Horror movie fans are traditionally divided into two camps; people who love horror movies made before and up through 1968 (with an emphasis on the Universal classics) and people who love horror movies made starting in 1968 to the present (with an emphasis on the 80s slasher films beginning with John Carpenter's Halloween). I'm in the third camp which is that I love horror movies made in any era, though I do favor the Universal classics and generally poo-poo the 80s slasher films. I'm also a lot more tolerant of crap in the horror genre than I am in any other genre.
With this in mind, for today's treat I present three books, one for each of the above camps, that I highly recommend.
First up a book for people that love horror films in general with no dividing line.
John Landis is best known as the director of the classic horror film, An American Werewolf in London (1981) and the music video for Michael Jackson's Thriller (1983), as well as some non-genre classics such as The Blues Brothers (1980) and Animal House (1978). He's also very present as a very entertaining commentator on countless documentary features found as extras on various genre DVDS, and tends to steal the show with his witty observations and delivery. Landis is a huge fan of the genre and has written a book, Monsters in the Movies, which looks at a wide range of movie monsters divided into groups such as vampires, werewolves, ghosts, zombies, mutants, crazed animals, dinosaurs and dragons, human monsters, etc. Published by DK, the bulk of the book is taken up by photographs, some for movies I'd never even heard of. No matter how familiar you are with the genre there's nothing like a fat book filled with hundreds and hundreds of photographs of monsters. Wisely, Landis does not discriminate based on the quality of the movie the monster is featured in (he's pretty blunt about the quality of some). The monsters are included because they are cool looking monsters. Landis also provides a few interviews with fellow genre filmmakers such as John Carpenter, Guillermo Del Toro, David Croneberg, Ray Harryhausen and others on how they define monsters and their observations on their popularity and effectiveness in various movies. It's shocking to read John Carpenter callingthe classic haunted house movie, The Haunting (1963) bullshit. There are a few errors in the text, but nothing that should keep anyone from enjoying this book.
Next up is a book for classic horror fans, or those who prefer their movies made before 1968.
Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff: The Expanded Story of a Haunting Collaboration, with a Complete Filmography of Their Films Together by Greg Mank is a stunning accomplishment. He seamlessly interweaves the parallel biographies and filmographies of both Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi while mixing in brief biographies of their collaborators and spouses, studio histories, general box office conditions and other factors that affected both of their careers. Because of the long held belief that they were rivals, a contention that certainly exists amongst their devoted fans of today, Mank ends section by looking at where both Lugosi and Karloff stood in terms of work, earnings, prestige, etc. The ease, or illusion of ease in which Mank is able to juggle and weave all of this into a seamless and gripping narrative is impressive. Even though I've been a fan of both Lugosi and Karloff since childhood, there was still much that I learned from this book about both of them that I didn't previously know. This book is incredibly well researched and written and is not only on of the best biographies and cinema history books I've ever read, it's simply one of the best books I've ever read. It's published by McFarland, which means it's expensive, but don't let the price put you off. It's worth every penny.
Finally, here is a book that's for people who prefer their horror movies made after 1968, and one which also explains the significance of that dateline dividing classic horror from modern horror.
Shock Value by Jason Zinoman does for the horror movie what Easy Riders, Raging Bulls did for the auteur directors of American mainstream cinema of the 1970s. Shock Value looks at the modern horror movie that was born with three movies that all appeared in 1968; Targets, Night of the Living Dead, and Rosemary's Baby. From these three movies (and Psycho (1960) before them) Zinoman follows the development of modern horror movie through Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Last House on the Left, Halloween, Alien, and the people who made them such as John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Dan O'Bannon, Tobe Hooper, George Romero, Roman Polanski and Peter Bogdanovich. The interviews and biographical sections are enlightening and riveting, particularly the story of John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon which plays out almost like the modern day Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff rivalry. Zinoman also has some good insight into the success of these movies and why they've had such a tremendous impact on the genre. This is an essential book for any fan of the genre, but especially those who favor the movies made by filmmakers listed above.