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Sitting on pins and needles, anxiously waiting to see what will happen next, horror audiences crave the fear and exhilaration generated by a terrifying story; their anticipation is palpable. But they also breathe a sigh of relief when the action is over, when they are able to close their books or leave the movie theater. Whether serious, kitschy, frightening, or ridiculous, horror not only arouses the senses but also raises profound questions about fear, safety, justice, and suffering.

From literature and urban legends to film and television, horror’s ability to thrill has made it an integral part of modern entertainment. Thomas Fahy and twelve other scholars reveal the underlying themes of the genre in The Philosophy of Horror. Examining the evolving role of horror, the contributing authors investigate works such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), horror films of the 1930s, Stephen King’s novels, Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining (1980), and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). Also examined are works that have largely been ignored in philosophical circles, including Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood (1965), Patrick Süskind’s Perfume (1985), and James Purdy’s Narrow Rooms (2005). The analysis also extends to contemporary forms of popular horror and “torture-horror” films of the last decade, including Saw (2004), Hostel (2005), The Devil’s Rejects (2005), and The Hills Have Eyes (2006), as well as the ongoing popularity of horror on the small screen.

The Philosophy of Horror celebrates the strange, compelling, and disturbing elements of horror, drawing on interpretive approaches such as feminist, postcolonial, Marxist, and psychoanalytic criticism. The book invites readers to consider horror’s various manifestations and transformations since the late 1700s, probing its social, cultural, and political functions in today’s media-hungry society.

Thomas Fahy, director of the American Studies Program at Long Island University, is author or editor of numerous publications, including Staging Modern American Life, Freak Shows and the Modern American Imagination, and two recent horror novels, Sleepless and The Unspoken.

"The Philosophy of Horror captures some of the lively conversations occurring at the intersection of horror and philosophy. The volume collects a group of original essays that engage a wide variety of artifacts—TV shows like Ghost Hunters, classic films like The Black Cat, and novels such as In Cold Blood—and take up a wide variety of theoretical questions ranging from the ethics of retribution, the notion of the sublime, and human nature."--Kendall R. Phillips, author of Projected Fears: Horror Films and American Culture

"A deadly serious contribution to scholarship on horror and a deliciously evil way of engaging philosophy."--Eric Bronson, author of Poker and Philosophy: Pocket Rockets and Philosopher Kings

"The Philosophy of Horror provides new insights into a familiar genre. And, like the Cedar Point commercial that comes on each autumn, advertising family-friendly October weekends, it’s 'fun scary, not scary scary.'"--The Plain Dealer

"[The Philosophy of Horror] demonstrates how horror films essentially make us philosophical skeptics for a couple hours before we return to everyday life. . . . it’s “fun scary, not scary scary.” It definitely made me chuckle."--The Plain Dealer

"It’s precisely the extreme nature of horror that makes it such a lightning rod for debates about hot-topic issues within American culture—like racism, women’s rights, consumerism and sexuality—along with broader issues of morality....Philosophy of Horror addresses the latter, with contributions about the hidden messages of everything from The Birds to Hostel."--Thomas Rogers,Salon

"Fahy…examines the reasons why audiences continue to revisit horror and why fear is the underpinning of some of American culture’s most well known television and film productions and works of literature."

"The Philosophy of Horror is an intelligently written, perceptive, engrossing work that attempts to answer many disturbing questions. The arguments are presented in a clear manner and are supported by appropriate examples…The [book] is recommended not only for enthusiasts of the genre, but also for anyone who has ever wondered why some people enjoy horror films. The book raises some questions about our own psyche worth pondering about."--Mayra Calvani, New York Journal of Books

"[Fahy] gathers essays by 12 philosophers, literary scholars, and others on the appeal and repulsion of horror films and the questions they raise about fear, safety, justice, and suffering."--Moving Image Archives

"A selection of 14 essays exploring ways horror plays with philosophical concepts, primarily looking at films and TV, but also fiction."--Locus

"The philosophy of Horror demonstrate the range and diversity of purposes served by horror films and fiction."

"If you wish to have your horizons broadened, and new ideas brought up and explored, then you'd do well to pick this up."--Rock Star Journalist

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Horror films, Horror television programs, Horror in literature, Horror tales, Popular culture


American Popular Culture

The Philosophy of Horror
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