It is one of the most familiar faces from Hollywood: huge, boxy forehead, heavy lidded eyes, railroad-track surgical scars, and bolt through the neck. Frankenstein (or more properly, Frankenstein's monster), in a gorgeous, detailed black and white photo (which for all the fussing over its production would have been called a glamour shot if the subject were someone else) stares from the cover of _Hollywood Horror: From Gothic to Cosmic_ (Harry N. Abrams) by Mark A. Vieira. In his Acknowledgements section, Vieira thanks his dad for letting him watch horror movies "on the Early Show, the Late, Late Show, and everything between." He also thanks him for making trips so he could buy _Famous Monsters_ magazines. One cannot doubt that he has a lifelong enthusiasm for his subject, and the format of his book makes this clear. It has large, glossy pages filled with black and white images of celluloid nightmares, and most of them are by the studio photographers (some of them famous, like Ernest Bachrach) who were responsible for the stills that would sell the film to the public. Although for many the pictures will be the show, Vieira's intelligent text and cataloguing of the films is worth reading on its own.
Vieira has chronologically divided the genre into the Gothic, Psychic, Atomic, and Cosmic. Boris Karloff's career stretches over them all, starting from his Frankenstein role, for which his costume weighed all of 48 pounds. Dracula and Frankenstein made lots of money, with violence and the sexuality (both of which seem wonderfully understated in our times) before the Production Code came out drew the "grandstanding censure of women's clubs, clergymen, and politicians." The Psychic section of the book is largely given to the films of Val Lewton, who refused to go along with any previous horror formula. Cutting in mere suggestions of horror into a love story about normal people was just what budget-conscious RKO went for. The Atomic years were a reaction to the atmosphere of the Cold War, and routine horror films "began to portray science as a tool more evil than Dr. Frankenstein had ever anticipated." The first of many films to show how nuclear devices could bring forth monsters was 1953's _The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms_, with a custom-designed dinosaur awakened by an atomic test. Vieira ends with the Cosmic films, paying most attention to a movie monster that is among the most realistic ever, and which has caused more serious analysis than even Frankenstein's monster: HAL the computer from _2001_. The years tick by and we have yet to make a machine nearly as smart (or fortunately, as diabolical) as HAL.
The final portion of the book also includes films that are quite dissimilar from the monster movies covered in other pages. In a book like this, one will always think of films that ought to have been included or excluded, but Vieira is calling the shots. He has included _Psycho_, which is not really a monster film but has plenty of terror. For real scares, read about how Alfred Hitchcock treated Tippi Hedren during the shooting of the filming of the climactic sequence of _The Birds_, or how Frank Sinatra treated Mia Farrow while she was making _Rosemary's Baby_. Also here are _Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?_ and _Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte_, in which the real monsters are the actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, aging grandes dames of cinema, who were at each other's throats onstage and off. There are some eccentric choices here, but Vieira's book is a fine-looking survey of a genre of films that, like so many of their monsters depicted, just does not die, and if it does, it comes back with surprising transformations.