Behind the Mask of the Horror Actor

Author: Doug Bradley
Titan Books
RRP 10.99, US $14.95
ISBN 1 84023 807 0
Available 23 July 2004

Actor Doug Bradley, who portrays Pinhead in Clive Barker's Hellraiser films, gives his own guide to cinema monsters and the men who portray them, including legends Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff, and unforgettable creatures like The Wolf Man, Frankenstein's Monster, The Phantom of the Opera and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He also examines the many roles the mask has played throughout time, and the physical rigours that actors who play monsters must endure...

Behind The Mask Of The Horror Actor is a slightly updated version of a book first published back in 1996 under the full title, Sacred Monsters: Behind The Mask Of The Horror Actor. Writer Doug Bradley, the actor behind the Pinhead character in the eleventy-eight or so Hellraiser movies, essentially splits the book into five sections. The early chapters trace the origins of masks from Palaeolithic cave art, through shamanism and into drama, giving the roots as power or another identity, thereby implying that another appearance breeds an alternative persona. This is all very informative, but it's not what the main essence of the book is about. This section is not helped by the writing style of Bradley, whose inexperience in the field of penmanship shows by being stilted and formal rather than flowing to maintain interest.

Part two covers the silent era of cinema, incorporating Lon Chaney, and part three follows the golden age of early horror films and actors such as Boris Karloff, Charles Laughton and Lon Chaney Jnr., all in relation to masks or heavy make-up. Section four concentrates on Vincent Price (and in particular his Dr. Phibes contributions) and Christopher Lee in his many Hammer productions.

It's fortunate I managed to stay awake this long, because the saving grace of this book is the last section, The Sons of Ten Thousand Maniacs. Some of these chapters are split neatly in two; on one hand explaining which slasher movie was making an impact at the time (along with snippets of interviews with directors and more significantly the experiences of the man behind the relevant mask), and on the other following the progress of Bradley at the same moments in time. For example, whilst Gunnar Hansen was getting to grips with Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Bradley was contemplating going to university. He had met horror fiction writer Clive Barker at senior school and become part of his theatre group.

By the time John Carpenter's Halloween went into production and Nick Castle was donning the immortal mask of Michael Myers, Doug Bradley was hitting the theatres with the same group, walking the boards under many aliases while Clive Barker's prolific pen never dried up.

There are also chapters on Robert Englund's portrayal of Freddy Krueger from the A Nightmare On Elm Street films, and Kane Hodder's experiences playing the hockey mask-wearing Jason Vorhees of some of the Friday The Thirteenth sequels.

Bradley gets his point across. Horror actors (and indeed people in general) in masks or heavy make-up are not only perceived differently by others, but also see the world differently themselves. They essentially become the character they are portraying. So it's not hard to imagine how powerful a totem a mask would have been to a tribal leader or shaman.

This book could have been so much better (Titan Books' record is pretty good), but three things make it average rather than outstanding.

One is the aforementioned Bradley's boring writing style. I found myself much more interested in the exploits of other actors than Bradley himself, because the others wrote or spoke their experiences in anecdotes which is as it should be. I'm sorry, but "I went here and I did this..." for example, wouldn't excite a molecule.

The second thing is the pictures. The black and white photos are very dark and badly reproduced, and even the handful of colour photos in the centre of the book are not that good.

Finally, while certain sections appear to have been updated from the original publication, there are blaring omissions from others. Text simply halts at the speculation of movies which have been and gone years before. Even a footnote to say "Since then this, this and this has happened.." would have been something.

Ty Power

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