Lost in the Dark: A World History of Horror Film
by Brad Weismann
University Press of Mississippi, 264 pp., Paperback, $25.00
Available now

They always say write the book that you want to read,” Brad Weismann says. “I was looking for a reference book that covered the whole history of the horror film, and I found that there wasn’t one. … I thought: Well, there’s a need there. I should probably try to see if I can fill it.”

And fill it he did. Lost in the Dark: A World History of Horror Film is the accumulation of four years of work and hundreds and hundreds of movies watched, “good, bad, and indifferent.” 

“There are certain films that are highlighted as being exemplary of a particular period or a particular style,” Weismann says, “But [Lost in the Dark] is not encyclopedic in the sense that it’s 800 pages long or covers every film in-depth.”

Instead, Weismann focused on larger themes: iconic performers (Lon Chaney), studios (Universal monster movies), and historical periods (Hammer horror, Italian giallo, etc.), and then built outward to establish common trends.

“It does seem that every time society is in turmoil, the number of horror films clicks upward,” Weismann says, pointing to Spanish horror made during the reign of Francisco Franco. At the time, movies were heavily censored, and anything critical of the fascist government was a no-no. So filmmakers set their stories in Germany or France and left it to the audience to connect the dots.

“The zeitgeist of that time squeaks out thanks to the use of the horror film,” Weismann says, adding that victims in these movies are often “the ones who smoke pot and have sex. Kind of like what happened with American films in the ’80s. … You transgress the cultural norm, and immediately you’re food for monsters.”

Digging through horror’s history is a way to peer into the psychology of the time, even how we view the acts of today. As Weismann points out, when insurgents attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, the images we saw resembled The Purge movies with shocking similarities. How did we get here? Horror has a few ideas.

On Aug. 12, Boulder Book Store will host a conversation between Weismann and Ron Bostwick about all things horror. Talk starts at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 and count toward a discount of the book.

Header photo: The Devil Rides Out, courtesy Hammer Films. The above blurb first appeared in the pages of Boulder Weekly Vol. 28, No. 48, “Reading cinema.”