Living in Fear: A History of Horror in the Mass Media – Les Daniels
Although a good deal of the material in this informative guide has been improved upon since this was first published in 1975, much of what followed owes a lot to Daniels’ work. What Living in Fear offers that others don’t, though, is that it gives its just due to horror literature as well as film, and functions in part as a literary anthology, reprinting classic horror tales right alongside the articles that discuss them.
Danse Macabre – Stephen King
This is something of an odd book in that it is part memoir of a best-selling author and part exploration of the horror genre that he loves so dearly. It acts as an extremely personal history of fright films rather than a universal one, and is highly opinionated but well-written and engaging. It was first published in 1981, and primarily covers the era from the 1950s to the 1970s. Seeing as how both the man and the genre are still going strong, we are in desperate need of a second, and maybe third, volume.
The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film/The Psychotronic Video Guide – Michael Weldon
These massive guides are spun off from the pages of Weldon’s own now-defunct Psychotronic Magazine, and they are indispensable to fans of weird cinema. Filled to the brim with synopses of some of your favorite films along with hundreds of others that you’ve likely never heard of, it’s like browsing the racks of the world’s biggest and strangest video store. Weldon is single-handedly responsible for getting me (and countless others) interested in writing about genre film, so you can thank him or blame him, depending on your outlook.
The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror – David J. Skal
Skal’s horror history examines the effect that culture has on horror, and also the effect that horror has on culture. He takes an in-depth look at horror at times of war, and how it lead to genre themes that later permeated art in all its forms. Highly informative but not comprehensive, it offers a coherent overview that flows as a narrative much better than most books that tackle the genre wholesale.
The Satanic Screen: An Illustrated Guide to the Devil in Cinema – Nikolas Schreck
Covering almost every personification of the devil on film, ranging from horror to hardcore pornography, Shreck’s tome does have a tendency to condemn the classics and offer up unpopular opinions that you likely will not agree with. It must be understood, though, that he’s viewing these films from a completely different perspective than you or I—he’s not just a fan of Satanic horror films, he’s an actual Satanist (or, rather he was at the time of writing), having worked closely with Anton LaVey before becoming the Master of the Temple of Set.
Horror Films of the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s – John Kenneth Muir
These three books all recap, dissect, and analyze horror films decade by decade, placing them into an entertaining and educational historical context that is key to understanding their roots in the public consciousness. The scholarly and the more casual fan alike will find something of merit in his entries, giving a new level of understanding and appreciation to even your most favorite genre films.
Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents – Stephen Thrower
This epic encyclopedia is, so far, the definitive guide to the independent exploitation film, and I can’t imagine another contender turning up any time soon. It covers the rise of these movies that were born outside the influence of Hollywood from roughly 1970-1985 with reviews, interviews, and commentary, and is fabulously illustrated. Thrower packs far more information into its 500 pages that you would even believe possible, and Volume 2 is reportedly in the works.
Xerox Ferox: The Wild World of the Horror Film Fanzine – John Szpunar
Without question one of my favorite books to come out, well, ever, this massive 800-pager recalls the golden age of horror fanzines that thrived before the internet was commonplace and everybody had a blog to spout off their opinions. It’s loaded with extensive interviews with the folks behind such titles as Fangoria, Deep Red, and Sleazoid Express, it doesn’t matter if you’re a lifelong collector of these ‘zines or if you never even knew they existed. It’s an oral history of fandom that every member of the horror community should read.