Why I like Movie Psychos and Madmen by John McCarty
1) I must have been 13 or 14 years old when I discovered this book. We were in the Barnes & Noble in Jack London Square for some day trip. I toddled over to the movie sections, looking for books on horror. I'd been reading stuff like Splatter Movies and Men, Women, and Chainsaws. I found Movie Psychos and Madmen on the shelf and flipped open the book. Included among its often-scary photos was a portrait of both Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees. How could I turn it down?
2) The book is a comprehensive history of madmen in cinema, written in a conversational style. Splatter Movies was too informal and Men, Women, and Chainsaws was too academic. Movie Psychos was approachable. I could grasp it at my age, yet it still retained enough history and insight to be rewarding upon constant rereads.
3) Movie Psychos was my first introduction to film history. I'd never heard of German expressionism before, but the book taught me about Dr. Mabuse and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I'd never heard of the post-Psycho run of lunatics. It was the first book to teach me about that film had a fantastic legacy to discover.
4) The book also gave me the best framework I've ever used for human psychology. Because McCarty isn't a psychologist but an excellent observer of narrative, he treats cinematic character's psychoses like storylines. Every story is a puzzle, with every subtle or overt act of madness a clue. The more I get to know people, the more I realize that we're constantly dropping clues about ourselves. Movie psychos are simply more obvious in their signals.
5) I was initially interested in the book because it had a chapter on slasher monsters, but the book is dismissive of Michael, Jason, and their ilk. For all their campfire-story intensity they aren't particularly full of depth. I was initially frustrated, but the film challenged me to ask more from my horror. Scary movies could be more than their body count. The twists of the human mind made every psycho into their own private haunted house.
Conclusion: Movie Psychos and Madmen trained my brain in how to analyze both stories and people. It gave me a passion for the exploring the depth of cinema. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to McCarty. His book provided my first instruction on critical thought. Movie Psychos is part of the DNA of this blog, my podcast, and all the other output that comes from being a horror fan.