S.A. Bradley’s Screaming for Pleasure: How Horror Makes You Happy and Healthy is a difficult book to pin down.
Raw and deeply intimate at times, the book chronicles the author’s journey as a fan of horror films and fiction in a way we don’t often see in other books dedicated to the development of the genre. The addition of this personal and often emotional layer enhances every film, every book, and every band he mentions making each seem more vibrant and their lasting effects more real.
The fact that the author does this from the very first page of the book makes it one of the most engrossing page-turners of 2018.
“I remember my First Kiss like it was yesterday,” Bradley begins. “I was eight years old, and it was with an older woman named Julie. It happened in her back yard. It happened right next to the corpse of her daughter.”
This was not a physical first kiss, of course. No, the author is describing his first kiss with horror, the moment when he realized that being scared excited him, overwhelmed him, and he knew from that moment he wanted more.
The film was Nicolas Roeg‘s Don’t Look Now, and later on Bradley relates that he experienced the film in a difficult time in his life. His parents were divorcing, his world being ripped apart, and the horror on the screen reflected perfectly the harrowing emotional landscape he was so desperately trying to navigate during that time.
His description of the opening sequence to Roeg’s masterpiece may actually rival the film itself. In fact, reliving the terror of Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie’s onscreen daughter’s drowning through the eyes of a child may be one of the most terrifying experiences I’ve ever had.
This layer of the author’s experience is present throughout Screaming for Pleasure.
We hide under the covers with him as a child, flashlight in hand, to read Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbinders in Suspense, which he stole from his school library. We stand next to him at a Judas Priest concert listening to the “Devil’s Music”, which he rightfully points out was actually created and named by Gregorian Monks.
Through it all, as Bradley educates his readers on the history of metal music, horror fiction, and creature features of the 1950s that shaped the modern face of the genre, we also get to know S.A. Bradley, an author raised in a religious cult who survived a broken home, a few years in the military, and who found one of the keys to his own happiness in things that go bump in the night.
In a chapter titled “You Will Deny Horror Three Times Before the Dawn: My Horror Manifesto”, Bradley challenges the shame and stigma associated with being a fan of the genre and incessant need of some people to rename or create new sub-genres in order to mask their enjoyment of certain films, and building walls around a film in an attempt to keep that horror element out.
He also takes to task ardent horror fans who cry out “That’s not horror” every time a film is released that does not fit into their narrow criteria for the genre, and most especially when that film gets a great deal of public attention and notice from non-horror audiences.
“Just because a film doesn’t scare you doesn’t mean it’s not a horror movie,” he points out.
Say it again and louder for the people in the back!
The real trick of Screaming for Pleasure is the fact that Bradley, in relating his own experiences, becomes a sort of everyman, not only reminding us of films and books we might have forgotten but also relating his own journey in a manner that allows us to remember those same archetypal moments in our own lives.
It would be impossible to delve into every subject the author covers in the confines of this review. His chapter on how female writers and directors had created a brand new tension in the genre is worthy of lengthy discussion all on its own, and if I had one wish for expansion in the book, it would have been for Bradley to turn that lens of observation onto LGBTQ filmmakers and films, as well.
As I closed its cover, I could not help feeling that this memoir of sorts had helped me more clearly define answers to questions that I am often asked as a genre writer and enthusiast, and that alone was worth the price of the book.
Remembering where we began and contributing to intelligent conversations that will help chart the course for the future of horror is an essential part of keeping the genre alive and healthy, and that makes both Bradley and his book engaging and though-provoking landmarks on the horror map.