Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Review: 'TV Horror: Investigating the Dark Side of the Small Screen '

About four years ago I wrote a piece about the mostly unacknowledged history of horror as a television genre and how it has never really managed to get “a claw-hold on the small screen the way it has in cinema houses, while dumb sitcoms, cop shows, and doctor shows continue to proliferate.” Horror has rarely been acknowledged as a thriving or even a legitimate television genre, yet monsters and murders have made their mark in TV, not just in overt genre programs such as “The Munsters” or “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” but in ones that straddle the lines such as “CSI” and “The Mighty Boosh.”  As cable stations concerned with quality and open to experimentation continue to expand the possibilities of what is permissible on television, horror has found a more comfortable home on pay channels such as HBO and AMC. If nothing else, after sixty years of The Quatermass Experiment, “The Twilight Zone,” “Dark Shadows,” “The X-Files,” and “The Walking Dead,” TV horror has made a deep enough impact that it warrants a study much deeper than the 2,700-or-so words I gave it back in 2009. Lorna Jowett and Stacey Abbott have done precisely that with their new book TV Horror: Investigating the Dark Side of the Small Screen.

The multitudinous programs the writers cover in just 225 pages really draws attention to how overdue this study is. Because of that past failure to acknowledge horror TV, Jowett and Abbott had many, many stones to fling over. They trek to all corners of the topic to discuss how horror has infiltrated non-genre programs, how the televised version differs from its cinematic cousin, how the “mainstreaming” of horror has changed what we are able to see on our TVs, how children have always been more open to the genre than programmers often realize, how horror programs function as metaphors for the entire genre, and how the television set, itself, has functioned as a thing of horror. The discussion is academic but always readable and accessible, though I am now convinced that academic writers get paid based on how many times they use the word “liminal.” A word non-academic writers love to use to make themselves sound academic is “seminal,” and I’ve always promised myself I’d never use it here on Psychobabble. I’m going to break that vow—just this once—because “seminal” is exactly what TV Horror is. It is the first thorough discussion of that creature in the closet, that thing the academics refused to acknowledge until now. Let there be many more intelligent studies of horror TV such as this one and many, many more horrifying programs to study in the decades to come.

Get TV Horror at Amazon.com here:

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