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Horror and Mystery Photoplay Editions and Magazine Fictionizations
Thomas Mann
McFarland & Company, 184 pages

Horror and Mystery Photoplay Editions and Magazine Fictionizations
Thomas Mann
Thomas Mann, a former private investigator, is a reference librarian at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Trent Walters

Thomas Mann's Horror and Mystery Photoplay Editions and Magazine Fictionizations, available through MacFarland (, 800-253-2187), is a curiosity. It covers a period of books made inspired from film, which morphed into what we know today as the movie tie-in. The author writes why he began collecting: "At the time, I usually assumed I would never get to see all the movies to which photoplay books were linked," noting that he could not have anticipated the invention of the DVD and cable TV. Yet one wonders if, as a collector's item of lasting value, this is its primary limitation for his generation, but the author goes to explain why they have other value:

"I have found, however, that many of the films... are now 'lost' to everyone, and the photo-illustrated book or magazine novelizations of them that remain are indeed likely to continue being our closest means of approximating the experience of their stories."
Also, found on occasion among these fictionizations are lost scenes that had been censored from the film, such as a spider pit scene from King Kong in which Kong tosses sailors from a log into a den of giant spiders (Mann also excerpts this scene for the reader in his introduction -- a gruesome scene, indeed. This novelization is apparently considered the most desirable -- a condition potentially exacerbated by Peter Jackson's remake). Moreover, as another potential for interesting future collectors, movie stars may still have currency beyond the generations who grew up adoring them.

Mann includes a comparison of four different beginnings of the magazine fictionizations of The Mummy, showing how much each can differ stylistically, diving into the movie from various angles. Some of the stories depart from the scripts of the original films, and in the 60s the authors were apparently required to add "sex" scenes. Also, Mann enjoys how early fictionizations captured the cultural sensitivities and assumptions of the earlier generations. He quotes extensively from the text and extra-textual material (descriptions of other popular books by the same publisher found at the back of the photoplay) to demonstrate his point.

Mann digresses (but interestingly enough) on the evolving state of filmed horror, moving from early rich estates where evil dwelled only among the eccentric, to crime syndicates of evil after World War II, to mindless omnipresent slasher evil (a date he does not state but marks the climbing dissent against the Vietnam War) begun for him by Night of the Living Dead, a film he laments as allowing evil to remain uncontained by the end. I'm not sure I agree. Not only is evil being rounded up, but also the film had something deeper to say that many slasher movies did not. A heroic end for our protagonist is denied, sadly, but that packs an emotive punch and in so doing, the film asks us if the mob acting as a knee-jerk lynchers can tell who the evil are.

Perhaps the most curious digression is Mann's pleasure over the previous book owners, whom he even tried to contact. I can't say that I don't share a similar fascination as I've been curious about the scrawling in my used book (this appeared in my copy of James E. Gunn's The Witching Hour in a looping, possibly feminine hand although many of the letters are tight suggesting masculinity: "Leon--All 3 stories Very good." with "very" underlined three times). But Mann used to be a private investigator and flaunts his clear talent to convincingly decode the details of the previous owners from seemingly irrelevant clues, discovering the owners' ages, physical disability, and reading conditions.

Mann, now a reference librarian at the Library of Congress, must be as talented an investigator of digging up photoplays themselves as I could not find a few of the titles he mentioned after various searches on Ebay, Half, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Fetchbook. To collect this kind of work must require a sleuthing beyond mere mortals such as myself.

One of the lost film fictionizations, "The Gorilla," is actually included in the appendix of this book, helping the book place this genre of "literature" into its context. Together with the preface and introduction one gets a good sense of the attractions such a collection might hold. The weight of the book -- about one hundred pages out of one hundred seventy-eight -- covers a checklist of some five hundred of such books. Therefore, Mann's book is designed for those who want to pursue such a collection; however, the author states that other books are more comprehensive, so the audience this book truly serves is those wanting to test the waters of such an endeavor, to know what the attractions are, and in that regard, the book is a smashing success.

Copyright © 2004 Trent Walters

Trent Walters' work has appeared or will appear in The Distillery, Fantastical Visions, Full Unit Hookup, Futures, Glyph, Harpweaver, Nebo, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Speculon, Spires, Vacancy, The Zone and blah blah blah. He has interviewed for, Speculon and the Nebraska Center for Writers. More of his reviews can be found here. When he's not studying medicine, he can be seen coaching Notre Dame (formerly with the Minnesota Vikings as an assistant coach), or writing masterpieces of journalistic advertising, or making guest appearances in a novel by E. Lynn Harris. All other rumored Web appearances are lies.

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