Monsters, Mad Scientists and Cultural Contexts of Horror

Book Review of Grixti and Tudor

by Donato Totaro Volume 17, Issue 6-7 / July 2013 20 minutes (4989 words)

Terrors of Uncertainty: The Cultural Contexts of Horror Fiction
Joseph Grixti, 1989, London and New York, Routledge, xviii + 214 pp.

Monsters and Mad Scientists: A Cultural History of the Horror Movie Andrew Tudor, 1989, Oxford, Basil Blackwell, viii + 239 pp.

The tail end of 1989 saw the release of two important studies of the horror genre which are well worth a return visit and reappraisal. Their intentions, methods and conclusions are vastly different, thus they are treated separately. I begin with Terrors of Uncertainty.

In the introduction author Joseph Grixti tells us that his goal is not to discuss the merits or demerits of the horror genre, but to look at horror fiction and its surrounding discourse as a social and cultural phenomena. Horror fiction (meaning all narrative accounts of horror) is defined as narrative that deals in messages about fear and experiences of fear. It is a genre that concentrates on the area of “shared uncertainty” (xii). Grixti believes that because of its long standing and continually increasing popularity, horror fiction forms a part of “the symbolic structures which we use to make sense of and ascribe meaning to our existence “ (xii). It helps us confront our individual/social fears and anxieties and our violent and destructive tendencies. In doing so, it is an important “signifying component” of a complex process that contemporary society employs to understand itself.

However, Grixti’s contention is that the majority of horror fiction does so “tacitly and uncritically.” They construct a “picture of reality” that contains or accepts assumptions that hinder rather than aid a true understanding of the social and cultural reality. Horror fiction may draw out fears and anxieties stemming from our “shared uncertainty” but do not go beyond the assumptions on which they are based, nor propose or provide a solution to these states (183). This is the central point of Grixti’s book: horror fictions reassure our sense of personal helplessness and render us politically impotent and dependent on socially accepted forms of protection (what I take to be the state, the legal and criminal system, the police, the family, religion, etc.). Hence, horror fiction is embedded within the status quo (consumer culture) and helps “reassure” (a key word in Grixti’s book) our position within it.

The book is divided between examples of such fictional horror and their shared assumptions, and critical expositions of some academic perspectives that form the intellectual basis of these assumptions (somewhat outmoded but still referenced in horror studies, cathartic and behaviorist theories). The book is thus divided into two sections: part one (“Horror and Helplessness in Contemporary Bestsellers”) and part two (“Academic Perspectives”).

In part one Grixti examines the works of two highly successful horror novelists, British writer James Herbert and American writer Stephen King. He concludes that, although King is the more thoughtful and provocative, both authors share the same central assumption (and thematic preoccupation): the belief in a “natural” bestial side of humanity that is part of our primitive heritage and, once triggered, impossible to curb. Grixti concentrates on this assumption because he feels it has the gravest ramifications.

Stephen King believes that the horror genre is a forum for reaffirming the norm and showing what happens to those who transgress this norm. This implies that we accept King’s conception of what normalcy is.

This ‘transgressive’ dark, primitive side can take on many guises: moral evil, the supernatural, madness, mental illness, magic, technology. Both Herbert and King invoke a society that is helpless in its confrontation with the “uncivilized” primitive side of humanity. Rational, level-headed emotions are impotent in the face of the more powerful, aggressive instincts. Grixti quotes King: “the strongest emotions are the primitive ones rage and hate and fear” (72). King feels that the only defense against our dark side is to periodically unleash it. Grixti claims that in these fictions, Freud’s postulate about the “omnipotency of thought” is transformed to the “omnipotency of impulsive feelings and aggressive instincts” (72).

