August 23, 2010


Edited by Thomas Fahy
259 pages, University Press of Kentucky

Reviewed by S.P. Miskowski

A couple of months ago I read Thomas Roger's Salon interview with Thomas Fahy. The interview was so interesting that I was seized with a desire to read his new book.

Fahy and his fellow writers display impressive academic authority on topics ranging from "Ideological Formations of the Nuclear Family in The Hills Have Eyes" to "Zombies of the World, Unite: Class Struggle and Alienation in Land of the Dead" and "Grotesque, Sublime, and Postmodern Transformations in Patrick Suskind's Perfume." Given the background and professional credits of these scholarly authors you might think this is not going to be a light or entertaining read. I had the same feeling when I looked at the table of contents. Once I began reading, however, I was delighted to find that most of the essays are thought provoking and far more accessible than I imagined.


In "Horror and the Idea of Everyday Life: On Skeptical Threats in Psycho and The Birds" Philip J. Nickel poses the argument that "horror's a malicious ripping-away of...intellectual trust, exposing our vulnerabilities in relying on the world and on other people." This ripping-away is, however, far from detrimental to our wellbeing. In fact it is necessary for us to occasionally admit the delusion of our security in order to achieve "clarity about our actual situation" and to "realize that we can still go on, even in the absence of perfect certainty."

Thomas Fahy wrote "Hobbes, Human Nature, and the Culture of American Violence in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood." Fahy begins with Thomas Hobbes' assertion that a sovereign must provide moral justice in a world otherwise made chaotic by our natural tendency toward self-preservation at the expense of others. He then turns to the narrative of In Cold Blood to examine what happens in a close-knit society when the sovereign (in this case, the highly respected farmer Herb Clutter) is removed by an act of random, apparently inexplicable violence.

John Lutz considers the manner in which Stanley Kubrick opened up on a larger canvas the themes of masculinity, cycles of violence, and oppression in his adaptation of Stephen King's novel. This chapter is titled "From Domestic Nightmares to the Nightmare of History: Uncanny Eruptions of Violence in King's and Kubrick's Versions of The Shining." I strongly recommend the essay to fans who have seen the film numerous times, because I think you will find surprising, new insights into an adaptation that has been unfairly maligned by some critics over the years. It only deepened my appreciation for the ways in which Kubrick and his writing collaborator Diane Johnson took time to study the themes and motifs in King's novel. The team didn't simply shoot a movie version of the book. They created a richly layered, dynamic visual equivalent for every significant aspect of the story. Their version provided a historical and social context framing the domestic abuse, without sermonizing.

Anyone who rails against the genre because it presents disturbing and indelible images, or displays the worst of human actions, fails to recognize the valid and complex reasons why horror has lasted so long, and the extent to which it can both validate and challenge our deepest emotions. Seen together, the essays in The Philosophy of Horror demonstrate the range and diversity of purposes served by horror films and fiction.


  1. Zombies of the world have already united - they all stand together in my office! This book sounds terrific. I think really good horror films touch a nerve in society and it's always interesting to look into the reasons why.


  2. Thanks, Pat. I agree. May I join your zombie army?


  3. Of course! They will all join us, or... er, live?