From my teen years through my early 20s, three books by Danny Peary were indispensable to me: his two volume series on Cult Movies
series — which has more recently expanded into several theme-specific guides — and his more canonical reference tome Guide For The Film Fanatic
. On cult movies, Peary is an incredible fount of knowledge and his energetic essay-ish reviews in these two volumes not only provide both insight and context on the subject, but they amount to a kind of educated anti-elitist testimony that movies which may seem like trash, and which outwardly appeal to the basest sensations, can also be important artistic and cultural touchstones. Combined, the two original Cult Movies
books cover over 150 movies, from Werner Herzog's visceral Aguirre, the Wrath of God
to John Boorman's weird fantasy Zardoz
. Peary was writing seriously about movies that excited me, which made his work an important early influence on how I look at movies.