To compound matters, these fictions combine “helpless unease with vacuous optimism” (74). The darker side is usually defeated by idealized heroic action or an equally bestial counterattack. These virtues (individualism, instinctiveness, aggressiveness, spontaneity) are found especially in Herbert’s works. The most radical version of this formula is to be found in the then recent right-wing vigilante films (which Grixti discusses in the conclusion). Here the bestial side is given heroic stature and mythified in the person of Bronson, Eastwood, Stallone, Norris, and Schwarzenegger.

King and Herbert believe that their writing is a form of Self-therapy and that, perhaps, it helps their readers to discharge their own bestial urges. The assumptions underlying this acceptance of a bestial side of humanity are as follows: that it is a natural, biological fact; that these primitive urges are more powerful than others; and that these urges can not be stopped after they are set in motion. Grixti sets out to prove that this is an assumption based on an uncritical acceptance of “pseudo-scientific” premises which, themselves, are on suspect ground (73). In response to Grixti’s supposition, it is questionable that an artist has to be critical of whatever scientific or pseudo-scientific assumptions may underly their work. (In this case, the bestial side of humanity and the theory that claims to discharge these and other urges through vicarious experience.)

Grixti criticizes mechanistic explanations of the human condition because they do not adequately account for motivation, intention and purpose (144-45). He spends a large percentage of the book (pages 77 to 175) discussing the shortcomings of cathartic and behaviorist explanations of the effects of media on its audience. Grixti’s central point is that catharsis, being based on a psychoanalytical hypothesis (not science), is culturally determined and should not be accepted as natural. He also feels that with the respectability of pseudo-scientific and psychological trappings, catharsis has become a socially accepted method of purging urges and desires. In so doing, catharsis (and the notion of the beast within) has the potential to let us rationalize away our sense of personal responsibility and allow for a false sense of exoneration of past sins and inhumane and destructive action (87). Behaviorist and neo-behaviorist studies have also lent an air of respectability and reinforcement to the assumption that the primitive, dark side is a natural part of humanity and unstoppable once set in motion.

Grixti points out that prior to Darwin and Freud the destructive tendencies of humanity were explained in spiritual or logical terms. After Darwin and Freud the bestial side of humanity took on an air of scientific and historical discourse, but the mechanistic Jekyll/Hyde-civilized/primitive formulation of human nature remained.

Grixti’s arguments open up a provocative discourse. He admits that Freud and Freudian thinking has had a profound effect on our understanding of human nature (and indeed, on theoretical explications of horror, not to mention horror narratives and characterisation). It has something for everyone: great drama and imagery, the air of science, and the explanatory power of mythology. However, he still feels there is something potentially harmful or regressive about it when applied uncritically to social and cultural reality. This “something” is the naturalization of humanity’s dark, evil side. By depicting the dark, ugly side of human nature as a natural biological process we are admitting a helplessness and an impotence to instigating social change. Grixti warns against an uncritical acceptance of the “beast within” and the human psyche as an explanation for human evil.

Grixti’s contention rests on these psychoanalytical/behaviourist theories not being scientific (untestable). Because the “beast within” is an image based on cultural and discursive processes, Grixti feels “that one can begin to argue that human nature is inseparable from human culture” (104). However, along these lines, the study of society and culture, though full of scholarly rigor, is not a testable science in the (Karl) Popperian sense either. [1] Indeed, how scientific can we get with the murky waters of human nature, the brain, the mind and consciousness? I don’t think we explain human nature any more by painting a scenario where all human evil, destruction and cruelty is reduced to the social and political level. This may help to propagate an awareness of social and political injustice, but still leaves many fundamental (and perhaps forever unanswerable) questions about human nature unanswered. These are some important and provocative questions raised by Grixti’s book. It should be noted that there is a precedence for this type of social critique of horror in the criticism and theory of Robin Wood. In Wood’s body of critical work, horror films that depicted evil as innate in humanity, as opposed to growing out of social and cultural repression and oppression, were labelled as ‘right wing’ or ‘reactionary’ horror. This social analysis of horror, steeped in Marcusian, Queer, Feminist-based Marxism, formed a centerpiece of Robin Wood’s monumental work on the horror film (‘Return of the Repressed’ and the dozens of follow-up essays he and his colleagues and followers wrote since the appearance of the 1976 monogram, The American Nightmare). But where Wood and Co. found and championed many counter-example ‘progressive’ horror films, Grixti is contend to build a one-sided case for the dominance of the ‘status quo’ in horror fiction.

