewed here at borg, Must-See Sci-Fi, Dynamic Dames, Forbidden Hollywood, and Christmas in the Movies. Finally, don’t miss some of the films in the book this month in our TV listings for the month here and the borg writers’ recommendations from our first year of borg, nine years ago here.