One of the most influential books in the hallowed halls of horror is Alan Ormsby’s 1975 opus, Movie Monsters. As the cover indicates, it not only (briefly) explores the mythology of some of the great movie maniacs, but also shows you how to make and apply “Monster Make-Up” and includes a detailed script and other tips for “Monster Shows to put on.”
Published by Scholastic Book Services, Movie Monsters has very brief descriptions for eleven classic creatures and an extremely short bio of Lon Chaney.
Most of the monster descriptions are one page, with an accompanying photo on a second page, with some minor variations. In re-reading this tome for the first time in probably 50 decades, I’m just now realizing that all of the entries focus mostly on make-up and make-up effects. I know make-up effects are an important part of horror movies, but an entire children’s book dedicated to the art easily explains why the book remains popular to this day.
The author, who wrote such films as My Bodyguard, Porky’s II: The Next Day, Popcorn (which he also directed, uncredited), and Mulan (wtf?), got out of the make-up game in 1977. He wastes valuable pages on a vanity section where he boringly details that one time he played a monster in a school play. I must admit, I cried during this section, but only out of boredom and a desperate hope that the tears would blur my vision, giving me an excuse to stop reading.
Then we move onto the “How to Make a Monster” portion of the book. Disappointingly, there is no mention of murder, rape, or corpse-stealing, instead focusing on, you guessed it, make-up.
Some effects, like “Light and Shadow” are ridiculously easy. I like how the directions explicitly state that you need a mirror. Because, I’m guessing, based on personal experience, the author knows that if you’re reading this book, odds are you are a lonely, pathetic outsider and the mirror is your only conceivable audience. And even it looks at you with disgust.
Other effects are insanely complex. Take, for example, the “Brown Bag Frankenstein”. This is no Unknown Comic or even Baggyman, folks. This is an hours-long process that is so technically difficult, you need to spend three years as a make-up effects apprentice to even attempt it. I remember as a kid thinking how awesome it would be to make this thing, soon realizing that I’d likely just end up with a paper sack glued to my head.
The next part of the book is “The Monster of Frankenstein”, a terrible script that I’m horrified to think some unfortunate parents might have had to sit through at some point. God, this would be sanity-robbing to see untalented kids “perform”. Hopefully someone had the foresight to hide the shotgun shells from Dad.
After that, we get a couple of improbable “tricks”, like “The Floating Head”, which only works if your head resembles a fully inflated helium balloon. This is followed by a section called “Props”, which basically assumes you have a fully stocked Hollywood studio in your back yard. “Supplies And Sources” is somewhat more helpful, urging kids to head to the Salvation Army.
The ending, in a nutshell, is kind of a letdown. Ormsby shoots is load in the first 28 pages and it never really matches that start.
I’ve been pretty hard on this book, but in all honesty, I really loved it when I was a kid. There’s a reason that I still have it. As a first exposure to the classic Universal Monsters, you really couldn’t do much better. The text is easy reading and it has some cool black and white photos of a bunch of monsters. On top of that, it was probably my earliest introduction to what actually went into making a movie.
I only know one thing is for sure. If I ever have a kid, he or she is making the fucking Frankenstein mask. And if they whine about how it’s “too hard” or “won’t work”, I will beat the spirit of Halloween into them and confiscate their candy, teaching them a valuable lesson. Just like that one episode of Cosby.