In this world of endless exciting horror content in theaters, on TV, and streaming online, it can be hard to just sit down and pick up a book. But if you’re looking to take the leap back to the written word, an easy way to transition back to books is by reading about horror films. It’s almost like the real thing! Here are eight delightful books about the genre that are both entertaining and entirely essential resources for your next movie binge.
MEN, WOMEN, AND CHAINSAWS by Carol J. Clover
This one is a bit dense and academic, so it might be wise to warm up before diving into this one, but you won’t find a single more important horror text anywhere. Not only does this book contain the essay that invented the term “Final Girl,” it’s a brilliant deep dive into a down and dirty genre that plumbs exactly how the horror genre feels about and treats women’s stories with an educated eye that will open you up to new thematic possibilities.
SHOCK VALUE by Jason Zinoman
This book focuses on horror’s transition from B-movies and camp to the gritty, more realistic sleaze of late 60’s and early 70’s fare like NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, ALIEN, and THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. The 70’s were an incredible time for Hollywood filmmakers, who found the art form opening up to accommodate a slew of new voices, and the stories told in SHOCK VALUE do not disappoint.
NIGHTMARE MOVIES by Kim Newman
NIGHTMARE MOVIES is a damn encyclopedia. Focusing on horror and thriller filmmaking from the 1960’s to now, this tome was originally published in 1988, but the rerelease from 2011 has an entire second book attached to it covering the changes in the genre in the 90’s and the new millennium. It’ll turn you on to titles you never considered existed in your wildest dreams and offer lots of unique, sometimes controversial opinions (he famously hated ALIEN in his original draft, which he begs forgiveness for in a footnote in the new edition). I keep this book on my nightstand and every time I watch a new horror movie, I’ll find his entry about it to compare our opinions. Almost everything ever made is located somewhere in these pages.
CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES by Peter M. Bracke and NEVER SLEEP AGAIN by Thommy Hutson
These two books are inextricably linked because they are both literary supplements to sprawling documentaries of the same name about classic slasher franchises. In fact, Thommy Hutson actually had a producorial hand in both of them. CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES is a gigantic, glossy exploration of the dark origins of Jason Voorhees, and NEVER SLEEP AGAIN takes a closer look at the first NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET.
HORROR FILMS OF THE 1980’S by John Kenneth Muir
Muir has a vast collection of hugely interesting compendiums of genre films (including books that focus solely on the works of Wes Craven, Sam Raimi, and John Carpenter), but for my money the one I come back to the most frequently is HORROR FILMS OF THE 1980’S. It’s a massive tome containing thoughts about all kinds of 80’s offerings from huge titles like THE FLY to more obscure gems like THE SILENT SCREAM. His insights into the workings of horror allow you to approach your favorite horror movies with more historical context and appreciation for just how smart and incisive the genre can be.
THE SLASHER MOVIE BOOK by J. A. Kerswell
Known as TEENAGE WASTELAND in the UK, THE SLASHER MOVIE BOOK by Justin Kerswell (co-host of the podcast The Hysteria Continues) takes you on a winding journey through the origins of the slasher genre, from France’s Grand Guignol theater to the German krimi and the Italian giallo, until it explodes with color and rare art during the slasher Golden Age of the 80’s.
CHAIN SAW CONFIDENTIAL by Gunnar Hansen
The dearly departed Gunnar Hansen is best known in the horror community for playing Leatherface in THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, but he was also a writer of some acclaim. Both of these sides of him come together in CHAIN SAW CONFIDENTIAL, a uniquely insightful tale about the making of a classic horror film. The behind-the-scenes stories might be even more interesting than the movie itself (find out during what scene Leatherface was high!), and Hansen’s wonderful prose is easy to gobble down. He also introduces a fascinating argument for the horror genre that you can whip out at a moment’s notice when people start to judge your movie tastes.