Lost in the Dark: A World History of Horror Film (2023)

Jeffrey Keeten

Author3 books248k followers

February 2, 2023

”The best horror films want to rip off the tops of our heads and make us peer within at the suppressed impulses we harbor. They want us to contemplate a universe in which death, decay, and corruption have a role. The horror genre, despite limitations and cliches, allows us to say things about life we think or believe that we rarely articulate: that innocence is doomed, that retribution is sure, that death is nigh. Sometimes we need to inundate ourselves with the abnormal order to reconceive what constitutes normality. Through horror, we can safely ponder chaos and dissolution. Through it we integrate our darknesses into ourselves. We need the catharsis.”

The first horror movie I watched in the theater was during my senior year in high school in 1984. The movie was A Nightmare on Elm Street, and to my slasher horror virgin mind, the bloody terror of the movie was almost overwhelming. I was too caught up in the plot; every death was like my own death. Every fear exhibited by the actors was manifested as my own. Considering how much I grew to enjoy horror movies in college, I look back a bit sheepishly to think of what a struggle it was for me to stay in my seat for my first real immersion in a bloody slasher film. My girlfriend at the time found the movie thrilling and terrifying. She was having a much better time than I was, and I found myself mesmerized by her facial expressions and the way her body, from the roots of her hair to the curled toes in her shoes, was reacting to the movie. It was certainly cathartic for her, but it was an exhaustive experience for me. I begged off going to the after movie party at someone’s house and went home to sleep. I had a lot to think about, a lot to dream about. I needed to understand and come to grips with my reactions to terror. I realized that Freddy and I were entwined, and I ignored his movies for decades, but he never, ever has left my mind.

The first horror movie I can remember watching on TV was Hitchcock’s The Birds. I must have been about twelve or so. It turned out to be a hugely impactful movie for two reasons. I fell head over heels in love with Tippi Hedren. I had no idea a woman could be that beautiful. I also was absolutely terrified of birds for the next several weeks. As I remember it, it must have been fall or early winter because the trees were bare of leaves and the trees around our house were absolutely, jostling for space, full of blackbirds. I’d like to say they were ravens or crows but were probably just blackbirds. They would caw at me every time I left the safety of my house and burst into flight over my head, splattering the ground and my head and shoulders with slurry shit. I loathed them because they scared me. Besides, look at what the birds did to Tippi Hedren. It took me years to realize it had been Hitchcock doing that to Hedren, and through her terror, Hitchcock terrorized me. Hats off to the lecherous, fat man.

Brad Weismann took me on a tour from the history of horror before film (books) through the silent era and onward to the modern manifestations of horror of the present. His discussions and observations are succinctly shared, and there are a scattershot of movies mentioned in every paragraph. He does not dwell on just the output of the Americans but also takes us through the British Hammer films, the intriguing Japanese and Korean contributions to horror, and the most important films from the rest of the world as well. I was happy to discover that I’d seen many of the films and was just as happy to be scribbling down notes of ones that I’d either forgotten about or never heard of. If you are a connoisseur of horror films or even an amateur new to the game, either way you will enjoy this brisk, insightful commentary on the history of horror.

As an added bonus, which will make this a reference text for the rest of my life, Weismann includes a listing by year of the most influential horror films from 1896 to 2020.

Weismann has some theories about why we like zombie movies.

”Why do we seem to need zombies now? Zombies make great antagonists; soulless, they can be destroyed easily and without any moral qualms. As metaphors, they easily stand for whatever undesirable people the viewer might fantasize about killing without remorse--immigrants, unbelievers, the damned, the diseased. In other words, the superfluous. These designated monsters of America’s psyche are numerous, and constantly shifting toward us.

Zombies also allow us to indulge in the cultural fatalism that usually accompanies the end of empires--America’s, in this instance.”

