Drawing from horror visionaries such as Clive Barker, David Cronenberg, and Mark Powell, including introspective analysis of films such as ‘Tusk,’ ‘The Fly,’ ‘Hellraiser,’ and ‘Eat,’ The Body Horror Book is a non-fiction exploration of the monstrous aspect of the human form. By exploring the literary trope of the carnival and the grotesque, and how the state of cultural and political affairs dictate the monsters created within fiction and film, The body Horror Book is designed to educate, terrify, intrigue, and beguile, if you dare to enter the rabbit hole....
“Insightful and downright entertaining, e Body Horror Book pierces the tenuous membrane between ction and reality, exposing the fears we all have in common ... the horrors in icted on the human body.” – Bob Pastorella, author of www.thisishorror.co.uk
“If you only have time to read one book... make sure it’s this book.” – Brendon Meynel, President.Australasian Horror Writers Association Inc.
"Fascinating and accessible, the Body Horror Book is a strikingly diverse exploration of horror that is interested not simply in getting under your skin, but also in nding out just what you’ve got hiding under there." – William Tea, Ginger Nuts Of Horror
‘...a solid and thought-provoking production.’ – Tabula Rassa Mag
Including: David M Hoenig Kirsten Imani Kasai Brian Craddock Cameron Trost Greg Chapman Hunter Shea Dmetri Kakmi JJ Roye Ciaran Bruder Pete Sutton Ebony Bell Benjamin Orchard Maree Kimberley Natalie Satakovski John Paul Fitch Claire Fitzpatrick Robb Forrester Kaaron Warren Steven Lindsay Kaaron Warren Gary Kemble Anthony Ferguson Tracie Fahey Andrea Dean Van Scoyoc Robert N Stephenson Steven Herczeg Aaron Sterns CE Robertson
***this review originally appeared on The Ginger Nuts of Horror website***
There’s much to be said on the subject of body horror, that flesh-rending subgenre of fiction which turns our own meat against us and cranks the squick factor up to 11. Curious, then, that it’s taken this long for a publisher to release a non-fiction compendium studying it.
Funded on Kickstarter (with portions of the money raised also going to Epilepsy Action Australia), The Body Horror Book is clearly something of a passion project for Australian author Claire Fitzpatrick and her newly founded Oscillate Wildly Press. It brings together essays by nearly two dozen writers—including both established names from the Aussie horror scene and relative newcomers—with engaging albeit mixed results.
In her introduction, Fitzprack writes “This book is something to be dipped in, sipped on, rather than gulped in a single sitting. Some essays are larger than others, some personal, others academic. Some essays required detailed attention, others are more conversational. Some essays rely entirely on existing political knowledge, others are meant to be feasted on, devoured, to teach, sculpt, and retain an impression or idea in your mind.” These comments accurately sum up The Body Horror Book’s greatest strengths, but also its greatest weaknesses.
To wit, there’s a tremendous diversity of perspectives on display here, with essays touching on the genre as it’s expressed in everything from classic literature and musical theater to “horrorcore” hip-hop and Reptilian conspiracy theories. Nevertheless, the bulk of the material here is dedicated to the silver screen. Hardly a surprise, as that’s arguably where body horror is most visible and intensely felt. All the usual suspects make appearances--Alien, The Thing, Hellraiser, practically everything David Cronenberg’s ever done—but there are also some less expected yet much appreciated cameos—Brian Yuzna’s Society, Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever, Marina de Van’s In My Skin.
When The Body Horror Book is on the ball, it’s invigorating. Kirsten Imani Kasai’s essay, “Eat, Drink, and Be Wary: Autosarcophagy and Autoerotism in Body Horror Cinema,” draws parallels between female self-mutilation, plastic surgery, and self-cannibalism, then recontextualizes them as assertions of feminist agency. Meanwhile, J.J Roye’s “Insertion and Transformation” asks why body horror strikes such a resonant chord with audiences in the first place, and investigates how viewers disassociate those underlying terrors from the necessary physical processes they experience in so-called “normal” life.
Ciaran Bruder’s “’It Wants to Become Like Us!’ The Dialogue of Adaptation and its Embodiments in the Body Horror Genre Through Literature and Film” is a lengthy and ambitious comparative survey of the various methods used in disparate mediums to effectively convey body horror messages. It touches on not only film theory and production history, but psychoanalysis and sociopolitical critique as well. Kaaron Warren’s “Personal Confessions” proves particularly interesting in that it’s not about interpreting the work of another creator but is instead a self-reflective meditation of the manifestations of sex, self-image, death, and disease in her own fiction.
The thing is, The Body Horror Book isn’t always on the ball. Cameron Trost’s “Hall of Mirrors: Politics Reflected in Horror” pays only lip-service to the “body” part of “body horror,” instead choosing to be a broad overview of political themes throughout the horror genre in its entirety. Similarly, Benjamin Orchard’s “The Singing Freaks of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Sondheim” briefly mentions the trope of deformity-as-metaphor in stage musicals like The Phantom of the Opera, but doesn’t expand on the idea beyond a mere two sentences. Still other essays do even less than that.
This inconsistency extends to essay formatting as well. It’s a minor gripe, but while some articles end with the requisite list of references, others embed their references within the body of the text, and still others don’t include references at all. Very few adhere to any professional style guidelines, at least in the prerelease ebook copy provided for this review. Take it with a grain of salt; considering there’s still placeholder text present on the acknowledgements page at the time of this writing, it’s likely—or so one hopes—that there will be some differences in the final product.
