“Lost Souls of Horror and the Gothic: Fifty-Four Neglected Authors, Actors, Artists and Others”, out now from McFarland, is the perfect primer for those who are interested in horror (whether it be movies, books or beyond) and want to venture just outside of the mainstream.
I say “primer” because the book is not an extended study of any one topic. We have 54 separate entries, each from a different voice, and almost none longer than three pages. If you read those few pages and don’t want to learn more, no harm done – you didn’t invest yourself in 200 pages. But maybe you find something new and exciting: the book then gives reading suggestions, which are great for getting the full picture. Even for topics my personal researcher is focused on, like Carl Mayer, these further suggestions offered some insight.
With the word “neglected” in the title, you know that nitpickers are going to come along and point out the names that aren’t obscure enough. In the intro, as well as her entry, there is an attempt to diffuse expectations on Ingrid Bergman, arguably the most well-known person in the book. I did have an issue with Bergman’s entry, but not because of her fame. Because of the author’s attempt to put her down as a horror actress. By no means would I classify “Gaslight” as horror. I also found the inclusion of Aleister Crowley (and Dion Fortune) as odd. Those entries were exclusively focused on the occult. One could argue that the occult influenced (and continues to influence) horror, but that claim was not made in these entries.
But let’s not dwell on nitpicky matters. The book excels on the expansion of known names: Halperin, Beaumont, and Tod Slaughter immediately come to mind. Horror fans should know Halperin for “White Zombie”, Beaumont as the less-celebrated equal of Richard Matheson, and Slaughter as a forgotten icon (and a pre-Depp Sweeney Todd). But do you know much about their biographies? Halperin should be considered one of the earliest masters of horror, especially independent horror, even if it is a title he would reject. And Slaughter could be the Robert Englund of his time.
One of the most interesting things is the inclusion of living folks, who could still be appreciated in their own time. To name a few: Jeff Lieberman, John Farris, and Philip Ridley. Farris still needs more attention, but Lieberman and Ridley have really begun to have a renaissance thanks to companies like Shout! Factory. Another name I would add to the list is Jeff Burr. Although he may be best known for his work on sequels, Burr has never been one to cut corners or be derivative.
Another unexpected group of entries focuses on video games. The work of Sandy Petersen, as well as the geniuses behind Resident Evil and Silent Hill, the two most well-known horror games out there today (though their creators’ names are often overlooked). I had no idea that role-playing games (specifically “Call of Cthulhu”) were direct antecedents of “Doom”, the definitive first-person shooter. And to learn it was supposed to be a video game version of “Alien”? How did I never know that before?
I entered the book most interested in the history of the horror film, but found myself reading in other areas I never considered before, from gothic literature to video games to theater. This is the book’s last great strength – you can come in with any one or two interests, and leave with a completely new one. I now have a whole new list of movies to see, books to read, and games to play.
To order a copy of “Lost Souls”, you can go to your local book store or Amazon, or you can order from the publisher directly. McFarland can be found at www.mcfarlandpub.com or you can reach the order line at (800)253-2187.