Bloomsbury, £30, 640pp. £27 from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030

Nightmare Movies, By Kim Newman

Why would anyone want to watch a film in which a character is bloodily eviscerated? Or undergoes a gruesome metamorphosis into something unspeakable? Or returns from the grave in a state of decay? Kim Newman has the answers to all these questions, and in Nightmare Movies does his damndest to persuade the reader that not only is the horror film an Aristotelian catharsis but also the hi-tech end product of a respectable literary trend that stretches back for centuries. It is inevitable, perhaps, that the book will be consumed by the converted. That's a shame, as it's hard to think of a more persuasive advocate for this much-despised art form - always a safe target when politicians realise that column inches are always guaranteed by an attempt to locate the ills of society in violent movies.

Of course, the art of chilling the blood is hardly a new pursuit. Many have shared Dickens's fat boy's desire to make our flesh creep. Edgar Allan Poe is the poster boy for the celebrated artist of the macabre, though centuries before him, Homer had lovingly described sliced-off faces flying through the air in the Iliad. But literary respectability is one thing, and horror cinema will always have a struggle to rise above its hucksterish image.

The cover of Newman's book has an image of a shower curtain - instantly recognizable as being from Psycho (1960), directed by Alfred Hitchcock. His work is unerringly analysed here, as is Hitchcock's closest rival for the title of this country's most talented director, Michael Powell. The latter produced in the same year a masterpiece that was initially deplored, Peeping Tom. A typical critical response was to suggest "flushing it down the nearest sewer". The film is now very highly regarded.

Newman is perceptive on the subversive aspects of Hitchcock's and Powell's films: the contrast between the interior world of their murderous protagonists and the supposed normality around them. But he is no apologist for the slew of second-rate spin-offs which grafted parasitically onto such masterpieces. The knife-wielding progeny of Norman Bates are, we are reminded, totally under-characterised, with no other purpose than to bloodily dispatch disposable characters - usually teenagers who have just had, or are about to have, sex. The Old Testament chastisement for such immoral behaviour is something that should please moral guardians.

This is a much-expanded version of a book which has previously appeared twice. Its continuing popularity suggests that our appetite for the horrific remains unslaked. The new edition includes such healthy (if that's the word) franchises as the numerous Saw and Hostel films. Newman has little time for the former, but points out that Hostel 2 is really all about US isolationism: the two American tourist-killers reveal a stunning ignorance of the countries they visit. Social commentary as added value even as we jump out of our seats - what more could the intelligent film-goer want?

Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week