For years, I have been telling people about the legacy of Milicent Patrick to anyone who would listen, so you can imagine my delight when I came across this biography. As author Mallory O’Meara explains, there’s a dearth of female role models in monster movie production. Sure, there are plenty of women in front of the camera, but all they seem to offer is what Carol Clover identifies as “tits and a scream.” Therefore, when I first learned about Patrick’s design of the Gill Man for Creature from the Black Lagoon and the Metaluna Mutant for This Island Earth, you cannot imagine how overjoyed I was that some of my favourite movie monsters had been designed by a woman. But, as is the case with many talented women in Hollywood who threaten the egos of their male counterparts, she slipped into relative obscurity after she was unceremoniously fired from Universal Studios. Therefore, this biography shares a dual purpose: to tell an important piece of cinematic history that had been previously left out by sexism and Hollywood, and to share the inspiring journey of a woman who lived according to what she loved, including her monsters.
In Born to be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey, Mark Dery attempts to respond to the challenge of how to write a biography about someone who, in their own words, lived a “featureless” life. A known recluse and creature of habit, Edward Gorey wasn’t the sort of person who indulged in grand love affairs or travelled the world. In fact, he seemed to be against that sort of thing entirely. When pressed about his sexuality he would scoff or dodge the question, and when asked to leave his little world of Cape Cod, Massachusetts for a touring production of his play, he would just stay home. In fact, Dery makes Gorey out to be a frustrating character: just when you think you have something pinned down about his identity or feelings on a particular subject, they change entirely. Perhaps the best way of describing Edward Gorey, Dery suggests, is either very indirectly or not at all.
Peter talks to professor Kendall R. Phillips about his book, A Place of Darkness, and how horror developed in early American cinema up until the release of Dracula in 1931.
The horror film, as a genre, emerged in 1931 with the release of the Universal-produced Dracula and, later that year, Frankenstein. It wasn’t until this time that the language of horror entered the popular vernacular and that a framework of a genre had been defined. But by no means were these two films the first to use horrific elements; elements designed to evoke the uncanny, use the supernatural as an artistic and emotional tool, and to shock audiences. It is this pre-1931 period of American cinema that Kendall R. Phillips’ book A Place of Darkness: The Rhetoric of Horror in Early American Cinema (which was included in the preliminary ballot for the Bram Stoker non-fiction award) focuses on, a period of proto-horror that set the foundations for a genre to come.