Book Review – The Monster Show : A Cultural History of Horror by David J. Skal

I originally wrote this review on Halloween, but I suppose if it sneaks over into Christmas no one will mind. You can’t go too wrong with a book like The Monster Show, what with Edward Gorey cover art and a healthy bit of each era of horror, though the author does tend to favor silent and classic films. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

A sharply-written, well-researched and intriguing look into what and who made horror films what they have become – how they grew and changed with the fears, taboos and interests of the people.
There are good bits also on how stories of other genres often get their roots from something horrific, as well as the strange lifelong relationship that horror and erotica have with each other, and how both tend to be heavily challenged genres. If a film got picked on by censors, odds are it was one or both genres.

Horror itself is one of the oldest core genres of fiction, many early horror films and novels being inspired by themes which were already ancient and immersed in society at the time through folklore, superstition and even religion.

Fun fact – The oldest known (and intact) horror film is Georges Méliès’s short The Haunted Castle / Le Manoir du Diable. The oldest surviving full-length horror film is Frankenstein (1910). What is thought to be the first horror novel, officially, is The Castle of Otranto, though of course there have always been elements of horror in literature, long before that.

Overall, an incredibly interesting book that gives more insight into the genre’s origins in film, how we have evolved (or devolved, depending on what you feel about modern horror) from the dreamlike surrealism of early horror movies, to the occultish and symbolic mid-century films, into the visceral, discomfortingly realistic films of today.

In my own opinion, a good horror film should be unassuming, to catch one off-guard. The filmmaker shouldn’t be concerned with being ‘edgy’ or ‘shocking’, but rather creating a nightmare to be experienced onscreen as if it were one happening in your mind’s eye.

General – 4/5

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