Knowing Fear

Science, Knowledge and the Development of the Horror Genre


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About the Book

Tracing the development of horror entertainment since the late 18th century, this study argues that scientific discovery, technological progress, and knowledge in general have played an unparalleled role in influencing the evolution of horror. Throughout its many subgenres (biological horror, cosmic horror and others) and formats (film, literature, comics), horror records humanity’s uneasy relationship with its own ability to reason, understand, and learn. The text first outlines a loose framework defining several distinct periods in horror development, then explores each period sequentially by looking at the scientific and cultural background of the period, its expression in horror literature, and its expression in horror visual and performing arts.

About the Author(s)

Jason Colavito is also a frequent contributor to Skeptic magazine, and has earned praise from Archaeology magazine for his archaeology writing. He lives in Albany, New York and can be found online at

Bibliographic Details

Jason Colavito
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 464
Bibliographic Info: 58 photos, appendix, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2008
pISBN: 978-0-7864-3273-8
eISBN: 978-1-4766-0726-9
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface      1

Introduction: From Prometheus to Faust      5

Part I. Darkness and Enlightenment: The Gothic and Its Aftermath (c. 1750–c. 1845)

1. Science and Society      25

2. Literary Developments      37

3. Horror in the Arts      54

Part II. Between God and Beast: Biological Horror (c. 1815–c. 1900)

4. Science and Society      65

5. Literary Developments      78

6. Horror in the Arts      98

Part III. The Ghost in the Machine: Spiritualist Horror (c. 1865–c. 1920)

7. Science and Society      113

8. Literary Developments      127

9. Horror in the Arts      146

Part IV. Terror from Outside: Cosmic Horror (c. 1895–c. 1945)

10. Science and Society      161

11. Literary Developments      175

12. Horror in the Arts      200

Part V. The Age of Alienation: Psycho-Atomic Horror (c. 1940–c. 1975)

13. Science and Society      225

14. Literary Developments      239

15. Horror in the Arts      257

Part VI. The Human Machine: Body Horror (c. 1965–c. 2000)

16. Science and Society      283

17. Literary Developments      296

18. Horror in the Arts      319

Part VII. A Failure of Free Will: The Horror of Helplessness (c. 1990–present)

19. Science and Society      349

20. Literary Developments      362

21. Horror in the Arts      380

Conclusion      403

Appendix: Does War Make Horror Movies?      415

Chapter Notes      419

Selected Bibliography      435

Index      447

Book Reviews & Awards

“thought-provoking book”—Science Fiction Studies; “firmly interpolates horror within the matrix of science and knowledge. It is this interpolation that sets the book apart from its many predecessors”—Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts.