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A History of Horror by Wheeler Winston Dixon #AudioBookReview

Ever since horror leapt from popular fiction to the silver screen in the late 1890s, viewers have experienced fear and pleasure in exquisite combination. Wheeler Winston Dixon’s A History of Horror is the only book to offer a comprehensive survey of this ever-popular film genre.

Arranged by decades, with outliers and franchise films overlapping some years, this one-stop sourcebook unearths the historical origins of characters such as Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman and their various incarnations in film from the silent era to comedic sequels. A History of Horror explores how the horror film fits into the Hollywood studio system and how its enormous success in American and European culture expanded globally over time.

Dixon examines key periods in the horror film-in which the basic precepts of the genre were established, then banished into conveniently reliable and malleable forms, and then, after collapsing into parody, rose again and again to create new levels of intensity and menace. A History of Horror, supported by rare stills from classic films, brings over fifty timeless horror films into frightfully clear focus, zooms in on today’s top horror Web sites, and champions the stars, directors, and subgenres that make the horror film so exciting and popular with contemporary audiences.

Title: A History of Horror | Author: Wheeler Winston Dixon | Narrator: Aaron Henkin | Publisher: Rutgers University Press | Pub. Date: October 22nd, 2012 | Language: English | ISBN13: 9780813547961 | Source: Self-Purchased | Genre: Non-Fiction Horror Related | Unstarred Review

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A History of Horror Review

I really, really wanted to like A History of Horror. I didn’t mind the list-type format as there were a lot of movies, particularly from the Silent era and other countries that I’d like to check out. I do think it doesn’t work as well in an audiobook format, though, as the reader read a little fast to really take notes very well.

However, that was not my major issue with this book. I don’t care what you personally think of Vincent Price’s acting ability (you’d be wrong, of course, because he’s awesome). He is a huge name in horror and to barely mention him is just appalling. I even relistened to the pertinent chapters where he should have been mentioned and I only came up with maybe three mentions. One in reference to House of Wax, in reference to Witchfinder General and another in regards to The Last Man on Earth (in which the author makes it very clear that he thinks I Am Legend and The Omega Man are better). All of these were not even in reference to Vincent Price himself. They were sideline mentions. It’s just insane. There was also very little mention of Corman and Castle.

There is a lot of information on the Silents and Golden Age of Hollywood but once it hits the later franchises you can really hear the disdain for franchises like Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Halloween.

You can really tell this when he doesn’t bother to get some of his facts correct. Such as referring to the first Friday the 13th as being dominated by Jason “a mute, imbecilic, homicidal maniac in a hockey mask”. Uh, ok. Might want to actually watch the movie if you’re going to rake it over the coals. I’m not a huge fan of the Friday the 13th series but it deserves more respect than that.

It’s the same with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre albeit to a lesser degree. He does seem to accord it the respect it deserves but doesn’t seem to have watched it as Leatherface is not the ‘head of the family’ as Wheeler suggests.

There is also no mention of Troma or Full Moon which seems to be a massive oversight.

I get the feeling he hasn’t watched a lot of the comparatively newer movies that he’s talking about. These are easily remedied mistakes.

A lot of the language used is pretty insulting, as well. He does point out vaguely when some movies are misogynistic but squees for a good five minutes about Roman Polanski. He also refers to Mexican horror of the sixties/seventies as “savagely” entertaining and not as refined as Italian horror.

The later chronology gets really, really jumpy. He sometimes goes by director, sometimes by years. For instance, he starts off talking about Stuart Gordon and his Re-Animator movies, veers off into listing a very few Lovecraft adaptations, lands on Call of Cthulhu (the silent version), and stops there, starting again with Fright Night and ditching Gordon and Lovecraft together.

Another off-beat stab was at ultra-violent video games in which “we become solely the sum of our basest impulses.” I thnk I’ve raged enough about this subject to not need to here but, yeah, that instantly got my hackles up, especially as it was needed and unnecessary.

And now we come to the finish. The part where if I had run into it earlier I would have punted the book aside and asked for a refund. He gives Event Horizon a huge dismissal and then mercilessly tears into the director’s other works, many of which aren’t even in the horror genre (never mind the fact that in my opinion Paul W.S. Anderson got royally screwed on that). That’s bad enough but to follow it up almost directly afterward by calling Twilight a modern horror masterpiece rivalling Near Dark? Are you even kidding me right now?

Twilight got most of its box office (which seems to be a “this movie is good” tell for him when most horror gets punted by the wayside when it comes to box office intake) from its fan base. I will reluctantly give it the credit of being an international cultural phenomenon but if you were to separate Twilight from its fans and look at it solely as a movie it would not be considered horror by a long shot and would have been largely forgotten.

In all, if you’re a horror fan you’ve probably heard of most of these movies barring the Silents and his decent coverage of French thrillers but other than that spare yourself from seeing more modern movies get raked over he coals simply for the fact that they’re new.

You can find A History of Horror via its Goodreads link, Audible, or, if you’d like to help support literacy programs, Better World Books.

Published inAudiobooksNon-fic Genre Related

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