Unquestionably one of the standout books of 2016, and also, unfortunately, one of the scarcest. A limited edition UK-only publication, 70s MONSTER MEMORIES went out of print seemingly instantaneously, and is currently all-but impossible to track down (and, as I can personally attest, damned expensive should you succeed in finding a copy).
This book was published under the auspices of the UK’s We Belong Dead magazine. I’m not familiar with that publication, but do appreciate the staggering amount of talent and effort that went into this beautifully designed book’s creation. The subject: genre movies of the 1970s, as remembered by the (mostly British) “Monster Kids” who came of age in that era. I myself was an eighties monster kid who grew up in America, and so didn’t relate to all the topics discussed in this book, but the sense of movie mad childhood nostalgia conveyed in its pages is universal. The brilliance of this book is that it succeeds in directly accessing the monster-obsessed child who resides in all of us.
The seventy-plus essays collected here encompass a wide variety of topics. Indeed, nearly every conceivable facet of 1970s monster movie lore is covered: horror movie magazines and reference books, model kits, super 8mm film loops, action figures, posters, trading cards, TV movies, soundtrack albums, comics, candy, etc. Also included are an excellent selection of photographic illustrations that compliment the text quite nicely.
Unsurprisingly, Famous Monsters of Filmland is given generous coverage, as are the teleplays of Nigel Kneale and the merchandising of JAWS. There are also some fascinating discussions of subjects about which I, who like to think myself pretty knowledgeable about monster movie lore, was previously unaware, such as the Pocket Chiller Library of lurid horror fiction and the cooking programs of Vincent Price. I especially appreciated a lengthy guide to 70s monster movie novelizations, which mentions quite a few titles of which I was previously unaware (although the listing isn’t quite as exhaustive as it purports to be).
Given the wide range of authors and subject matter, certain chapters are obviously better than others. An interview with Famous Monsters cover artist Basil Gogos is marred by the fact that the interviewer does the majority of the talking, with the soft spoken Gogos’ contributions consisting of morsels like “Yes, I did,” “No, not really” and “Thank you.” Another lesser entry is “LA CABINA: Allegory of An Era,” which presents a good analysis of that surreal 1970s film classic and its political overtones, but lacks the nostalgic angle that characterizes most of the rest of the contents. While I’m at it, I’ll also register a complaint about the book’s visual design, with its multi-colored pages that are quite striking to look at but not always easy to read.
But those things don’t lessen the book’s cumulative effect, which is pleasing and, as promised, pleasantly nostalgic. There are even some attempts made to examine the roots of that nostalgia, as in an interview with toy collector extraordinaire Dave Swift, who admits to having become obsessed with reacquiring all the monster movie memorabilia of his childhood after his father died, thus providing a direct connection to a time when his father was still alive and life was much easier. Such introspection, combined with unashamed fanboyish enthusiasm, make for a reading experience that provides some real insight amid all the retro fun.