In many respects, William Schoell’s book ‘Creature Features’ is for people who want to know about monster movies and, up to 2007 when it was published, what is out there so you can make an informed choice as to which films to pursue, especially as so many are classified as B level. It’s a shame that there isn’t a list of what was currently available on DVD because even if they go out of print, the earnest fan will always find a way to get hold of them if they know they are out there.
Oddly, the seven chapters aren’t done in time periods, but groupings of various creatures together, although this is based on the lead creature otherwise the 1933 ‘King Kong’ film would have appeared in two chapters, apes and dinosaurs. Schoell gives a reasonably detailed synopsis, key cast members and comment. When you consider many of these films are B movies, you’re not always likely to get stellar performances or effects but his remarks are mostly reasonable with some reasonable research, although if you’re familiar with the material, the marked omissions do tend to stand out. You do get some detail at the back of the book about the films but it would have been handier to combine the two together if for no other reason than to give better division between films in each chapter. There are a selection of photographs and poster art to accompany all of this.
As I pointed out omissions in the previous paragraph, let’s point out some of them, if for no other reason than for those buying this book will know what to correct in your heads. I would have thought everyone would have known that Honor Blackman played Cathy Gale in ‘The Avengers’ and was more signifiacant than calling her ‘the forerunner of Mrs. Peel’ on page 30. In a couple places, Schoell confuses the actors with the parts they played in at least one film which should have been picked up at the editing stage. Considering Schoell covers two of the Quatermass films, it’s a shame that he didn’t touch on ‘Quatermass And The Pit’ (1967), which didn’t have a US name, where the Martians were man-size grasshoppers. If these weren’t regarded as ‘monsters’ then he might as well hand back my union card. Then again, he should have known that the Hammer productions were just upsized versions of the original TV productions.
For fact hounds, there’s the odd tit-bit like Dennis Muren had worked on dinosaur-like creatures before ‘Jurassic Park’ with the 1981 film ‘Dragonslayer’. Actor Kevin Peter Hall played the giant bear in ‘Prophesy’ (1979), even if Schoell got his height wrong by four inches by not reading IMdB.
Schoell’s analysis is actually very strong. I loved his examination of ‘Jaws’ (1975) and how much of a bastard Sheriff Brody was in not over-riding the Mayor’s decision to keep the beach open. It might have been interesting had Schoell pointed out if in successive films the directors had tried to avoid mistakes from earlier films but that would probably have widened the page count and, I suspect, many of those involved are no longer around to ask.
There is some coverage of the first ‘Alien’ film although, as with ‘The Blob’ and other shapeless creatures in the last chapter, this tends to feel like making the pages up with alien monsters than creatures we would associate with Earth although I could be seen as being picky on that.
Despite some of the criticisms made above, ‘Creature Features’ does have a lot to offer the film fan who wants to know about the various films and if nothing else, you’ll come away with a bit more knowledge than you would have had otherwise and that’s never a bad thing. Oh yes, and I have selected some films that I need to watch so Schoell’s book does work well in that regard.
(pub: McFarland. 204 page black and white illustrated indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £20.50 (UK), $25.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-78649-562-7)