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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 mo 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.


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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 mo 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.

30 review for The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror

  1. 4 out of 5

    Emm C²

    Just in time for Halloween, and what better book to review? You can't go too wrong with a book like The Monster Show, what with Edward Gorey covers and a healthy bit of each era, though the author does tend to favor silent and classic horror films. Not that there's anything wrong with that! A sharply-written, well-researched and intriguing look into what and who made horror films what they have become - how they grew and changed with the fears, taboos and interests of the people. There are good bit Just in time for Halloween, and what better book to review? You can't go too wrong with a book like The Monster Show, what with Edward Gorey covers and a healthy bit of each era, though the author does tend to favor silent and classic horror films. Not that there's anything wrong with that! A sharply-written, well-researched and intriguing look into what and who made horror films what they have become - how they grew and changed with the fears, taboos and interests of the people. There are good bits also on how stories of other genres often get their roots from something horrific, as well as the strange lifelong relationship that horror and erotica have with each other, and how both tend to be heavily challenged genres. If a film got picked on by censors, odds are it was one or both genres. Horror itself is one of the oldest core genres of fiction, many early horror films and novels being inspired by themes which were already ancient and immersed in society at the time through folklore, superstition and even religion. Fun fact - The oldest known (and intact) horror film is Melies's short The Haunted Castle / Le Manoir du Diable. The oldest surviving full-length horror film is Frankenstein (1910). What is thought to be the first horror novel, officially, is The Castle of Otranto, though of course there have always been elements of horror in literature, long before that. Overall, an incredibly interesting book that gives more insight into the genre's origins in film, how we have evolved (or devolved, depending on what you feel about modern horror) from the dreamlike surrealism of early horror movies, to the occultish and symbolic mid-century films, into the visceral, discomfortingly realistic films of today. In my own opinion, a good horror film should be unassuming, to catch one off-guard. The filmmaker shouldn't be concerned with being 'edgy' or 'shocking', but rather creating a nightmare to be experienced onscreen as if it were happening in your mind's eye. This and more nightmares on Blood Red Velvet.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Duke Haney

    Wow. I just noticed another review of this book somewhere below: "Reads a lot like a history book. Couldn't get interested in it." Yes, I imagine a work subtitled A Cultural History... would read a lot like a history book, wouldn't it? Horror fans, in my experience, too often write like perennial adolescents, and it's certainly rare to encounter one who can authoritatively call upon Freud, Fiedler, Fussell, Sontag, and Pound, among others, as does David J. Skal. Some of the detours in The Monste Wow. I just noticed another review of this book somewhere below: "Reads a lot like a history book. Couldn't get interested in it." Yes, I imagine a work subtitled A Cultural History... would read a lot like a history book, wouldn't it? Horror fans, in my experience, too often write like perennial adolescents, and it's certainly rare to encounter one who can authoritatively call upon Freud, Fiedler, Fussell, Sontag, and Pound, among others, as does David J. Skal. Some of the detours in The Monster Show seem irrelevant—why, for instance, do we get an account of Clara Bow's affair with Bela Lugosi ("America's queen and king of eros and thanatos") or of James Dean's friendship with TV horror-hostess Vampira?—yet, even so, we’re rewarded with wonderful passages like this: “Death and sensuality had always had a deep affinity, but never before had they been so pointedly merged in a popular icon. Vampira’s body was a landscape of cultural contradictions: simultaneously buxom and gaunt, well-fed yet skeletal, a paradoxical evocation of insatiable consumerism. She was especially well-suited to low-resolution television—no amount of fiddling with the contrast button could mitigate the stark planes and shadows that composed her. Her eyebrows were streamlined, jet-propelled parabolas—Gothic arches in orbit. Drawing energy from the quintessentially fifties nexus of automotive styling and the female form, Vampire was a souped-up hearse…with headlights. Breast-like projections on American cars had been introduced in 1953; their juxtaposition with aggressively toothy grillwork already in fashion yielded a technological update on vampire-related images of ravenous womanhood. Vampira’s daring décolletage effortlessly evoked vampirism as a kind of monstrous suckling…and the public, it appeared, was ready to feed.”