Regardless, the fact that The Body Horror Book casts its net so wide might be a problem for some readers. Those looking specifically for thoughtful analysis will be put off by articles more anecdotal than academic, while those looking for personal narratives with an emotional core will find the drier textbook-type material an absolute slog. Certainly the project could have benefited from the enforcement of a standardized essay format, a separation of the essays into different sections (with the academic articles segregated from the more casual ones), and the application of greater scrutiny in the final vetting process so as to keep the focus on content explicitly relevant to body horror.
Nevertheless, what it lack in cohesiveness it makes up for in variety. For all the flaws, there’s still more good here than bad. Those without a dog in the academic-vs-casual fight will find plenty of quality insights to ruminate on. Hell, even those essays whose connections to body horror appear shaky at best are still worth reading on their own merits. The equal opportunity approach ensures there’s something for everyone, and even the stuffiest analysis is unlikely to leave any reader feeling in over their heads. Fascinating and accessible, The Body Horror Book is a strikingly diverse exploration of horror that is interested not simply in getting under your skin, but also in finding out just what you’ve got hiding under there.
A comprehensive and thought-provoking examination of body horror across various media including short stories, novels, video games, stage musicals, films, TV shows, sculpture and performance art. The essays range from the conversational to the academic. Typical of anthologies, some pieces will appeal more than others based on your subjective tastes and interests, but there is something here for everyone. Recommended.
A copy of this work was received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Do you like your horror stories with a healthy dose of violated taboos, grotesque bodily transformations and images that shock you out of complacency? Claire Fitzpatrick (author of Only The Dead) does and, in her introduction to this non-fiction collection, shares her urge to understand why. But first must come the question, what constitutes Body Horror? The answers provided by the writers, editors and critics herein include "...a method of us confronting disease, disability and disfigurement in a safe way..." (Peter Sutton), "...a fundamental violation of what we know about matter and energy..." (Andrea Dean Van Scoyoc), and "All horror is Body Horror." (Dmetri Kakmi). There may not be a consensus, but there is plenty of lively debate.
Although the entries include essays, articles, memoirs, poetry and rants, they tend overall to focus on film rather than literature and on the classic works of the 80s and 90s, with much attention given to the first Alien movie, Hellraiser and David Cronenberg's The Fly. But the lead essay, "Eat, Drink and be Wary: Autosarcophagy and Autoeroticism in Body Horror Cinema" by Kirsten Imani Kasai, is also one of the most contemporary, dealing with depictions of cannibalism in such recent films as Raw and Neon Demon, and how the trope dramatises the conflicted attitudes of women towards their own bodies. And what is probably my favourite piece in the whole collection, Anthony Ferguson's "Exposing the Ideological Monster Beneath the Skin: the Reptilians and Other Demons", charts the development of this trope into a full-fledged conspiracy theory that is thriving in the world of Brexit and Trump.
If there is an overall theme to the book, it is that to those who produce it and those who consume it, Body Horror is a very personal thing...
*Disclaimer: I was provided a free copy for an honest review* I really enjoyed The Body Horror Book; Essays of the Macabre. I read it in dribs and drabs in-between reading other books. I definitely could’ve finished it more quickly if I didn’t spend half my time googling movies and books I wasn’t familiar with and now want to see/read. I couldn’t possibly mention every chapter I enjoyed, but here are a few highlights. The book opens with a brief medical history of body horror, by David M. Hoenig, the most interesting part being diseases such as porphyria (recessive blood disorder), where people present with sensitivity to sunlight, receding gums, an aversion to garlic and anaemia. It’s no wonder people believed in vampires Kristen Imani Kasai provides a truly gross exploration of self-cannibalism, which was really fun to read. Brian Craddock discusses the works of Clive Barker and themes of isolation and ‘being different’ and questions who the monsters really are. Loved JJ Roye’s essay on different types of body horror on insertion and transformation, using several movies as reference, including one of my favorite body horror movies; The Fly (with Jeff Goldblum). The only chapter I felt truly uncomfortable reading was Natalie Satakovski’s. She discusses horrorcore, hip-hop porn, the culture of excess and well, basically poop *vomits*. She states it to be so ridiculous as to be funny, but I was just grossed out, but not in a good way. A few other favourites include; John Paul Fitch’s essay of the Xenomorph being the embodiment of repressed sexual anxiety & how the alien film is a metaphor for rape, births & sexual metamorphosis. Robert N Stephenson discusses religion and spirituality in horror; good versus evil and the requirement for salvation in the end. The best example being The Exorsist (one of my favorite books). He discusses the role Christianity can play in horror and it’s need to evolve to suit modern audiences who want to be scared. Loved Steve Herczeg’s chapter on body horror’s early beginnings from gladiatorial contests to medieval bloodletting and jousting. He reminds the reader that humans have always held a fascination for blood and violence. Chapters are illustrated with artwork to compliment the topic. There were a couple of chapters that made me feel I was studying a text book, but the majority were entertaining, informative and fascinating. There’s horror and there’s body horror. As Robb Forrester says, ‘Horror will cut away at the kill stroke, where body horror zooms in and slows down, shows you details.’ A serious must read for readers and writers of body horror, as well as lovers of horror movies.