Editor, U.S.; California (@m_galgana)

This one’s for all the weirdos out there, and I say that with love. There’s a brand-new book out that explores the theme of wee ones getting offed in cinema… and it’s hilarious. At least it is if this subject appeals to you, dear reader and viewer, who know that what happens in these kinds of films is quite far removed from reality. 

Making a film, even a bad one, takes a lot of work and planning, and unless you screw up incredibly badly, no one actually dies on set.

Enter The Sweetest Taboo: An Unapologetic Guide to Child Kills in Film by Erica Shultz, and it is endlessly fascinating and hilarious. (Shultz also co-hosts the Unsung Horrors podcast with Lance Schibi.) Many of these films can’t be found on streaming platforms, and that simple fact harks back to the days of independent video rental stores. Reading about these films, in many cases, feels like stumbling into a secret world, where banned and morally “wrong” films meld with big-budget Hollywood productions.

In a word, this book is delicious. Audacious is another superb choice. It’s written in a dark, tongue-in-cheek tone that makes you feel like you’re hiding in your parents’ basement, slipping a forbidden VHS into the player, about to watch something you’re not supposed to see with some neighborhood kids.

The book was designed by cult favorite Hauntlove (Justin Miller, who also works with Exhumed Films, Arrow Video, and the Rough Cut Fan Club). After a massively successful crowdfunding campaign, Shultz reached out to Hauntlove due to the designer’s work with Rough Cut, wanting a similar look for her terror tome. She envisioned a gritty aesthetic of photocopies, cut, pasted, and ripped images to resemble a flier to a dirty basement show.

That exact look was achieved in spades, as you can see in the screenshots below, published here with her permission. Writing the book was an exhaustive process, sifting through thousands of films to find the best and worst --- and everything in between --- of kiddie extinction onscreen. The process began as a Letterboxd list, and morphed into a monster.

There’s a great forward by author and film programmer Zack Carlson (Destroy All Movies!!! The Complete Guide to Punks on Film and Bleeding Skull: A 1990s Trash-Horror Odyssey), who may be best known as the carnival barker and curator of Fantastic Fest’s annual 100 Best Kills program, which is usually a sell out at the festival.

Each chapter has a gleefully dark theme, check out the table of contents:

STaboo TOC.jpg

There are some pretty deep cuts in here, including side bars on more obscure horrors, such as British Public Information Films (public safety scare films) and the notorious Hong Kong Cat III films. Video nasties are abundant, friends. 

Approximately 700 that actually have capsule reviews, with an additional 400 plus in the appendix, as well as those fun sidebars. Here’s a taste of one of the spreads in the book:

STaboo spread.jpg

  • Original comic written by Erica Shultz and drawn by Lance Schibi
  • Layout and design by Hauntlove
  • 320 color pages of capsule reviews, with sidebars and indexes

On the process of writing the book, Shultz says: “I love lists, organizing, and grouping things thematically. So rather than having it be one long alphabetical "list" of films and accompanying write-ups, I decided to put them into chapters by cause of death. It also gave me bursts of a sense of accomplishment when I would finish a chapter (at least until I accidentally stumbled upon another death). It also worked out well for the sidebars having those thematic chapters; like the La Llorona sidebar had to be in the drownings chapter. 

I think the biggest challenge (aside from not being able to land a publisher and having difficulties with printing companies) was doing all of the writing myself. There are hundreds of films in the appendix for that reason. I wanted them included in the book, but I either didn't have anything to say about the film (or the kill) at the time, or I watched them at too late of a stage to include a write-up. But I think writing everything allowed me to add some structural variety and personal anecdotes. Like a movie, I wanted to give the reader a breather with some levity to remind them that it's ok to have fun watching movies like this.” 

If you happen to be reading this and you’re near Santa Ana, the very cool independent Frida Cinema is playing The Children on 16mm tonight, one of the films featured in Sweetest Taboo. Shultz will be on hand selling a limited number of books.

Thre's another screening and book event coming up in Austin this Saturday, May 25th, at the Eastside Movie Theater; you can grab tickets for that here.

In fact, a quick Internet search told me that this book is almost sold out, but there are some copies still left on the book’s Big Cartel page. If this compendium of child carnage whets your literary appetite, don’t wait --- there may not be another printing.

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bookchildrencinema bookErica ShultzHauntloveThe Sweetest Taboo: An Unapologetic Guide to Child Kills in Film

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