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Book Review - Horror: A Thematic History in Fiction and Film
by Matt Bartley

If, like me, you've gone through university or are currently going through university, then you'll know the trauma of finding good books to source in your essays. The good titles are almost always limited to one or two copies, which are always swiped early by the most studious of students. This then leaves you with the out-dated and dull or the choice of trotting down to your local bookshop and seeing what titles they have to offer. The trouble with that however, as any tutor will tell you, is that frequently these are just pseudo-intellectual books, marketed for the most desperate of students. Darryl Jones' book however, is not this at all - it's a rare breed of book that's both serious and intelligent in tone and intent, but effortlessly readable.

Jones book divides itself into several chapters, all paying attention to different aspects of horror in both literature and film. So even the most ardent of horror fans should find their tastes covered from vampires to the occult, the psychos to mutations and from Frankenstein to unnatural invasion.

Beware though, because Jones has done his research and has resolutely refused to dumb down (one chapter is subtitled: Textuality, metafiction and books). Chapters start off with a historical examination of the relevant themes he intends to cover, before moving off to their representation in film. So for those eager to get to his points about 'The Hills Have Eyes' or 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' make sure you've got your brain cells turned on, because Jones is going to take you through Matthew Lewis's 1796 novel 'The Monk' and its notion of Britishness, first.

And this whip-smart intelligence runs throughout with each chapter painstakingly researched and referenced, so you know this is the product of hard work.

But if you're thinking that this sounds like the dry and dusty stuff of creaking academics, think again, because Jones makes this easily accessible and endlessly fascinating. His theories and 'readings' of film and literature are fascinating, but never fall into pretentiousness or pomposity. This is the work of a true fan, and he sets the tone with a loving introduction detailing how, at the age of 12, Darryl's mother introduced him to such titles as 'The Exorcist' and 'Zombie Flesh Eaters'. Thanks mam. And to think, at that age, mine would only get me 'Ghostbusters' or 'The Great Outdoors'...

So if you're a student with an essay on horror, Jones book will provide you with some invaluable insights, but if you're just a fan of the genre (like me) you'll get fresh insights into some old favourites that will make you want to rush out and watch them all over again.

For example, watch 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' again, and just wonder how you missed its comment on American economic disenfranchisement. Or curse yourself for dismissing 'Night of the Demon' because of its silly monster, when it's actually one of the most striking and original horrors of the last century. Or re-evaluate just what a talented and subversive director James Whale was. Personally, I'll never be able to read James Herbert's 'The Rats' in the same way again, after Jones skillfully points out the racism inherent in it.

The only drawback is that, at a mere 192 pages, Jones occasionally sells himself short. For example, his work on 'The Blair Witch Project' is incisive, but short, leaving you hungry for him to expand on it more. A sequel in the works perhaps?

Not cheap, but written with purpose and genuine insight throughout, Jones' book is one for both students and horror freaks with a want to discover a little more about the subject that fascinates them so much.

Highly recommended.

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originally posted: 02/08/05 03:20:58
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