Cryptic Collectibles

Cryptic Collectibles: The Creeptastic Crestwood House Monster Series Books!

on September 20, 2010 | 30 Comments

Following up with the literary theme of Dave Alexander’s previous posting is my look at a set of highly beloved children’s books that many readers may recognize from their youth, and of which may even be responsible for setting them on the path to becoming lifelong horror fanatics: Crestwood House’s Monster Series!

Frankenstein and The Mummy Monster Series Books, Crestwood House, 1977 (1982 reprint) and 1981

As a child growing up in the late ’70s and early ’80s, I was infatuated with these books and used to repeatedly check them out from my school’s library. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to reacquire several of the titles again and even more fortunate to be able to write a piece for our Classic Cut column in issue #92 – released in August of last year. At the time though, I remember somewhat lamenting the fact I was unable to include more images in the piece, but alas, now we have  more than enough room to do that here.  So, without further delay,  here are some of those unused photos as well as a bit of history of the books and the company that released them.

"Ardath Bey talks quietly to Helen as the others listen." From The Mummy Monster Series Book, Crestwood House, 1981

"The meeting of the monsters! King Kong Vs. Godzilla!" From King Kong Monster Series Book, Crestwood House, 1977

First released in 1977, these books was put out by Mankato, Minnesota-based publishers Crestwood House – a former imprint of Simon and Schuster which specialized in producing books for elementary school libraries. Initially consisting of six titles including Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf Man, Mad Scientists, King Kong and Godzilla, these slim, yet informative little volumes (which usually ran around 48 pages each) were easily spotted on library shelves by the deep orange (read: Halloween) hue of their spines and back covers. Of interest to me when I was a kid was the design of the Crestwood House logo itself – featured along with King Kong on the back of the book covers. The company’s name was featured directly below a stylized silhouette of a spooky-looking forest which was (and remains) particularly endearing to me.

Crestwood House Monster Series Books - Back Covers. Note the additional releases advertised and the "creepy forest logo."

The author of the books, Ian Thorne (in fact a pseudonym for popular sci-fi novelist Julian May – The Adversary, Blood Trillium), also went on to pen numerous other Crestwood House releases including books on The Bermuda Triangle, aliens and cryptozoo-related subjects like The Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot. As indicative of most books aimed at a juvenile audience, Thorne/May’s prose is uncomplicated, easy to understand. But what is really great about the books and a surprise to some who re-visit them as adults is just how much content the author manages to include. In addition to reviewing the plots to all the Universal films, the books give a lowdown on the history of the particular monster character including its origins in folklore, superstition and literature before moving onto subsequent films (from companies like Hammer and AIP), television movies and even TV series (i.e.: The Munsters). The King Kong book, for example mentions the usual suspects like the follow-up Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young, but it even goes so far as to briefly include flicks like King Kong vs Godzilla, King Kong Escapes – not to mention other films which feature ape characters,  such as Murders in the Rue Morgue and the Planet of the Apes series!

Title Page for Frankenstein Monster Series Book, Crestwood House, 1977 (1982 reprint)

The Monster and Maria. From Frankenstein Monster Series Book, Crestwood House, 1977 (1982 reprint)

Also making the Monster Seriesbooks especially appealing to young monster fans were their abundance of gorgeous black and white stills – many provided by Forrest J Ackerman. The photos themselves were enough to cause little boys and ghouls to salivate over.

"The monster gave the Wolf Man a hard time." - Interior View of Frankenstein Monster Series Book, Crestwood House, 1977 (1982 reprint)

Cheers for Hammer's The Curse of Frankenstein, and Jeers for AIP's I Was A Teenage Frankenstein: From Frankenstein Monster Series Book, Crestwood House, 1977 (1982 reprint)

Strangely enough, several of the books’ dust jackets/covers featured images not from the original films nor of the actors who imortalized the roles – but rather from various sequels, remakes, etc. Therefore, the Frankenstein cover is curiously not that Boris Karloff, but rather Lon Chaney, Jr. from Ghost of Frankenstein; for The Wolf Man, instead of Lon Chaney, Jr., we have an image of Henry Hull from Werewolf of London; and King Kong features Rick Baker in makeup from the 1976 redux instead of the stop motion model of 1933’s original. Perhaps in a way though, this made the books more unique and set them apart from other offerings at the time.

King Kong Monster Series Book, Crestwood House, 1977

To say the Monster Series line was an influence on monster fans growing up during the time period would be an understatement. In fact, with the advent of home video and the internet still years away, the books would actually act as many a youngster’s introduction to the world of classic horror films – not to mention the people who created and performed in them. And though there were of course publications like Famous Monsters of Filmland available, many seemed more intent at the time to cover sci-fi hits of the day like Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind than the monster flicks of yesteryear.

Studio Publicity Pic of King Kong co-director Merian C. Cooper "dreaming up Kong." From King Kong Monster Series Book, Crestwood House, 1977

Enormously popular with elementary school aged children, (with many school libraries owning multiple copies of each book), the initial six titles were later reprinted – both in hard cover and paperback. They would be briefly released with a weird, brightly colored day-glo effect for their dust jackets – which looked akin to what a five-year-old armed with magic markers would do .  The Godzilla cover was undoubtedly the best; the others however, were pretty bad.

Godzilla Monster Series Book, Color Cover Version, Crestwood House

Come 1981, Crestwood House would begin to release additional entries to its series – nine in all – including The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, The Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein Meets (the) Wolfman, Murders in the Rue Morgue, It Came From Outer Space, The Deadly Mantis and The Blob. Perhaps to help reduce the workload on Thorne, another author, one Howard Schroeder was also brought in to collaborate on some of these releases.

Deadly Mantis and It Came From Outer Space Monster Series Books, Crestwood House, 1982

In 1985, the company went on to release an entirely new series of twelve books entitled Movie Monsters. This time, the books would explore individual films as opposed to entire series, and included such titles as Dracula’s Daughter, Bride of Frankenstein, Werewolf of London and Tarantula. Deviating from the look and format of the previous series, this line – now authored by Carl R. Green and William R. Sanford – featured purple and red covers with the books reduced in size as well.  I don’t personally own any titles from this series, but here’s an image of the Werewolf of London release:

Werewolf of London Movie Monsters Book, Crestwood House

Apart from the books themselves, of interest to fans are the small amount of promotional items produced. A set of read-along audio cassettes, two advertising posters (one, featuring a stunningly beautiful illustration of Bela Lugosi as Dracula) and a teachers’ kit remain some of the rarest Monster Series items and can fetch big bucks when found.

It’s somewhat ironic, that although Crestwood House put out children’s books of all subjects, it appears their Monster Series line is the one the publisher will probably always be best remembered for. And for many monster fans, they wouldn’t have it any other way.

King Kong thinks you should read the entire set of Crestwood House's Monster Series books. You wanna argue with him?

Tags: AIP, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Crestwood House, Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula, Famous Monsters of Filmland, Forrest J Ackerman, Frankenstein, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, Godzilla, Hammer, Henry Hull, Howard Schroeder, Ian Thorne, It Came from Outer Space, Julian May, King Kong, King Kong vs. Godzilla, lon chaney jr, Mad Scientists, Merian C. Cooper, Mighty Joe Young, Monster Series, Murders in the Rue Morgue, Planet of the Apes, Rick Baker, Son of Kong, The Deadly Mantis, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, Universal, Werewolf of London

Responses to Cryptic Collectibles: The Creeptastic Crestwood House Monster Series Books!

  1. I love that Godzilla cover and the pic of Cooper “dreaming up” Kong. It Came From Outer Space is pretty bad ass too…

    Thanks, James!

  2. Ron says:

    Man, does this take me back!
    I was in Grade 6when these books arrived in our school library. Those books never made it back to the shelf, as I was constantly taking them out. Guaranteed, my name took up two library cards in those bad boys.
    Really enjoying these posts – thanks for the little blast of nostalgia, James!

  3. Mike says:

    Thanks very much for posting this! I enjoyed your article in RM92 as well. I’ve loved these books since Grade 2 when I moved to a school that had these in the library. Just recently, I’ve started trying to collet them from ebay/amazon and have about half of the orange books along with the Dracula promotional poster so far.

  4. Dustin says:

    Thanks so much for the article! I was shocked when I saw it. One of the first times the series made it into a major publication. I grew up on them. I have all of the purple ones in mint condition, and all of the orange ones with all but two in non library condition. I have two of the Dracula posters (one signed by Lugosi Jr) and the Teachers Kit. Let me know if you want to see a pic of the kit. It is amazing and even has old quizzes that some teacher made up for her students on the different monsters. Wonderful article!

  5. James Burrell says:

    Hi Dustin,

    Thanks for the comment, and I’m glad you enjoyed the piece.

    That’s great that you have all those items in your personal collection and I’d love to see a pic of the teacher’s kit.

    I hope one day to get one or two of the purple editions for my collection.

