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The Philosophy of Horror

Thomas Fahy

Publication Year: 2010

Sitting on pins and needles, anxiously waiting to see what will happen next, horror audiences crave the fear and exhilaration generated by a terrifying story; their anticipation is palpable. But they also breathe a sigh of relief when the action is over, when they are able to close their books or leave the movie theater. Whether serious, kitschy, frightening, or ridiculous, horror not only arouses the senses but also raises profound questions about fear, safety, justice, and suffering. From literature and urban legends to film and television, horror’s ability to thrill has made it an integral part of modern entertainment. Thomas Fahy and twelve other scholars reveal the underlying themes of the genre in The Philosophy of Horror. Examining the evolving role of horror, the contributing authors investigate works such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), horror films of the 1930s, Stephen King’s novels, Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining (1980), and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). Also examined are works that have largely been ignored in philosophical circles, including Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (1965), Patrick Süskind’s Perfume (1985), and James Purdy’s Narrow Rooms (2005). The analysis also extends to contemporary forms of popular horror and “torture-horror” films of the last decade, including Saw (2004), Hostel (2005), The Devil’s Rejects (2005), and The Hills Have Eyes (2006), as well as the ongoing popularity of horror on the small screen. The Philosophy of Horror celebrates the strange, compelling, and disturbing elements of horror, drawing on interpretive approaches such as feminist, postcolonial, Marxist, and psychoanalytic criticism. The book invites readers to consider horror’s various manifestations and transformations since the late 1700s, probing its social, cultural, and political functions in today’s media-hungry society.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: The Philosophy of Popular Culture

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pp. vii

I’d like to thank the contributors for all of their hard work and impressive essays. I am particularly grateful to Anne Dean Watkins and everyone at the University Press of Kentucky for making this book a reality. I am also indebted to Long Island University, Daniel Kurtzman, Susann Cokal, and Pamela L. Ayari for their support. Lastly, for going above and beyond the ...

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pp. 1-13

Not long ago several friends invited me to go skydiving. The prospect of jumping out of a plane made my stomach tighten and my mouth go dry, but reluctantly I agreed. Part of me wanted to be perceived as adventurous and brave. I had always been afraid of heights, and this was an opportunity to confront that fear, to overcome it. The afternoon adventure included a ...

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Horror and the Idea of Everyday Life: On Skeptical Threats in Psycho and The Birds

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pp. 14-32

Sometimes art provokes outrage, fear, and disgust. In the case of horror, that is the point. Those who enjoy horror might seek no justification or defense for it. But because of the strong feelings elicited by horror and the outrageous acts that are depicted in it, to those sensitive to offense it is hard not to feel that some justification or defense is needed. There are some obvious ...

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Through a Mirror, Darkly: Art-Horror as a Medium for Moral Reflection

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pp. 33-41

Works of art provide a means by which humans express, intuitively and explicitly, their assumptions about the world. We have all been moved by a sad story, gladdened by a funny story, and frightened by a scary story. In each case, it is very likely that the emotion produced depended on the effectiveness of the work of art to elicit those emotions by presenting to us a set ...

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The Justification of Torture-Horror: Retribution and Sadism in Saw, Hostel, and The Devil’s Rejects

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pp. 42-56

When in a decisive 1988 presidential debate Bernard Shaw asked Michael Dukakis what he would do to someone who had raped and murdered his wife, the response was supposed to be obvious; but it was not so for Dukakis. He stated his opposition to the death penalty without a trace of vengeful ...

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Hobbs, Human Nature, and the Culture of American Violence in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood

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pp. 57-71

On November 15, 1959, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith drove several hundred miles to the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, and brutally murdered four members of the Clutter family. Armed with a hunting knife and a twelve-gauge shotgun, the two men entered the house through an unlocked door just after midnight. They had been hoping to find a safe with thousands ...

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Making Their Presence Known: TV’s Ghost-Hunter Phenomenon in a “Post-” World

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pp. 72-85

In this young millennium, the television landscape has been shaped by a groundswell of reality-based and scripted shows investigating the super-natural, such as A Haunting, Paranormal State, Most Haunted, Ghost Hunters, Ghost Hunters International, Ghostly Encounters, Ghost Trackers, Ghost ...

