Fright Favorites, by David Skal

David Skal’s Fright Favorites: 31 Movies to Haunt Your Halloween and Beyond (2020) should perhaps more accurately be titled, 31 Movies to Which Turner Classic Movies Owns the Rights.  Skal compiled this for TCM, and as many notable horror films have been omitted, it is reasonable to assume he was limited in the pool from which he could pick.  Fortunately, he was still left with some excellent films, resulting in a selection of mostly established classic horror.  Nothing is covered in depth, but Skal’s commentary on each is insightful, and there is enough to encourage anyone unfamiliar with the films to give them a try.

Despite the subtitle, 62 films are included, as each major choice is accompanied by another, linked by the notion that ‘if you enjoyed — you might also like —’.  The primary films are listed in chronological order, from Nosferatu (1922) to Get Out (2017), but of the 62, only seven (11%) were released in the 30 years prior to the date of publication.  The book’s dedication identifies the target audience: ‘To monster kids of all ages everywhere.  (You know who you are.),’ suggesting Skal aspires to be the new Forrest J Ackerman.

The subsidiary titles have been chosen for their possession of thematic or stylistic echoes rather than because they are copies or sequels, and Skal has been able to cast his net wider.  The entries are very short, but he has come up with some intriguing connections, for example Cat People is paired with A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, not a film that would necessarily spring to mind when thinking of the Lewton/Tourneur collaboration.  It would have been useful to have had more of these extra recommendations.

The sales pitch pegging these films to Hallowe’en is odd as, apart from Skal’s introduction discussing Hollywood’s take on the season – titled ‘Halloween: a Hollywood state of mind’, as if Hollywood has the monopoly on its representation – there is nothing about the films that obviously connects them to it.  Certainly the end of October is a spooky time of the year and one might want to catch a horror film to get into the spirit of the thing, but as any buff knows, a horror film isn’t just for Hallowe’en (as Skal himself concedes).  The introduction lists a number of films connected to Hallowe’en, but none appears in the list.

For anyone wanting to read a handsomely-illustrated (its major pleasure) book with basic information on a mostly well-known set of films, this is ideal.  There are bound to be quibbles about what has been included and what omitted (the anglophone emphasis feels particularly parochial, and dated in an age in which foreign-language films are more accessible than ever before), but it is an inoffensive read for anyone who doesn’t know much about the genre and would like to obtain a quick grounding on possible choices for that late-night watch.


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