  6. Dustin says:

    James-
    I sent you an email with the link to the pictures. Looking back at your website now if you want interior photos of the teacher guide book I can do that too. No stills within but neat to see this rare item.

  7. Chris says:

    What an awesome article.

    I remember those books in my school library as well. I too was constantly checking them out. And for me, they were what made me a horror fan. :-D BTW, in the Dracula book, did you notice their plot synopsis is slightly than the actual film? As well, the “King Kong” book has pictures that weren’t in the actual film -publicity stills, I guess.

    I’d love to read more about those books.

  8. James Burrell says:

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for your comment, I’m glad you enjoyed the piece.

    Yes, I have noticed that some books appear to contain a shot or two of scenes that I can’t recall actually being in the films themselves.

    Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to track down the entire collection yet, so it’s difficult for me to say how many of these pics there are. But it would appear that some of them are publicity shots, and would account for why they weren’t in the actual films.

    By the way, I will be posting a follow-up Crestwood House Monster Series piece here in the near future. So make sure to keep an eye out for it!

    Have a Monsterrific Day!

  9. James Burrell says:

    Hi Robert,

    Thanks for the heads up on this!

    Yes, I’ve actually noticed the auction for this set. There was also another auction for a set that ended only last week.

    Personally, if I didn’t already own many of the books, I’d seriously think about bidding on these.

    Thanks for the info though, it’s much appreciated! And perhaps another Crestwood House fan out there will read this and take notice.

  10. Pingback: Wonderful World of Wappies » Blog Archive » Universal Dreams

  11. Pam says:

    I have several of the Crestwood House Monster Series books listed on Ebay right now. They are in beautiful non-library condition. I don’t think any of them have ever been read! I know, what a sin. Just thought I’d let you monster fans know these are available.

  12. James Burrell says:

    Hi Pam,
    Yes, I’ve seen your listings on eBay. The books are in fantastic condition. I’m sure some Crestwood House fans will be very happy to get them. Good luck on the auctions!

  13. I came to this article by chance today. A nice article concerning these books. There is a bit more “history” to the series and company. I lived in Mankato at one time and was friends with the publisher. I interviewed him, acquired items, and put together a Crestwood House article which was published in Stoner’s Monster Mayhem newsletter/magazine (Lansing, MI) in the 90s. 

    A couple of comments concerning your article~

    “former imprint of Simon & Schuster”..I don’t know what this refers to. Crestwood House was a private company the entire time until purchased by MacMillan Publishing of New York.

    “another author, one Howard Schroeder”.. I spoke with Dr. Schroeder~a professor at Mankato State University. His purpose was to confirm that the wording and sentence structure was the correct age level for the target audience (young adolescence), nothing more. No authorship.

    There are the soft and hardcover books of the 1st series, outside vendor print versions, hard cover of the 2nd series, audio tapes, displays, posters, bookmarks from this company. I posted pictures of all the covers (both series) in the picture gallery of Universal Monster Army years ago. They should still be there for viewing.

    I am a 60s monster kid so was too old for the full force of the Crestwood House Monster influence. I do enjoy them though and they are a permanent part of my extensive monster collection. ”DUSTIN” (reply contributor above), on the other hand, has one of the best collections of this subject and was the right age to really appreciate the books. Someday, I hope a comprehensive Crestwood House story is published. There is story to tell.
    Best regards,
    Richard
    Duluth, Mn

  14. James Burrell says:

    Hi Richard,

    Thanks very much for your comment. Yes, I’m actually aware of your article on the Crestwood House books for “Stoner’s Monster Mayhem” and have to try and track down a copy of that issue of the magazine.

    About the article: in my research, I came across sources that stated Crestwood House had been affiliated with Simon & Schuster. So, thanks for bringing this info, as well as clarifying the extent of Howard Schroeder’s involvement in the series to my attention.

    Yes, Dustin has an amazing collection – which I believe includes most, or all of the items you stated, such as the posters, bookmarks, audio tapes, and so on. I was fortunate to be able to use images of some of these rare items in another one of my blog posts.

    Thanks again for the comment and the info. Take care.

    -James

  15. Ted Markley says:

    Question for you: I, too, loved the Crestwood books, but I also had another one that I bought at a variety store ca. 1986. It was not really focused on movies but covered all different monsters — vampires, werewolves, mummy, etc. — and emphasized the lore surrounding them. I remember that it listed different ways to kill a vampire, like stuffing the head full of garlic and cutting it off, mentioned that werewolves’ ring fingers are longer than their middle fingers, and had details on how mummies were made, including the removal of the organs through the nose. Any ideas? It scared me, so I got rid of it within a year or two, but I’d love to take another look at it today.

