The latest book from Gary A. Smith and McFarland is “Vampire Films of the 1970s: Dracula to Blacula and Every Fang Between”. For the casual horror fan, this might force the question: isn’t that oddly specific? Couldn’t we just have a book on 1970s horror films or a book on vampire movies?
Of course, you could have a book on either of those wider topics, but once you crack open Smith’s book, you will realize this seemingly specific topic is actually very large and unusually diverse. A book on the topic of 1970s vampires could actually probably fill a much larger book.
The choice of the 1970s seems to be because that decade coincided with the rise in independent film, and hence a boom in film production in general. Fewer films – both vampire or not – were made in the 1960s, and Smith suggests there was a decrease in vampire cinema during the 1980s beyond the big hits (“Lost Boys”, Fright Night”). I find that hard to believe, but perhaps it is true that the 70s really were the decade of the vampire. Not only did you see independent cinema, but with it the idea that things could be both sexier and grittier, which could play well with the vampire mythos.
So, what are the best parts of the book? It would be hard to pick just a few, as Smith has obviously spent a great deal of time watching and researching each film covered. He claims only one film was out of his reach, and I believe that. Each subgenre (or is it sub-subgenre?) is given an introduction putting it in its place. Because of this, much of the 1960s is also covered in passing.
Smith’s strength seems to be the Hammer films, or perhaps this is simply what he is most passionate about. But we don’t see other areas suffer because of this. Every “oddity” is covered, the influence of one film on another is discussed (Count Yorga seems to be a dominant force of the time) and we even get a little bit about literature and comic books. Smith correctly points out how the Comics Code had banned vampires, making it a big deal in the 1970s when that ban was lifted. This is the era where Blade the vampire hunter was born, a pop culture figure to this day.
And what are the worst parts? I am pleased to say that there was no single part of this book that I found to be dry or superfluous. Things that typically bother me are overly scholarly approaches to reviews. Smith makes no attempt to analyze the films on a psychoanalytical level, which I appreciate. He also doesn’t pad the book with useless junk. It is as long as necessary, but not much longer. That is true perfection. I suppose I could have used a bit more on Asian vampires. Although what we get is superb, this chapter jumped out at me because it was so novel. The work of Jean Rollin and Jess Franco should be familiar to seasoned horror fans, but what are the origins of the vampire in Asian culture? This could be an interesting avenue to explore more deeply.
All in all, this book is a winner. 5 out of 5 stars, two thumbs up, etc. Not only is it a page-turner that more entertains and educates about the vampire film, but it provides a checklist of movies to see. The longer I’ve been a horror fan, the more I realize just how many movies are still out there for me to see. Hopefully the end never comes, and with books like this pointing out obscure gems, it may never happen.
Gary A. Smith is the author of not only this book, but six other books dealing with various aspects of motion picture history. His subjects have ranged from epic films such as “Ben-Hur” to the Beach Party movies starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. I was familiar with him because of a book he wrote on American International Pictures (AIP), which I would also recommend.
Copies can be purchased from all the usual suspects – Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or your local independent book store. If you don’t see it, ask them to order you one. If they can’t, contact McFarland directly at mcfarlandpub.com or 1-800-253-2187.