For the first time this gathers together most of Robin Wood’s writings about the horror genre. His work as a film critic and theorist was inspired and launched by the influential Cahiers du cinéma journal that identified and celebrated the work of directors who put their own stamp on their films. Using this concept of the auteur, Robin wrote an essay about Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho that got rejected by Penelope Houston (editor of Sight and Sound) but was accepted by Cahiers. He went on to write for the British Movie journal in 1962 and authored several books on great film directors like Hitchcock, Howard Hawks and Arthur Penn, as well as pursuing an academic career which included the co-founding (with Victor Perkins) of the Film and Television Studies department at the University of Warwick.
This volume starts with his Psychoanalysis of Psycho where he notes how Hitchcock uses his cinematic skills to create a horror film that works both as a popular form of entertainment and an expression of deeper psychological / metaphysical levels.
Wood went on to popularise the idea that what is repressed in society is given life and representation in horror movies. Through his writings he helped rehabilitate the image of the horror film genre. In his essay Disreputable Genre he asserts that horror “is richer in potential, its thematic material rooted in archetypal myth and the darker labyrinths of human psychology and having analogies with dream and nightmare.”
He is particularly impressed by the horror films produced by Val Lewton, especially I Walked with a Zombie and Cat People directed by Jacques Turner. In his essay The Shadow Worlds of Jacques Turner he expresses the view that the director is not distinguished at getting good performances from his actors but is much better at dealing with ensemble scenes and creating atmospheric sequences.
Such simple insights and more complex ways of looking at how films portray conscious and unconscious desires by the director and relate to wider social issues are given by Wood in these essays that cover specific films like The Creeping Flesh, Death Line, Nosferatu and The Silence of the Lambs. He also turns his critical eye to specific directors like F. W. Murnau, John Carpenter, Brian De Palma and George Romero and for good measure we get an interview with Larry Cohen.
From his selection of films and directors you can see that Wood was not a film snob who was only prepared to look at classic art house productions. This volume instils his passion for high and low-brow horror, which is all the more remarkable because the very prospect of seeing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre kept him up all night before the screening. He really did suffer for the art of criticism!
ROBIN WOOD ON THE HORROR FILM / AUTHOR: ROBIN WOOD / PUBLISHER: WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY PRESS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW