If anyone is qualified to write on the modern horror phenomenon it is certainly Stephen King, the acknowledged expert concerning what frightens people. King’s specialty is domesticated terror—tales that take seemingly benign things or events and find the dark twist capable of producing a shock of horrified recognition in the reader, listener, or viewer. Like other contemporary critics of the genre, King sees the mid-to late twentieth century as a perfect time for a resurgent interest in all things that terrify. He points out that this renewed fascination with the macabre began shortly after the explosion of the first atom bomb. Since the onset of the nuclear age, storytellers of all varieties—writers, filmmakers, musicians—have been finding much to frighten them. King’s book gives readers a look at the types of situations, creatures, and personalities he believes terrify modern audiences the most.
King first distinguishes horror as a subgenre of fantasy, including in this broader category tales classified as science fiction. Within horror, King marks out three subclasses: tales of the Vampire, tales of the Werewolf, and tales of the Thing Without a Name, all of which he traces to what he sees as their roots in the fiction of nineteenth century Great Britain. Like many other contemporary critics, King points to Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,...
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