  3. 4 out of 5

    Peter Landau

    Friends have been telling me to read this book for years. It’s an insightful cultural history of the genre and how it dialogs with the greater world, each influencing and reflecting the other. But it’s also inspirational. My sketchbook is now thick with the famous and not so famous monsters of filmdom that ushered me into adulthood.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Baal Of

    I occasionally question why I love horror movies so much, and books like this help clarify, and maybe even justify that love. Skal favors early horror and much of the book is focused on the a few of the foundational movies such as The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, Frankenstein, Nosferatu, and Dracula. He seems to have a particular affinity for Tod Browning's Freaks and spends a lot of time on the history of that film and director. There is much less emphasis on the films that most deeply affected me I occasionally question why I love horror movies so much, and books like this help clarify, and maybe even justify that love. Skal favors early horror and much of the book is focused on the a few of the foundational movies such as The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, Frankenstein, Nosferatu, and Dracula. He seems to have a particular affinity for Tod Browning's Freaks and spends a lot of time on the history of that film and director. There is much less emphasis on the films that most deeply affected me personally, but then that does make some amount of sense given it is difficult to tell what will become historically important when one is too close in time. In some cases Skal spends too much time on what I would consider irrelevant details around some of the films, for example James Dean's involvement with Elvira (Maila Nurni). He barely even mentions The Shining which for me is one the pivotal horror movies, and gives both Night Of The Living Dead and Alien very little credit. Despite those minor complaints, I enjoyed this book tremendously, and I liked learning about the history of horror film. I found the information about conflicts with censorship especially illuminating. One major complaint I have about this edition of the book is the incredible poor quality of the pictures, many of which were so dark as to be be barely discernible. Addendum: Something I forgot to write about in my original review, is Skal's very peculiar, ill-informed, and backward stance that sex reassignment therapy is in his words "vivisection", he rejects the reality that transsexual people experience a gender identity that is inconsistent with their assigned sex, and he claims that there is no biological basis for transgender realities. He buys into the stunningly hate-filled position outlined by Janice G. Raymond in her book The Transsexual Empire. I am seriously considering dropping the rating on this book another point for this alone. The dozens of transgender people that have crossed my path, and touched my life in such positive ways, don't deserve propagation of this kind of bullshit attitude.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    This is a very readable, information packed study of the culture behind horror in film and print from the 20's to the 90's. Fans of horror films, especially the Universal Monsters, will enjoy this. Highlights for me were coverage of Lugosi, Karlof, Chaney and Stephan King. My only negatives were the inexplicable omission of any mention of John Carpenter's Halloween, and occasional over-reaching analysis.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Carla Remy

    Going through the 20th century, looking at horror movies as important folkloric symbols. Connecting this mythology to world events and shifting culture. Things we can't face, we create monsters to personify. I think everyone knows that Godzilla represents post nuclear anxiety in Japan. But a lot of this stuff I hadn't thought much about before I read this the first time (less than a decade ago, but never mind that). Of course the modern iteration of vampires is about AIDS. Of course 1970s horror w Going through the 20th century, looking at horror movies as important folkloric symbols. Connecting this mythology to world events and shifting culture. Things we can't face, we create monsters to personify. I think everyone knows that Godzilla represents post nuclear anxiety in Japan. But a lot of this stuff I hadn't thought much about before I read this the first time (less than a decade ago, but never mind that). Of course the modern iteration of vampires is about AIDS. Of course 1970s horror was responding to the pill, the women's movement and Roe v. Wade. As Skall writes: "After Rosemary had her baby, virtually all births in the popular media would be monstrous or demonic."

