All-Star Horror Line-Up

Hollywood has never fully accepted the horror genre as legitimate cinema, mostly viewing it as a cheap and disposable genre beneath the dignity of serious filmmakers. Originally airing on AMC, Eli Roth’s History of Horror takes a deep dive into what makes horror tick with an engaging topical survey of the genre’s landmark films and iconic characters. Everything from The Exorcist to Gremlins to the original Halloween receives coverage. Few horror classics are truly missing.

Interviewing an incredibly deep list of stars and filmmakers connected to horror, the slickly-produced retrospective covers a wide range of subjects over its first season. The first season spans seven episodes, each covering their own topics in this order: Zombies, Slashers Part 1, Slashers Part 2, The Demon Inside, Killer Creatures, Vampires and Ghost Stories.

Noted horror director and passionate genre fan Eli Roth serves as host. While his own movies are polarizing in terms of fan reception, no one disputes his unabashed enthusiasm for horror cinema’s long history. Roth inserts himself a little too much into the proceedings. His lazy round-table discussions with special effects guru Greg Nicotero and Rob Zombie are often unnecessary, as Rob Zombie barely contributes anything. The series functions okay here in spite of Roth’s uninspired contributions.

Eli Roth’s History of Horror takes a deep dive into what makes horror tick with an engaging topical survey of the genre’s landmark films

So many famous names in the field appear that it’s hard listing them all. Interviews with Stephen King, Quentin Tarantino, Leonard Maltin, Anne Rice, Roger Corman, Mary Harron, Jordan Peele, Jason Blum, Robert Englund, Linda Blair, Tippi Hedren, Rob Zombie, Haley Joel Osment, Jack Black, John Landis, Jamie Lee Curtis, Elijah Wood, Slash, and many other stars pop up.

More than mere clips, each guest comments on the genre from different perspectives in fairly thoughtful answers. Some are here merely as fans, while others detail their own experiences working on horror movies and what it means to them.

Beyond the celebrity guests, there’s a heavy bent towards directors and producers that have successfully worked in horror. Many Hollywood insiders and a few academic types appear, mostly to contextualize the genre’s tropes and cliches. Some discussions are insightful, properly placing films in their historical context. However, there’s a tendency to overreach on the cultural analysis that often weighs down the weaker episodes. The show’s producers go overboard attempting to deconstruct many classic horror films with a post-modern outlook.

Breezily edited with many clips taken from horror classics, each episode jumps around from guest to guest discussing relevant themes and inspirational influences. There is an emphasis on how horror has evolved over the years, examining the genre’s impact on society. The series also delves into the reasons behind horror’s growing success as a genre and why audiences desire it.

Featuring a stellar line-up of horror writers, directors, actors, cinematographers, composers, and special effects artists, some episodes are better than others. Vampire cinema is nicely covered with a quick overview of Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee, before moving on to more recent vamp classics such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula from Francis Ford Coppola. The episode on demon possession flicks is a miss, sadly. Slashers are covered extensively over two episodes, breaking them up into different time periods.

Eli Roth’s History of Horror is a well-meaning, well-produced survey of the genre despite a few notable gaps of coverage in season one such as foreign films. Season Two is currently airing on AMC with different films and new subjects receiving focus. The series is at its best when exploring the sheer fun of scary movies, the craft that goes into making them, and how horror films often reflect the anxieties of their day.

There’s probably nothing new for hardcore fans entrenched in horror but the overall program offers enough gold to outweigh the negatives.

Video

Made for AMC, Eli Roth’s History of Horror has excellent picture quality at 1080P resolution on BD. The fantastic production values produce an even, well-mastered 1.78:1 presentation. This is much better-looking video than any cable production deserves and easily surpasses the original HDTV broadcast version.

Spreading the seven episodes over a BD-50 and a BD-25 allows for a generous AVC encode that perfectly captures the different clips and numerous interviews in vivid, detailed quality. The integration of classic horror scenes and new HD interviews is nigh perfect. Kudos to the show’s editors.

The superb definition offers sharp, revealing clarity. AMC clearly sunk real money into this project behind the scenes and didn’t skimp when shooting the interviews. Shadows feature deep black levels and refined delineation.

Audio

The 2.0 DTS-HD MA audio provides a serviceable soundtrack for the cable documentary series. Dialogue coming from the talking heads is crisply and intelligibly rendered without getting lost in the numerous playback of horror clips. There’s a nice sensibility and atmosphere due to the sound design, which definitely takes a page out of scoring horror movies. The stereo mix has booming bass and a well-defined soundstage.

Optional English SDH subtitles play in a white font.

Extras

RLJ Entertainment serves up a three-disc set with a rather ordinary slipcover. The seven episodes are spread over the first two discs, while the third disc holds all bonus features. Without having tested it myself, the Blu-rays are listed as Region A.

The extended interviews included as bonuses are sometimes more entertaining than the show itself. Often revealing and even funny, the extended interviews are essential viewing. These special features are definitely worth checking out and include comments that went unaired during the show.

How “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein” Influenced Tarantino (02:01 in HD) – The legendary director discusses what he took from the classic monster comedy.

How Video Games Resurrected Zombie Movies (01:35 in HD) – Greg Nicotero discusses the impact of popular zombie video games.

Is Horror Sexist Or Feminist? (02:42 in HD)

Making a Monster (02:48 in HD) – Actors like Robert Englund and Tony Todd discuss how they shaped the monsters they played in horror.

Scarred For Life (03:22 in HD)

Extended Interviews

Stephen King (14:51 in HD)

Quentin Tarantino (24:09 in HD)

Roger Corman (19:14 in HD)

Joe Dante (19:50 in HD)

Edgar Wright (22:30 in HD)

Diablo Cody (12:25 in HD)

John Landis (24:28 in HD)

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

History of Horror
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A star-studded, topical overview of the horror genre from Eli Roth with an occasionally rewarding but uneven first season.

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