The Biology of Horror: Gothic Literature and Film

Southern Illinois University Press, 2002 - 263

Unearthing the fearful flesh and sinful skins at the heart of gothic horror, Jack Morgan rends the genres biological core from its oft-discussed psychological elements and argues for a more transhistorical conception of the gothic, one negatively related to comedy. The Biology of Horror: Gothic Literature and Film dissects popular examples from the gothic literary and cinematic canon, exposing the inverted comic paradigm within each text.

Morgans study begins with an extensive treatment of comedy as theoretically conceived by Suzanne Langer, C. L. Barber, and Mikhail Bakhtin. Then, Morgan analyzes the physical and mythological nature of horror in inverted comic terms, identifying a biologically grounded mythos of horror. Motifs such as sinister loci, languishment, masquerade, and subversion of sensual perception are contextualized here as embedded in an organic reality, resonating with biological motives and consequences. Morgan also devotes a chapter to the migration of the gothic tradition into American horror, emphasizing the body as horrors essential place in American gothic.

The bulk of Morgans study is applied to popular gothic literature and films ranging from high gothic classics like Matthew Lewiss The Monk, Ann Radcliffes The Mysteries of Udolpho, Charles Maturins Melmoth the Wanderer, and Mary Shelleys Frankenstein, to later literary works such as Poes macabre tales, Melvilles Benito Cereno, J.S. Le Fanus Uncle Silas, H.P. Lovecrafts The Shadow over Innsmouth, Shirley Jacksons The Haunting of Hillhouse, Stephen Kings Salems Lot, and Clive Barkers The Damnation Game. Considered films include Nosferatu, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Friday the 13th, Halloween, Night of the Living Dead, Angel Heart, The Stand, and The Shining.

Morgan concludes his physical examination of the Gothic reality with a consideration born of Julia Kristevas theoretical rubric which addresses horrors existential and cultural significance, its lasting fascination, and its uncanny positiveand often therapeuticdirection in literature and film.





Jack Morgan teaches in the English department at the University of Missouri-Rolla. He has published widely in American and Irish literature and is the coeditor, with Louis A. Renza, of The Irish Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett (also available from Southern Illinois University Press).