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jay

    No one can deny that horror movies played a significant role in 20th century popular culture. It was a century plagued by wars, genocide, cultural upheavals, drug addiction and so on. It was also the century when the movie camera became a central part of our lives. It was an age of anxiety and the masses coped with their fears by confronting them in the form of monsters flickering on a movie or a television screen. In The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror, David J. Skal argues that mon No one can deny that horror movies played a significant role in 20th century popular culture. It was a century plagued by wars, genocide, cultural upheavals, drug addiction and so on. It was also the century when the movie camera became a central part of our lives. It was an age of anxiety and the masses coped with their fears by confronting them in the form of monsters flickering on a movie or a television screen. In The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror, David J. Skal argues that monsters symbolize fears that people can not face directly. His concept mostly succeeds but it falls apart in the latter sections of this book. Without saying as much, Skal takes a semiotic approach to the concepts of “monsters” and “horror”. These concepts are fields with fluid boundaries and shifting definitions that encode symbolic representations of collective cultural fears. These signs are displayed to the general public in films, books, and other media like comics or Halloween costumes for the purpose of containing and controlling anxiety. Such participation in “horror” is a ritualistic act that summons demonic signs, confronts them, contains them, and controls them. This systematic action of processing horror signs is largely done unconsciously but by consciously analyzing the characteristics of monsters, we can gain a deeper understanding of what was collectively bothering people at any given time and place. Therefore, understanding the psycho-social framework in which horror culture is consumed is important. In our time it may be a mystery to some why the hokey monster movies of the 1930s were so terrifying to audiences; they do not terrify us now because the social conditions of our society have gone through transformations and our cultural reference points have shifted. David J. Skal writes from a Freudian psychoanalytic perspective. He uses the underlying theme of sexual anxiety as an explanation for horror. He also claims that war is the beginning of all horror. So, for example, the sight of soldiers returning from World War I with bodily injuries and mutilated faces evoked the feeling of being sexually undesirable in the viewer. Therefore, movies depicting monsters with physical and facial deformities became popular, particularly in the 1920s and 1930s. Skal also identifies four horror archetypes that he uses as a framework for interpreting manifestations of horror culture that came later. He starts off with circus freaks as portrayed by Tod Browning in his landmark film Freaks. The predatory vampire , the sleek and elegant symbol of sexual domination and fear of death gets introduced and paired with the polar opposite of Frankenstein’s monster, the composite man made by technology, the plodding symbol of the working-class proletariat unable to comprehend his relationship to his creator. The dark and light sides of the human psyche are signified in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. All the monsters that came after these were variations on those themes. But Sigmund Freud believed he was teaching the world about the functioning of the human mind but really he was mistakenly explaining his own mind instead and the same can be said for David Skal. Some of his claims about the symbolism of monsters are not easy to swallow but there are times when he is genuinely insightful. To be fair, movie directors after World War I were familiar with Freud and psychoanalytic themes were deliberately incorporated into their art so there is some merit in understanding horror from that point of view. This psychoanalytic method of interpretation in The Monster Show works well, or at least it does for the parts of the book most distant from the lifetime of the author. Horror as a reaction to the fear induced by the two world wars, changing gender roles, the Cold War, the atomic bomb, and advances in medical science gets a thorough and lucid treatment. Along the way we learn about controversies involving censorship as regulated by the Hays Production Code as the Catholic church and women’s activists groups did what they could to prevent film makers from having freedom of speech. Personal details about industry figures like Bela Lugosi, Tod Browning, and Vampira, all unique characters in their own rights, add a human face to the narrative. The most insightful part of the book comes with the chapter on horror films dealing with anxiety over pregnancy, birth, and child rearing and also a section on how the Goth counter culture has embraced the vampire as a signifier of a rebellious social identity. Then The Monster Show crashes and burns. Vampires drink blood and AIDS can be transmitted through blood therefore vampires signify a fear of AIDS. Stephen King wrote horror novels during the 1980s and that was a time when people felt economic anxiety so Stephen King’s books express fears about economic instability. Towards the end, Skal’s argument becomes less coherent and he arbitrarily makes connections between things that do not appear to be connected. He may have been on to something but he does not give enough details to make his conclusions sound. Just because two things occur at the same time that does not mean they caused each other to happen. Instead of insight into the collective fears of the 1980s and 1990s, Skal gives us some angry tirades about Reagan-era economics, the politics of the medical industry during the AIDS crisis, and the increasing problem of anorexia. He even makes the bizarre claim that plastic surgeons are no different than the Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele without acknowledging that plastic surgery is done on voluntary subjects who, nonetheless, are not put to death after the surgery is over. You can argue about the stupidity of nose jobs and breast implamnts all you want but there is no way you can honestly say that a plastic surgeon’s operating room is the same as Auschwitz. Like Freud, Skal ends up revealing more about himself than he does the culture of horror. Overall thought, The Monster Show is an interesting history. The majority of the book is historical narrative and the analysis part is there to provide context. Even when disagreeing with these ideas, a lot can be learned about the horror industry and the fascinating people who have kept it alive. It also makes you think about what kind of monsters we will be remembered for in our time. We are faced with the existential threat of global warming, Donald Trump and the possible end of American democracy, the forced politicization of every aspect of our lives, the worst era for music ever, and the hordes of cell phone users who resemble lobotomized zombies; if this is not a great time for the creation of new monsters, then I can not conceive of when it would be better. https://grimhistory.blogspot.com/

