Monday, May 18, 2009

Behind the Mask of the Horror Actor, by Doug Bradley

(pb; 1996, 2004: cinema/biography)

From the back cover:

"Doug Bradley -- the actor who portrays the terrifying Pinhead in Clive Barker's Hellraiser film series -- provides his own unique and personal perspective on cinema monsters and the men who play them. He also briefly examines the cultural and dramatic history of the mask, from cave art through Greek theater to trick-or-treat.

"In addition to the classic horror actors Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff, Bradley covers such unforgettable characters as The Wolf Man, The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame in detail. He also discusses the European tradition, such as Jean Marais' Beast in La Belle et la Béte, the work of Vincent Price and the Hammer films of the fifties and sixties.

"Bringing the subject up to date is the resurgence of interest in modern-day movie monsters, which has spawned recent horror hits Halloween: Resurrection, Freddy Vs Jason and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, among others. With commentary from the actors behind The Texas Chainsaw Massacre's Leatherface, Freddy from A Nightmare on Elm Street, Jason from Friday the 13th and Michael from Halloween, along with his own experience of the creation of Pinhead, Bradley creates a vivid picture of exactly how it feels to be the man behind the mask."

Review:

With warmth, dry wit and knowledge born of long experience, Bradley charms as he writes about how the job of acting came to be, and how it changed as it went from shamanistic showmanship to plays to Christianized rites, then back to plays, to movies (which have visually and stylistically evolved with CGI and other technologies).

His first few chapters, about cave art, the all-important development and meanings of masks, and the evolution of plays are well-written and informed. Bradley regularly cites his information sources and goes out of his way to state that he isn't an expert on these things. What he knows is acting, and the long hours masked horror actors, as well as make-up and special effects artists, put into creating the molded illusions known as cinematic monsters.

Following chapters about workaholics Lon Chaney and Jean Marais, alcoholic Lon Chaney Jr. (sometimes billed as Lon Chaney), "easy-going and patient to a fault" Boris Karloff, and patron-of-the-arts Vincent Price are entertaining, with fun anecdotes thrown into the informative recollections.

Interview bits in following chapters are made up of: Gunnar Hansen (actor who played Leatherface in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre); stuntman Kane Hodder (who played Jason Voorhees in several Friday the 13th films, Parts VII: The New Blood through Jason X); Robert Englund (who played Freddy Krueger in the Nightmare on Elm Street films. . . quick side-note: Englund and Doug Bradley co-starred in Killer Tongue).

These interviews, coupled with Bradley's kind, practical and clever observations (one chapter is titled "Finding Pinhead Or. . .With Nails and I"), makes this an utter joy to read. I plan to own this, soon.

Clive Barker's short introduction is as warm and smart as Bradley's book. (Barker and Bradley have been friends with, and worked with, each other since they went to High School together, so Barker, like Bradley, should know what he's writing about.)

Check this out!

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