Many a month back, I talked about some essential reading material for fans of the cult/exploitation scene. Time (past time, actually) for an update on that subject, because there’s a recent book out there that, while taking nothing away from the excellent Sleazoid Express and Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!, at the same time sets the bar impossibly high for anyone else wanting to contribute to the field.
Stephen Thrower, having already graced us with Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci (an exhaustive, and to this day unchallenged, study of the director), now weighs in with the monumental Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents. The book is enormous in every sense. There’s the sheer scale: a coffee table format tome that, at 528 pages, threatens to shatter any coffee table it is place on. And this is only the first of a proposed two volumes! Enormous too is the depth: 23 in-depth studies/interviews with specific filmmakers make up the bulk of the book, but these are followed by 118 reviews that are not mere capsules – many of these pieces are essays unto themselves.
Thrower is upfront in his introduction about the hard choices made. The depth of his study means that some sacrifices at the level of breadth have been made. But that’s fine, as there are plenty of survey books out there. And what’s more, so many of the directors and films he examines here are those that are likely to have slipped through the cracks in other books. Thrower made the conscious decision to bypass the standard canon, arguing that there really wasn’t much new he could contribute to our thinking on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead, and so on. Based on the quality of the work here, I think he’s being too modest, but if one more piece on NOTLD is the price we have to pay for a staggering, multi-thousand-word examination of George Barry’s Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, then I can live with that. (Though I have to express a small degree of petty bitterness in that now Thrower has had his say on Death Bed, I’m going to be hard-pressed to be able to contribute my two-bits about this odd little gem.) Also eliminated are foreign co-productions, so fans of the Canadian-produced Ilsa movies might be disappointed. But again, for every familiar name that is absent (and can afford to be, since, well, they’re familiar), there are ten titles rescued from utter obscurity. I don’t mind admitting that many, many, many of the films examined here are completely new to me. Remember the thrill that came from your first horror movie book, when everything was new and magical? I felt that excitement again as I began paging through Nightmare USA.
The superb text is accompanied by an astonishing collection of stills and posters. Those accompanying the articles are black-and-white, but between sections there are pages and pages of colour reproductions. “Mouth-watering” isn’t strong enough a term here. One is almost more likely to weep tears of frustration over how difficult it is to get hold of these movies. But Stephen Thrower has seen them, and he has preserved them for us in this important work. The book ain’t cheap, but it would still be more than worth it at twice the price. An absolutely essential addition to any exploitation fan’s library.