  8. 5 out of 5

    Edward Taylor

    To me Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen definitely was an eye-opener in regard to how hard it was to adapt let alone sell the idea of Dracula on the silver screen. In The Monster Show, David Skal digs deep into the recesses of the archives to give us a view into the history of horror movies, stories, and tales. A majority is dedicated to the 1900s to 1950s movie scene with some time spent with the slasher genre and the phenomenon that was (is) the early d To me Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen definitely was an eye-opener in regard to how hard it was to adapt let alone sell the idea of Dracula on the silver screen. In The Monster Show, David Skal digs deep into the recesses of the archives to give us a view into the history of horror movies, stories, and tales. A majority is dedicated to the 1900s to 1950s movie scene with some time spent with the slasher genre and the phenomenon that was (is) the early days of Stephen King's book collection. Tod Browning, James Whale, George Romero, and others are given their rightful due but some, such as Argento, Fulci, and Carpenter (mentioned, but not as much as the first two above) This also shows the main issue I found with the stories of yesteryear: this is primarily a book about US movies and directors. Gone are many of the great directors of Europe, Asia, and such. We also see almost none of the Hammer Horror movies that revitalized the industry and put names like Cushing, Lee, and Reed (small mention for Oliver) - Jess Franco, Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, Mario Bavia deserve something, even in passing.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lewis Manalo

    I have tempered enthusiasm for this critical text on horror films. Simply due to how extensive it is, this book is essential reading for the horror film enthusiast; however, Skal relies too heavily on the research of his predecessors. and he never voices any disagreement with what they've said. The result is a hodge-podge of theoretical paradigms that are often contradictory, and in the case of the Freudian readings, arguably outmoded. If Skal had updated the theoretical basis for his analysis an I have tempered enthusiasm for this critical text on horror films. Simply due to how extensive it is, this book is essential reading for the horror film enthusiast; however, Skal relies too heavily on the research of his predecessors. and he never voices any disagreement with what they've said. The result is a hodge-podge of theoretical paradigms that are often contradictory, and in the case of the Freudian readings, arguably outmoded. If Skal had updated the theoretical basis for his analysis and included some of his own insights, his criticism would have done justice to his excellent, expansive research.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Fraser Sherman

    Skal starts out with the archetypes of horror in the 19th century (Frankenstein, Dracula, and to a lesser extent Jekyll/Hyde), follows them through Universal's 1930s Dark Universe and then on to the present (1993, for this book). Unfortunately the book gets weaker as it goes along. There's almost nothing on slasher films which repellent though they were a major 1980s subgenre. And I'm not sure I buy that AIDS became the template for 1980s horror — if it did, then I'd like Skal to discuss the rol Skal starts out with the archetypes of horror in the 19th century (Frankenstein, Dracula, and to a lesser extent Jekyll/Hyde), follows them through Universal's 1930s Dark Universe and then on to the present (1993, for this book). Unfortunately the book gets weaker as it goes along. There's almost nothing on slasher films which repellent though they were a major 1980s subgenre. And I'm not sure I buy that AIDS became the template for 1980s horror — if it did, then I'd like Skal to discuss the role of say the Spanish flu or polio (absolutely terrifying in the 1940s and 1950s) or why they didn't have the same impact. Good, but not as good as it could have been.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nick Cato

    I didn't think I'd get through this hefty 400+ page volume so quickly, byt Skal does a great job shedding light on some classic horror films (the early sections dealing with Tod Browning are fantastic). Chapter 8's Drive-In salute is worth the cover price alone. MUST reading for any horror film fan.

  12. 5 out of 5

    D

    The Monster Show draws some interesting parallels between the on-screen horrors of Dracula and Frankenstein and the realities of American life, referring to 1931 as America's worst year of the century, but its best year for monsters. Or as the American writer Gilbert Seldes said of that time period, "The rich could still go to the South Sea Islands, but the poor went to the movies."

