Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Review: ‘Horror and the Horror Film’
It’s a shame we didn’t have Horror and the Horror Film twenty years ago. Bruce F. Kawin’s new book is an exceptional primer on our favorite genre. While so many discussions sidestep the essence of horror to probe its political, social, historical, and purely cinematic implications and impacts, Kawin approaches it at the most essential level. What is the horror film? What are its key tropes? What scares us about them? What revolts us about them? And why do so many of us choose to subject ourselves to such unpleasantness?
Kawin then gets deeper into horror by examining the major movers and shakers of the genre. He divides his monsters into three basic categories (the scientifically explained, the supernatural, the human) and breaks each down into the various subcategories (the transforming monster, the vampire, the slasher, etc.). This allows the writer to dissect horror’s innumerable ingredients in a clear, organized fashion. By approaching the genre monster-by-monster, he can get into their films, their politics, and the way they changed and developed the genre. Kawin offers a fascinating delineation between horror and science-fiction using The Thing from Another World and The Day the Earth Stood Still as the genres’ respective examples. He examines the underlying horrific implications of King Kong or the Creature from the Black Lagoon making off with human women. His study reaches as far back as Méliès’s pre-turn-of-the-century shorts and extends as far into the present as Super 8. To regurgitate a much-abused cliché, Kawin’s knowledge of the horror film is genuinely encyclopedic. By approaching the films by type rather than chronologically, he places the hundreds of films he discusses on a level playing field, so The Mummy has as much historical importance as Hostel. At barely more than 200 pages, Horror and the Horror Film is easy to digest. It’s scope, however, is vast. I hope you film professors out there are paying attention.
Get Horror and the Horror Film at Amazon.com here: