Following up on his 2007 book “Horror 101,” editor Aaron Christensen (aka Dr. AC) has published his second anthology of horror-film-appreciation essays, “Hidden Horror: A Celebration of 101 Underrated and Overlooked Fright Flicks” via fellow horrorphile Jon Kitley’s “Kitley’s Krypt”. Unlike his first effort, which was a broad and comprehensive introduction to the genre for those not already firmly indoctrinated, “Hidden Horror” focuses on ferreting out the little-seen gems. The anthology covers films mainly clustered between the late ’60s and mid-’80s, with a few silents and some early-aughts thrown in for good measure. While there is a good amount of inside-baseball detail that could be off-putting to genre newbies, serious horrorphiles will lap it up. There is an over-representation of grungy 70s-era ultraviolent flicks a la The Hills Have Eyes (one of my favorites, coincidentally) in “Hidden Horror,” but I was pleasantly surprised to also find classic studio churnouts (Frankenstein meets the Wolfman) represented alongside today’s upmarket repertory fare (Zulawski’s Possession). The popular rub elbows with the infamous (The Mothman Prophesies; I Spit on Your Grave), and remakes are politely overlooked in favor of their progenitors (Maniac – whose director pens the foreword).
Horror writing is often divisible into two camps: the inscrutably academic and the cravenly adulatory. My personal experience is that ideological allegiance and textual specificity often trump good writing and coherent arguments when it comes to horror—and further, that fanboy culture is the norm against which more incisive critiques, be they feminist, class- or race-oriented, often conflict pretty explosively. In all honesty, I was afraid to delve into “Hidden Horror” initially because I worried it would be a Pandora’s Box of boy’s club back-slapping, all about reclaiming the lesser cousins of Jason and Freddy and arguing over which Giallo torture scene is the ‘most awesome.’
I have to say, “Hidden Horror” is exactly what I didn’t expect. I found it surprisingly delightful for the sheer enthusiasm of its authors. Each piece is written specifically for the book, and the hodgepodge of amateur critics, filmmakers, and weekend-warrior genre enthusiasts demonstrate ardent affection for their chosen nasties. It’s hard, I imagine, to write an essay defending a film with a title like A Night to Dismember, and the sheer love this book exudes makes it both more compelling and more endearing than I anticipated. Taken as a whole it is not strident or narrow-minded in the least. The writers’ personal histories of how they came to love the genre, and how they fell in love with their chosen films, are both unique and universal. Every true horror fan remembers the moment: for some in this collection it was a drive-in; for others, campfire stories and the B double features on Saturday afternoons (for me, it was a PBS dinosaur documentary). The personal detail each writer is allowed makes the variation of writing styles and abilities on display in “Hidden Horror” an enjoyable variety, neither disjointed nor schizophrenic.
The book as a whole is expansive, generous, and joyful; exactly what it’s like when a live group of horrorphiles get in a room together and utter that magical phrase, “Have you ever seen…?” If you’re looking for recommendations, pick up “Hidden Horror” and get ready to fill your Netflix queue. Happy hunting!