Horror Films: Current Research on Audience Preferences and Reactions

By James B. Weaver III; Ron Tamborini | Go to book overview
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Chapter 1
Frightening Entertainment: A Historical Perspective of Fictional Horror

Ron Tamborini Michigan State University James B. Weaver III Auburn University

It can be hard to understand the "nature of the beast" when we are always running away from it. So it seems as we attempt to define the modern horror genre. Indeed, as we looked for a clear, precise definition of the horror genre, we discovered instead a deeply entangled and controversial concept. It is not uncommon, for instance, for scholars to be centuries apart when identifying the genre's inception. Some trace the ancestry of horror to early cave drawings and primitive rituals (see Zillmann & Gibson, chap.2, this volume). Others put its roots in the mid-18th century beginning with the "Age of Reason" ( Edwards, 1984; Twitchell, 1989), and mock those who would describe horrid fiction "in mythic, legendary terms, as if there were any resemblance between a postindustrial American teenager, screaming in delight at a monster movie, and some medieval peasant who trembled in the dark for fear a ghost would get him" ( Kendrick, 1991, p. xxii). Still others suggest that the modern horror genre originated only in the early part of this century when scholars first began to write anthologies on horrid fiction, or, perhaps when critics affirmed it by decree ( Joshi, 1990).

There is some merit in each of these perspectives depending on the facet of horror considered. If one begins with an interest in the functions served by horror (such as Zillmann & Gibson, chap.2, this volume) we might assume that certain needs associated with these stories have not changed since prehistoric times, whereas other needs may be associated with much more recent developments. In the same manner, interest in the genre's form might focus on characteristics of horror that have been a part of frightening narratives since


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