While it might be tempting to dismiss horror movies as only frivolous entertainment, Jon Towlson makes an excellent case for regarding the genre as a reflection of society's mores and values at the time. Directors may turn to horror because it is easier to explore subversive themes using the constructs and tropes of the genre. And the subtexts of the writers' original intentions can be hidden in plain sight under the gore and goo.
Entertaining, informative and beautifully written, “Subversive Horror Cinema: Countercultural Messages of Films from Frankenstein to the Present” is an essential guide to the inner workings of the mind of the horror filmmaker. Towlson begins at the aforementioned Frankenstein (1931) and then examines films through the decades up to American Mary (2012), with many fascinating stops along the way. Towlson also puts directors such as James Whale, Tod Browning, Michael Reeves, George Romero, Wes Craven, David Cronenberg, Tobe Hooper, Brian Yuzna, Mary Harron and Jen & Sylvia Soska under the microscope.
Each chapter begins with an “Anti”: Anti-Eugenics for Frankenstein (1931) and Freaks (1932), Anti-Vietnam for Night of the Living Dead (1968) and The Crazies (1973), Anti-“Reaganomics” for Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) and American Psycho (2000). Although the countdown of horror marches through the decades from the 1930s to the present day, the 1970s gets special treatment (and quite rightly so) with nearly four chapters devoted to various examples of the 1970s horror genre.
However, I was a bit surprised by one omission from this book: the lack of any analysis of Clive Barker and his first two Hellraiser films, which to my mind were the perfect sexually trangressive antidotes to the “New Victorianism” of the 1980s: Anti-“Thatcherism”, if you like.
And while I may not completely agree with some of his premises -- IMHO, sometimes a monster IS just a monster, Mr Towlson! :-) -- I certainly enjoyed reading this revealing, comprehensively researched and generously illustrated book.
"We all are brothers and sisters together in fear. Horror crosses international boundaries in terms of an audience. Sometimes comedy doesn't travel. Sometimes other dramas don't travel, they don't translate. But horror, fear does." – John Carpenter