by Anthony King
I got a new book in the mail. It's a book about movies. It's my favorite type of book about movies: a film guide. So let's talk film guides. First, though, what I've been watching.
Bobbie and I finished the BBC miniseries of War and Peace (2018), and while it's not technically a movie and I never log non-movies on my Letterboxd, this one was different. There are limited series and miniseries available to log on Letterboxd, and I think it's wrong. Pretend It's a City (2021), while maybe my favorite thing I watched in 2021, is a television series. It's not a movie. So why is it available to log on Letterboxd? Twin Peaks: The Return (2017) was a television show. Available to log on Letterboxd. For god's sake, it's 1,014 minutes long! That ain't a movie! I'm not actually mad about it, but let's say you had 400 diary entries in 2023, and 10 of those entries were actually limited series or shows. Letterboxd says you watched 400 movies. I say you watched 390 movies. Again, who cares. Not me. Nope. This is me not caring. Aaaaaanyways, War and Peace feels so much like one cohesive movie I had to make the exception and log it. From the performances and direction to the music and locations, it's the best thing I've watched all year.I Am Not a Serial Killer (2016) with trepidation because I loved it so much when it first came out. I hoped that it would live up to my memory of it, and I'm happy to report that it still holds the label of “registered banger.” I love a winter horror because, when done right, you can feel the chill in your bones. O'Brien is able to accomplish that here, and along with a dynamite cast, I was almost immediately transported inside this chiller (pun definitely intended). Max Records stars as John Wayne Cleaver, a teenager living in a small Minnesota town that has a serial killer running loose. John is a diagnosed sociopath so he becomes one of our suspects from the very start. His neighbor, Mr. Crowley (Christopher Lloyd), is an old man who leads a suspicious life after the sun goes down: a second suspect. As the bodies pile up, things are revealed that knocked my socks off the first time I saw this. Again, I'm happy to report this holds up for a second viewing, and I encourage everyone to head to Shudder to watch it.
With a new film guide added to my library, I thought I'd share a few of my favorites. Here are five film guides every fan needs on their shelves.
Cult Movies 1, 2, and 3 (Peary, 1981, 1983, 1988)
A gimme and a cheat. I realize this. Danny is my favorite film writer, and because of him and his books I got to meet so many incredible people I now call friends. Even though there are three of these, I consider them to be one volume covering 200 movies. Spanning decades, from Robert Wiene's silent masterpiece of German expressionism The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) to David Lynch's small town odyssey Blue Velvet (1986), Danny covers a wide expanse of cult cinema ground. Some films have lost their cult status and are widely considered cinematic masterpieces like Vertigo (1958), Casablanca (1942), and Citizen Kane (1941). Others hold the ultimate cult status of being nearly forgotten, like The First Nudie Musical (1976), Blood Money (1933), or Outrageous (1977). Not every movie Danny covers is good; some are outright bad. Take for example Reefer Madness (1936) or Bedtime for Bonzo (1951). And Danny doesn't like every movie he covers in these books. But what he doesn't do is shit all over a movie he doesn't like. The point of his essays is exploring why these films hold/held a cult status. There is no pretense in his writing, and he chooses his words carefully as not to inflate his essays with hyperbole. If there is a god, someday he'll convince the powers that be to reprint these beauties and get them back in circulation. Until then, you'll have to scour the recesses of the world wide web.
The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968 (Sarris, 1968)
TCM Underground: 50 Must-See Films From the World of Classic Cult and Late-Night Cinema (De Chirico & Murry, 2022)
Teen Movie Hell: A Crucible of Coming-of-Age Comedies from Animal House to Zapped! (McPadden, 2019)
Mike and his words were one of the reasons I got sober. So while Teen Movie Hell covers a lot of terrible movies, Mike's words jump right off the page and wrap around me like a giant hug. Mike was one of the most sincere and funniest voices in the film writing world, and the people he got involved in Teen Movie Hell speaks volumes to how loved he was. Contributing writers in the book include Kat Ellinger, Wendy McClure, Katie Rife, Kier-La Janisse, and Samm Deighan. The books opens with a great introduction from Mike, followed by an essay called “The Ellinger Code: Teen Sex Comedies in the Age of #MeToo and for All Eternity” by Kat that talks about how we can approach movies that haven't necessarily aged well yet still find enjoyment in them. As far as the guide portion goes, Mike goes alphabetically through the ages giving write-ups long and short to 364 films. From The Freshman (1925) to Duff (2015) we read through 90 years of films. There's modern classics like 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) and Easy A (2010) and movies only 20 people have logged on Letterboxd like Getting Wasted (1980) and Smart Alec (1986). Teen Movie Hell is another cave to mine of forgotten films and trash lying in waiting for Junesploitation.
Images in the Dark: An Encyclopedia of Gay and Lesbian Film and Video (Murray, 1994)