I have to admit I’ve always had a fascination with zombies, a closet fascination as zombie movies have become more and more popular. Am I really that feral? I had no idea it might be somehow connected to a secret desire to see America fall or that I want to kill groups of people who I don’t agree with or harbor thoughts of disgust for. (The crematoriums would be billowing black smoke like the industrial revolution because I really don’t like many of you. Kidding. Fingers crossed behind my back.) I still need to spend some more time unpacking those concepts. Is Tony Soprano's therapist (those inspirational legs!) available? I’m big on maintaining civilization (mostly to keep my books safe), but also because I don’t have any fantasies about surviving in a post-apocalyptic world even though I’m attracted to those books and movies. What is it about zombies though? I loved World War Z, zombies so fast that Romero declared them non-zombies. Personally, I don’t care what you call them. They scared the shit out of me. I thought Pontypool, 28 Days Later, Night of the Living Dead, Train to Busan, were all fantastic. And who will ever forget Michael Jackson in his Thriller video. Hi, my name is Jeffrey, and I love zombie movies. Yes, this book may have you dealing with some repressed (the author prefers the word suppressed) shit, starting with why do I love horror movies so much?

Weismann offers us some insight that might give your therapist a jump start.

”Horror is an irreplaceable genre in world culture. It’s based in our biology, the fight-or-flight impulse. We seem to need it for a variety of reasons. To artificially recreate the feeling of being reduced to predator or prey. To quench suppressed impulses. To articulate and defuse dread. To express awe and dismay in the face of the incomprehensible universe. To feel the giddy thrill of terror.”

From one giddy horror affictionado to another, pick this one up. Weismann will bring you new appreciation for a genre that used to be for nerds and weirdos, but has somehow made the jump to mainstream viewership.

I want to thank the University of Mississippi Press for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

#horrorfilms #lostinthedark #universityofmississippipress #bradweismann #jeffreykeeten

    hollywood horror nonfiction
June 26, 2022

I was torn when I rated this – I think most people who enjoyed a book as much as I enjoyed this one would give it at least four stars. But my personal rating system for nonfiction is not based on my pleasure, but on how well the author succeeds at what they were trying to do, and here that was marginal, at best. In his Introduction, Weismann states that he “aims to provide a solid and comprehensive general introduction for the student, a guide for the curious, and a rousing good time for the casual reader.” It isn’t really any of these, and that’s probably at least in part because the three aims are in constant danger of canceling each other out. The biggest problem I think he set for himself was to be “comprehensive” in less than 220 pages, with the result that items that should be covered in chapters are given paragraphs, while those that really need whole paragraphs are covered in a sentence. The book is made even less valuable by a too-short index in which some of those very substantive sentences are missed as “passing references” and so much of what the student needs cannot be readily located.

Still, I don’t want to trash this – rarely do writers on horror media have so much to say about the subject that is worth considering. Weismann’s interest in the “transgressive” and how it has changed over different eras makes this, if not a “rousing good time,” a pretty interesting study of the topic. He manages to be sensitive to the ways in which horror reinforces societal roles even as it questions them, and I think given more time to develop his ideas in a more targeted format, could add something significant to the scholarship. While not truly “comprehensive” (I mean, how is that even possible?), this work is wide-ranging enough to suggest new avenues to explore even for long time horror fanatics. Worth reading even if not perfect.

    media-studies popular-history


3 reviews

August 16, 2021

As a horror film buff I enjoyed Mr. Weismann's view on it's history and evolution as well the future of the industry. It's such an overlooked genre but an important one! What is life without an edge? Being a little scared is healthy, maybe even necessary! This book is good for all film aficionados, horror enthusiasts, cinema historians and the overall curious.

Horror DNA

1,127 reviews95 followers

June 26, 2022

For centuries, people have been telling scary stories, sometimes in the form of fairy tales, folklore or Greek mythology. From ancient religious writings to the Brothers Grimm to the works of Shakespeare and Dante, fear plays a key element in the telling. At the dawn of the twentieth century, these terrifying tales took on new life in the form of motion pictures. Author Brad Weismann traces the history of horror cinema from the early silent era, into the world of sound and on through the decades into the twenty-first century. He faces this daunting challenge head-on in Lost in the Dark: A World History of Horror Film and successfully navigates the myriad of films on a global scale in an easy-to-follow narrative.

You can read ZigZag's full review at Horror DNA by clicking here.


David Pearce

Author8 books39 followers

April 27, 2021

For the affectionado and the novice, Mr. Weismann has written a wonderful guide to the history of horror in film. From its origins in myth and literature, its beginnings in the nascent film industry, to its current popularity, the book covers it all, the popular, the infamous, and the late-night cult favorites.. My particular weakness are the British films of the 60s. Highly recommended.

