29th Jun2018

‘The Ultimate Guide to Strange Cinema’ Book Review

by Philip Rogers

Written by Michael Vaughn | Published by Schiffer Publishing Ltd | Format: Paperback, 352pp


The Ultimate Guide to Strange Cinema is a new book from Michael Vaughn which does what it says in the title. Delivering a comprehensive guide to some of the strangest films from around the world, which includes a mixture of the good, the bad and the just plain ugly. Written with a humour and an appreciation for the qualities of a badly made B-Movie if it has something to offer. The reviews often citing the merits of the film as well as its faults, but each time there there is a sound explanation as to why it should be included in the list. There is no definition as to what type of film should be included so there is an eclectic mixture of films from all genres; from the bizarrely enticing titles of An American hippie in Israel (1972) to more mainstream and critically acclaimed Mulholland Drive (2001).

The book has clearly been designed to be used as a reference guide and has been divided into eight different chapters based on the genre, with each chapter is organised alphabetically by the film title. The only exception to this is the largest chapter, which unsurprisingly happens to be ‘Horror’. This is organised by country and then the film title. Each film is given a brief synopsis of what you can expect and even though not every film has a gleaming recommendation, there will always be something in the film which makes it worth tracking down.

Following the initial synopsis of what we can expect from each film, where appropriate there is also some additional information included underneath. This includes ‘Trivia’ about the film, what it was ‘Originally Titled’ a further recommendation of what it ‘Goes Well With’ and some exclusive Interviews or quotes from those involved in the film. Larry Cohen talking about making Q: The Winged Serpent (1982) was an interesting interview where he briefly talks about some of his experiences during the making of the film.

The book includes over 160 pictures which are a mixture of cover art and shots from the film, which works brilliantly as it gives you an indication of what you can expect from the film and it is a shame that the pictures were not included for all of the films. Having grown up in the VHS era and prior to the internet, the cover art has always been a fundamental part of what drew me towards the weird and wonderful, even though I knew that most of the time they were somewhat deceiving as to what you would actually get. I can understand that tracking down the original artwork down and getting the permissions to use them is not always as straightforward as it seems, but I do think having the cover art, especially for the more obscure titles would have really added to the book.

The Ultimate Guide to Strange Cinema works well as a quick reference guide rather than a detailed compendium which looks at the history of strange cinema. Michael Vaughn’s personality and love for the genre is reflected in the book, which with the brief synopsis and an often-humorous review makes for an entertaining summary of what you can expect. A quick and easy read, it is definitely something which you will can find yourself returning to when looking for something new to watch as an alternative to a late-night Netflix and Chill.

There is a good chance that most people reading the book would have seen several of the titles included in especially as some of the films may even seem mainstream, but that is where it feels so well balanced. In addition to the rare low budget and obscure titles, but it also includes some of the more modern mainstream films which continue to challenge the world of cinema. By looking at all definitions of strange cinema irrelevant of budget, quality or style it tries to cover the widest range possible. There are over 300 films which have been reviewed, so there is a good chance that even the biggest connoisseur of strange cinema will be able to find something new.

As part of a now lost generation who spend hours in the local video store, influenced by the creative titles and eye-catching artwork of the video case, The Ultimate Guide to Strange Cinema resonates well with me. The visually stunning artwork on the front cover actually took me back to the days of the video store, which instantly made me want to pick it up to read! We have become accustomed to trawling through the internet to find something new, although the lists are often mirrored and have become quite monotonous in content with the same familiar titles often reappearing. Michael Vaughn’s research however stems from his own unique experiences watching films, so in additional to the familiar titles, it also includes several titles which he grew up with. Many of these titles which are now out of print or only available on a battered and somewhat overpriced VHS. I love trying to track down the more obscure titles that I may have missed, so The Ultimate Guide to Strange Cinema is for me a brilliant reference and thanks to the humour it kept me engrossed from start to finish. There are several films here which I probably wouldn’t have previously considered watching and others which have just gone under the radar, but even though it will be a bit of a challenge I am now looking forward to hunting some of these new-found titles down.


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