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Reviewed by:
  • The Canadian Horror Film: Terror of the Soul ed. by Gina Freitag and André Loiselle
  • Chris Koenig-Woodyard
Gina Freitag and André Loiselle, eds. The Canadian Horror Film: Terror of the Soul. University of Toronto Press. x, 292. $29.95

These thirteen essays valuably explore six topics related to the history and aesthetics of the Canadian horror film: nature, text-to-film adaptations, the "Tax Shelter Slasher" of the 1970s (1970 to 1987), "Eco-Horror," animation, and David Cronenberg. The essays are framed by an introduction and conclusion, and a filmography lists the century of films surveyed in the collection, from The Werewolf in 1913 to Cronenberg's adaptation of the novel Maps to the Stars in 2014.

At the heart of this collection is an acknowledgement of the critical futility of articulating concretely the focus of its title and subtitle – its scope and subject. Indeed, the introduction and the individual essays test the elasticity of the ever-expanding circumference of two questions that implicitly and explicitly drive the collection – what is "Canadian"? And what is "horror" and "terror"? The essayists' answers are guided by Northrop Frye's comment in The Bush Garden about the "tone of deep terror" in Canadian art – that it is "not a terror of the dangers or discomforts of even the mysteries of nature, but a terror of the soul at something that these things manifest" – and by the motif of pluralism, that Canadian "cultural identity is a slippery thing." Thus the ontological slipperiness of horrifying "things" bookends the scope of the volume: in the introduction the editor's claim that "the Canadian experience is one of shaky cultural identity where cultural assimilation or cultural implosion is an increasingly real fear" is reiterated in the conclusion: "Canadian horror cinema is the idea of an 'unsettled' nation, one which is bothered, made 'uneasy' by the wildness of its landscapes, the continual uprooting and refining of identity, and one which is constantly disrupted by such specific anxieties which are never fully quelled."

In between these two comments, the essayists fruitfully detail a national, political, and cultural "plurality" that informs a "discourse of paradoxes," that a "country's cinema" does not reveal a "cohesive national [End Page 157] psyche." If the aesthetics of horror freights all corporealities, discourses, identities, and ontologies with a gothic obscurity, the "soul" – and the "obscure sources and intricate manifestations of the deep terror of the soul that petrifies our collective imagination" – emerges as a key focus of the collection. A person's soul can be terrified by seemingly (corporeally) real monsters, and it can emerge as a terrifying and monstrous force. The soul exists precariously in (and with) "the interval between external threat and internal dread." The external threats are numerous, and the volume offers a taxonomy of terrors: aliens, Americans, cannibals, devils and demons, diseases (and viruses and epidemics), forest slashers, hormonal teenagers, mad scientists and deranged doctors, mythological monsters, orcas (killer whales and other marine life), psychotic family members (including mo/ummies), rats, ravens, Sasquatch, serial killers, sexual predators and pedophiles, scientifically generated creatures, werewolves, spiders (and insects), vampires, wendigos, and zombies. The list of beasts is capacious, comprehensive, and playful and is compiled with a theoretical, philosophical, and political savvy methodology.

If, as many essayists contend, terrors of the tundra threaten our bodily existence, these beasts also threaten Canadians (even with their pluralistic national identity) with "cultural extinction." If the monsters listed above surround us, "monstrosity," many essayists, like André Loiselle, argue, also exists in "mundane people." We all have "horrific affinities" that may require only the slightest pressure on a psychological trigger that would give agency to the latent: "Canadian horror produces a troubled Canadian identity that disrupts the boundaries between monstrous 'savagery' and 'civilization' governing Frye's 'garrison mentality."' Moreover, if as Scott Birdwise argues, "horror is both the ground of and the threat to civilization and consciousness," many essayists explore the "fundamental anxiety that afflicts Canadians," as Andrea Subissati argues: "American cultural imperialism." Imperialism, however, manifests itself informally and formally, in discrete as well as in explicit political, economic, and cultural forms. Peter Thompson argues that "the epistemological crisis engendered by cinematic horror comes from...


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pp. 157-158
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