One of the great things about doing this page is that not only do I get some great books from awesome companies, but I get to interact with some of the authors as well. A while back I wrote a review on a book by Gary A. Smith, entitled “Vampire Films of the 1970s: Dracula to Blacula and Every Fang Between” (MacFarland, 2017) Not only was it a great book, but Mr. Smith and I got to emailing each other after the post, discussing our love for horror films.
Gary A. Smith was a regular contributor for Little Shoppe of Horrors magazine from 1980 to 2013, and has authored 7 books on various aspects of film history. He was also generous to agree to a Q&A for me on not only horror films, but some of the book writing process.
Q: What made you become a horror film fan, and also, what motivated you to write books on the genre?
A: I’ve been a fan of horror movies since I was about seven years old. That’s when they started showing the old Universal films on TV. I wrote a paper for a college film class comparing the Universal horror films to the Hammer remakes and my professor said I should consider writing books on similar subjects some day.
Q: Do you have favorite horror actor (s) and why?
A: I would have to say Vincent Price. I love him in anything, especially the Corman/Poe films.
Q: Do you have a preference in studio films (aka Universal, Hammer, AIP), if so why?
A: I love them all but I have to say “my heart belongs to Hammer.” The first Hammer films I saw was a double bill of Horror of Dracula and Revenge of Frankenstein. I was eight years old and I was instantly smitten. Why? Even at eight I was an anglophile.
Q: What is your “Top 5” horror films that you think everyone should see?
A: Yikes! That is a tough one. It’s easier to say which are my top 5 favorites. There are better horror movies out there I’m sure, but these are my favorites. Not necessarily in any order: Brides of Dracula, The Mummy (1959), Pit and the Pendulum, Circus of Horrors, and Son of Dracula.
Q: What (in your opinion) are the qualities that make a great horror film?
A: The actors must approach the material seriously. Tongue in cheek ruins a horror movie for me. Stylish direction can make a horror movie, even if the material isn’t that strong. I watched Baron Blood the other day and that was certainly a triumph of style over substance. Most of Mario Bava’s films are.
Q: In your book “Vampire Films of the 1970s” you list many different genres of vampire films, such as comedies, odd films, and even mention wrestler El Santo’s films. Do you have a favorite part in the book that you cover?
A: The Hammer films, of course. But the movie I most enjoyed writing about was Nocturna. I still haven’t recovered from that one!
Q: What is the most difficult part in the writing process that occurs for you in getting a book published?
A: Getting the publisher to do it the way I want it done. Some are very intrusive and want to change everything. McFarland was very good about the Vampire book but I have had trouble with them on past projects.
Q: Do you have a regular writing process for your work? Do you write everyday?
A: When I am writing a book I do write every day. My most recent project is now at the publishers and I was fairly obsessed when I was writing it. I love doing research and this new book involved a lot of it.
Q: In the “Vampire Films” book, you discuss some odd films that are just guilty pleasures (for me it was “Love at First Bite” growing up as a kid seeing it all the time. Another is 1986’s “Trick or Treat” with Gene Simmons of Kiss for me.). Do you have a guilty pleasure film that is just fun to watch? Why?
A: Actually most of my favorite movies are probably guilty pleasures to other people. I suppose The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is my guiltiest pleasure. I never get tired of seeing it. Why? Because it is deliriously awful in every way.
Q: Is there a film that you would like to see, but for some reason, have not been able to get a copy of? And why?
A: Without a doubt that would be the Italian film The Pharaohs’ Woman. I haven’t seen it in decades and, to my knowledge, a decent copy of it isn’t available anywhere.
Q: In your opinion, which is the most scariest creature in horror, the slasher (Jason and Freddy), the vampire, or the monsters like Frankenstein and Wolfman?
A: The slasher types are the scariest because they are closer to reality. Michael Meyers in the Halloween films is terrifying to me, especially in the first film in the series. Now that’s a great horror movie!
Q: Do you follow current horror films? If so, opinions on them, or what they lack?
A: I do see current horror films and, more often than not, come away feeling disappointed. All the fuss over The Shape of Water this year baffled me. Best Picture? Really? It was a B movie dressed up in A movie clothing. I’d rather see Creature from the Black Lagoon any day. The other horror movie up for Best Picture was Get Out; a retread of The Stepford Wives.
Q: Do you have any upcoming projects that you can tell us about?
A: The book now at the publishers is about best selling novels that were made into films. No horror movies, I’m sorry to tell you. Some of the movies I write about are The Egyptian, Captain from Castile, and The Foxes of Harrow. These are books and films which are largely forgotten now and shouldn’t be. I hope my book helps to remedy that situation.
Q: Do you have any advice for those that are writers that want to write about film or writing in general ?
A: My way has always been to provide a detailed framework that I can send to prospective publishers prior to sitting down to write the entire book. I always include an Introduction to the project and several sample chapters. This eliminates the heartbreak of writing an entire book only to discover that nobody wants to publish it. And please do your research and provide the facts to the best of your ability. It seems that errors abound in film books in particular and these mistakes tend to be perpetuated.
A very special thank you goes out to Gary A. Smith for taking the time to this Q&A.
My review on “Vampire Films of the 1970s: Dracula to Blacula and Every Fang Between” (McFarland, 2017 ISBN: 978-0-7864-9779-9 eISBN: 978-1-4766-2559-1) can be found here in the archives.
For information on ordering a copy of the book, visit McFarland’s site at http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com