TV Horror Aesthetics

In their book TV Horror (2013), Lorna Jowett and Stacey Abbott demonstrate that due to television's "inherently hybrid nature" (2013: xiii), horror was not considered a separate television genre for a long time; instead, elements typically associated with horror crept into other genres, from comedy (e.g. The Addams Family [ABC, 1964–1966] and The Munsters [CBS, 1964–1966]) to children's programming (e.g. the ghost in The New Casper Cartoon Show [ABC, 1963–1969]) and reality television (e.g. Ghost Hunters [Sci Fi/SyFy, 2004–2016]). Indeed, as I have demonstrated, even wildlife documentaries frequently draw on formal and stylistic elements of horror (Fuchs 2018). However, the early twenty-first century has witnessed a boom in television horror which is overtly identified as such. Whereas the "limitations" of television (screen size, audio and video quality, censorship, etc.) purportedly kept television horror from realizing the genre's potentials in the twentieth century (Hills 2005: 123), these days are long past because of more liberal approaches to censorship and high-definition visuals and sounds—in broadcasts, streams, and Blu-ray releases.

This project examines the aesthetics of twenty-first-century television horror within these industrial and cultural contexts. My discussion of the aesthetics of particular horror shows draws on what John T. Caldwell called "televisuality." Caldwell concluded that "one of the chief directorial tasks […] is to construct coherent stylistic worlds" (1995: 77). While Caldwell dismissed the "ideology of stylistic excess," which "pervade[d] […] American television and mass culture" of the 1980s (1995: 21), he still acknowledged that "signs of excess are rooted in the very broad cultural and pictorial traditions that practitioners can […] bring to bear in producing shows" (1995: 92). I will demonstrate that contemporary television horror employs this "stylistic excess" for various ends, from narrative to affective, and sometimes even in a l'art pour l'art sense that might appear to be devoid of meaning—but even in these cases, I will argue, stylistic excesses are meaningful and/or functional. In addition, whereas Caldwell focused on the specific "looks" (1995: 5) of television programs, I will stress the importance of sounds to television aesthetics—without returning to the overly simple binary of television purportedly being dominated by sounds and speech and cinema being dominated by visuals.

By exploring the aesthetics of twenty-first-century television horror, this project does not only contribute to ongoing discussions in television studies and horror studies but also suggests that contemporary television horror has artistic merits—television horror is art.

This monograph is under contract with Intellect Books.