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Subversive Horror Cinema: Countercultural Messages of Films from Frankenstein to the Present

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Horror cinema flourishes in times of ideological crisis and national trauma--the Great Depression, the Cold War, the Vietnam era, post-9/11- and this book argues that a succession of filmmakers working in horror--from James Whale to Jen and Sylvia Soska--have used the genre, and the shock value it affords, to challenge the status quo during these times. Spanning the decade Horror cinema flourishes in times of ideological crisis and national trauma--the Great Depression, the Cold War, the Vietnam era, post-9/11- and this book argues that a succession of filmmakers working in horror--from James Whale to Jen and Sylvia Soska--have used the genre, and the shock value it affords, to challenge the status quo during these times. Spanning the decades from the 1930s onwards this critical text examines the work of producers and directors as varied as George A. Romero, Pete Walker, Michael Reeves, Herman Cohen, Wes Craven and Brian Yuzna--and the ways in which films like Frankenstein (1931), Cat People (1942), The Woman (2011) and American Mary (2012) can be considered "subversive". Nominated for BEST BOOK OF 2014 - RONDO HATTON CLASSIC HORROR AWARDS


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Horror cinema flourishes in times of ideological crisis and national trauma--the Great Depression, the Cold War, the Vietnam era, post-9/11- and this book argues that a succession of filmmakers working in horror--from James Whale to Jen and Sylvia Soska--have used the genre, and the shock value it affords, to challenge the status quo during these times. Spanning the decade Horror cinema flourishes in times of ideological crisis and national trauma--the Great Depression, the Cold War, the Vietnam era, post-9/11- and this book argues that a succession of filmmakers working in horror--from James Whale to Jen and Sylvia Soska--have used the genre, and the shock value it affords, to challenge the status quo during these times. Spanning the decades from the 1930s onwards this critical text examines the work of producers and directors as varied as George A. Romero, Pete Walker, Michael Reeves, Herman Cohen, Wes Craven and Brian Yuzna--and the ways in which films like Frankenstein (1931), Cat People (1942), The Woman (2011) and American Mary (2012) can be considered "subversive". Nominated for BEST BOOK OF 2014 - RONDO HATTON CLASSIC HORROR AWARDS

51 review for Subversive Horror Cinema: Countercultural Messages of Films from Frankenstein to the Present

  1. 4 out of 5

    Barbie Wilde

    - A joy to read if you're a fan of horror who is not only interested in the splatter, but in the cause and effect of the genre - 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 - A joy to read if you're a fan of horror who is not only interested in the splatter, but in the cause and effect of the genre - 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. Highly recommended. "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

  2. 4 out of 5

    Wes

    I absolutely loved this book. I read it in a 3-day marathon sprint, after initially picking up the book to sample Squirm director Jeff Lieberman's fine introduction, but Jon Towlson's stylish, intelligent writing had me hooked from the outset when the author revealed that one of the starting points for the book was a pivotal late night television screening of The Crazies in 1978 and how George Romero's film about a disastrous military blunder in small town Pennsylvania was strangely anal I absolutely loved this book. I read it in a 3-day marathon sprint, after initially picking up the book to sample Squirm director Jeff Lieberman's fine introduction, but Jon Towlson's stylish, intelligent writing had me hooked from the outset when the author revealed that one of the starting points for the book was a pivotal late night television screening of The Crazies in 1978 and how George Romero's film about a disastrous military blunder in small town Pennsylvania was strangely analogous to the ruinous policies of Britain's Labour government which led to the so-called Winter of Discontent of '78,79. It's that kind of personal writing coupled with a grand sweep of history and some 80 years of extraordinary Horror Cinema that makes this book so compulsively readable. One of the strengths of the book is that it made me re-consider films I assumed I already knew intimately, so much so that after reading the book I immediately went back to one of the films discussed in the text, Bob Clark's 1972 film Deathdream , a film I've always had problems with, and this time I emerged with a more profound sense of what Bob Clark was striving for. Throughout the book, there are fascinating readings on Freaks, Witchfinder General, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, House of Mortal Sin, Blue Sunshine to name but a few, but what really propelled the book along for me was the sheer excitement of ideas, in particular when Towlson writes about Night of the Living Dead , and remarks, "Barbara's subsequent flight to the farmhouse feels like a journey not to another place but to another film", a notion I absolutely love. This is the kind of film writing that I find genuinely inspiring. For anyone eager to look underneath the layers of greasepaint and gore of the Horror genre, Subversive Horror Cinema is absolutely required reading.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Horror DNA

