I grew up during the home video boom, which meant I saw lots of cult sci-fi and horror films that I would otherwise have been unable to see at such a young age, like The Evil Dead (1981).
project is the result of a lifelong
love of genre filmmaking. Fantasy, horror
and science fiction movies shaped my
childhood, and while some critics may
still consider them juvenile or lowbrow,
to me they are the most important kind
of films. The best examples of this genre not only transport the audience to another world, they also tell us a great deal about our own. Plus they usually have monsters and 'splosions and hearts being ripped out and other cool stuff.
My earliest movie memories are of Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977) - the former traumatized me so much that I was scared of sharks even when swimming in a pool, while the latter kick started my inner fantasy world. I knew even from an early age that the fantasy genre was where I felt most at home and as I grew older I resisted the urge to treat fantasy as something for kids, not worthy of the same level of discussion as serious dramatic cinema.
Many of these films were classed as video nasties, but I don’t believe they warped me in anyway (apart from occasionally drinking the blood of virgins and small puppies, but hey, who hasn’t?). Although I was often scared by some of these films, there was something comforting about them too. The most terrifying screen monster is nothing compared to the horrors of real life we learn about when we grow up.
This is not an attempt to cover every significant feature film in those genres, which is why I have chosen 1975 as a starting point (coincidentally the year of my birth!). Although that means that
I won’t be able to write about
such classics as King
Kong (1933), The
Wizard of Oz (1939), The
Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
A Space Odyssey (1968), I felt it
was important (and, frankly, a lot easier)
to limit myself to reviews of more recent
fantasy films, some of which have yet
to be extensively written about on a
If you want to read about
fantasy, horror and sci-fi films from
before 1975, I highly recommend the
following books: "Fantastic Cinema"
(a seminal book by Peter Nicholls, and
a major influence on this project),
"The Primal Screen: A History of
Science Fiction Film" (John Brosnan),
"Danse Macabre" (Stephen King)
and "Nightmare Movies" (Kim
For me, the mid-seventies seemed like
a logical beginning as it saw the rise
of two filmmakers who would define the
fantasy genre for modern audiences and
spawn countless imitators to this day
In all my reviews, I’ve tried to maintain a balance between an objective overview and injecting personal opinion
where I feel it’s of interest.
I should also warn you that there will
be some plot revelations in my reviews (and the images that accompany them) that
may count as spoilers, although I’ve
tried to avoid transcribing the whole
story scene by scene for the most part.
George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. Jaws, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) are important films for pretty much every movie fan that grew up in the seventies and early eighties. Those movies not only crafted the template for modern Hollywood blockbusters (much to the chagrin of those who think Lucas and Spielberg killed the art of cinema) but they took stories and archetypes that were mainly the domain of B movies and turned them into big budget pictures with mass appeal.
You won’t find any detailed writings
on the production of the films in question.
I do throw out some behind the scenes
tidbits where relevant, but I feel there
are more than enough “making of”
books on the market, and spending too
much time discussing the production
process can be a little tedious. I’m
far more interested in what’s
on the screen, and the reactions to
a film after its release.
As I personally believe that fantasy,
perhaps more than any other genre, owes
its success to a group of key auteurs,
the first section of Imaginary Cinema
deals with the directors that I believe
have had the most influence over the
genre in the last 30 years.
It’s an eclectic group, from the crowd-pleasing showmen Lucas and Spielberg, through the twisted and personal fantasies (or nightmares) of Tim Burton and David Cronenberg, to the epic and obsessively detailed films of James Cameron and Peter Jackson.
Obviously, there will be some important talents people think I have overlooked, and I apologise in advance for my bias for directors working in the Hollywood system. Since I hope Imaginary
Cinema will be an evolving project, I may well add directors later on that are only just starting to make their
impact on the genre (Bryan Singer is one name that springs to mind).
In the chapters on each director I’ve
covered every fantasy film they’ve
directed as well as any other genre
projects they’ve been directly
involved with (either as writers or
hands-on producers). To give a full
overview of a filmmaker's work, I will
briefly mention their non-genre projects
After the directors section, the next
three chapters (when I finish them) will focus on other fantasy,
horror and sci-fi feature films since
1975. I have to admit my categorization
of films is purely subjective, and I’m
sure some people will complain that
I’ve put certain films into the
wrong genre. Sci-fi and fantasy seem
relatively easy to define (while they
are both speculative fiction, the former
usually offers some rational explanation
for the incredible events, while the
latter needs no explanation) but there
are many films that blur the boundaries
of the genre.
