As long as I've been a horror movie fan, I've also been a fan of horror movie reference books. Pre-Internet, they were my major source of information about horror flicks (along with Famous Monsters of Filmland, The Monster Times and Fangoria magazines). To this day, images and information from many of these books are branded on my brain.
Here, I'm highlighting 13 titles that are essential from my perspective, but there are many, many more that could have just as easily been included; from Carlos Clarens' incredible "An Illustrated History of the Horror Film" and Alan Ormsby's kid-friendly Scholastic publication "Movie Monsters", right up to a couple of new publications that I feel sure will fit nicely in my library once I've had the chance to read them: Kim Newman's updated "Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen Since the 1960s", and Jason Zinoman's "Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror".
If any of the titles listed below by publication date sound interesting to you, make sure to pick up a copy. But don't stop there; dust off one of your personal favourites and rediscover what is so fantastic about it, or do some research and see what else is out there waiting for you. As long as there are people reading horror reference books, publishers will continue to unleash them.
by François Truffaut
Publisher: Simon and Schuster (1967)
Not about horror films per se, this back-and-forth between Truffaut and Hitchcock contains a lot of insight into the creative process in terms of filmmaking, and Hitchcock's filmmaking in particular. Hitchcock used the filmic language of suspense which is a key aspect of the horror film, and at least two of his films - Psycho and The Birds - are horror classics in their own right.
by William Peter Blatty
Publisher: Bantam Books (1974)
This is a terrific paperback published shortly after the release of the film version of The Exorcist. It begins with background information on the writing of the novel and the route it took to become a film, followed by Blatty's original draft of the screenplay (interrupted by a number of behind the scene photos and screen shots). Following that, we get Blatty's comments on the changes that were made and why. The last section of the book contains a transcript of the version of the screenplay that was filmed. For anyone interested in the filmmaking process from the writing perspective, this book is invaluable.
by Michael Weldon
Publisher: Ballantine Books (1983)
This book made me very happy in the 80's, and it still does today. It's an alphabetical collection of funny, informative and concise cult movie reviews, written from a fan's perspective and with a sense of humour that never patronizes. The Psychotronic Encyclopedia remains influential to a lot of people who write about genre cinema, including myself.
by John McCarty
Publisher: St Martins Press (1984)
To my knowledge, this was the first serious look at Splatter movies, a sub-genre that really came into its own in the 80's. Writing during their heyday, McCarty collected all the key titles and players here, and his opinions accurately reflect a fan's take on splatter at the time. Today, some of these films that were dismissed at the time of their release have been re-evaluated, and it would be interesting to see McCarty do an updated edition.
by V. Vale and Andrea Juno
Publisher: Re/Search Publications (1986)
The Re/Search library is a fascinating collection of works that look at subcultures in a number of different genres. Their Incredibly Strange Films volume features interviews with horror filmmakers and other cinema delinquents, including Herschell Gordon Lewis, Frank Henenlotter and Larry Cohen. For many, this was our introduction to the glorious underbelly of cinema.
DEEP RED HORROR HANDBOOK
Edited by Chas Balun
Publisher: Fantaco Enterprises (1989)
Chas Balun was instrumental in introducing all sorts of new material to horror fans. His love of the genre and talent for writing about it in an accessible way made him an essential author for inclusion in any gore hound's library. It was probably Chas as much as anybody who introduced me to extreme Euro-Horror - the work of Fulci, Deodato, Lenzi, et al, and it's all collected here in the Deep Red Horror Handbook, compiled from Chas' Deep Red magazine. Sporting a cover illustration by Chas himself and chapters about Cannibal flicks, Dario Argento, James VanBebber, horror films from around the world and a bloody ton more, there are also reviews of 70's and 80's splatter flicks, each scored on two scales - one rating the flick for its quality as a movie, the other rating its gore effects. As a personal bonus, Dario Argento autographed my copy at the Toronto premiere of Two Evil Eyes.
