A serious, jargon-laden, and stubbornly appreciative examination of movies that, according to Paul (Film/Univ. of Michigan), ``embraced the lowest common denominator as an aesthetic principle.'' Citing everyone from Freud to Bill Murray, and with research ranging from Oedipus to Dada to fairy tales, Paul finds not only parallels but the very wellspring of the horror film genre in the Roman circus and Elizabethan drama. Comedies such as Animal House and Bachelor Party, he claims, have roots in the Greek theater and in the later Feast of Fools and Midsummer Eve festivals. They may have ``repulsed critics,'' but gross-out movies represent ``something other than proof of America's cultural decadence.'' Paul credits the makers of these films with being ``creative in the desire to break down inhibitions, to move away from the repression of our traditional society.'' Thus Porky's and Animal House, noted for raunchy, slobbering male sexuality, become ``explorations of the variety of penile expression.'' Slasher films such as the Friday the 13th and Halloween series comprise, in Paul's view, ``art that defines itself as oppositional to the dominant power structure,'' not as films that exploit violence and degradation. There is groundbreaking work here, particularly in tying together the historical, theoretical, and cultural perspectives underpinning the attraction of these genres. But he actually cites the women's movement (as well as other social movements) as a beneficiary of the dashing of sexual and other taboos by these films, overlooking their frequent portrayal of the victimization of women. Ultimately, this is a rationalization and justification--in dense, scholarly prose--of viciousness and sophomoric titillation in film.