Seven years ago, 101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die and 101 Sci-Fi Movies You Must See Before You Die both went out of print. Starting Saturday October 1st, they’re coming back in a big way in a small format. These are collections of photos and mini-essays about what the editor, Stephen Jay Schneider, and other critics have deemed the most 101 most important horror and science fiction films. Rather than a deep analysis, these books serve as genre primers or encyclopedias.
The books measure 5” by 6” by 1 1/4”, an odd size for a book because it’s so tall and narrow, but it allows them to reproduce film posters and still frames in an extremely high quality. It pays off. These books are gorgeous. The pictures fit the size perfectly, and the smaller format allows for high quality reproduction while keeping the price point at an affordable $14.95.
The pictures from each film are accompanied a two-page essay. The essays aren’t written solely by series editor Stephen Jay Schneider, but rather by him and a team of thirty-nine other scholars in 101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die and thirty-four other writers in 101 Sci-Fi Movies You Must See Before You Die. The mix of voices precludes a uniformity in the style which the two-page essays are written or the topics they address. The best essays force the reader to reconsider films, inspiring them to watch movies they’ve seen many times before again. In his analysis of Don’t Look Now, Frank Lafond writes the movie is, “first and foremost, a visual poem that relies more or less upon noticeable rhymes and suggestive connections. The film puts to the front the feeling of decay and melancholy that Venice can indeed create” (197, 101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die). It urges the reader to go back to look for those rhymes and to feel Venice. The worst essays in the books simply summarize films. The two-page, point by point breakdowns of what happens takes away the need to see a film the reader hasn’t already and bores the reader who has. Thankfully, there are much more of the former than the latter in both books.
The books order the films chronologically, starting in the early 1900s and ending in the 2010s, and in that way offer they offer histories of their respective genres. I had no idea how important German Impressionism was to the beginnings of horror, but going through the early entries in the book it became quite clear. This arrangement also highlights the importance of individual years: a whopping 5 of the 101 horror movies came out in 1932. Reading about the movies in chronological also lets readers see how and what movies influence one another or didn’t. It’s extremely informative to see that Psycho came out the same year as Peeping Tom—making it nearly impossible to say one influenced the other though they deal with similar issues—and to see how both of those movies, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Deep Red influenced Halloween visually and thematically.
If you’re looking for an actual list, these books unfortunately haven’t put one together. While each book is 101 movies in order, neither book lists the movie titles in the table of contents, instead only giving the page numbers for each decade. The choice could’ve been made so that the reader would read the essays and look at the photographs in order, but does make it a challenge to find essays again or to go through and check off the movies the reader has seen.
Whether you’re coming to horror or sci-fi new and looking for an entry point or you’re a long-time fan, these books offer great genre overviews and insights from leading film critics and scholars. These two entries into the 101 Movies You Must See Series are complementary, with Alien, Videodrome, The Thing, and other classics appearing in 101 Sci-Fi Movies You Must See Before You Die and Frankenstein (an adaptation of the novel widely credited with starting the science fiction genre) and Bride of Frankenstein appearing in 101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die. They look beautiful on the coffee table (where mine will live now that I’ve read them) and have something to teach any fan of genre movies. 101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die is available for $14.95 plus shipping and handling here and 101 Sci-Fi Movies You Must See Before You Die is available for $14.95 plus shipping and handling here.