Many nights, I find myself bouncing back and forth between streaming channels, the usual suspects like Hulu, Netflix, or Amazon Prime. Sure, there’s a wealth of horror films on each stream, but the quality varies from undiscovered talent to “bury it next to those Atari E.T. cartridges in the New Mexico desert.” Some days you get MANIAC COP, others days you get PSYCHO COP (though I won’t hear a disparaging word about PSYCHO COP). It’s the classic dilemma of this age of streaming we live in. What do we watch? And more importantly, is it worth the time?
Fortunately, author Brian Collins answers these questions in his massive volume, Horror Movie a Day: The Book, which is not just an encyclopedic catalogue of horror movie titles. Yes, it’s reminiscent of books like Video Watchdog or The Psychotronic Video Guide. But what sets it apart is that it’s a genre roadmap for the lost horror newcomer, or even for he longtime fan who needs a bit of course correction. It’s the holy bible for the people who want to celebrate Halloween with a baptism of horror movies, but who don’t know where to begin.
Helpfully, the book is broken down month by month, in which each month is given its own sub-genre (February is ‘slasher month’ for instance) and then each day of said month is a single review of a film. And once that month’s over, you move on to the next. It’s easy, and it’s breezy. And what’s great about the films that Collins reviews in every month, is that he doesn’t hit the greatest hits of the sub-genres he discusses. You won’t find FRIDAY THE 13th or HALLOWEEN in slasher month. Or RINGU and AUDITION in Asian Horror month, which is January. This is a good thing, dear readers. Books like these are about discovery, not beating the same dead horse over and over. This means you’ll find coverage on lesser-known films like FINAL EXAM, BLOOD RAGE, or (a discovery for me), FRAYED. In the case of the latter, he doesn’t shy away from covering films new and old. It keeps things fair and balanced.
You can skip around from month to month at first, like I did starting with ‘slasher month,’ but you’d be doing yourself a disservice. Every month hides at least one gem, and chances are even if you’ve seen the majority of works in the book, Collins has seen a lot of junk. You’ll find something new here. Promise.
Collins gives every page and every capsule review a personal touch that keeps the reader going. This is his distinct voice, and the book is all the better for it. We learn all about his quirks and favorites as we traverse the 596 pages that make up Horror Movie a Day: The Book. That would seem long, but because you’re reading about one of the best genres that ever is, and because the reviews and intros aren’t long, the book moves by at a lightning quick pace.Every month allows for reflection and retrospection, to give the readers a look into how he compiled that month’s entries and why he did it the way he does.
Collins’ prose and his helpful guide on how each month is broken up, with profound insight on the genesis of Horror Movie a Day which allows the reader to get a sense of the massive undertaking Collins took on when he started doing the Horror Movie a Day project (it lasted from 2007-2013). There is a supremely funny introduction by Todd Farmer that really enhances the book and gives you a hint of the vibe to come.
What this book can handily do also is to help parents like myself locate what horror film is suited best for their children, whenever they decide the age becomes appropriate to discover the genre. Because if there’s one thing a horror fan wants to do, it’s to foster discovery. That’s the reason why this book exists. So, go out and buy this book. It’s a guaranteed favorite, and it’s also extremely funny. I’ve discovered at least one hundred titles to watch, after just one reading of the book. And for those parents who are helping their kids discover horror, might I suggest starting with March?
It’s ‘Killer Kids’ month.
As this review posts, we find ourselves in the month of October (which in the book is dedicated to ‘Alt Horror,’ or non-traditional horror). Dig in and find films that don’t necessarily classify as horror, but still manage to thrill and chill nonetheless, like RESOLUTION. You’ll find some fun surprises.
Daily Grindhouse got the chance to interview Brian Collins for a deeper look at his book.
Daily Grindhouse: Were there any alternative months that you wanted to include in place of what’s in the book, or were these months in Horror Movie A Day pretty set in stone?
Brian Collins: I really wanted an Italian month, but once I weeded out the “famous” titles (I didn’t put any big titles in the book – so like Argento and Fulci’s stuff was out) I didn’t have enough for a full month. Only about half of it was really set in stone; I knew I wanted a slasher month, a killer kid month, an indie month… but some other chapters were kind of decided by looking at what I had to recommend. Before I did any writing, I re-read the entire site (much to my chagrin, for those older reviews) and made a list of what I would want to put in the book. Then I started grouping them by sub-genre, to see what I would have enough for. So like Vampire Month (September), it wasn’t anything I was planning on doing for sure, but I ended up having thirty or so vampire movies, and so it made sense to do one.
DG: Is there enough material for Horror Movie a Day: The Book, Volume Two?
