from the Id, by E. Michael Jones (Spence Publishing, 2000)
this for a Grand Unified Theory of horror: All horror monsters (including
aliens, vampires, plagues, and slashers) are the personification of the
guilty conscience that punishes unrepentant sinners (especially those who've
transgressed God's sexual code). The Monster is Remorse, which author
Michael Jones defines as regret without repentance.
interpretive theory of horror is easy enough to apply, especially to what's
been called the "have sex and die" cycle of films. Consider Halloween:
P.J. Soles engages in premarital sex. She knows that she has violated
the moral order, but she suppresses her guilty conscience, thus eschewing
repentance. But the guilty conscience never relents, and returns
in the personification of Myers. Myers is also Nemesis (another of
Jones's metaphors), the Greek goddess of "retributive justice" who restores
God's/Nature's moral order to balance. Appropriately, Jamie Lee Curtis,
a "good girl," escapes Myers.
his theory of horror, Jones attempts to prove its validity by tracing the
"trajectory" (a favorite term of his) of "Enlightenment thinking" over
the past 250 years, paralleling it to the trajectory of the horror genre.
regards Enlightenment thought as the desanctification of Man. The
Enlightenment redefined Man as a soulless animal, a biological machine
in a mechanistic universe. Man-the-machine (a
clockwork orange, as Anthony Burgess termed it) is not restricted
by God's laws, and is thus free to improve himself (e.g., eugenics) and
free to live according to his pleasure (e.g., free love).
thinkers believed that Man, once returned to his natural state, would be
a Noble Savage bound by his own Reason, but Jones claims that Reason has
proven a poor substitute for Religion. The Enlightenment trajectory
(which encompasses de Sade, whom Jones often cites) has spread syphilis,
AIDS, abortion, prostitution, pornography, divorce, and the genocides of
Bolshevism and Naziism.
this to do with horror?
believes that horror films are popular not because so many modern people
are sinners, but because they refuse to admit it to themselves (i.e., no
repentance). Thus, Monsters
from the Id is informed by Jones's devout Catholicism: All sex outside
of heterosexual marriage is desanctified, in violation of God's law. People subconsciously know that desanctified sex has caused many of their
social ills and personal miseries, but because they refuse to repent, they
suppress their guilty conscience. Horror is popular because it resonates
with people's guilty conscience. Catharsis comes when people face
"dark truths" they dare not consciously admit, even to themselves.
of horror and catharsis is old, but not everyone agrees about which "dark
truths" are being exposed. Film critic Robin Wood has a different
Grand Unified Theory. Wood believes civilization requires some "basic
suppression" (e.g., delayed gratification), but that "bourgeois morality"
enforces "surplus suppression" (i.e., suppression beyond what's needed,
done so that people will conform to roles deemed productive for patriarchal
an idea of Wood's perspective, here's a sample: "The most significant
development in film criticism and in progressive ideas generally ... has
clearly been the increasing confluence of Marx and Freud, or more precisely
of the traditions of thought arising from them: the recognition that social
revolution and sexual revolution are inseparably linked and necessary to
each other ... it is here, through the medium of psychoanalytic theory,
that Feminism and Gay Liberation join forces with Marxism in their progress
toward a common aim, the overthrow of patriarchal capitalist ideology and
the structures and institutions that sustain it and are sustained by it."
horror monsters are the personification of suppressed sexual desires. Jones believes horror monsters are the personification of suppressed sexual
questions Wood's trajectory. If Wood's interpretive theory is correct,
then horror's popularity should parallel society's "surplus suppression"
of sex. Instead, since the 1970s, horror's popularity has risen while
sexual suppression has fallen. Jones offers this as proof that horror
reflects suppressed morality rather than suppressed sexuality. (Wood
might dispute that "surplus suppression" of sex has significantly diminished.)
the reason for horror's popularity, Wood and Jones seem to agree that horror
will lose its appeal once its "dark truths" are no longer suppressed. But perhaps there are enough fears for everyone? Wood may concede
Jones's point that Cronenberg's
films reflect horror as suppressed sexual morality (Wood has called Cronenberg's
work "reactionary"). But Jones is mute on I
Married a Monster From Outer Space, a film that portrays "bourgeois
morality" as stifling.
from the Id has been both lauded and excoriated. Most praise
pertains to Jones's analysis of Frankenstein and the French Revolution, which fills over a third of the book.
Mary Shelley's mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was a feminist and Enlightenment
advocate (and victim) of free love. Wollstonecraft moved to France
in 1792 (the heady period following the Revolution)
and practiced what she preached with an American, Gilbert Imlay. Wollstonecraft expected to settle down in America with her revolutionary
soul mate. Instead, Imlay got Wollstonecraft pregnant, then abandoned
her in Paris just as the Terror was intensifying.
losing many friends to the guillotine, Wollstonecraft returned to England,
married Enlightenment political philosopher William Godwin in 1797, and
died the following year. In the interim, Wollstonecraft gave birth
to their daughter, Mary Godwin.
Wollstonecraft's misfortunes during the Revolution, Mary was raised with
Enlightenment values, which were encouraged by her future husband, and
free love advocate, Percy Shelley. Percy was married to Harriet,
but like Wollstonecraft, Percy practiced what he preached. He first
committed adultery with Mary, then altogether abandoned Harriet for Mary. Harriet, mother to Percy's children, committed suicide.
where Jones's interpretive theory kicks in.
struck with remorse over her part in Harriet's suicide. But because
Mary Godwin Shelley believed in Enlightenment values, she could not admit
that she and Percy had behaved immorally. They'd only practiced free
love; Harriet had made her own choice. Unable to confront, or even
understand, her guilty conscience, Mary could not repent her sin and be
free of guilt. So she sublimated her guilt in Frankenstein,
a character who espouses Enlightenment values (a mechanistic universe in
which men are free of moral restrictions) as a means to human progress
and happiness. But instead of happy progress, Frankenstein is baffled
to discover that his noble intentions result in a monster that destroys
both the Enlightenment practitioner and the innocents around him. The monster
is remorse, both Frankenstein's and Mary's.
from the Id is an uneven book. The section on Frankenstein and the French Revolution is intriguing and extensively-researched. The section on Dracula,
Darwin, and syphilis is more speculative. Jones relies on circumstantial
evidence to postulate that Stoker suffered from syphilis. In his
section on "Blood and Berlin," Jones pays only cursory attention to Nosferatu,
instead obsessing on homosexuality in Weimar Germany. (He unearths
Samuel Igra's curious claim that Dollfuss was assassinated partially because
he was about to expose Hitler as a male prostitute from 1907-1914.)
often strays off topic (as when he discusses the 1954 Reece Committee investigating
Foundations). He may counter that such tangents are required to establish
historical context, so as to show the parallels between the Enlightenment
and horror trajectories. Fair enough. But sometimes he establishes
much historical context, only to show a tenuous connection to horror. I expect horror fans will feel cheated by Jones's scant analysis of German
horror -- although fans of Dr. Laura should feel well compensated.
recounting of the Reece Committee does set the stage for his analysis of
Jack Finney's Body
Snatchers. Jones thinks it key that Finney's two lead characters
are both divorced (from previous marriages), and that their victory over
the pods parallels their decision to marry. When they re-acknowledge
God's marriage code, the horror dissipates.
writing tends to be turgid and redundant. He belabors his points,
citing more than necessary for us to understand his position. Perhaps
he hopes to preempt hostile responses with a mountain of citations. Still, compared to most academic texts, Jones's verbiage is only middling. His prose could be tightened, but I've read worse.
Jones discusses the Illuminati's influence on the Enlightenment, some readers
at Amazon have accused him of being a conspiracist. However, Jones
alleges no conspiracies. Nor does he claim the Illuminati is extant. He only claims that the influence of the Illuminati (and of the Enlightenment)
earned his PhD. in American literature at Temple University. Although
Jones is something of an anti-Wood, Monsters
from the Id also evokes David J. Skal's The
Monster Show. Both books analyze horror's past 250 years within
a historical/cultural context, often invoking similar topics (e.g., the
impact of the Pill). Skal's book is more readable and entertaining,
more focused on horror, yet also thematically broader (discussing the impact
of war and economic depression on horror). But Jones and Skal appear
well-versed on horror. Jones not only critiques old classics, but
is informed about such modern gore fare as Blood
Feast. It would be interesting to see Jones and Skal debate the
meaning of the genre.
Review copyright by Thomas