It’s pretty obvious when you meet one. A horror fan, that is. For one thing, they’re mostly decent people who often feel like outcasts for their tastes. They also tend to have a well-developed critical sense for films. While I’ve never actually met S. A. Bradley, I feel like I know him after reading Screaming with Pleasure: How Horror Makes You Happy and Healthy. This is a must-read for horror fans and it comes with enticing descriptions of movies you’ll want to see afterward. Bradley’s range is truly exceptional. Not only that, but his taste in films leads to an inherent trust that he won’t steer you wrong. The movies he recommends—the ones that I’ve seen—wholly bear him out. The man’s a connoisseur.
Perhaps it was because I, like Bradley, was raised in a very religious household, but his recognition that horror and religion are closely related really spoke to me. With a similar radar toward the religious impact of horror, he notes at several points how the two interact. His discussion includes horror in music and literature as well as cinema. The benefits of the genre are unapologetically discussed, including the relatively high proportion of women who direct horror compared to other genres. Unlike other movie genres, horror suffers from a perennial bad image. Bradley confronts why this is so and also why it is misguided. The bias is deep and undeserved. Ironically, many of the same kinds of criticisms are now being leveled at religions as well.
Bradley’s book isn’t about religion and horror. As someone raised in a religious household and who used horror to cope, however, he understands how the two are related. Horror can heal. When those of us in similar settings come to realize that horror is offering a means of getting along in a cruel world, it answers questions in a way that theodicy can’t. Horror can be an intellectual experience. It can be thoughtful. But what comes through here is that it is also honest. Life is complex and difficult. Horror doesn’t shy away from that, but brings it out into the open. I’ve read many books that analyze horror, and there are many more yet to read. Bradley does something a bit different from many of them—he writes from a broad experience both in life and in the genre and comes up with an eloquent statement about a genre often dismissed. And those willing to read it come away the better for it.