Sublime Horror

Celebrating the best in horror

Author: James Pate

Mid-century horror, a reading list

In the past few years, there has been a great deal of focus in the horror community on the explosion of horror literature in the 70s and 80s, an interest partly generated by Grady Hendrix’s excellent book Paperbacks from Hell. Recently, though, I’ve been thinking about gothic and horror writing that was being published just prior to those years – the time when writers such as Shirley Jackson and Richard Matheson were flourishing. If “mid-century” often conjures up images of cocktails and cigarettes, McCarthyism and the atomic bomb, Freudian theories and existentialism, what horror novels and stories were highly reflective of those times? Below is a list of six books that partially embody the notion of mid-century horror.

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Mid-century possession: Ray Russell’s The Case Against Satan

It’s almost impossible to imagine a contemporary possession story, whether in a book or film, not being somehow influenced by William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist. Blatty’s novel is one of those books that defines a subgenre and many of the images that readers and film-goers have of possession tales (the troubled priests, the candle-lit Catholic iconography, the other-worldly voices) seemingly originate with Blatty’s 1971 book. But there’s a possession novel, much less well known, that appeared roughly a decade earlier, and which includes many of the possession narrative attributes that would become a staple in books and films involving exorcism.

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