Chris Priestley's Guide to Horror

Chris Priestley's Guide to Horror

Any list of favourite books is, by nature, temporary. But these are a few I think will always stay with me.

1. Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe

I remember being quite shocked by Poe when I first read these stories. I had seen the Roger Corman adaptation of several of them, but they did not prepare me for the weirdness of the actual tales. This is bizarre, hallucinogenic horror that, despite the florid language, seems very modern in its focus on the psychology of its characters – on their obsessions, anxieties and very dark desires.

2. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

I didn’t read The Haunting of Hill House until quite recently. The 1963 movie of the book has always been a favourite of mine, but Shirley Jackson’s book is far more complex than the movie and is superbly written. Both The Haunting and Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher were influences on The Dead of Winter.

3. Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M. R. James

Like Shirley Jackson, I came to M. R. James via adaptations. His work was filmed in the 1970s by Lawrence Gordon Clark for the BBC’s A Ghost Story for Christmas. The tales are stranger and darker then you might think if you know them only by their cosy 'traditional ghost story' reputation. ‘A Warning to the Curious’ is on of his best and could almost stand as a theme for a lot of his work.

4. I am Legend by Richard Matheson

Is this a horror book or a sci-fi book? Actually, it’s neither and both. The writing is taut and though the scenario is fantastic (a man holding out against the mass victims of a kind of plague of vampirism) it is never less than horribly believable. Tense and nerve-jangling to the very end.

5. The Dunwich Horror by H. P. Lovecraft

H. P. Lovecraft is often cited as an influence by American writers of uncanny fiction. This book knocked me sideways when I read it – it is so strangely written. The opening passages are particularly good. As with Poe there is something of the deranged – almost hysterical – about the prose style itself. But I mean that in a good way.


Cinema and television played a huge part in my development as a writer. In the case of horror fiction, I was encouraged to read the books because of the movies they had inspired, whether it was Dracula or Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde or The Masque of the Red Death. Here is a list of my top five Frankenstein-inspired movies:


The 1931 James Whale directed movie is an extraordinary creation by any measure. It does owe a debt to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis from five years earlier, and even to The Golem of 1920, but they are cold in comparison. It is Karloff ’s performance that makes this movie unforgettable and that has made Frankenstein’s monster part of our modern mythology.


James Whale’s second visit to Mary Shelley’s novel was a lot stranger than his first and all the better for it. It also features a wonderful double performance by Elsa Lanchester as both Mary Shelley in the prelude and the bride. Now of course, if she was betrothed to anyone, it was the creature not his creator, and in the novel Frankenstein destroys his work before he brings it to life, but as with his first movie, James Whale’s lack of respect for his source material produces something a little bit wonderful.


Frankenstein is the godfather of all rebel robot and android movies. Mary Shelley was playing with the issues around what it means to be human a long time before Philip K Dick wrote his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (filmed as  Blade Runner by Ridley Scott). It also owes a debt to Metropolis (by way of Film Noir), but the famous dying speech by Rutger Hauer’s android before his death seems to have something of the pathos and Romantic grandeur of Mary Shelley’s creature.


The Terminator franchise also owes a debt to Frankenstein, of course, (and what a great creature Arnold Schwarzenegger would have made) but Terminator 2 deals more directly with some of the issues in Mary Shelley’s novel: about the arrogance of scientists and the unseen and potentially catastrophic consequences of invention. This James Cameron movie – teaming a teenager with the Terminator – was very much in my mind when I wrote Mister Creecher.


Edward is a composite creature – as is the creature in the movies of Frankenstein (although Mary was vague about how the creature was created in her novel). Tim Burton is always fascinated by the bizarre and the freakish and this fascination, as it is here, is usually sympathetic. Edward’s scissor-hands change from a disability to the means of creating beauty. A monster movie with a happy ending.

Bloomsbury Publishing Plc Registered in England No. 1984336
Registered Office: 50 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3DP, tel: +44 (0) 207 631 5600 Privacy & Cookies