How work and capitalism inspire horror in modern film.
American ideals position work as a source of pride, opportunity, and meaning. Yet the ravages of labor are constant grist for horror films. Going back decades to the mad scientists of classic cinema, the menial motel job that prepares Norman Bates for his crimes in Psycho, and the unemployed slaughterhouse workers of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, horror movies have made the case that work is not so much a point of pride as a source of monstrosity.
Editors Aviva Briefel and Jason Middleton assemble the first study of horror’s critique of labor. In the 1970s and 1980s, films such as The Shining and Dawn of the Dead responded to deindustrialization, automation, globalization, and rising numbers of women in the workforce. Labors of Fear explores these critical issues and extends them in discussions of recent works such as The Autopsy of Jane Doe, Midsommar, Survival of the Dead, It Follows, Get Out, and Us. Covering films ranging from the 1970s onward, these essays address novel and newly recognized modes and conditions of labor: reproductive labor, emotion work and emotional labor, social media and self-branding, intellectual labor, service work, precarity, and underemployment. In its singular way, horror continues to make spine-tingling sense of what is most destructive in the wider sociopolitical context of US capitalism.
A groundbreaking collection, framed thoughtfully by the editors, with consistently excellent chapters that tackle the underexamined central question of “work” in creative, provocative, and original ways.
— Dawn Keetley, author of Making a Monster: Jesse Pomeroy, the Boy Murderer of 1870s BostonEmploying an expansive understanding of work, Labors of Fear is a valuable intervention that centers economic and labor issues. I know of no other book that examines how work or capitalism and fear are intertwined in the horror film.
— Isabel C. Pinedo, author of Difficult Women on Television Drama: The Gender Politics of Complex Women in Serial NarrativesAn intriguing array of essays that consider horror and various forms of labor and work. . . By analyzing and reflecting on these films—and how labor and work in all their forms relate to the terror of the contemporary—this collection illuminates the fears and frights to be found not only in the cinema but also in one's own occupations.
— CHOICELabors of Fear makes a strong case that the horror genre has, in fact, understood that work is a monstrous presence in most of our lives all along, and the genre has been offering the resources to help us rethink what work can and should be . . . Thus, one of the main accomplishments of Labors of Fear is the simple act of lingering on aspects of work . . . It’s all presented in clear, readable prose, with a minimum of footnotes—well suited for both academics looking to use these essays as jumping-off points for their own work and for horror viewers wanting to find new ways to pay attention to their favorite films.
— Los Angeles Review of Books
- Introduction (Jason Middleton and Aviva Briefel)
- Part I. How Horror Works: Killing, Dying, Surviving
- Chapter 1. Tools of the Trade: A Statistical Analysis of Slasher Hardware (Marc Olivier)
- Chapter 2. Every Ritual Has Its Purpose: Laboring Bodies in The Autopsy of Jane Doe (David Church)
- Chapter 3. George A. Romero and the Work of Survival (Adam Lowenstein)
- Part II. Working from Home: Domestic, Gendered, and Emotional Labor
- Chapter 4. Sonic Gothic: Listening to the Exhaustion of Gendered Domestic Labor in The Babadook and The Swerve (Lisa Coulthard)
- Chapter 5. No Drama: Emotion Work in Midsommar (Jason Middleton)
- Chapter 6. Reproductive Technics and Time: Ectogestational Labor, Biotechnological Horror, Social Reproduction (Alanna Thain)
- Part III. Stolen Work, Stolen Play: Race and Racialized Labor
- Chapter 7. “We Want to Take Our Time”: The Hard Work of Leisure in Jordan Peele’s Us (Aviva Briefel)
- Chapter 8. Racing Work and Working Race in Buppie Horror (Mikal J. Gaines)
- Chapter 9. The Horror of Stagnation; or, The Perspectival Dread of It Follows (Joel Burges)
- Chapter 10. Fieldwork: Anthropology and Intellectual Labor in Ari Aster’s Midsommar (Anjuli Fatima Raza Kolb)
- Afterword: The Work of Horror after Get Out (Catherine Zimmer)
- List of Contributors