I would like to get back to some of the book’s points on the subject of horror fiction. Focusing on King’s The Shining (60-74), Grixti states that the discourse is such that a childlike position must be taken. King argues that children are more likely to accept the fantastic on its own terms because they have not yet cultivated a strong distinction between reality and make-believe. This recalls Freud’s theory of the “uncanny,” part of which derives from the infantile inability to distinguish between the animate and inanimate (and the adult’s repression of this inability). For Grixti, this implies that the world of horror fiction is that of irrationality, uncertainty, linguistic play, and childlike helplessness. It is the domain of Todorov’s “hesitation” between the real (the uncanny) and the unreal (the marvelous). This is a world too far removed from social reality to be of any concrete, pragmatic value.

Grixti’s point is that this is not the proper discourse for dealing with problems of social reality. He sees the elements of horror fiction discourse, namely the play between reality and fantasy, uncertainty, and childlike imagination, as a hindrance to an understanding of reality. Horror fiction is a regressive form of self-deception that does not help us confront the problems of the real world. As he claims, the stereotypes and assumptions of destruction and evil in horror fiction only evade an understanding of the “real implications of the uncertainties … endemic to the constantly changing social, political, and economic conditions” (172).

Grixti incorrectly deduces that the further removed horror fiction is from reality, the less it is able to deal with social reality, and hence the closer it is to “reassurance” and “false consciousness.” I agree that much escapist fiction (horror and otherwise) is reactionary, but to denounce a whole strategy and genre (fantastic and horror) as “reassuring” of the status quo and incapable of instigating social and political awareness is faulty.

There is a rich tradition of political and social satire and commentary framed in a fantasy, science-fiction or horror context. A brief list includes: fiction (Gulliver’s Travels, Erewhon, News From Nowhere, We, Brave New World ); film (A Nous la Liberté, Dr. Strangeglove, Punishment Park, Terminal Island, Dawn of the Dead, Brazil); fiction and film (Animal Farm, 1984, The Tin Dum, Rhinoceros, A Clockwork Orange, No Blade of Grass, American Psycho).

This leads to what I see as the major oversight of this otherwise provocative and worthwhile book. Grixti believes that while horror fiction may draw out fears and anxieties stemming from our “shared uncertainty” they do not go beyond the assumptions on which they are based, nor propose or provide a solution to these states (183). Rather, they reassure our sense of helplessness and reaffirm the need for the status quo (existing social and political structures). However, there is no mention of the horror films (or novels) that do not paint a positive picture of what this “reassurance of helplessness” is supposed to make us fall back on: the status quo. There are many horror films that depict the family, the state, the law, the military, or religion as being unable to provide protection against the represented horror, or as being the source of it. The aforementioned Robin Wood has argued for the progressiveness of many of these films (by for example, F.W. Murnau, George Romero, Larry Cohen, Tobe Hooper, to name a few).

A list of these (pre-1989) films would include: Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956, The Bad Seed 1956, The Manchurian Candidate 1962, Night of the Living Dead 1968, Jack’s Wife 1972, Last House on the Left 1972, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974, It’s Alive 1974, Deathdream 1974, The Crazies 1974, Demon 1976, Martin 1976, The Confessional 1976, The Hills Have Eyes 1977, Alice, Sweet Alice 1977, The Brood 1979, Dead and Buried 1981, The Stuff 1985, The Stepfather 1985, Day of the Dead 1985 and Parents 1989.

