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Horror of the 20th Century: An Illustrated History
Robert Weinberg
Collectors Press, 256 pages

Horror of the 20th Century

Robert Weinberg
Robert Weinberg has written more than 15 books, including the Masquerade of the Red Death trilogy for White Wolf, and he has edited more than 120 anthologies. He is also the co-owner of Weird Tales and the V.P. of Argosy Communications Inc, which owns the rights to numerous pulp magazines. He was a two-time Vice President of the Horror Writers Association and has won the World Fantasy Award twice.

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A review by Lisa Brunetta

I am a fan of horror -- I have been since I was about 10. I remember rooting through the shelves of the used bookstore on Dunlop Street in Barrie, looking for the most lurid book covers I could find. If it had a rag doll with crude crosses for eyes hanging from a noose, it was for me. If it was splashed liberally with blood and other unidentifiable bits, I had to read it. Oh, if my parents only knew what I was reading! So when the friendly editors at the SF Site showed me this book, I pounced on it. I'm so glad I did!

Oh, but it's a beautiful Book (a capital "B" book, at that). Heavy, full-colour pages, a fabric-like cover with an embossed linen texture (red, of course) and a great cover illustration of Dracula with a hapless victim. The slipcover is pretty spiffy too -- the same image as the book's cover, but in full colour-and it's embossed. The embossing is a particularly nice touch -- besides the title, the only other area embossed on the cover is Dracula's teeth (this was discovered when I was lovingly stroking the book in anticipation -- no comments please)! Inside, each chapter has its own background art under the text and other illustrations. Even the illustration numbers are backed by their own chapter-specific dingbats -- and dingspiders, and even dinggravestones! It really is a wonderful book. Collectors will want this one, I'm sure.

Being an artist myself, I've always been interested in visuals. They really catch my attention, and they are usually what draw me to a book (I'm sure I'm not alone in this). So to get an illustrated history of 20th century horror is really a treat. As an added bonus, Mr. Weinberg has an astounding collection of horror literature -- I would love to browse through his shelves! The artists featured are outstanding -- my favourites include Virgil Findlay, Hannes Bok, Richard Power, Rick Leider, and, of course, Clive Barker (Mr. Barker, on the very slight chance that you may come across this review, please, please, please... don't stop illustrating your own books!). In fact, the abundance of illustrations occasioned several two-page spreads of only pictures -- something that disoriented me slightly because I had trouble remembering what the text on the previous page was talking about, being, as I was, so caught up in the beautiful colour spreads. And speaking of spreads, I never realized that the Weird Tales covers had so many scantily clad women on them! Make a mental note to yourself not to peruse this section while you are at the office. Other sections gave me great memories of my childhood -- I remember reading old copies of Tales from the Crypt, where people got "...axed, shredded, ripped, torn, devoured and died in bright, garish colour..." Ahhh, it was so COOL!

Mr. Weinberg is not only a collector, but also a very talented writer. His prose is intelligent, clear and scholarly -- in fact, it reads like a narrative for a Bravo or Showcase documentary. Not without humour though -- and a healthy dose at that! His author photo on the back flyleaf is the most visual proof. I was tickled by some of his one-sentence chapter closers (or kickers, as I like to think of them). Savour the ones at the end of chapters three and nine. His description of Saki's "...'Sredni Vashtar,' told of a young boy's female guardian killed by the child's pet ferret..." made me laugh out loud, preceded briefly as it was by his personal history: "Born in Burma, Saki was raised in England by a pair of overbearing aunts." Tee hee! And the all-time winner of the "ewww" factor -- the description of the 1961 novel Some of Your Blood by Theodore Sturgeon: "...a modern vampire novel in which the creature feeds only on menstrual blood." (Take the time to shake this one off, dear readers -- I'll wait. Good old RW just couldn't resist, I'm sure.)

Like most people, I often don't know the history of the things that interest me. I was therefore enlightened by this history -- and a thorough history it is, too. I am definitely a child of the second Golden Age of Horror -- 1970 to today -- so I learned that the first Golden Age was from 1900 to 1930, for example. The first chapter of the book traces horror to well before the 20th century, and the author makes these stories sound so interesting that I want -- no, need -- to hunt them down to read, although I know full well that I will get bogged down in the prose of the period. The description of Mrs. Radcliffe's Gothic novels rang a bell with me: "...supernatural events... explained away at the end of the novel as evil but perfectly ordinary tricks." Is it just me, or does that sound like every Scooby-Doo episode you've ever seen?

My favourite two chapters were chapter seven, "Famous Monsters," and chapter eight, "The Horror Boom." I loved reading about films like Psycho and TV shows like The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. This was where horror started for me. "Thriller" and "Way Out" I had never seen, but from the descriptions, they get my vote to be brought back in reruns! It was great to see chapter eight open with mention of both Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist, two of my all-time faves! I am highly satisfied that Stephen King received such consideration in chapter eight. I am his biggest fan (okay, okay, not to Misery proportions, but pretty damn big). I can whip through his phone book-sized tomes in record time. Why? I can't put the damned things down, that's why! Now if he will only get around to writing the next instalment of the Dark Tower series (trilogy, my ass...). As an added bonus Mr. Weinberg goes on to spotlight my other favourites -- Dean Koontz, Anne Rice, John Saul, Peter Straub and Clive Barker. Bravo!

The last chapter in this fantastic book has provided me with reading material suggestions to keep me going for some time. Thank you, Robert Weinberg, for a quality history of 20th century horror. Let me know when I can come over for tea -- and perhaps borrow a book or two.

Copyright © 2001 Lisa Brunetta

Lisa Brunetta is astounded that she gets time to read good horror and fantasy fiction stuff, let alone review it. Family and hobbies keep her on her toes. Reading lets her kick back and enjoy life's little pleasures.

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