BLOOD AND BLACK LACE: THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO ITALIAN SEX AND HORROR MOVIES
by Adrian Luther Smith
Publisher: Turnaround (2000)
The Italian thriller genre known as giallo is closely related to the North American horror film. The two genres overlap, trading tropes back and forth, influencing each other with reckless abandon. It's a beautiful thing. The definitive guide to the often labyrintine history of these beautifully-titled films is Adrian Luther Smith's Blood and Black Lace, named for one of the genre's landmarks directed by Mario Bava, the man usually credited with originating giallo films. Since the heyday of giallo was from the 1960's through the 1980's, the bulk of the genre's output is found in this essential guide.
DVD DELIRIUM: THE INTERNATIONAL GUIDE TO WEIRD & WONDERFUL FILMS ON DVD (VOLS. 1-4)
Edited by Nathaniel Thompson
Publisher: Fab Press (2002, 2003, 2007 & 2010)
This terrific collection just keeps growing, with redux versions and further editions being published as needed. It will be interesting to see how the next version evolves with the iffy future of DVD and Blu-Ray due to both legal and illegal downloading. In the meantime, each volume fiddles while Rome burns by featuring an alphabetical listing of "weird and wonderful" films, insightful reviews, and perhaps DVD Delirium's most appreciated feature - comparisons of available versions of each film.
by Michelle Clifford & Bill Landis
Publisher: Fireside (2002)
Yet another book that introduced me to flicks that I might not have known existed otherwise, and might have even passed by if I did. Here, we're talking Fight for Your Life, Olga's House of Shame, the Ginger movies and many of their two-fisted kin. From the creators of the Sleazoid Express 'zine, each chapter of this book is about a particular grindhouse theatre in New York City's much-lamented, pre-Disneyfied Times Square, and the type of film each theatre specialized in: Horror, Women in Prison, Nudies, etc. It's another fun read, a memento of a vanished way of life, and an in-depth look at grindhouse movies.
by Caelum Vatnsdal
Publisher: Arbeiter Ring (2004)
The Mask, Cannibal Girls, Black Christmas, Rituals, My Bloody Valentine, Happy Birthday to Me, the films of David Cronenberg - they're all Canadian, and they're all included in They Came From Within, an exploration of Canuck horror flicks. Though small in comparison to the output of our American neighbours, Canadian horror films have nonetheless made their mark on the world horror scene, and Calem Vatnsdal has included them all in this volume. Named for a Cronenberg flick (though it was called Shivers in Canada), They Came From Within is an impressive look at a much under-explored topic, and at the same time it's the last word in movie horror from the north.
by Stephen Thrower
Publisher: FAB Press (2007)
Where to start with this outstanding tome? It's massive, it's loaded with information and great photos, it will introduce you to films you should know, and it will leave you wanting more (Volume 2 is forthcoming). Stephen Thrower is an intelligent writer who knows his stuff, and he crams it into all 527 pages of this beautiful monster. Thrower talks with the people who made the American exploitation films included in this book, adding thoughtful reviews to the mix. This book best illustrates a pet belief of mine that the line between art and trash is so thin that it frequently vanishes.
by J.A. Kerswell
Publisher: New Holland Publishers Ltd (2010)
This beautifully laid out overview of the slasher genre from its inception to the current day is a pleasure to read. Justin Kerswell loves the sub-genre, he knows it inside and out (he's the man behind Hysteria Lives), and he shares his affection and knowledge in equal amounts here. Everything you ever wanted to know about slice-and dice flicks is included, without pandering to readers whose interests lie only in Jason and Freddie. Kerswell's affectionate though by no means rose-tinted look at slasher flicks makes a nice contemporary companion piece to John McCarty's Splatter Movies, with the benefit of having been written with hindsight.
by Shade Rupe
Publisher: Headpress (2011)
Shade Rupe has been interviewing truly interesting personalities for about 25 years now. Forgoing unimaginative questioning for informed conversation with his subjects, Rupe has selected 27 interviews for Dark Stars Rising, including those with Tura Santana, William Lustig, Richard Stanley and Chas Balun. Anyone interested in the provocative side of the arts (film, visual arts, literature, etc.), and anyone bored by the entertainment TV style of non-engaged interview packs, should pick up this book immediately.