The Philosophy of Horror

The Philosophy of Horror

Edited by Thomas Fahy
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 272
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    The Philosophy of Horror
    Book Description:

    Sitting on pins and needles, anxiously waiting to see what will happen next, horror audiences crave the fear and exhilaration generated by a terrifying story; their anticipation is palpable. But they also breathe a sigh of relief when the action is over, when they are able to close their books or leave the movie theater. Whether serious, kitschy, frightening, or ridiculous, horror not only arouses the senses but also raises profound questions about fear, safety, justice, and suffering.

    From literature and urban legends to film and television, horror's ability to thrill has made it an integral part of modern entertainment. Thomas Fahy and twelve other scholars reveal the underlying themes of the genre in The Philosophy of Horror. Examining the evolving role of horror, the contributing authors investigate works such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818), horror films of the 1930s, Stephen King's novels, Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining (1980), and Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). Also examined are works that have largely been ignored in philosophical circles, including Truman Capote's In Cold Blood (1965), Patrick Süskind's Perfume (1985), and James Purdy's Narrow Rooms (2005). The analysis also extends to contemporary forms of popular horror and "torture-horror" films of the last decade, including Saw (2004), Hostel (2005), The Devil's Rejects (2005), and The Hills Have Eyes (2006), as well as the ongoing popularity of horror on the small screen.

    The Philosophy of Horror celebrates the strange, compelling, and disturbing elements of horror, drawing on interpretive approaches such as feminist, postcolonial, Marxist, and psychoanalytic criticism. The book invites readers to consider horror's various manifestations and transformations since the late 1700s, probing its social, cultural, and political functions in today's media-hungry society.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7370-2
    Subjects: Philosophy, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-13)
    Thomas Fahy

    Not long ago several friends invited me to go skydiving. The prospect of jumping out of a plane made my stomach tighten and my mouth go dry, but reluctantly I agreed. Part of me wanted to be perceived as adventurous and brave. I had always been afraid of heights, and this was an opportunity to confront that fear, to overcome it. The afternoon adventure included a fifteen-minute training course on leaping from the aircraft, arching one’s body during the fall, breathing, and, of course, pulling the ripcord. First-timers (all of us) had the added benefit of making a tandem dive...

  5. Horror and the Idea of Everyday Life: On Skeptical Threats in Psycho and The Birds
    (pp. 14-32)
    Philip J. Nickel

    Sometimes art provokes outrage, fear, and disgust. In the case of horror, that is the point. Those who enjoy horror might seek no justification or defense for it. But because of the strong feelings elicited by horror and the outrageous acts that are depicted in it, to those sensitive to offense it is hard not to feel that some justification or defense is needed. There are some obvious strategies for this, for example, raising the flag of “art for art’s sake” (or “entertainment for entertainment’s sake”); or, by contrast, explicating thevalueof horror (for example, its moral or educational...

  6. Through a Mirror, Darkly: Art-Horror as a Medium for Moral Reflection
    (pp. 33-41)
    Philip Tallon

    Works of art provide a means by which humans express, intuitively and explicitly, their assumptions about the world. We have all been moved by a sad story, gladdened by a funny story, and frightened by a scary story. In each case, it is very likely that the emotion produced depended on the effectiveness of the work of art to elicit those emotions by presenting to us a set of circumstances that we perceived as unfortunate, amusingly unexpected, or frightening. In other words, stories tend to need specific characteristics to produce the desired effect on us. Though fiction often seems to...

  7. The Justification of Torture-Horror: Retribution and Sadism in Saw, Hostel, and The Devil’s Rejects
    (pp. 42-56)
    Jeremy Morris

    When in a decisive 1988 presidential debate Bernard Shaw asked Michael Dukakis what he would do to someone who had raped and murdered his wife, the response was supposed to be obvious; but it was not so for Dukakis. He stated his opposition to the death penalty without a trace of vengeful passion.¹Last House on the Left(1972), on the other hand, indulged in its answer to the same sort of question: the film ends with the parents torturing and slaying their child’s murderers.Last House on the Leftbecame a classic model for some of the most popular...

  8. Hobbes, Human Nature, and the Culture of American Violence in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood
    (pp. 57-71)
    Thomas Fahy

    On November 15, 1959, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith drove several hundred miles to the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, and brutally murdered four members of the Clutter family. Armed with a hunting knife and a twelve-gauge shotgun, the two men entered the house through an unlocked door just after midnight. They had been hoping to find a safe with thousands of dollars, but when Herb Clutter denied having one, they tied him up and gagged him. They did the same to his wife, Bonnie, his fifteen-year-old son, Kenyon, and his sixteen-year-old daughter, Nancy. Afterward, they placed each of them...

  9. Making Their Presence Known: TV’s Ghost-Hunter Phenomenon in a “Post-” World
    (pp. 72-85)
    Jessica O’Hara

    In this young millennium, the television landscape has been shaped by a groundswell of reality-based and scripted shows investigating the supernatural, such asA Haunting, Paranormal State, Most Haunted, Ghost Hunters, Ghost Hunters International, Ghostly Encounters, Ghost Trackers, Ghost Adventures, Haunted History, Ghost Whisperer, Medium,and a landslide of one-off shows featuring things like the top ten most haunted hotels. What has caused this conspicuous “presencing,” aside from the obvious cost savings that reality-based shows offer over scripted shows? And why is it that so many of our restless channel-surfing spirits find release in these shows?

    The quick answer might...

  10. The Vampire with a Soul: Angel and the Quest for Identity
    (pp. 86-101)
    Amy Kind

    Perhaps no creature is more commonplace in horror fiction—both on the page and on the screen—than the vampire. As typically depicted, the vampire rises from the grave to a potentially immortal undead existence, sustaining himself by drinking the blood of the innocent. With the kind of charisma and cunning that is born only of evil, the garden-variety vampire takes special pleasure in his actions, delighting in his wanton destruction of human life.

