The horror film, as a genre, emerged in 1931 with the release of the Universal-produced Dracula and, later that year, Frankenstein. It wasn’t until this time that the language of horror entered the popular vernacular and that a framework of a genre had been defined. But by no means were these two films the first to use horrific elements; elements designed to evoke the uncanny, use the supernatural as an artistic and emotional tool, and to shock audiences. It is this pre-1931 period of American cinema that Kendall R. Phillips’ book A Place of Darkness: The Rhetoric of Horror in Early American Cinema (which was included in the preliminary ballot for the Bram Stoker non-fiction award) focuses on, a period of proto-horror that set the foundations for a genre to come.
“Mortal Echoes: Encounters with the End” is another great collection from the British Library that provides the reader with an intimate experience with the otherwise unfathomable: our own mortality.
Mortal Echoes: Encounters with the End is the second book I’ve reviewed in the British Library’s Tales of the Weird series (read my review of Spirits of the Season), which aims to revive long-lost material from the library’s vaults in the genres of horror, the gothic, and weird fiction. This collection focuses on death, stories which bring us face to face with our own mortality.
Spirits of the Season: Christmas Hauntings is a marvellous collection of Christmas ghost stories by 19th century and early 20th century writers, some of whom you will expect to see in a collection such as this (M.R. James, for example) but some you might be nescient of. Whilst I am publishing this review after Christmas, these are stories I would urge you to read whatever the time of year (but are especially haunting in these dark, winter months).
Any book that claims to share in Dracula’s legacy is going to have a difficult task ahead of it and, as the reader, one cannot help but compare one against the other.
Positioned on the front cover as a prequel to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Dracul purports to tell the true story of the origins of the original book and its creator. However, Dracul’s co-authors – Dacre Stoker (Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew) and J. D. Barker, an American author of suspense thrillers – feel that the appropriate way of doing this is to construct a fictional narrative in which Bram Stoker, his family and acquaintances, are wrapped up in a real world of vampires.
The final book in James Lovegrove’s The Cthulhu Casebooks triptych of Holmes & Lovecraft mash-ups brings the series to a grand betentacled finale and leaves you wondering why the collision of these two worlds works so well.
James Lovegrove has, in recent years, made a name for himself writing Sherlock Holmes pastiches for Titan Books. The last three, making up The Cthulu Casebooks series, however, have gone beyond pastiche and attempt to rewrite the canon by infusing the eldritch world of Lovecraft with the rationalist one of Sherlock Holmes.
On the surface, it makes absolutely no sense.
The bloodline of Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles is as enduring as the ancient blood drinkers about whom she writes and, with the publication of 1976’s Interview with a Vampire, is largely to blame for Twilight and the rest of its handsome and un-horrifying brood.
Fans of the series forgive me, for I am entirely new to it and may make observations that are obvious to you, knowing as I do only of the influence it has had on popular culture, the fiction of the vampire, and their chiselled new image. Once, the vampire had no need for mirrors, but you get the impression Rice’s regularly enjoy tending to their hair. “Almost all vampires are beautiful. They are picked for their beauty.”
“Like all avant-garde art… horror’s purpose is to force its audiences to confront the limits of their own tolerance.”
“Horror runs very deep”, says Darryl Jones, in his compact and entertaining history of horror, and “is part of what we are.” Coming in at under 200 pages, I was surprised that this story of horror, from Euripides to the Slender Man, arrived in a pocket-sized edition. If you’ve ever read one of OUP’s Very Short Introductions, you’ll know what to expect and I wonder why this book wasn’t called Horror: A Very Short Introduction.