THE THRILL OF FEAR by Walter Kendrick


250 Years of Scary Entertainment
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 In The Secret Museum (1987), Kendrick traced the rise and influence of literary pornography. Here, in an equally freewheeling study, the Fordham English professor excavates another cultural back-alley--that of horror literature and film. Kendrick's basic thesis is two-fold: that horror arises from ``the fear of being dead,'' and that, since this fear is endemic to the modern (i.e., post-1750) condition, horror entertainments tend to recycle the same themes and styles. Drawing on impressively deep research, he develops both ideas admirably (although failing to deal adequately with the theory, propounded by Stephen King in Danse Macabre and by others, that the modern horror glut has arisen in response not only to death but to the terrors of contemporary life: nuclear war, urban violence, etc.). Kendrick finds horror to be a primarily emotional medium, with its roots in the 18th-century ``invention'' of intentional emotionality: ``modern fright is a kind of connoisseurship, a deliberate indulgence that recognizes no aim beyond itself.'' By century's end, he shows, with the appearance of Graveyard poetry and the novels The Castle of Otranto and The Monk, horror's course had been set, with the obsession with the past and sepulchral settings, even the tendency to graphically depicted terrors, all in place. During the next two centuries, these traits underwent many transformations, which Kendrick details thoroughly and colorfully--his discussions of Grand Guignol theater and of mid-20th-century horror films are particularly insightful, while his appreciation of contemporary horror's self-awareness, as exemplified in fans' ``sophisticated'' approach to film gore and in the rise of ``psychotronic'' criticism, is refreshingly on the mark. Of most value for its in-depth look at the genre's seminal works, Kendrick's lively and penetrative ramble through horror's vaults is an excellent companion to King's Danse Macabre, which remains the last word on contemporary horror.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-8021-1162-9
Page count: 310pp
Publisher: Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1991