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The Thunder Child: Book Reviews
Review by Caroline Miniscule
Horror Films of the 1980s
John Kenneth Muir
McFarland. 2007
Hardback. 829 pages. $59.95
Appendices, bibliography, index, the occasional photograph.

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Despite its exclusionary title, Horror Films of the 1980s includes some science fiction as well, such as Aliens, The Abyss, Looker and Dreamscape.

Author Kenneth J. Muir has compiled the definitive book on the decade's movies. Thanks to its length (829 pages), he's able to give quite a bit of information about each movie.

Table of Contents

Part I: Don't Worry, Be Happy (or, Be Afraid...Be very afraid...) An introduction to the Horror Films of the 1980s
Part II: A history of the Dead Teenagers Decade
Part III: The Films (By Year of Release)
The Nineties Loom
1980s Horror Conventions
1980s Horror Hall of Fame
Memorable Ad Lines
They Starred in Eighties Horror Flicks
Then and Now - Recommended Viewing
A Brief Conversation with Ken Russell (by Ken Flanagan)
The Fifteen Best Horror films of the 1980s

Muir's credentials to write such a book are extensive. He's the author of over a dozen books on various science fiction TV series (Doctor Who, Blake's Seven) and movie creators - Tobe Hooper, John Carpenter and Wes Craven, not to mention Horror Films of the 1970s.
  • John Kenneth Muir's Official Website
  • The House Between Official website
  • The Thunder Child interview: John Kenneth Muir and The House Between
  • The design of the book makes it an efficient tool for the movie enthusiast, the Table of Contents features alphabetical listings for each of the ten years of this decade (1980-1989), from Alligator and Altered States of 1980 to Spontaneous Combustin and The Stepfather 2: Make Room for Daddy of 1989.

    The comprehensive index at the back of the book allows the enthusiast to search for one's favorite actor, as well as one's favorite movie.

    Each movie is presented with a listing of the cast and crew, a quote from the movie, a synopsis and commentary. Muir's prose is well-written, knowledgeable and entertaining.

    Most of the movies also have a header featuring an excerpt from a contemporary review. Several of the entries have "POVs" in which the director makes a comment about the film, an "Incantation" or quote from the film, and there are many additional reviews by critics whom Muir invited especially to contribute to the book - Christopher Wayne Curry, MaryAnn Johanson, William Latham, Joseph Maddrey, Scott Nicholson, and Sam Shapiro.

    Muir also presents a 30 page essay entitled, "A History of the Dead Teenager Decade which makes for fun and illuminating reading.

    Not all slasher movies are good and the real problem with them is simply that many are about making money rather than actually being good, scary movies. The slasher films abounded in such numbers in the 1980s because they speak incisively to the generation that enjoyed them, and the manner in which that generation viewed the unfolding world and its multiple threats (nuclear war, gang warfare, AIDS, etc.) Is that sad? That a generation should find solace and catharsis in a bloody entertainment? Perhaps, perhaps not.

    For at least the slasher film at its best certainly concerns the idea of confronting something dark and dangerous rather than ignoring the problem. The slasher is not a balm to take your mind off bad times (like the musicals of the 1930s). It's not a harmless make-out movie about interpersonal crises (like the teen films of the fifties.) Indeed, the very theme of Wes Craven's rubber-reality modified slasher film, A Nightmare on Elm Street, was knowing when to face your problems.

    For each year, he also presents a one-page chronology of selected events that happened in each year, so that the reader may place the movies in a political as well as trend context.

    Overall a fun book and highly recommended for the horror fan.

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