BEHIND THE HORROR True Stories that Inspired Horror Movies by Lee Mellor

Now there is a lot to discuss and a lot to digest but first I must thank the good people over at Dorling Kindersley for letting us review this. Ever wondered what twisted real life events inspired PSYCHO? Every pondered the reason why Peter Benchley wrote JAWS, enabling us to see the great white beast stalk the seas? Have you thought on the facts behind the fictions of THE CONJURING? Well wonder no more. Dr Lee Mellor delves into the stories behind the stories, so to speak, in his book on the ‘true’ stories that inspired Horror cinema. Also featured in BEHIND THE HORROR is Hitchcock’s FRENZY, Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST, Hoppers POLTIEGIEST and cult hit THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN among others. A wide array of Horror titans and genre staples. So to Mellor’s quest into the world of the real and the reel we go. The sort of journey that will no doubt throw up historic anomalies, stories told around campfires and legends shared from adult to child. It is an exploration of Horror and its multifaceted inspirations, expect curses, clotted blood and corpses galore.

Structured  chronologically and beginning where cinema came alive in some respects, for horrific horror, we visit Fritz Lang’s M.  The story of a child killer and legend of nastiness is explored with vigour. Mellor digs into the absurdly brutal world of post first war Germany. Taken alongside France and the United Kingdom, it had serious issues with murder and frenzied, seemingly random serial killings. This introduction or scene setter is clever. It harvests some truly interesting characters. Namely Berlun police inspector Ernst Gennat, coiner of term “Serienmorder”. Cleverly also here, Mellor sets up the pay off. We read about M (a film you should watch and many a film studies student does) via a synopsis that is full and fair. This allows Mellor to then dive into three murderers who it is believed (and substantiated) inspired its creation.

This pattern sees us through ROPE and the ubermencshs Leopold and Loeb, caught Colombo like, by a far Smarter Detective.  Round to PSYCHO and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSARCE, both films were inspired by Ed Gein and on to Hitchcock again with FRENZY and an unsolved series of murders and two solved, one being Christie and the infamous 10 RILLINGTON PLACE (a failed nod at the movie here.) It’s at this point you feel a little tired. Murders, murder and row after row of sadistic acts is a little heavy on the soul. Then the actual devil turns up to revive us. THE EXORCIST is too many, the scariest movie ever made. A bed shaking, heart pounding, possession picture that invaded not only a child’s bedroom but our dreams. For others it’s just good cinema (its a masterpiece certainly). It also has its roots in fact, so to speak. The best version of the story comes from Ray Russell. It was called The Case Against Satan. This book never gets a look in here though (even though it undoubtedly reported from the same source.) Blatty’s version  is actually equally sublime and uses the real life possessed story of, well a pseudonym here but a 12 year old boy. Mellor elongated the events a little but gets the notes right and it tempers the preceding chapters. But it also hampers the final chapters (this is the mid way point).

We have a jarring note with JAWS. It surfaces and we explore the death of swimmers by sharks hunting seals. We also get the infamous story of the USS Indianapolis. The most shark attacks in recorded human history. Shocking but also as much infamy surrounds it as that of Elvis. We then get a series of town murders from THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN. House possessed due to evil happenings THE AMITYVILLE HORROR and POLTIEGIEST. Tailed with THE CONJURING. All give us details and Mellor the chance to explore various vile events. However it is all a much of a much.

When we get to the best chapter in the book, THE NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. We are flagging. It makes the case of how deeply horrific sudden death syndrome was and the fear of the war which left America with a hangover for a generation. This unravelled the human misery of the era where humanity lost its humanity. Mellor talks fact, theory and the way it inspired a great film maker. He does the same with Hitchcock but mind  there Mellor has a gift for relationship building. As we go on he loses this. I felt it was the disjointed way the stories are structured. Chronological hampers his conversation. You feel in a way that it makes you less interested in the factual content and more in why you are jittered along with such differing content. The best chapters are where the book comes into its own. With the stories within the stories, that make the stories compelling and rich. However the whole flags and flops. This is not a film book in truth. It’s a link book. Link a murder or an event that inspired or could have been inspirational for a film and you get a book. A very good but lacking by the subject being fixed into place.

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