The Encyclopedia of Horror
Welcome to the latest Horrified...and loving it! column in which people share the British horror moments that terrify and thrill them the most. This time, TC explores the rite of passage that was The Encyclopedia of Horror...
I was a child in the ’80s, a decade that brought about the boom of home video. My parents had a very liberal outlook on the things that I could watch, seeing us crowded around the TV to watch a movie as family time, so I grew up on a diet of slasher movies, monster features and ghost stories. This fascination with horror still lingers with me nearly four decades later.
I also loved horror literature, and I could be frequently found sneaking a look at my older brother’s Fangoria magazines amongst others. At that point, I was more interested in the pictures than reading the text, maybe only going as far as the captions. The images of monsters, gore and fear were addictive, and I would frequently revisit books and magazines again and again, despite them sometimes leaving me literally afraid of the dark. One book stood out for me though, a book I am still proud to own; The Encyclopedia of Horror, published in 1981 by London based publishers Octopus Books.
The front cover features a strangely realistic-looking Frankenstein’s monster, with clouded sour milky eyes, and the illusion of wearing a crown of blood. This alone was frightening yet alluring enough to make me want to explore further.
The book is a mixture of fact and fiction, which to me makes this all the more powerful as the lines between myth and true events can sometimes blur. The chapter headings cover areas such as The Devil’s Army, The Undead and Evil Monsters. The pages are then littered with mostly black and white and sepia stills from films (although oddly the eyes are coloured red in some), intermingled with works of art from the likes of Francisco Goya and Hieronymus Bosch that illustrate human’s historical fascination with fear and the supernatural. In fact, the image of Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son was so powerful it led me to seek it out at the Museo Del Prado in Madrid many years later.
There are images within the book that still impact me to this day, and bring me right back to being a child and flicking through the pages one by one in anticipation of seeing those that stood out. For example, a close up of the hideous face of the human/snake hybrid from Hammer’s The Reptile (John Gilling, 1966). Peter Cushing taking a hacksaw to the head of his creation in a still from Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (Terence Fisher, 1970). A real-life picture of a dagger thrust through the face of a doll used in a witchcraft ritual. Or the striking still of four eyeless zombies walking together from Vault of Horror ( Roy Ward Baker, 1973).
The gimmicky red eye colouring aside, the book has a real authoritative feel to it. In-depth analysis of films sits alongside historical facts, such as the instructions from Greek historian Herodotus on how to successfully carry out the embalming process, or accounts of possessions and subsequent exorcisms. The many paintings and sketches add gravitas to the book, they themselves sometimes as powerful as the film imagery, such as another effort from Goya, The Bewitched Man from 1798, depicting a man who believes he is cursed and his life depends on keeping a lamp lit. Another example is a sketch from Colin De Plancey’s Dictionnaire Infernal, a book on demonology, depicting a hideous gangly creature standing over an individual laying on the ground.
This book also acted as a list of films to try desperately to see as well, although this was quite difficult as a child in single-digit numbers of age in the ’80s. I would eagerly look through TV schedules hoping to see films such as Plague of the Zombies (John Gilling, 1966), The Omen (Richard Donner, 1976) or Twins of Evil (John Hough, 1971) listed there, not thinking about how I would then convince my parents to let me stay up and watch them. My desire to see these films and many others were fueled only by a handful of still images in this wonderful book.
Childhood experiences – good or bad – have a tendency to stay with us forever, and shape the interests we have and the people we become. The Encyclopedia of Horror was something I returned to again and again, each viewing still being as fascinating as the last. This British book was a key component of forming my love of all things horror and unknown and led me in later years to explore and research further. As I look through it now, I am still captivated by the imagery and the way it is used, although I do at least now take the time to actually read it.