Any book that makes me want to run out and watch a slasher movie immediately is a good read, in my opinion. The Slasher Movie Book is an artifact of nostalgia; in its pages are many great posters and movie covers from various slashers over the decades, descriptions of well-known and little-known films from around the globe, and a celebration of the violence, gore, and sexuality portrayed onscreen from the era of the Grand Guignol until now. Author J.A. Kerswell must have had a blast doing the research for this book.
It's obvious that a lot of love and affection for the slasher film went into the writing of The Slasher Movie Book - otherwise, what kind of masochistic person would put themselves through a journalistic excursion of all the slasher movies through the years? Kerswell begins by documenting why he's undertaken the job of writing about slashers in the first place - he fell in love with them, wanted to write about them, and decided that there's no better way to enjoy the film subgenre than to jump headfirst into it to share the love with others.
So begins The Slasher Movie Book's journey through the decades of slashers, beginning with the Grand Guignol period, moving through German krimi films, giallos, Gothics of the '70s, the early years of slashers like Peeping Tom and Black Christmas, and then to the heyday of the slasher that Kerswell affectionately terms the "Golden Years". He continues on after, documenting the climax of the best years and then the subsequent fall from grace until present day, where the slasher has begun to rewrite itself with remakes and sequels.
For hardcore horror fans, Kerswell's writing will be more nostalgic than educational. Much of what Kerswell touches on are the basic tenets of each era of the slasher - he lists the themes and ideas of that period's films, how they added to the slasher genre, where they led the movies, and then what films are good (or bad) examples of the slasher's power at that stage. In a sense, The Slasher Movie Book compiles a brief history of the genre and exposes how it worked and what hindered it: what films expanded the genre, what films were particularly poor at doing things correctly, and perhaps even explaining the production of some of the more popular films that helped make the slasher genre what it is today (Halloween, Friday the 13th).
Less time is spent on the eras before the Golden Age, but that's to be expected - the book is not titled The Giallo Book, or The Krimi Book, after all. But I would like to see Kerswell expand into those areas, because he does a good job taking a look at each of these subgenres but never dives in headfirst. Likewise, Kerswell does a fantastic job of summarizing each decade of the slasher genre, but he never provides much of his own analysis when it comes to writing about how the slasher genre works. The history lesson works well, but a section on Kerswell's own viewpoints and analysis of what makes the slasher genre tick would have been more personal and insightful for horror fans who know much of the slasher film history.
Still, for horror buffs, there's a lot of nostalgia incorporated within this book. For those who are interested in the subject matter but haven't seen a lot of slashers, consider the book a must-have. Either way, it's a substantial tome to have sitting on your coffee table, and its presentation is simply excellent. A fast read all around as well, meaning there will be many times where you may want to refer back for a specific movie title or genre example.