Frank Jude

Author3 books41 followers

April 6, 2023

Weismann set out to accomplish a daunting task: to review the history and developments of Horror film WORLDWIDE! And to do so while making it accessible and enjoyable reading. In a way, it may be unfair to not give him the 4 stars I would normally give and I wish I had the option of 3 1/2 stars because in some ways he comes really close to full success.

What we have then, is a great introductory text and overview. In just over 200 pages, what happens is that we more swiftly over some things I would have liked to know more about and at times it reduces to just passing mention of titles, directors, and actors.

That said, if you are a fan OR a student of film, this can be a really good introductory resource. My 12-year old daughter who is focusing on horror for her year-end project as school has found it very inspiring and has expanded her understanding of horror and it's myriad manifestations through the many sub-genres and mashups.

Weismann begins with a short query into "Horror Before Film" before diving into "Shadowy Silence: Horror Before Sound." He devotes some interesting chapters to Tod Browning and Lon Chaney before diving into the "Classic Horror" cycles of the 1930s and 1940s. A chapter on Hammer is necessary and well done, but at times when attempting to be inclusive he has to thinly cover horror from other countries by merely mentioning names. There's just no space for analysis.

Weismann ends with 2020 and shows how Horror has made it to the mainstream with two films nominated for Oscars in 2018, with one winning for Best Original Screenplay (Get Out) and the other taking home four Oscars including Best Picture (The Shape of Water yet as he points out, Horror still is often relegated to a "ghetto" of sorts so that the latter film -- most clearly a film belonging to Horror -- had to be talked about as a "fantasy" and Get Out when nominated for two Golden Globes was slotted into the "musical or comedy" category! Talk about a horrible situation!

So, if you grew up a fan of Horror and know it well, you'll find this a nostalgic romp. If you don't, again, it makes for a decent introduction that doesn't overwhelm.

    cultural-history film horro


384 reviews

June 16, 2022

Ya know what? No. Listen this book had a lot of potential but in the end was such a huge let down and progressively got worse.

My first problem was that it skimmed over horror as a social commentary. Films like The Birth of A Nation and Nightmare On Elm Street 2 tell us a lot about societal values and thinking at the times they were made. Birth of a nation is widely considered horror for its racist depiction of Black people that caused centuries of harm. Nightmare on Elm Street 2 was fundamentally a homophobic metaphor. This is discussed no where in the book even when movies like Fu Manchu, that presents a deeply racist depiction of East Asian people, are brought up. Even when Get out is brought up there is no discussion of how Get out is a radical reclaiming of the horror space and how Jordan Peele sought to provide social commentary but also reclaim a genre that has deeply harmed this community.

Also, this book SKIMS over important movies that fundamentally changed the cultural zeitgeist in relation to horror. This is LITTLE discussion of Steven King movies and widely celebrated masterpieces like Carrie are only mentioned in one sentence. The Blair Witch Project, that brought in the craze of paranormal movies and found footage movies to the US, gets barley a paragraph. In a chapter about torture porn movies, Hostile is never brought up and Saw is only slightly touched on.

And for me the final cherry on top was that this book offers nothing novel. It’s essentially just presenting various movies and a brief description of them. The author could have easily explained where the giallo genre comes from and how that genre of Italian horror got its name. He could have explained how popular creature features like Frankenstein HEAVILY map onto societal values and treatment of marginalized people. There was so much to work with like differences in cultural interests, like why the grudge was a HUGE flop in the US but the original was beloved.

Overall, for me, this wasn’t it.


169 reviews18 followers

October 10, 2021

I was hoping for an updated The Monster Show but this survey of the last hundred plus years of horror movies was too short and shallow.

By the time the author gets to the 80's, all attempts to describe trends or tease out deeper meaning in the movies mentioned is abandoned. Chapters have devolved into lists of film titles, year, and, if you're lucky, one or two adjectives. (This movie is intriguing, that one is underwhelming, etc.)

I don't think this book works as the Horror 101 class the author was aiming for, because a person who isn't already familiar with these films is not going the retain the bare bones info about them. Instead, it's, at best, just a long list of this author's personal recommendations. Providing fewer examples for each era with more discussion of how they reflect the fears and values of that time would have made for a more interesting read.

    horror-history-and-criticism media-studies non-fiction
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