Encyclopedia of Horror
It's that time again. I've had the itch and I'm back to review yet another laserdisc title. Many of the lasers I've reviewed in the past, most notably The Frighteners: Signature Collection, have made their way to DVD release. But there are some that haven't, including this review for the Encyclopedia of Horror.
So what's the point of the review? Well, I'm not quite sure. Drumming up interest for a DVD release might be one answer. Or perhaps it's just for fun. But I'll let you in on a secret: I've never watched this set before. I've sampled some of it, but I've never sat down and watched it from start to finish, which is what I'm about to do for this review. Who knows if it's even worth talking about? This review is to find out the answer.
Prior to sitting down and watching the set, I tried to google up some information on what this Encyclopedia of Horror actually is. I couldn't find too much, but I'll share what I've managed to find.
The entire encyclopedia consists of eight volumes to a show that aired in 1989 titled This is Horror, featuring Stephen King. I'll get more into the Stephen King bit later on. Each show has a particular focus on an area of the genre. It's full of clips from various horror movies, interviews with countless cast and crew members, and various behind-the-scenes footage. I'm going to break the review up into a synopsis for each episode. I'll try to include a listing of all the clips that are included, but some are brief and I may miss one or two.
Volume 1: The Magic of Horror
Volume One focuses on Dario Argento, Brian Yuzna, female vampires, and special effects. Interviews with each of the two directors are included. Sadly, Argento's interview is only a few minutes of length and he struggles with his English. He gets his main point across when he proclaims that censors are disgusting people. There's some behind-the-scenes footage of Argento at work. Brian Yuzna shares his thoughts on Re-Animator's success and the ability to create fear outside of special effects.
The next segment focuses on the seductive quality of the female vampire, ranging from Ingrid Pitt in The House That Dripped Blood all the way to Grace Jones in Vamp.
The third and final segment of volume one focuses on special effects and is easily the most enjoyable. It starts with footage at XFX studios featuring artist Steve Johnson. Some great footage is shown of Steve and other employees working on various effects at the studio. There's also some behind-the-scenes footage of the effects on the finale to Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4. Finally, a few segments of special effects that were ultimately cut from Dead Heat and Nightmare on Elm Street 4 are shown.
Clips shown include Phenomena, Suspiria, Demons, Re-Animator, Bride of the Re-Animator, Society, The House That Dripped Blood, Vampyres, and Vamp.
Volume 2: The Classically Shocking Horror
Volume Two starts off with some footage from Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 and then moves to some behind-the-scenes footage of the then-being-filmed Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3. It includes interviews with TCM3 director Jeff Burr and various members of the cast and crew (one of whom should be recognizable to Jason fans).
Next is several minutes of footage from Blood Simple, along with interviews with the Coen brothers who share their thoughts on the film.
The fourth and final segment focuses on trailers and gags used to get people into the theaters. There are brief interviews with Cliver Barker and Frank Darabont, but the focus is on William Castle – various tricks in the theater; Alfred Hitchcock – recordings in waiting lines and personal appearances in trailers; and Lloyd Kaufman of Troma.
Clips shown include Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Blood Simple, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman, Psycho, The Tingler, The Toxic Avenger, Surf Nazis Must Die, The Class of Nukem High, and Monster In The Closet.
Volume 3: Horrible Nightmares
Volume Three begins with an exploration into the Nightmare on Elm Street series (only up to Part 5 at the time of the show). It covers the idea that dreams offer limitless possibilities for horror movies to explore. A brief synopsis to each Elm Street is given, along with the issues the protagonist much face in each.
The show shifts back to exploring special effects in the genre. Some behind-the-scenes footage to Night Angel (aka Deliver Us From Evil) and Halloween 4/5 is shown, where we see Greg Nicotero (of KNB EFX) and crew working their magic.
The third segment explores the cut throat business of low budget horror. It features interviews with two experts in the area: directors Charles Band and Fred Olen Ray. They discuss several areas of the business, including: the video rental market – in particular the shift from theatrical releases to direct-to-video, the cheaper cost of shooting movies overseas, and how they went to making movies for themselves instead of someone else.
Clips shown include Nightmare on Elm Street (1,2,3,4,5), Night Angel, From Beyond, Trancers, Biohazard, The Tomb, and Beverly Hills Vampires.
