Illuminating the dark side of the American century, The Monster Show uncovers the surprising links between horror entertainment and the great social crises of our time, as well as horror's function as a pop analogue to surrealism and other artistic movements.
With penetrating analyses and revealing anecdotes, David J. Skal chronicles one of our most popular and pervasive modes of cultural expression. He explores the disguised form in which Hollywood's classic horror movies played out the traumas of two world wars and the Depression; the nightmare visions of invasion and mind control catalyzed by the Cold War; the preoccupation with demon children that took hold as thalidomide, birth control, and abortion changed the reproductive landscape; the vogue in visceral, transformative special effects that paralleled the development of the plastic surgery industry; the link between the AIDS epidemic and the current fascination with vampires; and much more. Now with a new Afterword by the author that looks at horror's popular renaissance in the last decade, The Monster Show is a compulsively readable, thought-provoking inquiry into America's obsession with the macabre.
This entertaining survey mixes behind-the-scenes Hollywood anecdotes with intriguing social analysis. Skal ( Hollywood Gothic ) considers the archetypes depicted in Dracula , Frankenstein , Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Tod Browning's Freaks as responses to the Great Depression that contained metaphors of class warfare. Scientific sadism in films of the 1940s drew on partial knowledge of the Third Reich, he argues, while movie monsters of the '50s personified Bomb-bred mutants or Cold War brainwashers. Skal links 1960s films' anxiety about sex and reproduction to the introduction of the Pill and Thalidomide, and suggests that horror flicks of the '70s and '80s show signs of the post-traumatic stress syndrome suffered by many Vietnam veterans. Though he analyzes Stephen King's novels, Michael Jackson's ``Thriller'' video and Famous Monsters magazine, his book might have been richer had he delved into more non-Hollywood aspects of pop culture, such as heavy metal music. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Mar.)