    The horror genre has long been the scapegoat for politicians, film censors and pillars of the community looking to push an agenda, religious or otherwise. Subversive cinema excels when it comes to questioning authority or pushing the envelope of what is acceptable to decent society. What drives filmmakers to deliberately lace their pictures with content that is sure to draw fire? Is it the simple need to offend for the sake of offense or is it something deeper? The horror genre is a platform whe The horror genre has long been the scapegoat for politicians, film censors and pillars of the community looking to push an agenda, religious or otherwise. Subversive cinema excels when it comes to questioning authority or pushing the envelope of what is acceptable to decent society. What drives filmmakers to deliberately lace their pictures with content that is sure to draw fire? Is it the simple need to offend for the sake of offense or is it something deeper? The horror genre is a platform where messages can be shouted out loud instead of whispered in classrooms, where shocking images are gloriously projected onto 40-foot screens. When is a monster not just a monster and what does it mean when a subgenre takes over the industry? These are only but a few of the questions raised in Jon Towlson's spectacular new collection of essays: Subversive Cinema: Counterculteral Messages of Films from Frankenstein to the Present. You can read ZigZag's full review at Horror DNA by clicking here.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tom Donaghey

    Horror movies are to be experienced, not thought through. You pay your money, grab some popcorn and a drink, sit in the dark and prepare yourself to face monsters and monstrosities, gore and repulsive images, disturbing and downright scary things. For that hour and a half you are transported to a demented world, one slightly beyond our own but a world that you sense lurks in a dark alley, dimly lit basement, or in that house just down the road. The main idea is to go have a good scare while kno Horror movies are to be experienced, not thought through. You pay your money, grab some popcorn and a drink, sit in the dark and prepare yourself to face monsters and monstrosities, gore and repulsive images, disturbing and downright scary things. For that hour and a half you are transported to a demented world, one slightly beyond our own but a world that you sense lurks in a dark alley, dimly lit basement, or in that house just down the road. The main idea is to go have a good scare while knowing you are safe and secure, that what you have seen on the screen isn’t real, or at least it might be real some other place but not here where you live. You are supposed to have fun with a horror movie. That is why the sense of schadenfreude you feel afterwards is so commonplace. Why can’t you take pleasure at the thought of someone else’s pretend misery? With SUBVERSIVE HORROR CINEMA, author Jon Towlson asks us to think about what is happening on the screen and how it relates to events of the day. The driving linkage between the movies and directors mentioned is how they are reflective of the real-life horrors of the day, from Eugenics and the violence of war and Depression to the Cold War and Anti-establishment movements around the world. Like Sci-Fi movies, horror movies can “talk” the language of the real world but take it to a freakish extreme so as to disavow the audience from the reality of the day This is not a lightweight volume chock-a-block with photos, as most “Horror” books would be, but more a dissertation of the genre and how it translates the real world. Beware when you pick this up. While you might be in it for the thrills, you just might learn something. I won this fascinating book through Goodreads.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    Really enjoyed this study of subversive horror films throughout the ages. Well written. An enjoyable read.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Susan Morton

  7. 4 out of 5

    juicy brained intellectual

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mo

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dan

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jennica Johnson

  12. 5 out of 5

    Louis Goncey

  13. 5 out of 5

    Zack Long

  14. 5 out of 5

    Tom Goulter

  15. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

  16. 5 out of 5

    Frank Collins

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    Whenthekitestringpops

  18. 5 out of 5

    Garret O'Malley

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    Jeff Wolfe

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    Matthew Floyd

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    OTIS

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    Therese

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    Rob Same

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    Jazz

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    The Irregular Reader

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    Sarah Rees

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    El

  48. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer beck

  49. 4 out of 5

    Stacey

  50. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey

  51. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

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