Lorna Jowett and Stacey Abbott‘s new book from I.B. Tauris, TV Horror: Investigating the Darker Side of the Small Screen, is an excellent, scholarly look at how the horror genre is portrayed on television. The authors look both to Stephen King’s oft-quoted opinion that television limits the terror that can be portrayed, as well as examining the possibilities offered by the small screen.
It’s strange, though — the book mentions the likes of the X-Files, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the Twilight Zone, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and even the likes of Twin Peaks. However, the greatest number of pages are devoted not to those particular shows, but to Doctor Who.
While I understand Jowett and Abbott are coming to the topic from a British persepctive, it just seems strange to focus on a science-fiction show as your main example for a book on horror in television. One could assume that this the program with which the authors are most familiar, and thus, it’s that which they choose to run with.
And, yes, there are horrific elements involved in Doctor Who, but they’re less of the creepy-crawly, blood-and-guts, or even the thrills-and-chills kind. It’s more your bog-standard unpleasantness. Same goes for the likes of Dexter. Perhaps the authors are attempting to focus more on the “dark side” mentioned in the subtitle, but it seems that the focus of the book is more on the modern horror resurgence than the totality of the genre.
Background and historical perspective comes in the form of Quatermass and the Twilight Zone, and even the likes of Kolchak, but it seems that much of the ’70s and ’80s are glossed over in favor of moving to modern day. What of the schlock that characterized much of the late ’80s and early ’90s? Why not demonstrate how you move from the artistic and literary influence of the ’60s to the cinematically-influenced modern age via the shows that really offered little of neither, like Freddy’s Nightmares or Amazing Stories?
Eventually, what defines the book isn’t so much what’s included as what’s excluded. For a brand-new book, it already seems dated, for what book on television horror could exclude the recent phenomenon of American Horror Story? It’s a shame — I would’ve loved to have seen how that would have changed the dynamic of TV Horror, as the show frequently walks the line between the standard jump scares and gore of so much modern horror, and really reveling and relishing the way in which true horror comes from the casual cruelty perpetrated by one person upon another.
While the analysis of what Jowett and Abbott choose to cover is excellent and spot-on, the omissions make TV Horror for a frustrating read for genre fans.