Book Review: “Horror Film Aesthetics” (2010)

Despite its name, Thomas M. Sipos’ Horror Film Aesthetics (2010) is essentially a general film style textbook that just happens to give examples from horror movies. It spends way too much time defining basic terms that any 2nd year film student will already be familiar with (that said, if you’ve never read any other book on film aesthetics, you may get more out of this one). It needs to be radically restructured in order to focus on what is unique about horror film aesthetics. Structuring it around different subgenres or historical periods, rather than aesthetic elements like lighting or cinematography, would help narrow the focus onto horror films and not film style in general.

The author also has an embarrassingly large chip on his shoulder about academic film criticism. He thinks it’s too elitist, and yet he himself constantly writes in a condescending tone. Even worse, despite his shocking pretentiousness, he frequently contradicts himself. He’ll go on a tirade about how stupid academics are for doing some particular thing, and then 2 pages later he’ll do that exact thing himself.

After all his whining about academic film studies, it’s clear that the author just hasn’t read enough of it. He spends about 25 pages trying to define horror, and most of it is useless. Film studies moved on from these pretentious, uptight, narrow, simplistic, angry fanboyish kind of genre definitions since Rick Altman published Film/Genre in 1999. Despite Sipos’ long-winded, angry proclamations about which movies are horror and which are scifi (for which he gives no evidence other than his personal opinion), if you crack open any other book on horror, you’ll find another film critic giving a completely different definition. In other words, methodologically the book is useless. This is unfortunate, because Sipos seems to actually have some insight into and deep knowledge of horror movies.

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