Press: Columbia University Press (January 24, 2012)
Author Name:Smith, Angela M.
Twisted bodies, deformed faces, aberrant behavior, and abnormal desires characterized the hideous creatures of classic Hollywood horror, which thrilled audiences with their sheer grotesqueness.
Most critics have interpreted these traits as symptoms of sexual repression or as metaphors for other kinds of marginalized identities, yet Angela M.
Smith conducts a richer investigation into the period's social and cultural preoccupations.
She finds instead a fascination with eugenics and physical and cognitive debility in the narrative and spectacle of classic 1930s horror, heightened by the viewer's desire for visions of vulnerability and transformation.
Reading such films as Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), Dr.
Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde (1931), Freaks (1932), and Mad Love (1935) against early-twentieth-century disability discourse and propaganda on racial and biological purity, Smith showcases classic horror's dependence on the narratives of eugenics and physiognomics.
She also notes the genre's conflicted and often contradictory visualizations.
Smith ultimately locates an indictment of biological determinism in filmmakers' visceral treatments, which take the impossibility of racial improvement and bodily perfection to sensationalistic heights.
Playing up the artifice and conventions of disabled monsters, filmmakers exploited the fears and yearnings of their audience, accentuating both the perversity of the medical and scientific gaze and the debilitating experience of watching horror.
Classic horror films therefore encourage empathy with the disabled monster, offering captive viewers an unsettling encounter with their own impairment.
Smith's work profoundly advances cinema and disability studies, in addition to general histories concerning the construction of social and political attitudes toward the Other.
This is a terrific book on a fascinating topic that seems, in certain ways, to have been hiding in plain sight: the connection of images and discourses of disability to those wildly influential, iconic American horror films of the 1930s.
In those films, such as Dracula, Frankenstein, and Dr.
Jekyll and Mr.
Hyde, monstrosity came to the screen in such indelible forms that their cinematic descendants continue to haunt us to this day.
But where did those images of monstrosity come from in the first place? (Michael Bérubé, Pennsylvania State University)Hideous Progeny is a fascinating, important study of representations of disability, the discourse of eugenics, and the production and reception of the classic horror films of the early 1930s.
Even to summarize the book in this way, however, is to sell it short, because what makes it so valuable (and original) is its insistence on going beyond 'representations of disability' to interrogate the ways in which horror films themselves were treated as 'hideous progeny'.
Hideous Progeny offers an ambitious, and ultimately engaging and satisfying, analysis of the genre and its popular appeal.
(Adam Lowenstein, University of Pittsburgh, author of Shocking Representation: Historical Trauma, National Cinema, and the Modern Horror Film)
About the Author
Smith is assistant professor of English and gender studies at the University of Utah.
Her essays have appeared in Post Script and College Literature as well as in the anthologies Horror Zone: The Cultural Experience of Contemporary Horror Cinema and Popular Eugenics: National Efficiency and American Mass Culture in the Thirties.
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