Even without the results of the recent presidential election, I would be reading about horror movies. One of the reasons is that I wonder what the appeal might be—why do I put myself in a dark room with an uncertain future? Until recently academics had thought this was something only unreflective, uneducated people did. As is often the case, such as with the electoral college, the numbers tell a different story. Andrew Tudor’s Monsters and Mad Scientists: A Cultural History of the Horror Movie is an example of what happens when a sociologically oriented film critic explores the genre. Although not overwhelming, there are plenty of tables and charts, showing the various trends of horror films from the 1930s up through the mid 1980s. Tudor analyzes what makes us afraid and the main sources of that fear: science, supernatural, and psyche. Since these are all day-to-day things it seems that movies express the basic human condition.
Reading a book published in the ‘80s, however, makes you wonder what might have been missed. We’ve had more than three decades of further horror movies and although categories may be useful, and perhaps even stable, recent events unlock further fears. I suspect there will be a comeback of Nazis in scary movies over the next few years. Horror is, after all, a reflection of those who are willing to be honest about what scares them. There’s plenty of subject matter lying about the headlines of the past weeks.
What I found especially interesting is, at least in the 1980s, statistically the great majority of films featured a supernatural threat. Of these, Tudor notes, the vampire is by far the most popular. We’ve had a dalliance with zombies since then. And I’ve seen plenty of examples where extraterrestrials form the threat. Even ghosts have staged a somewhat unexpected comeback. And movies of demons have proliferated. The supernatural does indeed scare us. I’m not sure that we can quantify it as easily as we used to. Unlike earlier generations of scholars, I’m beginning to see the horror inherent in much of society. We’ve created a scary world with even more scary possibilities. The thing about monsters is they have no sympathy. They are cold, calculating, and all about meeting their own unnatural needs. All the rest of us are just, not to put too fine a point on it, their food. I have a feeling that we’ll be seeing much more of this in days to come.