    Recently, however, the ingenious imagination of writer Joss Whedon has given the classic vampire tale a new spin. What if a vampire had a conscience? What...

  11. Ideological Formations of the Nuclear Family in The Hills Have Eyes
    (pp. 102-120)
    Lorena Russell

    The Hills Have Eyeswas originally filmed in 1977, directed and written by Wes Craven.¹ The 2006 remake (this time produced by Craven and directed by Alexandre Aja) revises the central concept of a family under siege to redirect the film’s focus more pointedly toward a critique of the intensified discourse around “family values.”² Both versions pit family against family, with violence marking the contact zone. But whereas Craven’s 1977 film describes a mainstream American family under siege by an outlying “wild family” of hippies gone awry, in Aja’s version the “wild family” are mutant miners living in the aftermath...

  12. Zombies of the World, Unite: Class Struggle and Alienation in Land of the Dead
    (pp. 121-136)
    John Lutz

    In a 2005 review of George A. Romero’sLand of the Dead, Roger Ebert notes the class structure of the society of surviving humans residing in Pittsburgh, pointing out the contrast between the luxurious (and apparently completely idle) lifestyle of the residents of Fiddler’s Green, a luxury skyscraper at the center of the city, and the dehumanized condition of the poorer inhabitants surrounding it. Ebert goes on to note how the functioning of money is never explained in this economy, “where possessions are acquired by looting and retained by force.”¹ This provocative description is not pursued any further in the...

  13. The Fall of the House of Ulmer: Europe vs. America in the Gothic Vision of The Black Cat
    (pp. 137-160)
    Paul A. Cantor

    The horror story is one of the many exotic goods that Americans have traditionally imported from Europe. This was already true in American Gothic fiction in the early nineteenth century, but the situation persisted even in the twentieth century and the new medium of cinema.¹ To be sure, the horror movie seems at first to be a quintessentially American phenomenon—a rite of passage for American teenagers and a genre in which America has come to dominate the world. It is due to American movies that the faces of Dracula and the Frankenstein monster are known all around the globe....

  14. From Domestic Nightmares to the Nightmare of History: Uncanny Eruptions of Violence in King’s and Kubrick’s Versions of The Shining
    (pp. 161-178)
    John Lutz

    Early in Stanley Kubrick’sThe Shining, Dick Hallorann assures the apprehensive Danny Torrance that there is nothing in the hotel that can actually hurt him and explains that the terrible events of the past can leave behind a trace of themselves that is visible only to those who shine. As it turns out Hallorann is profoundly mistaken. In an ironic twist, heoverlooksthe one thing in the Overlook Hotel that will eventually kill him, Danny’s unstable, alcoholic father who, in the final shot of the film framing the photograph of the Fourth of July celebration in 1921, proves to...

  15. “Hot with Rapture and Cold with Fear”: Grotesque, Sublime, and Postmodern Transformations in Patrick Süskind’s Perfume
    (pp. 179-198)
    Susann Cokal

    Jean-Baptist Grenouille, antihero of Patrick Süskind’s international best sellerPerfume: The Story of a Murderer, is “one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages” (Süskind 2001, 3). He is smart, talented, and completely amoral, shunned by his fellow humans from the moment he’s born. He commits crimes that shock the community with their apparent purposelessness, killing a total of twenty-six virgins (or, in the film version, fourteen women of varied sexual experience) and inadvertently leaving a trail of other bodies behind. He is a monster. He is a...

  16. Shock Value: A Deleuzean Encounter with James Purdy’s Narrow Rooms
    (pp. 199-211)
    Robert F. Gross

    The prospect of writing an essay onNarrow Roomsand the works of Félix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze is both inviting and challenging. Inviting, because this dynamic duo of French philosophy often investigated artworks as an important part of their philosophizing—the fictions of Franz Kafka, the music of Robert Schumann, the paintings of J. M. W. Turner, and the horror filmWillard, to name only a few. Works of art, they asserted, had the power to challenge and break up deadening assumptions and habits not only of daily living but of philosophy as well. Great writers create “new forms...

  17. Making Monsters: The Philosophy of Reproduction in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the Universal Films Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein
    (pp. 212-228)
    Ann C. Hall

    Philosophical inquiries.Bride of Frankenstein. Son of Frankenstein. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankensein. FrankenBerry breakfast cereal. Mary Shelley’s novelFrankensteinhas bred a number of offspring, and some, like her monstrous character, are far from perfect. And while some are imperfect, misshapen creatures, it is difficult to ignore the novel’s focus on reproduction as well as its tendency to spawn offspring. The novel is so fecund for many reasons. A cynic might conclude that there are so many interpretations, so many versions, because there is so much money to be made, so many careers to be crafted, that anything really...

  18. Kitsch and Camp and Things That Go Bump in the Night; or, Sontag and Adorno at the (Horror) Movies
    (pp. 229-244)
    David MacGregor Johnston

    At a very young age I was simultaneously introduced to kitsch and to camp and to classic horror films by “your friendly neighborhood vampire,” Sir Graves Ghastly, the Saturday afternoon movie host on Detroit’s local CBS affiliate, WJBK-TV Channel 2.¹ With a ghoulish cackle Sir Graves began each show by bidding viewers to “turn out the lights, pull down the shades, draw the drapes, cuddle up in your favorite spot by the tele, and glue your little eyes to your TV screens for today’s tale of terror.” Viewers were treated to the full range of monster movies, science fiction adventures,...

  19. Contributors
    (pp. 245-248)
  20. Index
    (pp. 249-260)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 261-261)