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DREADFUL PLEASURES: An Anatomy of Modern Horror by James B. Twitchell

DREADFUL PLEASURES: An Anatomy of Modern Horror


Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 1985
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press

One of the main questions raised by this splendid and humorously written study of horror is why we subject ourselves in the darkness of the theater to images which we would find repellent in actuality. From dream images to cave paintings to Gothic novels and to the flickering screen, the author traces the iconography of horror arguing that it is like a roller coaster which gives us the satisfaction of overcoming our fears; horror ""pulls the pop-top' off repressed urges and lets them escape; and, most important, it gives us ""fables of sexual identity""--it prepares the adolescent for the anxieties of reproduction. The main argument of the book, in fact, is that the fear of incest underlies all horror myths and the hidden story is that of ""the family romance."" Dracula's horror lies in inappropriate seduction; Frankenstein's in unnatural creation and the Wolfman's (or Jekyll and Hyde's) in the split consciousness. But in all, the fiend performs the tabooed acts that we--the audience--could only dream of. Dracula is obviously after more than blood; he is after sex. He is also a surrogate father doing nasty things to his ""daughters,"" and the parable--just as the parables of Frankenstein and the Wolfman--articulates the need for repression. ""The Rocky Horror Picture Show,"" which draws its fans weekly to reenact what has become almost ""a religious ritual,"" provides ""quite literally a recitative reading of the do's and don't's of sexuality. ""Twitchell is picky--and rightly so--about his monsters: he mocks the werewolf who has no family connection, no sex interests, and is just there to ""say 'boo' and be gone."" And he despises the zombie or mummy--""utter cretins,"" ""vampires with a labotomy."" The main monsters--Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman--Twitchell reassures us, will last because their encoded stories are ""the morality plays of our time."" Only now and then heavy-handed (such times as when ""mummy"" becomes ""mommy"" to fit the author's design), this is an insightful and adventurous interpretation of what we experience as the ""shivers.