Bill’s Bookshelf Number 3: The Ghouls

The Ghouls

Edited by Peter Haining

Published in 1971 by Stein and Day

They pulled out all the stops on this one: Introduction by Vincent Price, Afterword by Christopher Lee, Dedication to Boris Karloff, quote from Alfred Hitchcock leading into the Editor’s Foreword, all designed with the “classic horror movie fan” in mind.

The inside flap tells us that “Peter Haining has collected the stories on which eighteen of the very best horror films were based.”

This is only partly true. You would be hard-pressed, for example, to find anyone who considers Monster of Terror (1965, known in the United States as Die, Monster, Die) a good movie, much less a great movie. It’s based on a story called “The Colour Out of Space” by that paranoid old recluse H. P. Lovecraft. You can read more about the film at Scott Ashlin’s blog, 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting.

Several films have been based on The Phantom of the Opera, some good, some terrible. Regarding the inclusion of The Phantom of the Opera in The Ghouls anthology, Mark Hodgson of Black Hole Reviews tells us, “At this point Haining cheats a little, presenting a specially abridged version of Gaston Leroux’ book. But this is a good way to enjoy the story and avoid the overlong sub-plots of opera house politics and romantic rivalry.” and “This condensed version seems to have been trimmed to give us the passages that were translated to the screen for Lon Chaney’s brilliant work.”

I’ve become a big fan of Nikolai Gogol, but I had forgotten that the classic Italian horror film Black Sunday (1960), starring Barbara Steele, was inspired by Gogol’s short story, The Viy. The movie, directed by Maria Bava, has almost nothing to do with Gogol’s story, but both film and story are classics in their own way. 

I didn’t like the beginning Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Feathertop,” on which the movie Puritan Passions (1923) is based, because it starts out too cutesy, like a whimsical fairy tale, with a witch lighting her pipe by magic. But actually, there is a great scene later in the story. The witch has brought a scarecrow to life. The scarecrow, whose name is Feathertop, appears human to everyone who looks at him, but there is a scene in which he is courting a young lady, and he looks in the mirror and sees himself as he really is – a scarecrow – and I thought it was quite a chilling scene. I haven’t seen the movie so I don’t know how the filmmakers handled it.

“The Magician” (1908), by Somerset Maugham, is one of my favorite stories in the book. It’s a simple story involving a young lady who meets a “dabbler in the Black Arts” named Oliver Haddo (the character was based on real-life occultist Aleister Crowley). The bulk of the story is filled with richly atmospheric hallucinatory imagery and I can see why Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer wanted to bring it to the silver screen in 1926. Unfortunately, this seems to be lost film. There is documentation that the movie was made, but no prints have been found.

At this point, I would like to turn the report over to Mark Hodgson of Black Hole Reviews. Enjoy.


The word “uncanny” is often used interchangeably with words like “eerie” and “weird.”  After Boris Karloff  portrayed the Frankenstein monster in the classic 1931 movie, he was sometimes billed as “Karloff the Uncanny.” I recently decided to look up the actual definition of uncanny and discovered a treasure trove of cool information, including some psychology from Sigmund Freud and Ernst Jentsch, short stories by E. T. A. Hoffman (especially Der Sandmann), which inspired the likes of Poe, Baudelaire, and Kafka, all the way up to Neil Gaiman’s acclained graphic novel, The Sandman.

Wikipedia describes the concept of uncanny as “an instance where something can be familiar, yet foreign at the same time, resulting in a feeling of it being uncomfortably strange.”

A 1906 essay by Ernst Jentsch called On the Psychology of the Uncanny cites the fiction of German writer E.T.A. Hoffmann as examples of uncanny tales. Sigmund Freud also made extensive references to Hoffman’s work. Both psychologists focused mainly on a macabre little tales called Der Sandmann (The Sandman).

I found Hoffmann’s The Sandman to be a wonderfully bizarre treat, and Thanks to Gaslight, you can read the entire text here.

Hoffman is associated with German Romanticism. He wrote a novelette called The Nutcracker, which was later the inspiration for the famous ballet by Tchaikovsky that has become a Christmas tradition. Hoffmann’s story Das Fräulein von Scuderi  may be the first detective story, coming even before Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”

Neil Gaiman‘s Sandman series of graphic novels feature a character created by Morpheus (“the Sandman”) called the Corinthian, who steals the eyes of his victims, similarly to Hoffman’s Sandman. Here is a good source of information on Gaiman’s Sandman: Master of Dreams.