THE SPARK OF FEAR: TECHNOLOGY, SOCIETY AND THE HORROR FILM
Brian N. Duchaney's book, The Spark of Fear: Technology, Society and the Horror Film, is an interesting read. Starting as it does with the by-now standard recap of the birth of movie horror, it actually goes back further than one might originally suspect from the cover picture of Frankenstein's monster. Duchaney actually goes all the way back to the Gothic novels of the 1800s, which allows him to make the point that technology has been a major part of what society fears since the original publication of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein nearly 200 years ago.
If one thinks about it, the Gothic novel was, essentially, a genre of self-parody, utilizing tropes and imagery to create a set of conventions that were almost rote, with the conventions allowing the novels to comment on themselves as they went along. It's possible to consider the novel as a sort of technology, as well, making Shelley's book doubly reflective in terms of its effect on society.
The Spark of Fear picks up more and more as it goes along. The middle chapters, dealing as they do with a more science fiction approach to horror, present the standard interpretation of technological horror – man meddling in affairs he's ill-equipped to handle – but are unfortunately left by the wayside to return to the more familiar aspects of the horror genre as Duchaney moves into the '70s and '80s.
While films such as Alien are touched upon, one wonders why Duchaney never touches on any film where the terror is legitimately technological. For all the author's discussion of technology being a reflection of an 'Us vs. Them' mentality, wherein we fear the rural as we become more urban, the flipside isn't addressed at all. While the concept that a return to nature might be deadly is discussed vis-a-vis The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th, the reverse – technology being the actual aggressor – isn't mentioned. No Hardware, no Deadly Friend, no Chopping Mall. In a book which deals with technology and horror, the author talks more about science fiction with an edge of terror (Lawnmower Man, Demon Seed, A.I.), but never discusses actual technological horror.
The only real focus on the meeting point of technology and terror is the discussion of found footage in chapter nine, “Exhibitionism, Technique and Establishing Modern Horror.” Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch are the obvious main points, but Duchaney does manage to fit in the likes of Cannibal Holocaust, as well. Still, it's technology as the means for delivering the story, rather than the plot of the story itself.
Using films like Return to Horror High and Cabin in the Woods as a means by which to address the reflexive nature of modern horror, Duchaney actually makes a better case than when focusing on the found footage genre. The found footage commentary focuses almost exclusively on how those films reflect societal trends, such as selfies and other aspects of social media, while neglecting to address the fact that this is a means by which a which the financial constraints of the filmmakers can be utilized to their advantage. This is opposed to the discussion of how something like the aforementioned films, along with Scream and its myriad sequels, use standard tropes as a means of commenting both on society and the genre itself.
Speaking of Scream, Duchaney missed a wonderful opportunity to use Scream as jumping off point to a grand overview of the modern horror film. It's disconcerting that no-one has yet recognized that while Scream is obviously a slasher homage, it also follows that Scream 2 is a sequel homage, Scream 3 a take on a trilogies, and Scream 4 a reflection on reboots. The pattern's always seemed rather obvious, and it's difficult to understand as to why – when spending a goodly amount of time discussing the reflexive nature of modern horror – one wouldn't take the opportunity to visit a series of films that comments on film series and sequels.
Given that Duchaney misses his chance to end the book with what seems like the next logical step – namely, using modern film technological advances to update and reboot the films he'd early discussed – The Spark of Fear unfortunately ends with a feeling of unfinished business. Discussing reboots and relaunches would've allowed the author to return to the discussion of Gothic with which he began the book, bringing the story full circle.
INFO: THE SPARK OF FEAR: TECHNOLOGY, SOCIETY AND THE HORROR FILM / AUTHOR: BRIAN N. DUCHANEY / PUBLISHER: MCFARLAND / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW