The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror
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The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  532 ratings  ·  44 reviews
America is in love with horror, with demon children, gender-bending vampires, and the battlefield aesthetic of post-Vietnam movies. Illuminating the dark side of the American century, this provocative book uncovers the links between horror entertainment and the crises of our time, as well as horror's function as a pop analogue to surrealism. 100 illustrations.
Hardcover, 432 pages
Published May 1st 1993 by First Glance Books (first published 1993)
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D.R. Haney
Wow. I just noticed another review of this book somewhere below: "Reads a lot like a history book. Couldn't get interested in it." Yes, I imagine a work subtitled A Cultural History... would read a lot like a history book, wouldn't it?

Horror fans, in my experience, too often write like perennial adolescents, and it's certainly rare to encounter one who can authoritatively call upon Freud, Fiedler, Fussell, Sontag, and Pound, among others, as does David J. Skal. Some of the detours in The Monste...more
Lewis Manalo
I have tempered enthusiasm for this critical text on horror films. Simply due to how extensive it is, this book is essential reading for the horror film enthusiast; however, Skal relies too heavily on the research of his predecessors. and he never voices any disagreement with what they've said. The result is a hodge-podge of theoretical paradigms that are often contradictory, and in the case of the Freudian readings, arguably outmoded.

If Skal had updated the theoretical basis for his analysis an...more
Amanda
Mar 22, 2013 Amanda rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: freaks and geeks
Shelves: horror, nonfiction
This was an interesting history of essential horror movies but, holy shit, it needed to quit with all of the Freud. If you can bear sections on Dracula’s castration complex or whatever, it’s worth the read since it is quite informative and it did talk about a few old movies I haven’t seen and would like to look up. If the Freudian bullshit is too much for you, however, skip it.
Sam
This book was astounding in how in depth and well researched it was. Skal goes all the way back to pre-Dr Caligari, which is where most horror retrospectives begin. Whereas most people think horror movies started with Dracula in the 1930's, there were the European silent horror films and Lon Chaney and the like. I learned more about Tod Browning and the making of Freaks than I ever would have thought. It was this huge emphasis on the pre-Dracula era that makes this a must read for any thorough h...more
Nick Cato
I didn't think I'd get through this hefty 400+ page volume so quickly, byt Skal does a great job shedding light on some classic horror films (the early sections dealing with Tod Browning are fantastic). Chapter 8's Drive-In salute is worth the cover price alone. MUST reading for any horror film fan.
Sarah
A solid cultural history of horror. A warning on reading the book was published in 1993 and updated in with an afterword in 2001, this means it is missing some essential and interesting developments in the world of horror. This is particularly true as to the books main theme of war as the basis for the horror tastes of a generation. The last decade would bring much material to the development of that thesis. Even with its end date it does not give sufficient emphasis to some of the later horror...more
Yasmin
If you like monster movies, any kind and time period, or melodrama or theatre fantastique, this is a must read book. For those who are not a keen fan of the above genres this book is a fun and informative introduction to those kinds of movies and their history. It also shows were movies went to and where they may go next. For myself I have never called myself a horror fan, indeed when I became aware of movies of this kind the flavour of the decade was slasher flicks or teenager horror flicks. Th...more
Leonardo
Monster Show es una excelente y amena crónica del devenir del horror en la cultura popular estadounidense del siglo XX, con un énfasis particular en el cine, las historietas y las novelas populares. El panorama que nos presenta es exhaustivo, desde el cine mudo, hasta el splatterpunk de fines del siglo XX, con temas y personajes recurrentes (Todd Browning y los freaks, Drácula y la criatura de Frankenstein, los grupos censores, el terror como metáfora del lado oscuro de una sociedad "perfecta")....more
Stephen
Good, not great, but probably one of the best books about popular horror culture we are likely to get. I'd say this is equivalent to Stephen King's Danse Macabre. It's not comprehensive by any means. It leaves foreign horror largely forgotten, unless it considered some British censorship board banning an American movie. And it does not cover the importance of horror fiction that led to the movies' underlying stories.

Some of the chapters are, well, too...chapter-ish. And there are a lot of preco...more
Evgeny
As a history book it's great - you get all the important names in the american horror, stories behind movies and personalities in an exciting and well-written narrative.

As a study of the phenomenon of horror it's not so great. My beef with Skal is that he interprets all movies in two ways - freudian or as a metaphor for the state of the American society. He doesn't give the creators any credit, he almost doesn't care about the design, the actors, the camera work, the enjoyment of suspense and su...more
Sean Bottai
Pretty brilliant. Awesome minor stories told in the book include the weird friendship between Vampira and James Dean, the staging of a Broadway musical version of Carrie which turned into an epic flop, Bela Lugosi's trysts with Clara Bow, a brief history of thalidomide birth defects and there are many, many more. He uses two major figures as framing devices for the book - the circus performer turned Hollywood director Tod Browning, and the photographer Diane Arbus - and its really effective. The...more
Treasa
At my first semester in college I took a horror film class that was essentially based on this book. I loved it. It's so important. I find myself bringing it up and/or thinking about it in the most peculiar situations years later. That class/this book enlightened me on the depth of horror.
Michael
Monster Show is an enjoyable sociological interpretation of horror movies in the context of war, social upheaval, economic downturns, the sexual revolution and Reagan's '80s.

The emphasis on pioneer directors such as Todd Browning and James Whale is also understandable.

I particularly enjoyed the chapter "it's alive unfortunately", a take on overpopulation and loss of control over our bodies... The Omen, Prophecy, Alien, Children of the Corn,Rosemary's Baby,all suggest offspring may be threat to t...more
Arthur O'dell
I finally got around to reading the revised edition. I had read the original when it first came out, and found the book to be very insightful for how it related the horror genre to cultural trends in America. The book is very idiosyncratic; you can tell Skal has written volumes on Dracula and Tod Browning, and that he doesn't care at all about 1960's European horror. The book is not comprehensive; there is a lot that's missing, and Skal's discussion of the films never gets much deeper than a sup...more
Kurt Zisa
Nice slide show through the American horror genre and how it affected pop culture today.
Rhanda
An interesting long-form look at how horror films reflect the fears and anxieties society won't (or can't) discuss, "The Monster Show" is likely to resonate most with genre fans. Author David J. Skal certainly takes some liberties in assigning the same reactions to world events and cultural changes to every member of a society, but I found his discussion broad enough to still be applicable. Some great interviews and anecdotes throughout -- really a useful, interesting read for someone with any l...more
Nick
Aug 24, 2012 Nick is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Very readable history of horror focusing primarily but not exclusively on film. Like much of so-called cultural studies, Skal is far too fond of master explanations and facile analogies, e.g. WWI amputees and the patchwork Frankenstein, or zombies and Vietnam. Such arguments are most engaging when they go beyond simple analogy to cultural traumas films themselves consider, Cf. The Black Cat and the Skal's discussion of it. For anyone beginning a study of film horror, this is a good place to star...more
Victoria
If you are at all interested in the history of horror films this book if fantastic. Simply for the amount of information it gives you describing books, artists, movies, plays, etc. As someone who has just started watching some of these movies it gave an amazing amount of insight. Also realizing when the movies came out and how much the coincided with historical events and how it affected the culture. Really wonderful with some amazing stories about different actors, directors, authors etc.
Michael Kelly
A fascinating account of horror cinema and its sub-culture, from its beginnings right up to the 1990s.

The book explores how the horror movie has always acted as a kind of magical mirror of the times, reflecting the fear of war, of epidemic, of destitution. It also takes into account the moral backlash against horror from those in whom the fears are most deeply ingrained.

It's an absolutely fascinating study of cultural anxiety and the long shadows it casts.
Matthew
Extremely interesting for hardcore fans of social-history and/or horror and, to a lesser extent, film theory. It's a tad front loaded and a disproportionate amount of time is spent on Dracula (1931) and Tod Browning. Being that Skal has written books completely devoted to both, this is not a shocker. A lot of people will talk about what this book lacks and glosses over, but what is included is well written and very rarely gets too heavy handed. I really enjoyed it.
Suvi
Highly recommended for all horror fans. Although I missed some more info on art since this was a study in visual horror there were many interesting points made and Skal's writing is engaging. Too bad I didn't have time to read this in one day, I really could have. PS. Shame on me but I had heard of Vampira only briefly somewhere and now I found out she was Finnish and used to hang out with James Dean!
Kate
I suppose I should take into account the fact that this was published in '93. I loved the in depth early history stuff but was sort of disappointed by the glossing over of everything post 1980s. Taking into account the currency it was a very well researched and engaging read.
Thomas Wictor
Very entertaining, readable, and informative. If you want to know where so many of our popular horror memes originated, this book has most of the answers.
Whitney
A great overview of the history of the monster film. A few of the ideas seem to need a big more expansion, but Skal is interested in an overview, and he creates an entertaining story. It gets a bit negative in the end towards current Hollywood horor productions (a trend I see all the time in works by scholars of the earl Hollywood period) but otherwise a fair, fun read.
Jaime Contreras
Mr. Skal is a student of film and culture. This is apparent in this fantastic book about the relevance of horror films and culture. The author is proficient in showing how cultural, social, health and fnancial trends are rflected in or by horror films. Aside from that scholarly aspect, the book is an enjoyable trip for any true horror film fan.
Nathan Williams
I found the book to be very insightful, and filled with interesting tidbits. It read like a text book, and I disagreed with several of his points of view. Still, I believe I'll be a better horror writer now for reading this book. For anyone interested in this genre, I would happily recommend reading "The Monster Show."
Rick
Very interesting if you're into the subject for the first half of the book, but towards the end it dives into the psycho-sexual aspects of horror and begins to drag a bit in my opinion. Still, Skal is one of the better writers on classic horror films, and there are enough moments in this one to make it worth a read.
Miik
Sep 22, 2008 Miik rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People with Brains
Recommended to Miik by: People with Braiiiiins
This book was goddamn fascinating. It looked at the obstacles and misgivings that the film industry had in unleashing the first horror movies, describes how those movies went on to impact the national psyche, and ultimately how they went on to shape humanity's conception of fear. Read it!
Cwl
Yet another fantastic historical/academic work on horror films, right up there with Carol Clover's storied tome. This one has some fabulous lingering images, like Bela Lugosi roller-skating around Hollywood or F. Scott Fitzgerald stuck in a commissary with the cast of FREAKS. Wonderfully fun.
Michael
Didn't read this revised edition, however, the 1990-something original edition was perfectly fine and elucidating, and, ultimately, current. Yet, Skal's take on the slaughter/torture onset of horror in film, that this revised edition must contain, I'm sure, is interesting.
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David J. Skal became fascinated with monsters at the height of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when indestructible monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolf Man provided a "nuclear security blanket" for a whole generation of youngsters.

Active as an editor and reporter on his high school newspaper, he was granted a journalism scholarship to Ohio University, Athens, where he earned a bachelor'...more
More about David J. Skal...
Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen Dark Carnival: The Secret World of Tod Browning, Hollywood's Master of the Macabre Vampires: Encounters With the Undead Screams of Reason: Mad Science and Modern Culture

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