Kill Kill Kill Kill Kill ...
Horror is even trickier to pin down. I’ve tried to limit myself only to films that feature a supernatural plotline, but again there are some that defy easy classification. There are horror films that have no supernatural elements, while some supernatural films don’t really fit into the horror category. There’s a very fine line between horror and plain old psychological thriller. Many people would class films like The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and Seven (1995) as horror (and rightly so) but since they’re about human monsters, I don’t believe they really belong in a discussion of fantasy cinema.
The exception is slasher films such as the Friday the 13th franchise. Even though many of those films have a human antagonist, they have little to do with the reality of serial killers, so I have reviewed some of the key works in that influential subgenre.
gone wild films are another gray area,
but I've decided to include films where
the animals are treated as if they were
monsters, such as the aforementioned Jaws, as well as films like Cujo (1983), Arachnophobia (1990) and Snakes
On a (muthafuckin') Plane (2006).
The fantasy, horror and sci-fi chapters
are also divided into subsections examining
the different types of films in each
genre, from obvious ones likes vampires
and time travel, to less obvious subgenres
such as Cyberpunk. While I’ve
tried to include all the films I feel
are important to these genres, I’ve
deliberately chosen not to put a great
deal of focus on TV movies and direct
to video (or DVD) releases. While there
are some gems among them, I felt it
would take attention away from what
is meant to be a celebration of big
screen fantasy. I’ve also left
out most spoofs of the genre, except
in the rare case where the parody itself
is a landmark film.
The next section deals with miscellaneous
films that don't fit into the above
categories. The first chapter of this
section focuses on animated feature
films. While it could be argued that
all animated movies fit into the fantasy
category - what with the preponderance
of talking animals and cartoon physics
- I’ve tried to focus on films
that have an obviously fantastical story
that just happens to be told in animation
My rule of thumb is: if the unreal elements are put into the story just to help us relate to the characters (the aforementioned talking, anthropomorphized animals found in 99% of animated movies) then it’s not fantasy. Hopefully that makes sense to someone other than me.
The next chapter in this section covers Foreign Fantasy Cinema. This examines the sometimes-overlooked films that don’t come from Hollywood or the English-speaking cinema world. Many of the most exciting fantasy directors working today (such as Guillermo Del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón) got their start in foreign cinema and some continue to make foreign language films to this day.
Look, I've seen a foreign fantasy film! It was about a Delicatessen, but I forget what it's called
that, the following chapter deals with
all the films adapted from the work
of author Stephen
King. With around ten million or
so adaptations and movies influenced
by his work at last count, King is virtually
a genre by himself. Though he's only
actually directed one of these films,
the poorly received Maximum
Overdrive (1987), he has written
the screenplays for a number of other
films. His books (and subsequent adaptations)
have had such a big impact on the horror
genre that I felt he deserved his own
Finally, I’ll also include some
fun things in the appendices, such as
my personal recommendations for the
DVDs every fantasy, horror and sci-fi
fan should own. This list is by no means
exhaustive, as there are classic titles
being released and re-released every
year. But it should give the reader
an idea of some of the best genre DVDs
to seek out if they don’t own
I’ve tried to review
the DVDs that have the most interesting
extra features to give people value
for money, although some films are worth
owning regardless of how many special
features there have. You’ll also
have noticed I’ve stepped outside
the boundaries of this project to review
DVDs of films from before 1975. That’s
simply because it’s the one area
I felt I could pay respect to the fantasy
classics of the golden age without making
Imaginary Cinema too broad in scope.
I hope Imaginary Cinema will give newcomers
an insight into the depth and variety
fantasy films have to offer, while perhaps
offering longtime genre fans a fresh
look at some of their favourite (and
not so favourite) movies. If it proves
successful, this will become an ongoing
project that I can update whenever important
new genre films are released (or when
I catch up with some old ones).
And now comes the part where I say something
cheesy like, “Prepare yourself,
as we journey into the world of Imaginary
Cinema!” Except I won’t.
THE CHAPTER ON DIRECTOR TIM BURTON