Roots and Beginnings: the Crestwood House Monsters series
For a generation of children, happiness was an orange hardcover. The Crestwood House series of books on classic movie monsters was a near-constant presence in my life for years, perpetually borrowed and re-borrowed from my elementary-school and public libraries. Effectively book-length encyclopedia entries, each installment in the series was richly illustrated with stills from the movies, and alternated plot summaries with factual information about the creatures’ backgrounds and the films’ release and reception. They created a pantheon of monsters — from the post-expressionist/proto-noir Universal horror cycle of the ’30s and early ’40s, the creature features and giant monster movies of the ’50s, and just a touch of the silent films of the ’20s — that loomed every bit as large in my imagination as the Greek gods or the Super Friends. Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Invisible Man, the Phantom of the Opera, King Kong, Godzilla, the Blob — in page after informatively written, black-and-white photo-illustrated page, they came to life (or undeath) for me, without ever having to watch a single moment of their movies. (Godzilla excepted, of course.)
In a way, these served the same gateway-drug role for my lifelong interest in horror that the Marvel trading cards did for my later interest in comics — or, to use a contemporaneous comparison, the role that the filecards on the back of G.I. Joe packages served for the action figures themselves. I couldn’t go near an actual scary movie until I hit puberty — during sleepovers where my friends would watch, say, Poltergeist II or A Nightmare on Elm Street Part IV, I’d literally hide behind the nearest couch, pretending to be asleep, covering my ears. But my fascination with monsters was deep and abiding, and this was a way to indulge that fascination on an almost scientific basis, divorcing it from the movies themselves. The element of fear was no more in play than it was when I’d read about dinosaurs in hopes of becoming a paleontologist when I grew up. Instead, I got a concise burst of information about fascinating, fantastical characters and creatures, enough to fire the imagination without overwhelming it. That trick was these Halloween-colored hardcovers’ real treat.
(images via Paxton Holley)