Haunted houses, ghosts, witchcraft, cannibalism, and occult practices are just a few examples of the many fascinating topics covered by horror nonfiction books. An essential part of the genre, nonfiction gives us perspective on our favorite books and films, along with relevant histories to ground us in facts.
The following horror non-fiction books make sense of the spookiest subjects while they entertain.
House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films
House of Psychotic Women explores the female neurotic as an often-shamed character that takes center stage in horror cinema. The portrayal of female madness is discussed through the lens of the author’s personal experiences. Film examples are wide-ranging, including Italian Giallo cinema and movies like Repulsion, Possession, and Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. The author’s encyclopedic knowledge of horror is evident in this combination of film history and memoir, which includes 32 pages of images.
Toil and Trouble: A Women’s History of the Occult
Toil and Trouble lends a historical perspective on the magic and mysticism of women and nonbinary people who are called to witchcraft. Reflecting on the recent explosion of interest in witchcraft, the book discusses key terminology such as “witch” and “occult.” Histories of relevant topics like the Salem Witch Trials, Spiritualism, and tarot are included in profiles of historic and current figures associated with various aspects of witchcraft.
Why Horror Seduces
Why Horror Seduces asserts that we can’t help being drawn to horror as entertainment because our interest in the uncanny is an integral part of human nature. This book describes the historical roots of the horror genre and studies the cognitive processes by which it seduces us. Psychology and science address questions of why palms sweat, whether phobias are logical, and why we keep reading and watching scary stories—even when we know they’ll keep us up at night.
Calling the Spirits: A History of Seances
Calling the Spirits studies our enduring need to explore the possibility of life after death. Tracing the history of seances from early roots in The Odyssey into Victorian-age Spiritualism and beyond, this book covers compelling topics like ectoplasm, Ouija boards, psychics, the modern séance, and more. Paranormal investigations and scientific attempts to communicate with spirits are also addressed. The book is arranged with historical images throughout. Morton’s other non-fiction books include Ghosts: A Haunted History and Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween.
We Don’t Go Back: A Watcher’s Guide to Folk Horror
Offering a global view of the expansive topic of folk horror cinema, We Don’t Go Back explores the subgenre’s many influences. Infused with the author’s personal responses to a range of films, the book discusses folk horror’s roots in idiosyncratic, haunted landscapes and locales, such as the American backwoods. Films like The Wicker Man, Night of the Demon, Witchfinder, and Blood on Satan’s Claw are studied.
Horror Noire: Blacks in American Horror Films from the 1890s to Present
Horror Noire is a comprehensive social history of Black representation in horror cinema. Arranged chronologically, the book is supported by many examples of relevant films, such as Candyman, Night of the Living Dead, and The People Under the Stairs. The book includes a discussion of the distinction between “Black horror” films and films that feature “Blacks in horror.” Published in 2011, it was recently adapted into a Shudder original documentary, Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror.
Eaters of the Dead: Myths and Realities of Cannibal Monsters
Cannibalism is fleshed out in Eaters of the Dead, which focuses on the various monsters that consume human flesh. Ghouls, cannibals, and wendigos are no strangers here. A global perspective provides background on cannibalistic traditions and associated monster mythologies. Depictions of cannibals in film are also studied, including a discussion of how contemporary cinema has used cannibalism to tell stories about our deepest, darkest fears.
Wasteland provides a historical look at modern horror films and literature, arguing the genre owes much to the intense carnage and brutality of World War I. Poole asserts the trauma of war, the proliferation of injured soldiers, and the piles of corpses people inevitably encountered had a profound impact on art. Citing examples of writings, film, paintings, and other artworks, Wasteland is a compelling overview of modern horror history.
Paperbacks from Hell
Paperbacks from Hell is a comprehensive, nostalgic study of the horror paperback craze of the ‘70s and ‘80s. The popular and lesser-known novels of that time, brimming with demons, devils, and even Nazi leprechauns, are described in detail. Relevant historical topics, like the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, are elucidated as well. Written with sharp, humorous prose, the book celebrates not only horror fiction but also fabulous cover art, incorporating many full-color reproductions that might have otherwise been lost to time
Men, Women & Chainsaws
This foundational book on the horror genre was first published in 1992 and updated with a new foreword by the author in 2015. Influential for its psychoanalytical approach, Men, Women & Chainsaws covers the topic of horror cinema since the 1970s, positing that we crave horror due to our tendency to identify with the victim. It is also an important work for bringing the term “Final Girl” into the horror lexicon. Covering various genre tropes and significant films, such as Carrie, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, I Spit on Your Grave, and Deliverance, it is required reading for horror academics and enthusiasts alike.
Stephen King’s compelling volume on the history of the horror genre from 1950-1980 was first published in 1981 and updated in 2010. King takes us on a journey through the genre in this seminal work, addressing the influential formats of horror storytelling—radio, movies, television, and books. He discusses how our basic human fears are reflected in various stories, offering an encyclopedic knowledge of the genre with many examples. Told in King’s compelling voice, Danse Macabre is a page-turner of horror history.