Outside of Cthulhu, the Necronomicon might be the most infamous creation of horror author H.P. Lovecraft’s career. The book, allegedly written by mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, first turns up in the author’s 1924 short story The Hound – and from there, it’s become arguably the most infamous title in the history of the dark arts. Impressive, since it doesn’t actually exist.
Like so many of Lovecraft’s creations, the Necronomicon became a pop-culture touchstone only after the author’s death. In the years since Lovecraft’s passing, the book has served as a key plot element in many different novels, movies, comics and television shows, becoming the most obvious choice whenever a tale calls for a grimoire that can bring about bad things.
Fede Alvarez’s reboot of Evil Dead (in theaters now) is the latest film to use Lovecraft’s manifest of the macabre as a focal point – which isn’t the least bit surprising since Sam Raimi’s earlier films helped make the text a household name (although, it should be noted that the spellbook used in the original film was entitled the Naturon Demonto and was a Sumerian riff on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The Necronomicon didn’t appear until 1987’s Evil Dead 2, and was rechristened the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis). Yet, for as evil as the Necronomicon is, it’s hardly the only bad book to be featured in a Hollywood film. Here are six other terrible tomes you wouldn’t want to have on your Kindle.
The Book of the Dead – The Mummy
Stephen Sommers’ 1999 reimagining of The Mummy is interesting in that it features not one mystical book, but two. This high adventure finds treasure-hunters Brendan Fraser and Rachel Weisz unintentionally reviving Imhotep from his ancient slumber after Weisz reads a page from The Book of the Dead aloud.
The revived high priest then goes after everyone who disturbed the tomb of his love, and it’s only with the power of the Book of Amun-Ra that Fraser and Weisz can wrap things up once and for all.
In the grand hierarchy of evil books, The Book of the Dead is pretty potent stuff – the power to resurrect the dead is one that can be used in a lot of dangerous ways, although it seems unlikely to actually lead to mankind’s complete downfall. Despite not having potentially world-altering capabilities, this piece of supernatural nonfiction is still dangerous enough to make our list.
The Three Mothers – Inferno
"I do not know what price I shall have to pay for breaking what we alchemists call Silentium, the life experiences of our colleagues should warn us not to upset laymen by imposing our knowledge upon them." -- The Three Mothers, E. Varelli
Our next book of forbidden knowledge has no inherent magical powers or rituals, but reading it will reveal secrets better left unknown…
The Three Mothers figures prominently into Dario Argento’s 1980 film Inferno. The title, which is the spiritual successor to the director’s Suspiria, features another of the director’s wicked “Three Mothers” – witches who rule the world from their elaborately designed homes in New York, Freiburg and Rome.
Suspiria focuses on the first mother, Mater Suspiriorum (the Mother of Sighs), while Inferno looks to expand the mythology and focuses on Mater Tenebrarum (the Mother of Darkness).
Irene Miracle opens a door better left shut when she discovers an old book entitled The Three Mothers. The strange tome was written by an architect named E. Varelli, and describes how these three wicked witches rule the world from their secret homes. Miracle becomes convinced that she’s living in the same building as Mater Tenebrarum based on clues in the book -- and she and her brother become embroiled in a fight for their lives as the witch empties her cauldron in an effort to keep her identity a secret.
Varelli’s The Three Mothers might be the least powerful occult artifact on our list, but it’s still worthy of mention because cracking it open tends to always unleash the darkness.
The Collected Works of Sutter Cane – In the Mouth of Madness
"…as in the same second he saw them spill and tumble upward out of an enormous carrion black pit, choked with the gleaming white bones of countless unhallowed centuries. He began to back away from the rip as the army of unspeakable figures twilit by the glow from the bottomless pit came pouring at him toward our world."– In the Mouth of Madness, Sutter Cane
While most of the books featured on this list are dusty tomes long forgotten, books that require a Herculean effort to obtain, the works of one Sutter Cane are terrifying because of how easily accessible they are. You could march right down to your local Barnes & Noble and pick up any one of the author’s books in paperback format for a few bucks in the cinematic world John Carpenter creates in his 1995 movie.
