The Philosophy of Horror

The Philosophy of Horror

The Philosophy of Horror

The Philosophy of Horror


Sitting on pins and needles, anxiously waiting to see what will happen next, horror audiences crave the fear and exhilaration generated by a terrifying story; their anticipation is palpable. But they also breathe a sigh of relief when the action is over, when they are able to close their books or leave the movie theater. Whether serious, kitschy, frightening, or ridiculous, horror not only arouses the senses but also raises profound questions about fear, safety, justice, and suffering.From literature and urban legends to film and television, horror's ability to thrill has made it an integral part of modern entertainment. Thomas Fahy and twelve other scholars reveal the underlying themes of the genre in The Philosophy of Horror. Examining the evolving role of horror, the contributing authors investigate works such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818), horror films of the 1930s, Stephen King's novels, Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining (1980), and Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960). Also examined are works that have largely been ignored in philosophical circles, including Truman Capote's In Cold Blood (1965), Patrick Süskind's Perfume (1985), and James Purdy's Narrow Rooms (2005). The analysis also extends to contemporary forms of popular horror and "torture-horror" films of the last decade, including Saw (2004), Hostel (2005), The Devil's Rejects (2005), and The Hills Have Eyes (2006), as well as the ongoing popularity of horror on the small screen.The Philosophy of Horror celebrates the strange, compelling, and disturbing elements of horror, drawing on interpretive approaches such as feminist, postcolonial, Marxist, and psychoanalytic criticism. The book invites readers to consider horror's various manifestations and transformations since the late 1700s, probing its social, cultural, and political functions in today's media-hungry society.


Not long ago several friends invited me to go skydiving. The prospect of jumping out of a plane made my stomach tighten and my mouth go dry, but reluctantly I agreed. Part of me wanted to be perceived as adventurous and brave. I had always been afraid of heights, and this was an opportunity to confront that fear, to overcome it. The afternoon adventure included a fifteen-minute training course on leaping from the aircraft, arching one’s body during the fall, breathing, and, of course, pulling the ripcord. Firsttimers (all of us) had the added benefit of making a tandem dive—in which an instructor was strapped to our backs to make sure we landed safely.

As the plane took off the dryness in my mouth became more acute. My heart pounded in protest, and I couldn’t remember why I had agreed to do something so stupid. While waiting for the jump all of us alternated between making jokes and sitting in silence. Then it was time. As my friends started leaping from the plane, I became more and more nervous. I walked unsteadily to the open door and glanced at the desert ten thousand feet below. I’m not sure if I jumped, fell, or was pushed out of the plane by my instructor. But I can remember moments of the experience vividly. The weightlessness of my body. The air pressing hard against my skin. The strange sensation of falling quickly and slowly at the same time. It was thrilling and terrifying, exciting and awful.

When it was over I felt a profound sense of relief.

But the story of my dive didn’t end there. After the jump each of us was encouraged to purchase a video of the event. The dive would be set to music (a song of our choice) and mailed to us a few days later. Now we could watch it again and again, sharing the experience with family and friends.

In many ways the horror genre promises a similar experience: the anticipation of terror, the mixture of fear and exhilaration as events unfold, the opportunity to confront the unpredictable and dangerous, the promise of relative safety (both in the context of a darkened theater and through a . . .

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