Let's Scare Jessica to Death
August 17, 2010 12:51 PM   Subscribe

Recommendations for thought-provoking books or essay collections that analyze horror movies, please.

A friend of mine's birthday is coming up and he loves horror and "body horror"-type movies, anything ranging from schlocky b-grade junk to Wes Craven to notorious things (Cannibal Holocaust, etc.) to "disturbing" but highfalutin arthouse cinema like Haneke, Miike, von Trier, plus Solondz, Cronenberg, Lynch, etc. He already has most of the movies he's into, but I was thinking of maybe giving him a great book that analyzes said movies. I figure there must be something out there--I can't for the life of me remember any titles I read in college but I do recall reading a lot of this sort of thing, particularly along feminist lines analyzing themes of death, class, consumer waste and disgust, and the repressed body. I know it's a fun thing for brainy people to write about, so I'm hoping someone has firsthand recommendations.

And it doesn't have to be only highhorse theory-laden stuff; I'd take books that have breezy accounts but are chock full o' recommendations and connections and details about great soundtrack music/sound architecture (like in the title movie!), production ins and outs, etc. He's a musician who was a hardcore trash-goth-y Misfits-lovin' teenager, so I know he'd be down for that, too.

Super bonus points if said books are available through Amazon so I can use my Prime account and be on my way immediately, but for posterity and future holidays' sake I'll take anything good.
posted by ifjuly to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

I remember enjoying this one at university. Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in Modern Horror Film
posted by dydecker at 1:06 PM on August 17, 2010 [3 favorites]

The Vanishing Hitchhiker isn't about horror movies, per se, but a fascinating analysis of the body fears, sexual shame, and social conditioning at the heart of (mostly U.S.) urban legends and other (predominantly bloody and terrifying) "campfire-type" stories. Though perhaps a bit dated, I think that someone into horror flicks would appreciate this.
posted by applemeat at 1:08 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Noel Carroll's The Philosophy of Horror: Or, Paradoxes of the Heart is pretty great. It's academic, it's dense, and it's written by a man who loves his horror movies.
posted by MPnonot3 at 1:16 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Anything by David J. Skal. He's a wonderful, accessible writer.
posted by JoanArkham at 1:17 PM on August 17, 2010

This is old, but Stephen King wrote a book about horror fiction: Danse Macabre
posted by flex at 1:20 PM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

A documentary, not a book, but Zizek's The Pervert's Guide To Cinema.
posted by AlsoMike at 1:21 PM on August 17, 2010

2nding Danse Macabre. It's really about the whole horror genre and why (in King's view) people are so attracted to it.
posted by rhartong at 1:24 PM on August 17, 2010

Best answer: It's expensive, but worth it: Horror Film and Psychoanalysis

Also, much less dense and a bit dated is Danse Macabre by Stephen King.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:26 PM on August 17, 2010

It's certainly not "highhorse," and it's too old (1981) to deal with the likes of Lynch, but I think Stephen King's Danse Macabre is a worthwhile read on the horror genre. Chapters include "The Modern American Horror Movie: Text and Subtext" and "The Horror Movie as Junk Food," and there are appendices of must-sees and must-reads.
posted by Paris Elk at 1:28 PM on August 17, 2010

Best answer: From the "breezy accounts" direction he might enjoy Bruce Campbell's auto-biography, which has a lot of fun information about the filming process of the Evil Dead trilogy.
posted by Lifeson at 1:29 PM on August 17, 2010

Whoops, looks like all the Stephen King fans checked in at the same time!
posted by Paris Elk at 1:29 PM on August 17, 2010

Best answer: Seconding Men, Women, and Chainsaws. Also, I'm in the middle of The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film, which is fantastic.
posted by ScarletSpectrum at 1:36 PM on August 17, 2010

Is he into earlier horrory stuff? Like Weimar German cinema, such as the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari? If so From Caligari to Hitler, by Siegfried Kracauer might be worth a look - it was required reading for my BA in Film Studies, and remains canonical in some circles.
posted by jrb223 at 1:38 PM on August 17, 2010

Not exactly movie-focused, but your friend might like this book: On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears (includes some discussion of various movie monsters, especially the Frankenstein Monster and the Werewolf).
posted by coolguymichael at 2:38 PM on August 17, 2010

UK film writer Mark Kermode isn't to everyone's tastes, but he's a big enthusiast of horror and other genre film. His book It's Only A Movie might suit your friend.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 4:10 PM on August 17, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks a lot guys! I decided to go the schlockier route and get him the Bruce Campbell autobiography; I was tempted to get him one of the Skal books too and probably will the next time I have a reason to give him a present.

I think maybe I need to practice my AskMeing. I got sidetracked by two different things--he's a lot less interested in gender and scholarly texts than I am, but when thinking of books for him it lead me to remembering vaguely things I read in college, which reminded me that's something I really want to know more about anyway. So it was really two questions in one, and distinct ones since I don't think he'd like what I would and vice versa. So I also marked best answers for books I especially want to check out for myself in the future. And please if possible, keep 'em coming, either kind of book, because it's somewhat easy to Google titles but you don't get a sense of whether a book's actually any good or not...

As for the second inadvertent branch of my question, some examples of film analysis I've loved include Framed by Judith Mayne, Laura Kipnis' earlier essays, and for the life of me I cannot recall the title or authors involved but some compendium from the library about retro monster movies and femininity. I also feel like I had a book (magazine maybe??) once about John Waters' and Russ Meyer's movies and feminism and queer studies and Sontag and camp, but again, the details are really fuzzy. So if there are titles similar to those that you found insightful I'd love to know about them.
posted by ifjuly at 7:23 AM on August 18, 2010

Not specifically an analysis of the horror genre, but Roger Corman's How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood And Never Lost A Dime is an entertaining (dare I say, breezy) read about the business of making low-budget (mainly horror) movies from the master.

Men, Women, and Chainsaws is an interesting read, but fairly academic and dry.
posted by mkultra at 12:05 PM on August 18, 2010

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