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Danse Macabre - Stephen King

Danse Macabre

Author: Stephen King
Book title: Danse Macabre
ISBN: 1417711671
ISBN13: 978-1417711673
Publisher: San Val (February 1987)
Language: English
Category: Genre Fiction
Rating: 4.3/5
Votes: 612
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The author whose boundless imagination and storytelling powers have redefined the horror genre, from 1974’s Carrie to his epic Under the Dome, reflects on the very nature of terror—what scares us and why—in films (both cheesy and choice), television and radio, and, of course, the horror novel, past and present.

Informal, engaging, tremendous fun, and tremendously informative, Danse Macabre is an essential tour with the master of horror as your guide; much like his spellbinding works of fiction, you won’t be able to put it down.

Reviews: (7)
Majin
Stephen King was thirty-three when he wrote ‘Damse Macabre’ in 1980. At that point he had published only five major novels: ‘Carrie’ (1974), ‘Salem’s Lot’ (1975), ‘The Shining’ (1977), ‘The Stand’ (1978), and ‘The Dead Zone’ (1979). While these were the novels that cemented his early reputation, many of his most famous books would come later: ‘Firestarter’ (1980); ‘Cujo’ (1981); ‘The Running Man’ and ‘The Gunslinger’ (first book in the long-running ‘Dark Tower’ series) (1982); ‘Christine’ and ‘Pet Sematary’ (1983); ‘It’ (1986); ‘Misery’ and ‘The Tommyknockers’ (1987); ‘The Dark Half’ (1989) and so on into the 1990s and beyond. So, when SK cited his own books to illustrate concepts in Danse Macabre, he had only those first five to draw on. We can probably come up with many more—sometimes much better—examples from his later work. For instance, when SK talks about the idea of The Bad Place (haunted houses etc.) in horror fiction and film, you and I, gifted as we are with nearly forty years of hindsight. might immediately think of the Native-American burial ground in ‘Pet Sematary’ or the hellish sewer in ‘It’.

‘Danse Macabre’ is very much a product of its time, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still informative and a great deal of fun to read. SK’s ideas about what makes horror “tick” are still eye-opening today; his analysis of some of the great horror novels and stories is often right on the money, and the personal anecdotes he shares along the way are nothing short of wonderful—such as in Chapter 4 when he recalls his colorful down-east character of an uncle trying to douse a new well with an applewood bough.

‘Danse Macabre’ was written at a time when SK was still heavily into alcohol—at one point he casually talks about putting away fourteen beers in a single night, saying that he’d taken it “pretty easy” that night; elsewhere, he makes several matter-of-fact references to “getting pleasantly loaded…” Whether because of the booze or not, he occasionally goes off on broad, rambling tangents, which, entertaining as they can be, really seem to wander away from points that could have been made more quickly and with much greater precision. Not that there isn’t a lot of fascinating trivia and kick-ass storytelling along the detours, but I do think some of his opinions should probably be taken with a mighty grain of salt, especially when he talks about “classic” horror movies. For example, while it’s OK for a low-budget B movie from the early 1960s, I can’t see that ‘Dimentia-13’ is anywhere near as good as SK seems to remember—maybe it’s his own youthful nostalgia at play? He complains at some length about production values in the original 1942 version of Val Lewton’s ‘Cat People’ (NOT to be confused with the forgettable, exploitative re-make from 1982), but most people seeing this classic B movie for the first time probably wouldn’t notice the things that drive SK up the wall. (The original ‘Cat People’ was made during World War II, and it would have been impractical to shoot a night scene on location in a blacked-out New York City.)

Also, in 1980, SK thought very little of the films of Wes Craven, based on things like ‘Last House on the Left’, ‘The Hills Have Eyes’, and ‘The People Under the Stairs’. But in his forenotes to later editions of ‘Danse Macabre’, SK, while still mostly dismissive of ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ and, particularly, the rather dull franchise it becane, does offer some grudging respect for Craven’s ‘Scream’ movies, and he practically raves about Dennis Illiadis’ 2009 re-make of ‘Last House on the Left’.

All this is to say that, if you can stay with it, ‘Danse Macabre’ is a pretty rewarding read, informative, often entertaining. and well worth the effort. SK includes two appendices in the back listing 100 horror novels, as well as all the movies cited in the text. Enough to keep any healthily curious fan busy for a long time.
net rider
Originally released in 1981, Danse Macabre is a non-fiction book in which Stephen King tells the history of horror literature through the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as present the main influences on his work. The book also brings a very interesting theory about the importance of horror stories and the role they have in “exercising” our primal and destructive urges so that we can live in society.

“Why do you want to make up horrible things when there is so much real horror in the world? The answer seems to be that we make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.”

“[Horror] offers us a chance to exercise (that’s right; not exorcise but exercise) emotions which society demands we keep closely in hand. The horror film is an invitation to indulge in deviant, antisocial behavior by proxy—to commit gratuitous acts of violence, indulge our puerile dreams of power, to give in to our most craven fears. Perhaps more than anything else, the horror story or horror movie says it’s okay to join the mob, to become the total tribal being, to destroy the outsider.”

“Monstrosity fascinates us because it appeals to the conservative Republican in a three-piece suit who resides within all of us. We love and need the concept of monstrosity because it is a reaffirmation of the order we all crave as human beings . . . and let me further suggest that it is not the physical or mental aberration in itself which horrifies us, but rather the lack of order which these aberrations seem to imply.”

Fictional violence is often used as an escape goat for true violence, but violence on books, film, games; it exists because society is violent. Trying to hide this fantasy violence to avoid true violence is like trying to cure fever by banning thermometers. As a writer, I also like a lot the no-bullshit attitude Stephen King has towards writing and literature.

To a younger reader many of the references of series from the 1950s and 1970s may be lost, but even in these cases I felt King brought an intriguing personal insight that made the reading worth my time. Danse Macabre seems less like a TED Talk about the history of horror and more like a conversation in a bar. Only a conversation with a genius three times more intelligent than you and that knows the theme thirty times better than you, and is completely in love with it.

“We’re all mentally ill; those of us outside the asylums only hide it a little better.”
Alsath
I've read this book a half-dozen times and have always found something new. Or, at least, a new way of looking at something. I've read many of these books, seen most of the films and TV shows. King's analysis of the horror genre is based on a deep love and admiration of said genre and it shows. If you're looking for new things to read or watch -- and some commentary on why you might enjoy it -- you can't go wrong with using this book as a guide. Enjoy the dance.
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