The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film
by Michael Weldon
St. Martin’s Press/Griffin | 1996
Trade paperback | 646 Pages
1st U.S. edition
My love for Michael Weldon’s 1983 book, The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, is well known to my friends and longtime readers of my websites. Much of the early drive of my original blog, The Cinema 4 Pylon, was dedicated to playing catch up (in a series of posts that went by the title “Psychotronic Ketchup”) in trying to see all of the films within that book, a volume which contained roughly 3,000 film titles of the not exactly “middle of the road” variety.
If there is a book within my library that I consider to be a “bible,” though not in a truly religious sense at all, of course, it is Weldon’s Encyclopedia. As rough hewn and lowbrow as it is, for a fan of so-called “trash” cinema, it is indispensable. Before that book, which was published by Ballantine Books at roughly the same time I started working for a book chain in Anchorage, Alaska, Weldon put out a fanzine (that I never saw back in the day) called Psychotronic TV. After the Encyclopedia came out, he transformed his fanzine into a more widely distributed publication (though still pretty much tied to its fanzine roots in its sporadic publishing schedule and DIY aesthetic) titled Psychotronic Video. I grabbed a copy any chance that I got, and sure enough, just like with the book, I was always certain to read about films that made my head spin. I couldn’t fathom that some of the titles could even be considered, let alone actually filmed and put into theatres or on video.
The magazine ran until 2006, when Michael Weldon finally closed the doors on the “psychotronic” world for good, it seems, but before that he put out a sequel to his first book. In 1996, Weldon published The Psychotronic Video Guide, an even larger book than the Encyclopedia in dimensional size, but it has a couple of hundred less pages and the rough movie count comes out around the same (at least according to Weldon’s foreword) to somewhere around 3,000 films.
Since the Encyclopedia was published, the home video market really blew up throughout the eighties and into nineties, and straight-to-video titles became a really big seller, especially in the genres in which Weldon specialized: science-fiction, horror, martial arts, and action… tons and tons of action films. The Psychotronic Video Guide came out just before DVD hit the United States and started to slowly take over as the primary video format within the next few years. The first volume concentrated heavily on the ’50s through the ’70s – the prime years of theatrical exploitation and drive-in classics – and in moving forward, The Psychotronic Video Guide does a nice job of snapshotting the bulk of the ’80s theatrical and video output up through the mid-’90s. In doing so, it provides a fairly good overview of the cinema of the bizarre, sleazy, cheesy, and horrific before DVD came into our lives.
There are some crossovers from the first book, depending on the vitality of certain cult titles over the course of the intervening years, but for the most part, there are thousands of titles in this book that do not appear in the first. A big difference this time, though, is the inclusion of actual video compilations in the mix (many of them by Johnny Legend and Rhino Video, for example), once video started to become a home for original content and not just a second-run arena for former theatrical titles. Hardcore porn titles – well, a good handful or two of them, when they have content that goes beyond just bedroom antics – are represented as well.
Weldon also took the time to class the joint up just a little bit with the inclusion of certain directors who were renowned for their flirtations with genre form, even when they were considered general masters of film itself, e.g., Alfred Hitchcock and Fritz Lang. Weldon did a similar trick in the first volume by including nearly every film starring Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi, and Peter Lorre, whether or not the films were genre flicks or not. The assumption was that the very inclusion of these actors within any cast placed that film automatically within the “psychotronic” category.
Something I have noticed that is a slight difference between this book and the first is that Weldon seemed more intent on actually reviewing many of the titles on the second go around. In the Encyclopedia, he seems mostly content with saying “This film is loaded with zombies. And Nazis. And tons of gore and blood. And Christopher Lee is in it!” and leaving it at that. (That is a completely made up example, but it strikes the tone of many an entry.) Very rare is the paragraph that really rips into a film, though there are a handful of entries where either his disdain or his high regard for a film is pretty clear. In the Video Guide, he seems more comfortable with telling his opinion on whether not a film stinks, and really lets go on many films. It is an attitude that I really wish the first book had, and perhaps he was less comfortable with striking such an attitude when he was younger and more freshly excited about the “B” genre.
Now, because my life turned to one of married discord for many years in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when the second book came out, I was freshly divorced in my early thirties, and suddenly not worrying so much about watching 37 movies a day. As a result, even though I really enjoyed going through the Psychotronic Video Guide when I first bought it, I have never really used the second book as much as the original volume. It is odd for me to say this, but movies, for a brief period, went to the back burner as I readjusted myself to single life, and so the Weldon books went by the wayside for a good while. And unlike the first book, where the enjoyment I experienced as an 18-year old was in playing catch up with psychotronic history up to that point in time, the bulk of the films in the Video Guide are titles that came out after I had just reached my (presumed) adulthood. So, when this guide was released, by my own misguided accounting, I had pretty much seen the ones listed in it that I really wanted to see (with a few glaring exceptions), and so never really pressed myself to play catch up (at the time) like I did The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film.
Then Letterboxd came into the picture…
When Letterboxd started up online a few years ago, after my initial flirtation with Flickchart (another movie site that I love), I created an account and started using Letterboxd to maintain my regular film diary, something I was already doing (and still do) via spreadsheet (there are still many titles, mostly shorts and cartoons, that I watch that do not show up in Letterboxd.) The site allows you great flexibility in creating lists of any size, and after they have been published, it shows you the percentage of films that you have seen and fades the title images as well, so you can focus on what remains to be watched. Pretty groovy function and the site looks nice as well.
One of my first goals was to transfer the titles from The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film to Letterboxd so that I could not only easily figure out what I still needed to see, but so that others that might happen upon the list could use it for their own guidance through the “B” movie world. It took me a while to build those lists and when I was done, I sat back and thought, “There is no way that I could do this again.” And then I started up on The Psychotronic Video Guide. I got a quick early start on the first couple of letters… and then let it sit for a year or two. Maybe even three.
I kept getting remarks from users who liked the other Psychotronic lists begging me to create the rest of them. Finally, I decided to start using the last hour or so before bedtime to knock in a few more pages each night, and then took the giant book with me on my Alaska trip, knowing that I would have several hours each morning before my friends were up and ready to do things where I could make a pretty severe dent in the book. And now, two months after returning from that trip, I just put the finishing touches on the final letter, “W”, and the entire book, save for a handful of titles not yet on Letterboxd under each letter (which are recounted in my notes), is now live on the site.
My Lists for The Psychotronic Video Guide on Letterboxd.com:
- Films Beginning with “A”
- Films Beginning with “B”
- Films Beginning with “C”
- Films Beginning with “D”
- Films Beginning with “E”
- Films Beginning with “F”
- Films Beginning with “G”
- Films Beginning with “H”
- Films Beginning with “I”
- Films Beginning with “J”
- Films Beginning with “K”
- Films Beginning with “L”
- Films Beginning with “M”
- Films Beginning with “N”
- Films Beginning with “O”
- Films Beginning with “P”
- Films Beginning with “Q”
- Films Beginning with “R”
- Films Beginning with “S”
- Films Beginning with “T”
- Films Beginning with “U”
- Films Beginning with “V”
- Films Beginning with “W”
- Films Beginning with “X,Y, and Z”
And if you enjoy using these lists, feel free to leave a comment on Letterboxd or follow my page there if you decide to join yourself. It’s a really wonderful website.