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    Spanning from Tod Browning's Freaks to M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense, David Skal's The Monster Show pulls back the curtain on almost a hundred years of American horror cinema, offering a behind the scenes look at the cultural and historical phenomena that shaped nearly a century's worth of scares. Skal's spotlight shines brightest on two of the Holy Trinity of Universal Horror, Dracula and Frankenstein, the twin archetypes of which he traces from page to stage to screen, with plenty of tim Spanning from Tod Browning's Freaks to M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense, David Skal's The Monster Show pulls back the curtain on almost a hundred years of American horror cinema, offering a behind the scenes look at the cultural and historical phenomena that shaped nearly a century's worth of scares. Skal's spotlight shines brightest on two of the Holy Trinity of Universal Horror, Dracula and Frankenstein, the twin archetypes of which he traces from page to stage to screen, with plenty of time lavished on the men behind the masks. (And, occasionally, the women who loved them; I'm still getting over the idea of Bela Lugosi keeping a naked portrait of Clara Bow in his living room.) But there's plenty of room in this Show for discussions of WWI's influence on body horror, the impact of drive-in theaters in the '50s, and the ghoulish work of Tom Savini. Skal strikes just the right tone - somewhere between stuffy academic and studio gossip - to draw readers in. His research is impeccable and his knowledge of the genre truly impressive, and I can't help wishing he'd guest host my next movie night. If there's a flaw in his work, it's that Show, originally published in 1993 with an afterward in this edition from 2001, suffers from diminishing critical returns the closer it gets to discussing horror created near its publication date. Obviously temporal and emotional distance is necessary for analysis, but it may also be Skal's focus on Dracula as a throughline which leads him to the somewhat perplexing conclusion that '80s horror was a response to the AIDS epidemic. (Um, slasher movies much?) Despite its somewhat weak closing chapters, The Monster Show provides fascinating and important context for the things that scare us cinematically. It's a bloody good read, and a must for any horror fan.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Woods

    Overall I think Skal does a great job of analyzing the great eras of horror films. His passion certainly shines through. What I would criticize though is his obsessive fixation on his "Dark Twins" (Dracula and Frankenstein). Throughout the whole book I got the feeling that of all the horror films that came after them, no matter how little evidence Skal has to show for it, the post-1931 horror classics are good because they're like "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" (or somehow inspired by them). I als Overall I think Skal does a great job of analyzing the great eras of horror films. His passion certainly shines through. What I would criticize though is his obsessive fixation on his "Dark Twins" (Dracula and Frankenstein). Throughout the whole book I got the feeling that of all the horror films that came after them, no matter how little evidence Skal has to show for it, the post-1931 horror classics are good because they're like "Dracula" and "Frankenstein" (or somehow inspired by them). I also think he gives "Freaks" way too much credit for being a horror classic when I highly doubt it's as influential as Skal thinks it is. He also gives very little attention to Hammer Horror which I found odd since their two biggest franchises were Dracula and Frankenstein films, Skal's obvious favourites. I felt like if Skal couldn't find a way to argue a horror classic is somehow indebted to "Dracula", "Frankenstein" or "Freaks" he either dismisses it or ignores it altogether (the omission of "Halloween" and most slasher films aside from "Psycho" is outrageous). I did however find his connections to horror and socio-political issues like war, castration anxiety and moral panics fascinating. I found the sections where he examined the American censors' puritanical butchery of early horror films quite humorous, especially when considering how they'd react to modern horror films (likely a string of brain aneurysms and heart attacks). Although I think Skal plays favourites too much with his own taste in horror, he certainly does an excellent job of portraying the genre as a rich, diverse style which deserves much more credit and attention than it usually is afforded by the mainstream.

  15. 5 out of 5

    David Jaffe

    Loved this, for the most part. I'm a fan of old movies and horror films. The fact that 70% of the book is- in essence- a history of horror films from the silent days up until 2000 makes this a can't miss for someone like me. Really fascinating to learn about the classic Universal films, the horror movies that predate them, the personalities behind those movies, and how the public responded upon release. Could not get enough! Book slows down and gets hit-or-miss when it goes from pure, well writte Loved this, for the most part. I'm a fan of old movies and horror films. The fact that 70% of the book is- in essence- a history of horror films from the silent days up until 2000 makes this a can't miss for someone like me. Really fascinating to learn about the classic Universal films, the horror movies that predate them, the personalities behind those movies, and how the public responded upon release. Could not get enough! Book slows down and gets hit-or-miss when it goes from pure, well written history book to more philosophical critique/analysis about the 'why' of things. Sometimes Skal's takes really hit home (loved learning how the disfigurement of survivable wounds of WW1 probably lead to the modern horror film, not to mention the surreal art movement); other times the takes feel silly and reaching (not to mention contradictory). The good news is these areas never occupy huge chunks at a time, so if you push through a handful of pages, the book always gets back on track and becomes- once again- a fantastic deep dive into a rarely written about subject. I love this book; one of my favorites of the last 10 years. Obviously, if old, classic Hollywood AND horror movies are not your bag, you'll probably find the book- at a pure execution level- more like a 3/5 star title. Hope this helps you decide if this book is for you!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Maura