  16. James Burrell says:

    Hi Ted,

    Do you reside in the UK? If so, I’m pretty certain you are referring to a series of three books produced by Usborne Publishers called “Supernatural Guides.” Now, these are smaller sized volumes (approximately 7″x 4″) that are not to be confused with the company’s popular “World of the Unknown” line of books about Monsters, UFOs and Ghosts.

    The particular volume you’re talking about sounds like the “Vampires, Werewolves and Demons” book, which talks about the lore of the monsters and tells young readers how to become a werewolf, how to kill a vampire, etc.

    In addition to that book, the company also put out ones titled “Haunted Houses” and “Mysterious Powers.”

    Hope that helps.

    -James

  17. Ted Markley says:

    I’m in the US, and I don’t think that was it. I seem to recall the book having been larger, maybe about 8×11 or so. I’m pretty sure I bought it from a rack of thin, soft-cover children’s books and activity books. It would have had to have been after 1984 but before 1988 due to the house where I was living. I was surprised at the time at some of the grisly details that it contained due it having been a children’s book. I wish I could remember more about it…

  18. James Burrell says:

    Hi again Ted,

    I’m sorry, but the only children’s books that I can really recall that deal with this subject matter and feature surprisingly gory illustrations are the Usborne books.

    I forgot to mention previously that the company did publish all three Supernatural Guides in one volume, titled the “Usborne Guide to the Supernatural World.” However, I can’t remember if the dimensions of that book were larger than the smaller, individual guides.

    If you haven’t already, check out my another post of mine on children’s horror books. It might help to jog your memory.

    http://www.rue-morgue.com/tag/usborne-publishers/

    -James

  19. Ted Markley says:

    I’m not seeing anything I remember in that post, though I have now looked at other posts on the smaller Usborne Guides pertaining to vampires and werewolves, and they are indeed pretty nasty for children’s books, and in a similar style. I just don’t think any of these is the one I had. The bit about the werewolf’s ring finger being as long as or longer than the middle finger, I think, is the key. I read all the monster books I could find back then, and this was the only book I saw that mentioned that. I also think it was in black and white IIRC but did have plenty of illustrations.

  20. James Burrell says:

    Hi Ted,

    Went through my copy of the Usborne Supernatural Guide, “Vampires, Werewolves and Demons” and I did come across passages that made reference to stuffing a vampire’s mouth with garlic and a werewolf’s third finger being longer than the second. Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s the same book you’re inquiring about, but then again, it might also be.

    I’ll be featuring this series of books in a future piece in “Rue Morgue”, so keep your eyes out for it!

    -James

  21. Ted Markley says:

    OK, maybe it was that. I’ll look forward to reading your post to see if there’s anything else that rings a bell.

  22. This was my introduction to horror. Thank you for the great article.

  23. James Burrell says:

    Hi Edward,
    Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you liked it.
    Take care.
    -James

  24. I have the Godzilla Crestwood book and I used to take all these books out of my school’s media center all the time when I was growing up!!

    Like some other postes on here, I have a question regarding a monster book. I can’t remember the name of the book and this is a real long shot but I’m going to give it a try:

    When I was kid, I used to take out of my library a huge book on movie monsters. It was large, almost a foot long maybe, and covered from the birth of cinema to around the 70s. The cover had Frankenstein’s face dead center and to his left and right, much smaller, either Dracula and The Wolf Man or Dracula and the Mummy. The back cover had a full body shot of Godzilla (from the original 1954 film) with a train or something in its mouth and pulling an electricity wire with one hand.

    If anyone has any idea what I’m talking about it would be a HUGE help! My library lost the book in a hurricane and I can’t find it on the internet. It may have been made in the UK. Please respond to me here or email me at kingnick49@aol.com thank you!!

    -Nick Latrenta

  25. Timothy says:

    When I was in elementary school in the late 90s and early 2000s, I discovered this series in my school’s library, and it nurtured what became an almost religious enthusiasm for classic horror films. I moved early in my school career and was never able to find these books again. This is no exaggeration: I’m now 20 years old and have had the same recurring dream for years in which I find these books again. Now I have, and while I can’t relive my childhood, I am glad that I can still get a glimpse of the wonder it all was once again. Heartfelt thanks for posting this!

    • James Burrell says:

      Hi Timothy,

      Thanks very much for the kind words. I’m happy you enjoyed the post and that it helped you relive some fond childhood memories. Take care.

      -James

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