Grixti does not represent the films and filmmakers (or novelists) that question existing social and political structures. On two brief occasions (xi, 174) he faintly hints at this by distinguishing between those who creatively employ the conventions of the genre and those who rely on cliche. He admits that the former are capable of progressive insight. However, because they are all “social products,” he sees fit to lump them together.

Grixti’s clever use of the word “reassurance” has many meanings: false consciousness in the traditional Marxist sense; reactionary political views; or escapist larger-than-life fiction. The term, then, does not pertain exclusively to horror fiction. He claims that in horror fiction, distinctions between reality and fantasy are blurred, problems and solutions are simplified, and regressive assumptions are fostered. To some extent, this can be said of every genre of film/fiction.

It is perhaps for this reason that in the conclusion of the book (“Endword: Consuming Impotence”), Grixti spends considerable space discussing the right-wing vigilante film (Death Wish, Rambo, Raw Deal, Crocodile Dundee). Given the greater degree of variance within horror films, it is not fair to equate horror films with these single-minded films. Grixti’s argument, while valuable for some horror films, has more relevance to the films discussed in the conclusion. As he inadvertently hints at in his conclusion, perhaps he did not select the subject most conducive to his argument.

The author of Monsters and Mad Scientists, Andrew Tudor is a film historian and scholar with a strong background in sociology, an approach which Tudor laid out in his 1974 book Image and Influence: Studies in the Sociology of Film. Andrew Tudor’s book on the horror genre was, at the time of its release, the most systematic, comprehensive single author account of the (sound) horror genre –and perhaps any sound genre. It is also a most insightful interpretation of the horror genre. Ten years in the making, the book contains, as Tudor sheepishly suggests, perhaps “more than anybody reasonably wants to know about the horror movie!” (vii)

The book is a wealth of information, ranging from the statistical to the conceptual. Tudor’s background in sociology is evident. His analysis is complemented with graphs, tables and charts. The study covers 990 films released in Britain between 1931 and 1984. Eighty percent of the films fall unproblematically within the horror genre, while the remaining 20% are from bordering genres (mainly science-fiction and thrillers). The films are analyzed in many different ways to help explain the cycles and sub-genres, with the end purpose of arriving at a clearer understanding of the genre and its social significance. This is accomplished in a strong, clear and convincing tone. As the book progresses, one feels overwhelmed by its thoroughness, its increasing data, its shifts of period groupings and its method of probing further and further. However, all the numbers, facts and categories are, in the end, held together like a well-researched family tree.

The study concentrates on a prosaic rather than psychoanalytical analysis of story-telling in genre, namely narrative, character, style, tension, involvement and identification (106). He borrows his analytical principle from Anthony Giddins’ work on “structuration.” There are three levels at which Giddins feels the social order can be studied and understood: discursive consciousness, unconscious motivation, and practical consciousness (4). Practical consciousness makes up the prosaic, the area of interest to Tudor (106). It consists in all that an audience instinctively understands about a genre but can not articulate. It is an audience’s “implicit” understanding of the genre’s “language” (4-5).

The book is divided into three parts, each constituting a reading of the genre’s history from a new perspective. The three separate historical readings overlap and eventually reinforce the one dominant reading. Part one (“Genre History”) examines the history of the genre according to what Tudor feels is the central feature of the horror film narrative: the “threat” (8). The threats are classified into three pairings: supernatural/secular, external/internal, and autonomous/dependent.

Tudor is quick to tell us that this typology, as all the others he uses, is a practical tool and not a structuralist bipolar breakdown meant to reveal hidden meanings. Also, they were not plucked out of thin air but grew out of the study. In the first pairing the separation is between threats that do not belong to laws of our world (vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc.) and those that do (prehistoric creatures, mad scientists, space). The first category of threat would align with what Noel Carroll would refer to in his book of one year later, The Philosophy of Horror, Paradoxes of the Heart, as ‘art horror,’ which defines horror as films which elicit ‘fear and disgust’ normally through the actions and identity of a monster. The second pairing separates the threats that attack externally (space invaders, vampires, monsters) from those that attack internally (possession, spirits, psychosis). The final pairing divides threats that exist on their own (vampire, King Kong, space monster) from those that are dependent on a human action (witchcraft, atomic radiation, science gone awry).

