Robert Weinberg,
Horror of the 20th Century:
An Illustrated History

(Collectors Press, 2000)

Robert Weinberg and Collectors Press have created a gorgeous volume about horror fiction that should be on every horror fan's shelf -- if you can find a shelf high enough. This is a coffeetable book in the sense that you could put four legs on it and have a coffee table. It measures close to a whopping 14" by 11", and though that size may strike some as a bit overboard, just wait until you see some of the book jackets and pulp covers enlarged to that size, particularly with the splendid printing processes used here.

Though the text is excellent, the visuals are the big selling point of this book, and also account for its equally hefty $60 price tag. There are 450 color reproductions contained in its 256 pages, and they are utter gems. For me, as a pulp magazine devotee, the most delicious chapters were those on the horror pulps of the 1920s and 1930s, with page after page of covers from Weird Tales, Terror Tales, Horror Stories and many other titles. What makes these reproductions so delectable is that they were either shot from gem mint copies of these rarities, or have been digitally altered so that they appear to be newsstand mint, as does every other magazine, paperback, comic book and dust jacket to appear here. When we go to Collectors' Heaven, all items will appear this way, with nary a thumb crease, edge overhang tear or spine wrinkle in sight! By golly, it's heaven right here on earth!

The one slight visual disappointment is in the representation of the early classics of horror fiction, where such seminal volumes as Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and others are shown in later reprints. One can understand why this was done, however, since those early volumes lacked dust jackets and color art. The few early jackets that do appear, such as Edward Lucas White's Lukundoo, are glorious, as are the posters and other material from early horror films, including a Lugosi Dracula half-sheet that takes up nearly all of a two-page spread.

There's plenty more -- classic EC horror comics, numerous hardcover, paperback and magazine covers from the horror boom of the 1980s, slasher poster art of the 1990s -- more than I can begin to cover in a review. Suffice it to say that the visual feast laid out here is sumptuous and comprehensive.

With so many pictures to look at, a reader might be apt to ignore Weinberg's text, and that would be a great mistake. It's as fine an overall history of horror fiction as I've read anywhere, filling in the historical background nicely in the first chapter, and then moving to chapters on the classic horror story, early horror films, horror pulps, paperbacks and other formats, comic books, the resurgence due in part to Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine, the '80s boom in horror fiction, the "downward spiral" in the '90s, and the state of horror today. Despite horror fiction's current low ebb, Weinberg is convinced that the genre will never die, since it's dependent upon an emotion that has been with us since we first crawled out of the caves, and will be with us always. It continues to fascinate readers and filmgoers, and this book, with its page after page of dark wonders, is a perfect example of why horror stirs us still.

[ by Chet Williamson ]
Rambles: 29 June 2002

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