    A very enjoyable history of American horror in the 20th century. The book gives a thorough account of many high points in horror, starting with macabre circus and sideshow acts and going up to movies like Silence of the Lambs in the 90's. I am fascinated by connections between horror trends and the social conditions that fostered them and, for the most part, Skal does a good job of explaining these. Unfortunately, he stretches at points too, and makes some pretty tenuous connections. He also has A very enjoyable history of American horror in the 20th century. The book gives a thorough account of many high points in horror, starting with macabre circus and sideshow acts and going up to movies like Silence of the Lambs in the 90's. I am fascinated by connections between horror trends and the social conditions that fostered them and, for the most part, Skal does a good job of explaining these. Unfortunately, he stretches at points too, and makes some pretty tenuous connections. He also has a tendency to get way too Freudian with his analysis leading to some ridiculous conclusions, such as stating that Frankenstein's monster resembles a giant walking phallus (wut?) but so far this has been the case with pretty much all scholarly writing on the genre I've read. (Which seems odd to me; authors sometimes ignore the actual blatant sex in the genre in their efforts to dig up hidden sex.) He also goes on a couple weird tangents towards the end that seem to highlight the author's own fear of doctors and mistrust of modern medicine more than anything else. Overall though, a great recap of a century of horror and one that I wish went up to today.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    Actually more like 4.5 honestly. I loved this book! I've always been into horror, mostly Stephen King and more recent movies, so it's cool to learn about the genesis and transformation of the genre throughout history. The idea that war and socioeconomic worries played such a huge role in shaping monsters and what scared people is extremely interesting and I'm impressed that Skal was able to fit so much information into this book without jumping around too much. I think the brief rundown on each Actually more like 4.5 honestly. I loved this book! I've always been into horror, mostly Stephen King and more recent movies, so it's cool to learn about the genesis and transformation of the genre throughout history. The idea that war and socioeconomic worries played such a huge role in shaping monsters and what scared people is extremely interesting and I'm impressed that Skal was able to fit so much information into this book without jumping around too much. I think the brief rundown on each chapter/time period/form of horror made it easy for me to read without feeling bogged down by film theory and analysis. Skal's writing is fun and easy to read, but also has enough meat on its bones to keep you engaged. And because it's almost the Halloween season (for most of us anyway), it's the perfect time to learn more about the monsters of the past (cinematically and socially).

  18. 4 out of 5

    Anwar Casas

    A wonderful book that will let you know the Genesis of horror film along with history moments that nurtured this movie genre. The style of the author, feels more like a conversation and you won't notice how fast chapters slip trough your fingers. Even if you are not into horror films, but you like film history; this book is perfect to introduce yourself in this movie genre

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    there are a few paragraphs in chapter 11 that are really transphobic/transmisogynistic (p 322-323 in my copy). there were a few other problems throughout the book such as the use of slurs. but other than that i liked it

  20. 4 out of 5

    Steven Logan

    One of the more entertaining history books.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nelson

    If you love the horror genre , whether in literature or cinema, you got to read this book.

  22. 4 out of 5

    RazoDrn10

    I really liked the characters and the plot

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sean Gerace

    Absolutely one of the most engaging and entertaining film history books I have ever read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mercedes McLean-Wheeler

    While there’s some interesting ideas and analysis here, I think Stephen King’s Danse Macabre does similar work, better, and more accessibly.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Dom King

    Bit too dry, but a fascinating look at the genre.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Cian O Brien

    The best book on horror and/or film I've ever read.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jon Punshon

    Although a bit dated, the Monster Show provides interesting stories and insight into the evolution of horror cinema. Definitely recommended reading for fans of the genre or film history in general.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

    One of the best books on horror and horror cinema I’ve ever read.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Really good. So interesting.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Hayes

    This one was slightly better than Horror by Mark Jancovich, but not by much. The main emphasis was on films and rather than books, and potted biographies of the actors in B-grade horror films, with the emphasis on a film called "The Cabinet of Dr Caligari". This one was slightly better than Horror by Mark Jancovich, but not by much. The main emphasis was on films and rather than books, and potted biographies of the actors in B-grade horror films, with the emphasis on a film called "The Cabinet of Dr Caligari".

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