Reader Beware! This book is forty years old and has age-related troublesome language. “Cr*pple” is used openly, and poor Harry Earles is almost exclusively referred to with the m slur in front of his name. Several movies of the era used yellowface, particularly for antagonists; this is mentioned, occasionally with black and white photos, but neither praised nor condemned.
I wanted to like The Horror People, I really did. Moments of it alternate between fascinating (most of the people featured in it actually consider themselves fantasy auteurs) and screamingly funny (Christopher Lee received a badly translated fan letter exulting him as a “terrible” actor) but I kept finding myself taking larger and larger grains of salt. For every Horror Person featured, there are three equally important ones left out. At first I thought that was due to its age (1976) and author John Brosnan’s points of reference (he’s Australian, writing from London) but, lo and behold- there’s a directory at the end acknowledging the bigger names that were deliberately skipped over. Thus Lon Chaney gets possibly the best chapter in the book, and Peter Lorre merely gets a substantial footnote. Polanski and Romero have the same treatment; our old friend Ed Wood gets a single line in a chapter divided between Lugosi and Karloff. Hitchcock doesn’t appear at all.
Given that many of these actor/director/producer/screenwriters are now late, I do find The Horror People worthy as a time capsule piece. Christopher Lee’s earlier, enthusiastic interviews are readily found; Brosnan presents him in his fifties swearing up and down that he’ll never do Dracula again (and Karloff openly doubting him). Reading Robert Bloch speak in the present tense is deeply interesting, and his dedicated passage is entirely too brief. Elsa Lanchester is the only actress who gets a passing nod, receiving about as much attention as the actors’ wives, praised by them as asides while they describe their careers. The story of Hope Lugosi, Bela fangirl turned Bela’s wife, gets a more intricate passage.
The Horror People sits behind a facade, presenting itself as an omnibus when it’s closer to a “for Dummies” title. I learned several factoids and some deeper information about people I greatly respect; my appetite is enhanced but nowhere near satisfied. I recommend it as a beginner’s book, but maybe don’t drop $10 on it like I did.