Upon first flipping through Kendall R. Phillips‘ new book, Dark Directions: Romero, Craven, Carpenter, and the Modern Horror Film, I was worried that it was going to go down the same path as Shock Value, and attempt to cover too much ground in too short a space. Thankfully, such is not the case.
Dark Directions – while, at times, covering a similar era as that of Shock Value – is a totally different book. Phillips takes the work of three directors, susses out a particular thematic thrust from each, and uses that particular theme as a lens to focus his view of each man’s work.
The particulars are what allows Dark Directions to succeed as it does. Specifically, Phillips doesn’t focus entirely on the “horror” output of each director. Recognizing that such a limited range would hamstring his work, the author brings similarly-themed “genre” pictures from the three filmmakers into his critcism, allowing for each argument to be made more fully.
With John Carpenter’s films (and, to a lesser extent, those of George Romero), the need to bring in a greater range of genre is most necessary. As Carpenter’s films include action/adventure, sci-fi, and so forth, it’s vital to include films such as Big Trouble In Little China in order to better comprehend the purpose of the drifter in They Live.
As with most works that are directed more towards a scholarly audience, rather than mass appeal, there’s a certain assumption that the reader is familiar with the works being covered. If the reader’s not viewed the films directly, there’s at least an assumed passing familiarity with each director’s overall output. In essence, Dark Directions may lose the casual reader, but there are enough touchstones along the way that most film buffs will be able to follow along.
Phillips deserves serious kudos for his admission that every director might not fit specifically into each slot the author has prepared. While Carpenter might focus his directorial vision on the frontier, he certainly has elements of the Gothic in his work, if not to the extent that Wes Craven uses them. The explanation of each director’s non-genre work is appreciated, as well.
Dark Directions makes good on its promise to place Carpenter, Craven, and George Romero within the pantheon of important ’70s filmmakers. Discussing the themes and storytelling abilities of each director, Phillips has a definitive case for their inclusion with the likes of Martin Scorcese in terms of influence.