Terror Translated into Comedy: The Popular Music Metamorphosis of Film and Television Horror, 1956-1991

By Cooper, B. Lee | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

Terror Translated into Comedy: The Popular Music Metamorphosis of Film and Television Horror, 1956-1991


Cooper, B. Lee, Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


American youth culture, the demographic legacy of World War II, began to exert its economic influence during the late 1950s. The mass media responded swiftly. Age-targeted motion pictures and television programs sought to attract the discretionary dollars of teenage consumers. Horror imagery thrived. Gothic fiction by Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Edgar Allan Poe was available for adaptation; characters of monstrous proportion and frightful visage were stock-piled in film footage featuring Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr., Bela Lugosi, and King Kong. The popular culture foundation for burgeoning youth interest in classic monsters and horror settings was also readily available. Commercial recordings also emerged as primary reflections of adolescent interests and opinions. Youthful fascination with the characters, situations, and sounds of the horror genre were translated into audio formats. However, a metamorphosis from terror to comedy occurred. Rock 'n' roll music-from "I Put a Spell on You" (1956) by Screamin' Jay Hawkins to "The Addams Groove" (1991) by Hammer-illustrates that laughter rather than shock has been the result of youthful adaptation of horror themes.

Youthful Fascination With Horror

From the Wicked Witch who sought to fatten Hansel and Gretel before devouring them, to the Terrible Troll that dwelt beneath the bridge in "The Three Billy Goats Gruff", horror has been a staple of childhood fantasy. The annual October charade of Halloween reinforces joyful fright. Ghosts prowl from house to house threatening make-believe mayhem; skeletons dance gleefully on elementary school walls; and adult neighbors sport fiendish masks and rubber hands designed to unnerve even experienced trick-ortreaters. Newsstands bristle with Tales From the Crypt comics and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines. Bookstores abound with the scary volumes of R.L. Stein and Stephen King. Adolescent TV film viewing runs the gamut from monster classics like King Kong (1933), Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), and The Wolf Man (1941) to more recent horror flicks including Halloween (1978), Alien (1979), Amityville Horror (1979), Friday the 13th (1980), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and The Addams Family (1991). Home Box Office (HBO) has capitalized on youthful interest in ghouls, goblins, and vampires to make weekend programming a collage of Friday the 13th, insane asylums, Halloween, graveyards, and sinister laboratories where mad scientists concoct lethal potions and create bizarre beings. Even local newspapers feature sardonic observations from macabre characters of Olson and Kelso's "Horrorscope" and Gary Larson's "Far Side" in their daily comic pages.

Many hypotheses have been advanced to explain youthful fascination with horror (Cawelti, 1976; Cooper, 1992; Dickstein, 1980; Doherty, 1988; Evans, 1975). Few scholars acknowledge the most uncomplicated reason, though. It's fun to be frightened for a moment. An unsettling instance is a magnificent, electric jolt from the predictable present. Harmless fantasies of confronting a one-eyed creature, of being captured by a gigantic demon, or of opening the tomb of a cursed mummy constitute marvelous childhood escapes from daily chores and repetitive schoolwork. American popular culture has made horror a universally acceptable feature of childhood (Cooper, 1989; Feiffer, 1965; Heller, 1987; Kawin, 1972; King, 1981; Lurie, 1990). True to the nature of its youthful audience, popular recordings that utilize horror genre are typically brief, lively, animated, humorous, absurd, disrespectful toward adult authority, multi-media in sources of characterization, and totally devoid of redeeming aesthetic or social value. To the adult listener, these discs are at best silly novelty songs and at worst mindless nonsense. Nevertheless, the ubiquity of horror themes in popular recordings over the past four decades is undeniable (Cooper 1992).

Roots of Rock 'N' Horror Recordings

Between 1931 and 1956, horror was primarily a field of adult entertainment. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Terror Translated into Comedy: The Popular Music Metamorphosis of Film and Television Horror, 1956-1991
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.