Volume 4: Creepy, Crawly Horror
Volume Four starts off with horror anthologies. Scenes from Tales From The Crypt (1972) and The House That Dripped Blood are included. There's some brief commentary discussing the popularity of the Tales From The Crypt comic books and the movie itself. A brief interview with anthology writer Robert Bloch is included. Later in the show there is a brief return to anthologies when Stephen King discusses The Woman in the Room and how the story reflects upon his own experience with his mother's long, drawn out death.
The next segment is on animals in horror. This one jumps around from the killer animals in Eaten Alive and Willard (1971), to the chimpanzee used in Phenomena to portray a mixture of hopelessness, terror, and violence during a murder scene.
Wrapping up Volume Four is a look at Clive Barker's novella turned feature film, Hellraiser. There is some behind-the-scenes footage of effects work, as well as several excerpts of Barker reading from the novella, The Hellbound Heart.
Clips shown include Tales From The Crypt, The House That Dripped Blood, Eaten Alive, Willard, Phenomena, The Woman In The Room.
Volume 5: The Horror of Mad Doctors and Monsters
Volume Five starts off with some brief commentary on Halloween, followed by an interview with the man himself, John Carpenter. The interview is dated, but it's great listen to a passionate Carpenter talk about Halloween and the character of Michael Myers. Next is an interview with Clive Barker and his thoughts on the Hellraiser movie and the Cenobites. Rounding out this round of interviews is Wes Craven who discusses Nightmare on Elm Street and the popularity of Freddy Krueger.
The next segment starts out with clips from various monsters movies and then moves into a good five minute interview with Scream Queen Linnea Quigley. Linnea discusses her career and some of the movies that she's starred in. More importantly, she discusses her thoughts on nude scenes and gives us a few sample screams. Several clips from her various movies are shown during the interview.
The final segment is on mad doctors. It includes some brief clips and commentary from various mad scientist movies, such as Zombi Holocaust and The Abominable Dr. Phibes. It's the shortest segment to volume five, running about five minutes total.
Clips shown include An American Werewolf in London, Waxwork, Lifeforce, Night of the Demons, Witchtrap, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, Blood Nasty, The Body Shop, Zombi Holocaust, and The Abominable Dr. Phibes.
Volume 6: Hollywood Horror
Volume Six opens with an interview with writer/director Kevin Tenney. Kevin discusses the popularity of horror movies, followed by this thoughts on a few of his own movies and how difficult it is to create a good scare.
The next segment is a bit convoluted. It starts off discussing horror with environmental issues, such as the countless movies from the 50s featuring radioactivity of one kind or the other. It then moves to footage and commentary from Invasion of the Body Snatches and The Food of the Gods. There's no real theme present on this segment.
The final segment continues the convolution and simply shows clips from several movies – Knight Riders, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Cat People, and The Body Snatcher – along with some brief commentary on each.
Clips shown include Witchboard, Witchtrap, Night of the Demons, Fiend Without A Face, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Food of the Gods, The Little Shop of Horrors, Eaten Alive, Knightriders, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Cat People, and The Body Snatcher.
Volume 7: The Horror of the Living Zombie
Volume Seven opens with clips from Evil Dead 2 and an interview with director Sam Raimi. Raimi talks about the 'laws to horror pictures' and then shares his thoughts on why he believes King's glowing review of the original Evil Dead resulted in the film's success. Raimi then briefly discusses his back-and-fourth homage game with Wes Craven. The segment continues with a brief commentary on Raimi's career, which was obviously still in its infancy back in 1989. The entire segment is 12 minutes in length and is one of the more enjoyable ones.
Next is a short commentary and montage of clips from a variety of classic zombie movies, from White Zombie to Night of the Living Dead.
The final segment is yet another look into special effects, followed by clips from several grindhouse movies. This one features interviews with effects artists David Miller and Tom Savini. Some decent behind-the-scenes effects footage is shown, but the real highlight is when they show Savini receiving the phone call giving him the green light to direct and produce a remake of Night of the Living Dead.
Clips shown included Evil Dead 2, Thou Shalt Not Kill, Night of the Living Dead, White Zombie, Tombs of the Living Dead, Dead Alive, Bad Taste, Maniac, and Cannibal Ferox.
