The Frighteners follows the quest of Peter Laws, a Baptist minister with a penchant for the macabre, to understand why so many people...

Review || The Frighteners: Why We Love Monsters, Ghosts, Death & Gore

The Frighteners follows the quest of Peter Laws, a Baptist minister with a penchant for the macabre, to understand why so many people love things that are spooky, morbid and downright repellent. He meets vampires, hunts werewolves in Hull, talks to a man who has slept on a mortuary slab to help him deal with a diagnosis, and is chased by a chainsaw-wielding maniac through a farmhouse full of hanging bodies.

Staring into the darkness of a Transylvanian night, he asks: What is it that makes millions of people seek to be disgusted and freaked out? And, in a world that worships rationality and points an accusing finger at violent video games and gruesome films, can an interest in horror culture actually give us safe ways to confront our mortality? Might it even have power to re-enchant our jaded world?

Grab your crucifixes, pack the silver bullets, and join the Sinister Minister on his romp into our morbid curiosities.

I don't read non-fiction. Going through my Goodreads list finds precious few. (Half of those were required "positive thinking" reading by my boss...Excuse me while I hurl.) If I'm going to choose a non-fiction, it has to be something that invokes my curiosity and that thing is usually something morbid, like Ebola, or death, or graveyards. 😸

When I was a child, I loved to read books about all the spooky things. One book that has stuck with me throughout the years is "Alone With the Devil: Famous Cases of a Courtroom Psychiatrist". 

It was published in 1989. 
I was 11. 
Image result for alone with the devil
Just look at this cover. 11!

My mom told me much later in life that she used to be slightly worried because I had such a strong interest in all things grim and gruesome. I'm almost 40 now, but nothing's really changed. 

I still love all the ghastly things, but why?

This is a question that Reverend (yes, you read that right) Peter Laws attempts to answer in The Frighteners. His book is broken down into different chapters, with each chapter introducing a new interpretation of our fascination with ghoulish things. 
"We turn down the lights and tell tales of monsters, ghost, death and gore. It helps us organise our fears, our hopes, our curiosities, and what we're left with is fun and adventure."
Sinister Minister begins our journey with the author on his way to Transylvania for no other reason than it's his 40th birthday and he's always wanted to go. He explains his own love for horror and how he's seen the "clash between faith and fright" within Christianity. This conflict between the love of the macabre and his own love of God inspired him to seek out a resolution of the two. 
Why do we love the things that frighten us? 

Theatre of Blood explores our history with the morbid. Our past is filled with sacrifices, bloody spectacles, and death. Is the world, while embracing blood, guts, and violence in movies and video games, actually becoming less savage because we have these venues to express ourselves?

Wired for Fright touches on the basis of fear.  Fear conditioning, extinction, and fear-potentiated startle are all ways that fear is ingrained in us. Fear is normal. Fear helped our ancestors survive but our modern day lives don't allow for a lot of instances to flex our fear muscle. Do we have an inherent need to be scared?

Hiding the Bodies imparts how the reality of death is hidden away from us behind closed doors and closed caskets. We no longer live alongside death as our predecessors did. Has our becoming ignorant to the reality of death caused us to create more ways to experience fictional death?

 Zombies, everywhere traverses the history of the zombie and its film resurrection by the one, the only, George Romero, as well as our current relationship with the creature. Modern zombies are no longer created by magical and religious practitioners, but by germs and viruses.We feel like the zombie apocalypse could actually happen any day. Zombies allow us to make our fears rational and fathomable. They make us confront death.  Do zombies make us consider our dependency on the structure and comfort of society? 

Killer culture explores our fascination with serial killers and with murderabilia. Is it simply a desire to collect rare things or is it a search for understanding? Does the notoriety of killers remind us of the difference between right and wrong? 

The Beast Within ponders the urge that we have to embrace the more basic and primal part of ourselves. Werewolves, vampires and even demonic possession are terrifying prospects, but aren't they all just expressions of the emotional side of ourselves that we keep hidden? 

Deadtime Stories examines why children naturally have an affinity for the macabre. Is this hurting our children, or is it a benign, or even helpful, expression of things they simply have no words for?

The Haunted scrutinizes how our early idea of ghosts as dangerous beings has changed. We created culturally elaborate funeral rituals to ease the dead into the afterlife. This all changed, thanks to the Fox Sisters and their interaction with spirits in the Victorian era. Do we believe in ghosts because they give us comfort in "life" after death?

Sister - In the closing chapter of the book, the author rationalizes that there is spirituality in scary things. There is a duality in life and in Christianity. Embracing the dark only means that we also embrace the light for, without one, the other ceases to have meaning.  

"The stars at night are a beautiful, awe-inspiring sight, but only once the darkness has brought them out. The light and the dark are intertwined. They make sense of each other."
The Frighteners is well drafted, meticulously researched, and utterly entertaining.  It's informative but reads like a casual conversation with an old friend. If you have an affinity for things that go bump in the night, read this. It will leave you with a greater understanding of yourself. 

Thank you to the publisher and to Net Galley for the opportunity to review. 

About the Author 

Peter Laws is an author, journalist, film critic and public speaker. He is the creator of the Matt Hunter novel series. The first of which, 'Purged', was released in February 2017. He's an ordained Reverend in the UK Baptist denomination with a fascination for the macabre.

He writes a monthly column for the print magazine The Fortean Times and also hosts the popular podcast and YouTube show The Flicks That Church Forgot which reviews scary films from a theological perspective. His non-fiction book The Frighteners hits shops in 2018.

He regularly speaks and preaches at churches and events.

His literary agent is Joanna Swainson of Hardman and Swainson.