In 1994 author Joe McCarty wrote a book profiling some of Hollywood's
most impressive directors of horror, suspense and SF films. Entitled
The Fearmakers, it was released by St. Martin's press. Two
years later the book was turned into a TV show with the same name, with each of the program's thirteen half-hour episodes examining a different director
of classic horror films. Though the series was aired in several countries,
ironically McCarty couldn't find any interest for it in the United States.
Fast forward ten years. McCarty acquires the rights to The
Fearmakers again and re-edits it. The thirteen original episodes
are trimmed down to ten, the host is eliminated, and the series is at long
last released domestically on DVD. (I'm not sure if it was ever released
on VHS here in the states. If it was, it would have been in the original
Each episode looks at a different director that is remembered for their
contributions to genre films. Being only half an hour long, the programs
are tight and concentrate on the directors output and the themes that run
through their work. The director's background is usually limited
to a sentence or two, which isn't a bad thing. The shows hit the
ground running and often cover a lot of material in a fairly short amount
Interspersed with clips from each director's films are interviews with
some big name people in the world of horror films. Joe Dante, John
Carpenter, Dario Argento and Richard Matheson are all featured in various
episodes and their comments are often insightful and interesting.
Hearing, from their own mouths, how Dante became inspired to start making
films and which directors influenced Carpenter is well worth the price
of admission. There are also interviews with some creators who are
no longer with us, namely William Alland, Sam Arkoff, and Robert Wise.
It was great to see these people share their thoughts.
Fans of modern horror maybe a bit disappointed that this show concentrates
on directors who worked in the 30's through the 60's, but they shouldn't
be. The program does a great job of explaining why these early directors
are important and how they helped shape the way films look today.
Many of the clips are quite impressive, and though the creature effects
from the 50's don't hold a candle to what is accomplished nowadays, many
of these directors managed to use their creativity to overcome the technical
limitations that they had to work with.
This program gives a good introduction to the works of ten directors.
With only a half hour to work with, these aren't in depth analyses of a
director's body of work. It's more a survey of what they did, and
equally important, the times that they were working in. No one worked
in a vacuum, and Fearmakers makes a point of mentioning what else was being
released at the time and what types of films were popular. This is
a key point that many authors forget to mention.
These ten episodes feature the following directors:
Jack Arnold - Most well known
for The Incredible Shrinking Man, he also did the 3D films It
Came from Outer Space and The Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Tod Browning - An often overlooked
director, this master of the weird directed Lon Chaney (Sr.) in many of
his best films. He also made the still shocking Freaks as
well as Universal's Dracula (1931).
Roger Corman - Master of the
B films, Corman is probably the most well known director in this series.
From It Conquered the World to his more ambitious Poe films such
as The Fall of the House of Usher, Corman's body of work is examined.
This includes interviews with Corman himself.
William Castle - A master
showman, the stunts and gimmicks that Castle used to promote and sell his
films are legendary. From having a plastic skeleton on strings fly
over the heads of the audience to insuring the lives of the viewers with
Lloyds of London to be paid if anyone dies from fright, Castle's tricks
always played better in the trailers than they did when you were sitting
in the audience.
Terence Fisher - The man who reinvigorated
the horror genre after the Universal cycle started to rely on camp, Fisher
was behind the lens on The Curse of Frankenstein, Horror of Dracula,
and other classics.
Tobe Hooper - Texas Chainsaw
Massacre. 'Nuff said.
Roman Polanski - This modern day
director is known for the classic Rosemary's Baby, The Tenant, and
The Fearless Vampire Killers. A nice review of his work.
Jacques Tourneur - Working with
very limited budgets, Tourneur was able to create atmospheric and creepy
movies that are still effective today. Working with Val Lewton at
RKO, Tourneur made such unsung classics as Cat People and I Walked with
Roland West - This is the only director
I would have left out. This episode discusses his three genre films,
The Bat, its remake The Bat Whispers, and The Monster.
They spend just as much time covering his connection to Thelma Todd's mysterious
death as they do on his films.
Robert Wise - Most people think
of West Side Story or The Sound of Music when they hear Wise's
name, but he also created some great horror films such as Curse of the
Cat People, The Body Snatcher, and The Day the Earth Stood Still.
The stereo audio is only so-so. The narration (by the show's creator
Joe McCarty) sounds a bit muddled, slightly distorted in places, but what
the narrator is saying is easy enough to understand but it is not crisp.
The interviews sound better and but it is obvious that this was done on
a shoe string, and some of their statements aren't as clear as they should
be. The levels for the opening and closing music are higher than
those for the rest of the program, which is a bit irritating. There
are no subtitles.
The video is about average for a low budget documentary. The film
clips generally look good, though some of them are scratched and dark and
a few of the older clips are pretty soft. The interviews look better,
though the colors are off in a couple of them and one or two people look
orange or like they are terribly jaundiced. Some of the
There are no bonus features.
While the audio and video quality to this set won't win any awards,
The Fearmakers gives viewers an excellent overview of the history of SF
and horror films and some of the genres most influential directors.
Told through interviews with producers, directors, and writers as well
as copious clips from the films that they are profiling, this series is
interesting and informative. Anyone interested in the suspense and
horror films should check out this instructive series. It sets a