Weird menace is the name given to a sub-genre of horror fiction that was popular in the pulp magazines of the 1930s and early 1940s. The weird menace pulps, also known as "shudder pulps", generally featured stories in which the hero was pitted against sadistic villains, with graphic scenes of torture and brutality.
In the early '30s, detective pulps like Detective-Dragnet, All Detective, Dime Detective, and the short-lived Strange Detective Stories, began to favor detective stories with weird, eerie, or menacing elements. Eventually, the two distinct genre variations branched into separate magazines; the detective magazines returned to stories predominately featuring detection or action; while the eerie mysteries found their own home in the weird menace titles. Some magazines, for instance Ten Detective Aces (the successor to Detective-Dragnet), continued to host both genre variations.
The first weird menace title was Dime Mystery, which started out as a straight crime fiction magazine but began to develop the new genre in 1933 under the influence of Grand Guignol theater. Popular Publications dominated the genre with Dime Mystery, Terror Tales, and Horror Stories. After Popular issued Thrilling Mysteries, Standard Magazines, publisher of the "Thrilling" line of pulps, complained about trademark infringement. Popular withdrew Thrilling Mysteries after one issue, and Standard issued their own weird menace pulp, Thrilling Mystery. In the late-'30s, the notorious Red Circle pulps, with Mystery Tales, expanded the genre to include increasingly graphic descriptions of torture.
This provoked a public outcry against such publications; for instance The American Mercury published a hostile account of the terror magazines in 1938:
This month, as every month, the 1,508,000 copies of terror magazines, known to the trade as the shudder group, will be sold throughout the nation... They will contain enough illustrated sex perversion to give Krafft-Ebing the unholy jitters.
A censorship backlash brought about the demise of the genre in the early 1940s.
- Locke, John. Introduction to Cult of the Corpses, by Maxwell Hawkins, Off-Trail Publications, 2008. ISBN 978-1-935031-05-5.
- Haining, Peter (2000). The Classic Era of American Pulp Magazines. Prion Books. ISBN 1-85375-388-2.
- Bruce Henry, The American Mercury, April 1938; quoted in Jones, The Shudder Pulps, p.138-39.
- Jones, Robert (1978). The Shudder Pulps: A History of the Weird Menace Magazines of the 1930s. Plume. ISBN 0-452-25190-7.