The essential geek library: ‘Cult Movies’ by Danny Peary

Back in the old days, everything you wanted to know about movies and TV shows and comic books – their makers, their history, their detractors, their weird variations – wasn’t available for perusal at the click of a mouse.

No, children, we had books back then, and they were wonderful resources.

For a few decades, I amassed a collection of books about movies and TV and comics. They were my encyclopedias, my Bibles. I read and re-read them, memorizing facts and committing the photographs to memory.

So I thought I would occasionally mention some of these books here for you. Maybe you’ve got your own copies. Maybe you can find them in used bookstores or on Amazon. Maybe some will still be in print.

Danny Peary’s “Cult Movies” is a good place to start. Published in 1981 and subtitled “The Classics, the Sleepers, the Weird and the Wonderful,” Peary’s book lives up to its name. The dozens of movies he writes about in the first book (three volumes total were published) range from beloved classics like “The Wizard of Oz” to still-at-the-time controversial films like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” to “2001” to “Vertigo.”

Peary devotes three or four pages to each movie. He lists the cast and key creative positions and gives a synopsis. He then goes into detail about what made the movies cult films.

Peary tells how director George Romero made “Night of the Living Dead,” from its hardscrabble production to its difficult distribution to its reception by audiences and critics.

He has real insight into the movies he covers.

“Pessimistic and unsentimental, ‘Living Dead’ is so effective because it is totally without pretension,” he notes. “It works on basic fears: unrelenting terror, monsters, darkness, claustrophobia. ‘Aliens’ attack us on American soil; protectors, even blood relations, turn on one another.” He notes how the black and white photography, a side effect of its low budget, made it more effective in some ways (anyone see the recent black-and-white presentation of the pilot for “The Walking Dead?”) but worked against it (Columbia Pictures wouldn’t distribute the film because it wasn’t in color) in others.

Peary, who is still actively writing, although not books about movies, brings the right amounts of reverence and criticism to these great but oddball movies. He and his books are what every modern-day movie and pop culture blogger aspires to be.

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