Talk about finding a diamond among a bunch of worthless rocks. I first saw Seth Grahame-Smith’s excellent book on a new release table sandwiched between mountains of Oprah’s latest Book of the Month and literary dreck that folks buy but never read. The cover, featuring a bloody gash through the title, is definitely an eye-catcher. I had no intention of buying the book when I first picked it up and started scanning pages at random. When I read the title of chapter 2, Slasher Survival School, I knew it was time to reach for my wallet and head towards the registers.
Grahame-Smith’s narrator has seen all of the evils lurking in the night and lived long enough to write a survival guide to help other poor souls who suddenly find themselves trapped in a horror film. The book is broken up into six chapters: Welcome to the Terrorverse, Slasher Survival School, Inanimate Evil, Crypt-ography, Fangs of Fury, and The Satanic Verses. With each chapter, the narrator breaks down a different element of the horror genre. He provides helpful hints as to which people, places, and animals one should avoid depending on the situation. Thinking of having a seance in a house with a murderous reputation or visiting any town with Amity in the title? Read this book first and you’ll know why that’s a bad idea.
All of the chapters are written with a sharp, sardonic wit but it’s Chapter 2 that will draw in RetroSlasher fans. The five main groups of slashers to watch out for are the strong, silent types, gamesman, half-retarded hillbillies, wisecrackers, and mamma’s boy. Other sections in the chapter offer advice on selecting only the best weapons found in a tool shed and ways to convince the cops that a crazy slasher really is taking out the teen population. The biggest gut-busting laughs are found in the sections dealing with the horrors of camp and misadventures in babysitting.
The book ends with an appendix that lists and briefly describes a number of horror films that are required viewing for anyone trying to survive until the final credits. Grahame-Smith gets bonus points for including Black Christmas, The Burning, Last House on the Left, Silent Night, Deadly Night, Sleepaway Camp, and Slumber Party Massacre on the list. Seeing those movies listed lets the reader know the author is a real slasher fan, not just some turkey grabbing random titles off the shelf at Blockbuster. It’s nice to see these lesser known titles (lesser known to the general public, that is) getting some positive press alongside Halloween, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
How to Survive a Horror Movie is a damn funny book but it also serves as a damn fine example of horror film criticism done right. Seth Grahame-Smith explores all of the horror cliches that we know and love but in a way that doesn’t insult the films. The writing never disparages the reader for loving characters that always find themselves on the wrong side of a bloodbath because, as a fan, Grahame-Smith also loves these elements in horror movies. The $14.95 cover price won’t completely drain your bank account like some other horror movie books (yes, I’m talking about you Crystal Lake Memories and Going to Pieces). Wes Craven provides a forward and Nathan Fox supplies plenty of gory artwork. Best of all, Graham-Smith’s survival tips can prove valuable in everyday life. The “empty a clip through the door” if there’s an unexpected knock has saved my life several times. True, I have taken out two Mormons, three postal workers, and a whole cub scout troop collecting canned food for the homeless. But, hey, better to be safe than sorry.