Volume 8: This is Horror: Volume II
The eight and final volume begins with a look at Dead Heat. It features several minutes of footage from the movie, interviews with actors Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo, and some behind-the-scenes footage.
The next segment is a montage of clips and commentary on various horror movies, ranging from Devil's Rain to The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism.
The third segment is an identical segment from an earlier volume. It's the same sequence featuring an interview with Linnea Quigley and clips from several of her movies. It's a bit unfortunate to see reused footage in the same set, but luckily there is a fourth segment here.
The fourth and final segment features footage and commentary from several 80s cheese fests, ranging from American Gothic to Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II.
Clips shown include Dead Heat, Devil's Rain, Simon, King of the Witches, Masque of the Red Death, The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism, Night of the Demons, Witchtrap, Blood Nasty, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, American Gothic, The Initiation of Sarah, Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II, and Transmutations.
Consider the Encyclopedia of Horror a compilation set with interviews and behind-the-scenes footage mixed in. It's definitely enjoyable overall, but the interviews are often too short, lasting a minute or two at best. Stephen King's various appearances in each volume were completely out of place and poorly edited. He would make various comments relating to horror, only to have the show move to a completely unrelated topic. The saving grace is the behind-the-scenes footage, as most of it is unavailable anywhere else. What I personally found most enjoyable were the various effects footage featuring many many of the rising talents that we still know and enjoy today.
Volume Seven takes the crown for most enjoyable. The interview with Sam Raimi and all of the behind-the-scenes effects shots were great. The icing on the cake was Tom Savini getting the phone call for a greenlight to Night of the Living Dead (1990).
I think any horror fan is bound to enjoy all of the clips shown. The only problem lies in the quality of the clips (more on that in Image Quality). The series is certainly dated when watched today. The interviews are a clear indicator, considering how young everyone looks. Also, countless sequels have been filmed and the entire industry, from special effects to distribution, has changed substantially since 1989. But one can't argue the value of the interviews and the behind-the-scenes footage – must of which cannot be found anywhere else.
Even though it's dated, or perhaps outdated, horror fans are still bound to find some enjoyment in this Encyclopedia of Horror.
It probably goes without saying, but I'm going to say it anyway: The image quality on a 1996 laserdisc from a TV show that aired in 1989 leaves a lot to be desired. I can pick apart and rate the video quality, and it certainly is quite poor, but what's the point? This is no better than an old VHS tape – washed out colors, softness and little detail, and much too bright. Here we are in 2008, where nearly every movie shown has been released on a remastered DVD from a vastly improved print. I can deal with behind-the-scenes and interview footage being a bit rough, but watching what are often P&S clips to movies I have on DVD – that was downright painful.
I'm rating the image quality with a D+ simply for the sake of giving it a rating. It probably deserves an F by today's standards, but one has to take its age into consideration.
The stereo sound is bland overall, but remains a step above the image quality. The track can be muffled at times, but is otherwise clear and free of distortion.
This Japanese laserdisc box set is the only known home video release of the complete This is Horror series. I know portions of it are available on various VHS, and I believe even some DVD releases overseas, but none are as lengthy as this set. It's no surprise to learn that private sellers are asking $100-$200 for the laserdisc set, making it out of reach for most. Considering all the copyright issues with the various clips, it's unlikely this will ever see the light of day on DVD.
While much of the set consists of worn P&S clips from some of our favorite horror movies, a fan edit could easily improve that. With the right knowledge, someone could take 16x9 clips off of modern DVDs and replace the older, worn 4x3 clips that are present. The remaining behind-the-scenes footage and interviews could be left in tact. Of course, I'm not recommending someone do this...
Fans looking to see some of these segments should take a look on YouTube, as several are in fact posted there. Otherwise, your alternative is to track down a laserdisc player and keep an eye on ebay. Even with its flaws, horror fans will find lots of enjoyment to be had in this set.
Show - B-
Image Quality - D+
Sound - C
The cover art for those individual disc covers are amazing.
Yeah the Japanese definitely know how to make cover art. I bought the Starship Troopers LD from Japan simply for the cover art. I admit the Japanese didn't make the artwork for Starship - it was actually from a teaser poster. It's going up in my theater room - when I someday buy a house.
Just exactly what kind of laserdisc player would I need to play The Encyclopedia of Horror in America?
Anyone here have this ripped onto DVDr?
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