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The Vampire with a Soul: Angel and the Quest for Identity

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pp. 86-101

Perhaps no creature is more commonplace in horror fiction—both on the page and on the screen—than the vampire. As typically depicted, the vampire rises from the grave to a potentially immortal undead existence, sustaining himself by drinking the blood of the innocent. With the kind of charisma and cunning that is born only of evil, the garden-variety vampire ...

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Ideological Formations of the Nuclear Family in The Hills Have Eyes

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pp. 102-120

The Hills Have Eyes was originally filmed in 1977, directed and written by Wes Craven.¹ The 2006 remake (this time produced by Craven and directed by Alexandre Aja) revises the central concept of a family under siege to redirect the film’s focus more pointedly toward a critique of the intensified discourse around “family values.”² Both versions pit family against family ...

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Zombies of the World, Unite: Class Struggle and Alienation in Land of the Dead

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pp. 121-136

In a 2005 review of George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead, Roger Ebert notes the class structure of the society of surviving humans residing in Pittsburgh, pointing out the contrast between the luxurious (and apparently completely idle) lifestyle of the residents of Fiddler’s Green, a luxury skyscraper at the center of the city, and the dehumanized condition of the poorer ...

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The Fall of the House of Ulmer: Europe vs. America in the Gothic Vision of The Black Cat

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pp. 137-160

The horror story is one of the many exotic goods that Americans have traditionally imported from Europe. This was already true in American Gothic fiction in the early nineteenth century, but the situation persisted even in the twentieth century and the new medium of cinema.

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From Domestic Nightmares to the Nightmare of History: Uncanny Eruptions of Violence in King’s and Kubrick’s Versions of The Shining

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pp. 161-178

Early in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Dick Hallorann assures the apprehensive Danny Torrance that there is nothing in the hotel that can actually hurt him and explains that the terrible events of the past can leave behind a trace of themselves that is visible only to those who shine. As it turns out Hallorann is profoundly mistaken. In an ironic twist, he ...

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"Hot with Rapture and Cold with Fear": Grotesque, Sublime, and Postmodern Transformations in Patrick Süskind’s Perfume

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pp. 179-198

Jean-Baptist Grenouille, antihero of Patrick Süskind’s international best seller Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, is “one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages” (Süskind 2001, 3). He is smart, talented, and completely amoral, shunned by his fellow humans from the moment he’s born. He commits crimes that ...

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Shock Value: A Deleuzean Encounter with James Purdy’s Narrow Rooms

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pp. 199-211

The prospect of writing an essay on Narrow Rooms and the works of Félix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze is both inviting and challenging. Inviting, because this dynamic duo of French philosophy often investigated artworks as an important part of their philosophizing—the fictions of Franz Kafka, the music of Robert Schumann, the paintings of J. M. W. Turner, and the ...

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Making Monsters: The Philosophy of Reproduction in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the Universal Films Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein

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pp. 212-228

Philosophical inquiries. Bride of Frankenstein. Son of Frankenstein. Ab-bott and Costello Meet Frankensein. FrankenBerry breakfast cereal. Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein has bred a number of offspring, and some, like her monstrous character, are far from perfect. nullnd nullile some are imperfect, misshapen creatures, it is dinullcult to ignore the novel’s focus on reproduction ...

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Kitsch and Camp and Things That Go Bump in the Night; or, Sontag and Adorno at the (Horror) Movies

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pp. 229-243

At a very young age I was simultaneously introduced to kitsch and to camp and to classic horror films by “your friendly neighborhood vampire,” Sir Graves Ghastly, the Saturday afternoon movie host on Detroit’s local CBS affiliate, WJBK-TV Channel 2.¹ With a ghoulish cackle Sir Graves began each show by bidding viewers to “turn out the lights, pull down the shades, draw ...


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pp. 245-247


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pp. 249-259

Back cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780813173702
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813125732

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: The Philosophy of Popular Culture

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Popular culture.
  • Horror in literature.
  • Horror tales, American -- History and criticism.
  • Horror television programs -- History and criticism.
  • Horror films -- History and criticism.
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  • Open Access
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