Sleeping With the Lights On: The Unsettling Story of Horror By Darryl Jones Oxford University Press, 208pp, $22.95 (HB) Jones is particularly good on how Bram Stoker, Anne Rice and Stephen King use the vampire idea for very different ends. Twilight I suppose needs some cultural unpacking, but I wish there had been space too for my favourite vampire film, the bleakly creepy Swedish classic Let the Right One In.
The monsters section concludes with zombies and rightly, there is a lengthy analysis of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, which the author considers to be “somewhere between a Swiftian satire and a Frankfurt School treatise”.
The occult section begins with Max Weber’s “disenchanted world” and covers ghosts, The Exorcist and The Blair Witch Project in a chapter that zips along too quickly. Horror and the body is primarily about werewolves and there’s a wonderful bit on Angela Carter, whose genius is sadly overlooked these days. David Naughton’s transformation to wolf is praised in An American Werewolf in London and this brings Jones somewhat obliquely to torture porn. He finds a paragraph to talk about The Human Centipede but, amazingly, not here or anywhere in the book do we get a mention of Alien, one of the best and most influential horror/science fiction films of the past 50 years.
Horror and the mind brings us to HP Love- craft, Edgar Allan Poe and good sections on doppelgangers, madness and serial killers. Lovecraft’s prose drives Jones to distraction although he has nice things to say about Poe, Roald Dahl and Robert Louis Stevenson.
The science and horror chapter covers Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in its many incarnations, and this leads Jones rather nicely into one of his best sections on technophobia in books and movies. We race through all those radioactive giant insect films of the 1950s and later years, get a few paragraphs on the masterpiece The Day the Earth Stood Still and an extended look at James Cameron’s brilliant The Terminator and Terminator 2. For some reason this is the place where Jones also looks at comic books.
The concise afterword takes us to the beginning of 2017. The print deadline allowed Jones to wax lyrical about Get Out and its obvious Stepford antecedents, but alas Guillermo del Toro’s maritime monster movie masterpiece The Shape of Water did not make the cut.
This is a good little book and will delight someone who is new to all this. But hardcore fans will probably find themselves, like the doomed David Naughton, seeking meatier fare. is a novelist.
A scene from 1978’s Dawn of the Dead