Picks and Pans Review: Horror

updated 10/23/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/23/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Leonard Wolf

Anybody in need of reading material or videotape advice for the Halloween season will appreciate this book.

Written by the aptly named Wolf, a native of Transylvania, Romania (yes, it's true), this is a richly illustrated encyclopedia of scary fiction and movies. Wolf, a San Francisco State literature professor turned horrorologist, mixes literary pretension with a wickedly civilized sense of humor. To that he adds a willingness to suspend disbelief from here to the Indian Ocean, site of the 1820 Charles Robert Maturin novel, Melmoth the Wanderer ("a complex vision of personal damnation").

Of Anne Rice's 1976 novel, Interview with the Vampire, Wolf writes, "Interview's macabre plot—Lolita with fangs-is sustained for the most part by Rice's considerable power to evoke moods." In discussing the 1948 film Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, he describes a scene in which Lon Chaney Jr., about to turn into the Wolf Man, tells Costello, "You don't understand—when the moon rises, I turn into a wolf!" Costello, the perennial frustrated ladies' man, snaps back, "You and 50 million other guys."

The dabbling between sober-minded psychocultural analysis and naive enjoyment of being scared witless gives Wolfs prose just the right tone. The author of such previous volumes as The Annotated Dracula, he is the ideal guide for those of us who scoff at vampires and werewolves but knock on wood while we're scoffing, just to be on the safe side. (Facts on File, $27.95)

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