Sunday, January 14, 2024

David J. Skal, R.I.P.

Several horror icons whom I admire have died these past several months. I just now learned that David J. Skal (1952 - 2024) died after being hit by a drunk driver in Los Angeles.

I first encountered Skal through his book, The Monster Show. A self-described "cultural history of horror," his book is informative, filled with original insights, and well written; a breezy, entertaining read, mercifully free of academic jargon. The prose is literate yet accessible to lay readers, the way film criticism should be always.

I later read his Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween, as part of my research for a class I taught at The Learning Annex about Halloween haunted houses. It was great preparation for my lecture.

I only met Skal once, in the fall of 2001, at Burbank's Dark Delicacies horror bookstore. Several writers were there for a book-signing, including me and Skal. I had brought The Monster Show for him to sign, which he did. I still prize that book with his inscription.

To my surprise, he bought a copy of my book, Halloween Candy and asked me to sign it. I took it as his way of encouraging a fellow writer and fan who was hardly in his league.

Overall, Skal was a fine historian, a skilled writer, and a gracious man.