Brian Collins: Technically, yeah, I think I had something like 800 or so titles that were candidates, and obviously I only used 366 of them. But I don’t know… not only would the format be a bit different since the sub-genres went all over the place with those leftovers, but they would all be older titles too since I’m not keeping up with newer stuff as well as I should. It’d be weird to release a book in 2018 with almost nothing from the previous five years. So I’d have to catch up, and then there wouldn’t be an “original review” to draw from, so there would have to be a new format to come up with… but we’ll see. I’m not against the basic idea of doing another, I’m just not sure if I’m up to the actual task at this point.
DG: Were there some exciting discoveries you found in writing for the Horror Movie a Day website or for the book? And CATHY’S CURSE doesn’t count, Brian.
Brian Collins: Everything in the book was taken from the site, so the only discovery was how obnoxious my older reviews were to read [laughs]. But when writing the site, sure… basically everything in this first book was a discovery! I’d guess almost 90% of these movies I never would have seen if I wasn’t doing the site. No one recommended them or anything, I just happened to find them in budget packs or on Netflix or whatever when looking for something to watch. Movies like THE PIT, COLD PREY, almost all of the Asian horror selections… good chance I wouldn’t have seen them yet, if ever.
DG: I like how you didn’t pin down any specific sub-genre, decade or country in your discussion of these films. Can you talk more about any rules you had in the film selection?
Brian Collins: I had a couple… first off, they couldn’t be too well-known. I designed this book for seasoned horror fans more than newcomers. There are plenty of books out there that will tell a new horror fan what they “have” to see, with THE EXORCIST, HALLOWEEN, and ROSEMARY’S BABY and all those classics. Being the 90th writer to tell someone to see those movies didn’t interest me in the slightest. Who the hell am I to tell you, you need to see THE SHINING? If you haven’t listened to anyone else, you’re not going to listen to me either. I included a few kind of well-known ones like LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and ORPHAN, but in those instances, I usually could argue they weren’t as well-known as they SHOULD be. ORPHAN is often referred to as a box office dud, for some reason — it wasn’t, but if that’s the perception, then maybe there are people who didn’t see it. And with very few exceptions, they had to be more or less easily available; some of them are currently out of print but can be bought from 3rd parties at a reasonable cost. Also, I have updated the site one or two times a week since “quitting” in April of 2013, but I didn’t include any of those titles — however, it wasn’t so much a “rule” as it was that I made my master list from the daily run, and didn’t need to include any movies from those newer reviews.
DG: There weren’t any clichéd picks for your choices, for instance, you didn’t go for the low hanging fruit of Halloween films for October (though there aren’t that many anyways).
Brian Collins: Yeah, same as not recommending famous movies, I didn’t want to do anything too obvious. I did end up picking a few Christmas themed films for December, but that’s “Horror Around the World” month, and I happened to have 3-4 solid titles from different countries that had a Christmas theme, so it made sense to center them around there. For October, I figure people are going to watch what they always watch anyway, so I didn’t want to waste a slot telling someone to watch TRICK R’ TREAT or whatever. I’m just happy HALLOWEEN III has finally more or less been accepted by horror fans, or else I probably would have put that in somewhere just to make my case again.
DG: How important was the idea of discovery for horror fans, new and old?
Brian Collins: It’s so important. Especially now with the death of video stores and everyone relying on Amazon Prime or Netflix Instant for their viewing. When Gene Wilder died a couple weeks ago, people were lamenting that none of his movies were on Instant — it’s like, well stop declaring physical media “useless,” then. If you hadn’t killed Blockbuster and reduced Best Buy to stocking maybe two shelves’ worth of movies, it’d be easier to find these things when they’re not available on the more convenient option. Because if you’re relying on the very limited (and inconsistent) selection on your streaming services, you’re never going to be able to find those lesser known movies and champion them to your friends. I hosted CATHY’S CURSE the other night and it made fans out of a bunch of people who had only heard of it because of my incessant rambling — that’s pretty cool, I think. I couldn’t have that experience if I was just relying on Netflix Instant, and in turn they wouldn’t have either. No one needs me to introduce them to the DTV HELLRAISER sequels or whatever other junk Netflix seems to always have in their lineup. More than any other genre, horror films have a long shelf life, so if they’re not giant hits when they come out, it’s fine (well, for fans at least), as long as there are people who are digging for those gems 20, 30 years from now. Like in 2030, someone’s going to discover SLITHER and tell their friends about it, and it’ll spread and be this cool cult thing the way NIGHT OF THE CREEPS is to fans our age. But only if fans keep using all the resources at their disposal to find something to watch.
DG: You’ve got a very distinct voice in your prose. Have you thought about writing a work of fiction?
Brian Collins: My dream project is fictional, an animated horror comedy show that I’ve already written a bunch of episodes for, but otherwise, not really. I don’t have the patience to describe someone’s clothes or invent lengthy backstories that exist in inner monologue. I get ideas, but usually pass them off to better writers who might be able to do them justice.