Spadoni, Robert. Uncanny
bodies: the coming of sound film and the origins of the horror genre.
190p bibl filmography index afp; ISBN 9780520251212, $60.00; ISBN
9780520251229 pbk, $24.95. Reviewed in 2008mar CHOICE.
When reading this rich, insightful book, one easily imagines the
terrifying power of a quiet footstep. Conversant with a broad range of
things uncanny, Spadoni (English, Case Western Reserve Univ.) examines
the early Universal horror-film cycle, exploring not only the weirdness
of the genre but also the parallel emergence of the transitional sound
film. Extending Peter Hutchings's The
Horror Film (2004), with its attention to screams and eerie
sounds, the present work listens to the maniacal laughter, hissings,
and howls of children of the night in two 1931 films, Tod Browning's Dracula and James Whale's Frankenstein. Rooted in reception
studies, this study reveals that audience fascination with the new
audio technology conjured up notions like ventriloquism and voodooism
to accentuate the odd experience of entering a kingdom of talking
shadows. The strange talking black-and-white pictures evoked a
ghostliness that matched the haunted genre itself. Spadoni has
synthesized a poetic and clever analysis, presenting impressive
historical scholarship with panache to show how phantoms were animated
by the electric spark of sound synchronization, providing audiences
with audio bumps in the night.
Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers, all levels.
-- J. M. Tomich, Kansas State