After mapping out the genre into six peak phases, Tudor paints broad strokes according to shifts in the nature of the threat. The pairings interact to reflect the films. For example, in the first phase, “The Classic Period” (1931-1936), the dominant type of threat is external/dependent. In the third phase, “The Fifties Boom” (1956-1960), the dominant threat is external/secular, and in the final phase, “The Sustained Growth” (1978-1984), the dominant threat becomes internal/secular.

Part two (“Narrative Resources”) retells horror film history according to story-telling elements. All narratives are informed by a basic opposition of known and unknown. For example, life/death, conscious/unconscious, human normality/alien abnormality, sanity/insanity, culture/nature. The narratives are grouped into three general types: the knowledge narrative, the invasion narrative and the metamorphosis narrative. In the knowledge narrative there is only one form, closed, while in the other two there are open and closed variations. At the two extremes we have the closed knowledge narrative (Frankenstein) and the open metamorphosis narrative (Night of the Living Dead, Shivers, Zombie).

Part three (“Science, Supernature, Psyche”) is a retelling of the genre’s history according to the three dominant thematic threats (science, the supernatural and the psyche). The readings provide fascinating insight into the genre’s evolution. The chapters on the supernatural and the psyche are broken down into three periods: 1931-1954, 1955-1974, 1975-1984. For the supernatural, the periods are marked by three types of supernatural threats: coexistent (vampires, werewolves), manipulative (witchcraft, magic) and invasive (devils, demons, possession). Within each type there is an evolution. In the manipulative supernatural threat there is a shift from an individualist threat, where one person is the source of the threat (Night of the Demon), to a collective, conspiracy threat (Rosemary’s Baby, The Wicker Man). In the invasive plots there is a shift from the invasion of an individual (the Exorcist copies), to a family or community (Amityville Horror, The Fog), to the world (Romero’s zombie trilogy or the Omen trilogy).

His reading of the psyche as source of threat exhibits a similar shift. There are two types of horror film insanity: madness and psychosis. The shift is from a dramatic, grandiose madness that is identified as existing outside our world (The Mystery of the Wax Museum, The Phantom of the Opera, Corman’s Poe films), to a more naturalistic “characterized psychosis” that coexists in our world (Peeping Tom, Psycho, Repulsion), to an “uncharacterized psychosis” (Halloween and its imitators).

These (and other) shifts, variations and trends that Tudor notes in parts one, two and three intertwine to form part of a larger vision, a type of socially and generically guided teleology. Tudor states that from whatever perspective the genre’s history is approached, there is always a distinct shift in emphasis encountered somewhere in the sixties.

A similar shift has been noted by other critics. They usually point to Psycho or Peeping Tom (1960) as the key in the passage from external horror to internal, psychological horror. Tudor has expanded on the implications of this shift and given it its most articulate, and thorough expression. He labels this the shift from the horror of “security” to the horror of “paranoia” (102-104). One may wonder about his selection of words, since paranoia is often used in discussing films of the fifties (the cold war paranoia). However, there is all the difference. In the films of the fifties the paranoia is directed at the “other,” while in the post-sixties films the paranoia is toward our own support systems (social institutes, authority figures, our peers).

A cursory glance back at the shifts I discussed reflects this passage from secure to paranoid horror. The shift from external to internal threat; closed to open narrative; individual threat to collective threat; invasion of the individual to invasion of the world; a madness that exists outside our world to a psychosis that exists within our world; and a psychosis that is characterized (and potentially controllable) to one that is uncharacterized.

