When’s the last time something truly scared you? Like looking over your shoulder, checking under the bed, running past the bathroom and turning on the light really fast scared. Did you ever want to delve into WHY you were so scared? If the thought of staring right back at the things that go bump in the night appeals to you, I’ve got some non-fiction nuggets of awesome you just might enjoy.
The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror by David J. Skal
This (along with the rest of the books listed) was a guiding light for me during my undergrad years. The Monster Show was the book that first opened my eyes to the why of horror. David J. Skal expertly weaves the (sometimes) terrifying history of the American experience along with the history of the horror film. He lays bare the fears of what it means to be an American from the 1930s all the way up to the year 2000 and how that translated to film, the predominant art form of the century. With the revised edition coming out at 400 pages exactly, this is a perfect and quick (depending on how fast you read) introduction to how our collective fears came to be projected onto the silver screen.
The Haunted Screen: Expressionism in German Cinema and the Influence of Max Reinhardt by Lotte H. Eisner
This blog takes its name from this influential work detailing the rise of Expressionism in Weimar German cinema. Ms. Eisner wore many hats during her lifetime: film historian, archivist for the Cinémathèque Française, theater and film critic for German newspapers until she fled to France in 1933, and recipient of the French Legion of Honor award. Her most famous work, The Haunted Screen, expounds upon the connection between German Romanticism and the cinema through Expressionist writings and breaks down why this peculiar style caught on in this particular time and place. If the early history of the horror genre interests you at all, you need to pick this one up.
The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film edited by Barry Keith Grant
If you like your horror films with a side of gender studies, this is the book for you. The Dread of Difference is a collection of essays from authors such as Linda Williams, Barbara Creed, Christopher Sharrett, and Robin Wood. As a whole, the essays tackle such subjects as homosexuality, female puberty, sadism & masochism, and how the patriarchy fears anything inherently feminine. Feminism, gender politics, and smashing the patriarchy are just some of my particular causes célèbres, so I cannot recommend this work enough.
Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen by David J. Skal
Mr. Skal makes it onto this list for a second time because he is JUST THAT GOOD. I cannot count how many times I have read this book or even just picked it up as a quick reference. (Just buy all of his books already!) Hollywood Gothic focuses on my favorite Monster (as in Universal Studios Classic Monsters), Dracula, and how he made it all the way to the big screen. The amount of meticulous research and stunning visuals blew my mind and only made me thirsty for more (see what I did there?). If Dracula does it for you, then be sure to give this one a read.
Projected Fears: Horror Films and American Culture by Kendall R. Phillips
What makes a movie a classic? Why do we as a culture agree that some films are universally scary and others… not so much? Projected Fears takes 10 films deemed as horror “classics” and attempts to decode just how they captured our collective imaginations and fears. Kendall R. Phillips provides an in-depth examination of the horror genre (as demonstrated in the 10 films chosen) and argues how it is an intellectual and extremely resonant exploration of the American psyche. Along with The Monster Show, this book is an excellent introduction to horror film studies.
What did you think of the list? Do you have any personal favorites you would like to add? Please comment below! Thanks for reading and stay spooky!