Lee Gambin is easily one of Fangoria’s most talented and passion-driven scribes. If you’ve read his stuff you’ll surely agree. So it goes without saying that his first full-blown book is something to be ecstatic about, particularly if you’re a horror film fan and enjoy reading bits of bloody fanzines. Yours truly is an enthusiast of both of these things, so I was eager to dive right into the pages the instant Gambin emailed me a PDF of his book — which was, at the time, pending release.
Massacred by Mother Nature: Exploring the Natural Horror Film does exactly what the title promises and then some. Now, from the get-go, I couldn’t recall seeing too many horror films that fell under the “natural” or “ecological” sub-genre, but upon further reading it occurred to me how truly out of touch I am with the frightening flora and fauna of such films. I’ve always been an avid viewer and reader of horror, but I think I’ve failed to more deeply inspect the darkened moss-covered corners of the genre, and the creepy crawlies and furry fiends that dwell there.
I don’t think I’ve ever had the sheer pleasure of reading something so enlightening, assertive and persuasive as Massacred by Mother Nature. After reading the first couple of chapters I made a point of having a notepad and pen close by for me to jot down titles of movies that I absolutely must see. I couldn’t believe just how vast the spectrum of natural horror really is. Gambin covers everything from Arachnophobia, to The Birds, Cujo, Empire of the Ants, Frogs, Grizzly, Jaws, Orca, Piranha, Willard and at least a dozen other titles. Not only does he cover the basics of ecological/natural horror, but he really breaks free from the conventions of the sub-genre and informatively makes note of films that, by some, may not even be regarded as from the realm of ecological or natural horror — Godzilla for example.
What really blew me out of the killer fish infested waters is Gambin’s highly academic yet conversational approach to the subject matter. Sure I may not be all-too familiar with some of the titles that are mentioned in Massacred, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what these movies are about, on the surface anyway. Gambin possesses the superior knowledge of a film school scholar, someone who may have studied cinema for years at a prestigious post-secondary institution. But realistically, he’s just a very talented and eccentric writer who’s lifeblood likely contains fragments of celluloid — that is just how adeptly in-tune he is with the movies that he holds so dearly in his heart.
A seasoned niche writer, Gambin made the wise choice of opening his book with forwards from four very important people in horror (natural horror, particularly) as to really engage his readers from the very beginning. Those four people are Fangoria’s Editor-in-Chief, Chris Alexander; starlit of the silver-screen adaptation of Stephen King’s Cujo, Dee Wallace; master craftsmen of ecological horror, Bert I. Gordon (Food of the Gods, Empire of the Ants); and young starlit of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, Veronica Cartwright. Each of these people share some very reverential words regarding Lee’s first book writing endeavour, and also some very revealing, illuminating highlights of the movies that each of them helped bring to life on the silver screen.
Similarly to how the book opens, it ends with a chapter chock-full of exposition-filled interviews with cast and crew members of some of the ecological/natural horror films featured throughout prior chapters (and some that aren’t), as well as some brief but vibrant summaries of Gambin’s favourite most memorable movie moments, hair-raising scare sequences and factual tidbits on the supreme gore and special FX that many of these movies have to offer. One installment that I particularly enjoyed is Gambin’s interview with Brooke Theiss of A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 fame, who’s brush with Mr. Krueger had her transformed into her greatest fear — a human-sized cockroach! One wouldn’t even think to see The Dream Master touched on in a book about natural horror, but as I mentioned earlier in this review, the essence of Gambin’s writing here is how he breaks free from the conventions of the sub-genre of study and explores nether regions that come as a complete, pleasant surprise to the readers.
The real guts and grue of Massacred by Mother Nature lies within the pages upon pages of synopsis’, reviews and beautiful images of the ecological/natural horror films that Gambin includes. And I can’t forget to mention the fervent sophisticated voice that Gambin uses to summarize the abundance of social commentary that each of these movies are riddled with (highlighted according to the era in which they were made, of course). As a horror fan, it is truly thrilling to be provided with such heavy insight into the motives that have driven filmmakers to create such spectacular genre fare, and I think this is where Gambin achieves the most success with his book.
If you’re an enthusiast of ecological/natural horror films you absolutely must treat yourself with a copy of Massacred by Mother Nature. Even if you’re just looking to acquire some new knowledge and add to your list of “Must See Movies” then you should also do yourself a favour and read this book. Even better yet, do a good deed and support an incredibly talented writer. Look for more of Lee Gambin’s stuff in your monthly issue of Fangoria.
Massacred by Mother Nature: Exploring the Natural Horror Film was published in 2012 by Midnight Marquee Press, Inc.