For fans of a certain age-old age, the video store is a haven of a bygone era. For fans with even more gray hairs, they remember video stores littered with shot-on-video movies. These movies weren’t produced by major studios and were usually shot on whatever qualifies as less than a shoestring budget. Before YouTube was even an idea, much less a thing, this was how diehard fans, who just wanted to add their voices to the deafening echo the home video market amplified, got their work into homes.
As with most DIY projects, horror was the flavor these creatives dabbled in during the VHS boom of the 1980s and ’90s. After tackling the former with Bleeding Skull! A 1980s Trash-Horror Odyssey, Joseph A. Ziemba, Annie Choi, and Zack Carlson show the same love, care, and attention to detail for the latter with Bleeding Skull! A 1990s Trash-Horror Odyssey. The book isn’t just a damn-near comprehensive catalog of “trash-horror” of the decade, but it’s also a love letter to the fans who make horror the best genre in film today.
Despite its size and an insane amount of content, the book isn’t intimidating. The authors don’t assume their readers know what they know. They even admit when they’re watching something for the first time. The casual approach makes for an easily accessible book for novices and seasoned veterans alike.
Each flick is given a short, personalized blurb lauding the good and the bad while always emphasizing what makes these movies worth your time. They do the usual “synopsis, plot description” thing but inject enough personal commentary to make even the most mundane film sound like an undiscovered gem. This reads less like an encyclopedia and more like three horror fans having a conversation with the rest of us in the corner at a Halloween party. While we can’t talk back— if you want to talk back to your book, feel free—the passion is easy to recognize.
The always-evident love of the genre is what makes the book necessary for all horror fans. The authors understand the simple, secret handshake to get into the horror kids club: accept everything. We don’t hold our noses up to look down on a movie, nor do we believe dope production values signal quality. Horror fans constantly chase the high of the very first movie that scared us to death, and every new experience, no matter where we find it, is a chance to achieve that goal. The Gifted came out in ’91, but it’s brand new for me, and I’m sure a lot of people reading this are in the same boat. Now, going strictly by the film’s IMDB summary, it doesn’t sound like my particular brand of water. But after reading Carlson’s write-up, I’m mad I just found out the movie existed. The authors aren’t selling these movies to anyone but those who already speak the language fluently.
If you grew up with only a Blockbuster in your town or city during this era, as I did, none of these movies even sound vaguely familiar. These are the horror offerings found in smaller video stores doing their best to compete with the yellow and blue behemoth. Like a lot of movies from that era, they’re unfortunately lost to time. Bleeding Skull! A 1990s Trash-Horror Anthology ensures that while these cool posters and VHS covers may be gone, we will not forget them.
Horror thrives when it remembers its entire history. This written odyssey is an emphatic reminder that all of horror’s history matters, especially the trashy and weird parts.