Cane’s work – a series of Lovecraftian pastiches with Stephen King overtones -- serves as the catalyst for the end of the world in John Carpenter’s underappreciated film. Titles like The Hobb’s End Horror might sound cheesy and innocuous, but Cane’s collective fiction is something much darker – an invocation designed to spread madness and resummon the Elder Gods -- masquerading as popular fiction. His final creation, In the Mouth of Madness, is the culmination of his multistage ritual. Bad things await everyone who reads it.
The collected works of Sutter Cane are one of the most dangerous collections of forbidden knowledge on the list, if only because the reader has no idea that he’s stumbled on to something incredibly powerful and malevolent. Sam Neill learns that the hard way in the film.
Interesting trivia: most of the text attributed to Sutter Cane is actually taken from H.P. Lovecraft’s works.
The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows – The Ninth Gate
We start our next chapter in this tale of frightening film fiction with a book authored by Lucifer himself: The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows.
The Nine Gates sits at the center of Roman Polanski’s mesmerizing The Ninth Gate – an occult thriller starring Johnny Depp based on Arturo Perez-Reverte’s novel The Club Dumas. In the film (which branches off from the novel), Depp is tasked with determining which of three remaining copies of The Nine Gates is legitimate for his shady employer.
The real book contains a ritual allowing the owner to conjure Lucifer directly – and presumably acquire great power. However, figuring out which book is legitimate proves more dangerous than Depp’s character ever imagined.
In the pantheon of cinematic books of forbidden knowledge, The Nine Gates of the Kingdom of Shadows is right up there with the best of them. Anything that allows a person to conjure the devil directly has to be bad news, right?
The Book of Eibon – The Beyond
Woe be unto him who opens one of the seven gateways to Hell, because through that gateway, evil will invade the world. – The Book of Eibon
Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond is one of my favorite Italian horror movies. A woman renovates a hotel built on one of the seven gates of Hell (funny how Fulci tells us there are seven, while Polanski says there are nine. Ryuhei Kitamura’s Versus, meanwhile, posits there are 666…) and opens it – bringing forth a zombie apocalypse (which was only included to appease a German marketplace that was crazy about zombies at the time of the film's release).
Yet, amidst all the zombies, face-eating tarantulas, and other gory goodies in Fulci’s film, there’s also The Book of Eibon. The question is, is the book part of the cause of the supernatural shenanigans or the solution? Fulci never makes that 100% clear.
What is clear is that the eldritch tome – which was first mentioned by author Clark Ashton Smith and later appropriated by Lovecraft (it appears in The Dreams in the Witch House, The Horror in the Museum and The Shadow Out of Time) – is filled with arcane knowledge and forgotten lore. If you stumble across this one in the stacks at your university library, we think it’s best if you turn around and walk the other way…
Interesting trivia: The Book of Eibon was the second time Fulci used a piece of occult literature in his work. The Beyond's spiritual precursor City of the Living Dead utilized The Book of Enoch in a similar fashion.
The Grand Grimoire – Warlock
The spell book. All witches keep grimoires, yet one is indestructible, one is the bible of black magic - the Grand Grimoire. Always witches have lusted for it, and now, here, I find a page - one lone page! -- Redferne
We wrap things up with one of the most powerful books ever featured in any film – The Grand Grimoire.
The Grand Grimoire is right up there with The Necronomicon – at least as it’s portrayed in Steve Miner’s 1989 film Warlock. What’s so special and terrifying about this creepy codex? It contains the true name of God – and if satanic minion Julian Sands finds it and says that name backwards, it will undo all of creation. Yikes.
The text in the film is so powerful that it’s been separated into three sections and hidden across America in hopes of preventing anyone from recovering it and unleashing the dark magic contained within its pages. Sands’ warlock uses all the powers of Hell at his disposal in an attempt reassemble the treatise, with only a 17th-century witch hunter (Richard E. Grant) and an ‘80s party girl (Lori Singer) standing between him and his goal.
Interestingly enough, The Grand Grimoire is allegedly a real work of nonfiction that contains instructions for summoning Lucifer in order to make a pact with the dark lord.