In the pre-1960 films there is a sense of security about where the threat is coming from, about society’s ability to defend against it, and about ourselves. The films are conservative and resistant to social change. They invoke a class society that expresses bourgeois, patriarchal values. In the post-sixties films, fear of the other becomes fear of “all the others.” The distinction between known and unknown is no longer clear. Suspicion is stretched to three levels: individual (psychosis), collective (conspiracy groups, zombies, mass attacks), and societal (collapse of social order, ineffectiveness of experts and authority figures). The most marked examples are at the extreme ends of the genre’s history. As Tudor says, the passage from “mad scientist” to “mad slasher” exemplifies the shift from secure horror (reason) to paranoid horror (unreason) (186).

Tudor’s distinction between “two worlds of horror” (security and paranoia) is not meant to exclude the closer focused readings, but serve as a supplement that fleshes out the “threads that run through them” (213). With regard to the films, it is not meant to be mutually exclusive, but an analytical tool with which to understand the global trend of the genre and its social significance (103).

Tudor’s closer historical readings assures us that this was not an overnight transition. His grand plan points to the thirties, forties and most of the fifties as the period of secure horror, with the late fifties to early seventies being the transitional phase and the seventies and eighties as the period of paranoid horror.

Tudor feels that the horror films of paranoia, in the most general sense, can be seen as a reflection of a world undergoing “as-yet incomplete social changes”. Gender roles and sexual mores are in a state of flux. Faith in the existing support systems crumbles. However, unlike the secure period, it is not change that is feared, but the personal and social chaos of its aftermath (223). In such a condition, Tudor claims that we must take a Janus-faced position. We must look toward a potentially better future free of oppression and injustice, but at the same time, contemplate the “dimly perceived army of lost souls” (223). The paranoid horror films uphold this vision of a (fearful) liberation.

Upon reading Tudor’s book I realized it too undermined Grixti’s central argument. Grixti believes that most horror fictions reinforce the status quo. Tudor’s study reveals the opposite: that only horror films of the secure period reinforce the status quo. Those of the paranoid period –which constitute 730 of the 990 films in his study– represent a growing attitude of suspicion, mistrust, and ambivalency toward the status quo. To take the counter-argument even further, a recent essay by Jon Towlson, “Endemic Madness: Subversive 1930s Horror Cinema,” even questions the historical assumption of the pre-1960s horror films as harboring a “secure” world. Although revered Universal films such as Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy may appear to us now as ‘classic’ horror, they were not as safe and reassuring as many horror critics assume, especially if considering the powerful impact they had on their contemporary audiences. Towlson convincingly argues against the commonly held belief that the 1930s horror supported the status quo, but suggests that these films were working similarly to the 1970s horror films: harboring subversive elements through radical artists, proferring genre innovation, alienating their audiences, and reflectiing a Nation experiencing social trauma (Depression, impending war, rise of Nazism). Rather than propping up the status quo, Towlson notes how Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein and Freaks (a film that was banned for decades by many countries) represent the “outcasts of society” (lower class, homosexual, physically deformed); the dark tone of German Expressionism that shaped many of these films gave rise to what Towlson calls allegorial treatments of Nazism through ‘torture chambers’ (The Island of Dr. Moreau, Black Cat, The Raven, Mystery of the Wax Museum). In addition, one could add the risque thematic treatments of the libido in Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1932) and lesbianism (Dracula’s Daughter, 1936) as elements that unsettled studio heads, to the point where censorship eventually emasculated the more adult and subversive elements of these pre-post 1960s horror films. As Towlson rightly argues, horror critics who lump together all ‘pre-1960s’ horror miss important historical and industry factors, and a distinction should be made between the 1930-1936 and 1941-1946 periods.

Along with Towlson’s isolated study that brings into question pat distinctions between ‘pre-1960’s’ horror as classical (secure, external threat) and post-1960s horror as modernist (insecure, paranoid, internal threat) the main addition to a generalized understanding of horror since the release of the Grixti and Tudor books (1989) is what might be termed ‘postmodern horror’. Tudor’s point of a threat coming from a disturbed psyche forms the (indirect) starting point for what some horror scholars have defined as the post-1990s ‘postmodern horror’ film. However, this periodization does not align perfectly; for example, in Recreational Terror: Women and the Pleasures of Horror Film Viewing author Isabel Cristina Pinedo aligns Tudor’s distinction between “pre-sixties” (1931-1960) and “post-sixties” (1960-1984) horror to her own distinction between “classical” and “postmodern” (which she identifies with the late 1960’s). Along with the basic characteristics of the postmodern horror film that Pinedo outlines (trangression of boundaries, questioning of rationality, no narrative closure, etc.), the central ingredient of postmodern horror film is reflexivity and an almost jaded sense of horror as a network of dangerous games and a sense of sadistic play (Scream and Saw being respective archetypical examples). Tudor himself returns to this issue in his essay “From Paranoia to Postmodernism? The Horror Movie in Late Modern Society,” reiterating that what Pinedo and others call “postmodern” horror is no different from his own “paranoiad” horror and he questions identifying any horror film with postmodernity, simply because the films have not yet worked through “modernism.”

Whether one agrees entirely with Andrew Tudor’s broad, social reading of the horror film does not affect the book’s impressive value (still today). For this reader, Grixti overdetermines the conservative and reactionary aspects of horror (“the status quo”), at the expense of a substantive counter-currency of horror films that challenge or refute the status quo. Gauging the effects of a society in change without the benefit of perspective is always hazardous. Relating art to those changes is inviting further peril … but remains a necessary act.

PS: Just as this essay went to press I learned about a new overview of the horror genre by Bruce Kawin published by Anthem Press, Horror and the Horror Film (2012) which, like Tudor’s book, offers a taxonomy of the genre according to the threat or source of horror coming from one of either three broad areas, “Monsters,” “Supernatural Monsters,” and “Humans.” I have yet to read this book but it seems to expand not only on Tudor’s book but also Charles Derry’s Dark Dream 2.0: A Psychological History of the Modern Horror Film (an expansion of his first book) which breaks down modern horror into the categories or subgenres of, the “horror of personality,” the “horror of the demonic,” and the “horror of Armageddon.”

Anthem Press/Bruce Kawin


1 According to the great Austro-British philosopher Sir Karl Popper (1902-1994), the ‘social’ theories of thinkers such as Darwin, Freud, Jung and Karl Marx were not scientific because they could not be verified and falsified through observation and experiment.


Grixti, Joseph. Terrors of Uncertainty: The Cultural Contexts of Horror Fiction, 1989, London and New York, Routledge, xviii + 214 pp.

Pinedo, Isabel Cristina. “Recreational Terror: Postmodern Elements of the Contemporary Horror Film.” Journal of Film and Video, Vol. 48, No. 1/2 (Spring-Summer 1996), pp. 17-31.

Tudor, Andrew. Monsters and Mad Scientists: A Cultural History of the Horror Movie, 1989, Oxford, Basil Blackwell, viii + 239 pp.

Tudor, Andrew. “From Paranoia to Postmodernism? The Horror Movie in Late Modern Society.” In Genre and Contemporary Hollywood, ed. Steve Neale (London: BFI Publishing, 2002).

Towlson, Jon. “Endemic Madness: Subversive 1930s Horror Cinema.”Paracinema # 17, September 2012, 30-33.

Monsters, Mad Scientists and Cultural Contexts of Horror

Donato Totaro has been the editor of the online film journal Offscreen since its inception in 1997. Totaro received his PhD in Film & Television from the University of Warwick (UK), is a part-time professor in Film Studies at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada) and a longstanding member of AQCC (Association québécoise des critiques de cinéma).

Volume 17, Issue 6-7 / July 2013 Book Reviews horror