Spooky Bitch Book Club: The Science of Monsters

What it do my spooky boos? It’s your favorite goth wine aunt, Aretha Frankenstein, back again with the column that maybe some of you asked for and I’m going to keep doing because I still need the serotonin. This is the Spooky Bitch “Book” Club—as always, the book part being in parentheses because…well there’s a lot of horror media out there to talk about. Follow me as I lead you through the creepy, the kooky, and the most certainly spooky. Let’s jump in.

Have you ever been watching the latest buzz-worthy horror movie or listening to a raved about true crime podcast and caught yourself thinking “This bullshit is not scary; I don’t know what everyone is talking about”? That’s the joy of horror my boos; it’s not a one size fits all. Tales of dismemberment and murder may have some sleeping with the lights on, while others use it as white noise to drift off into a peaceful dream-filled rest. The thought of a brightly colored circus clown can produce either indifference or panic attacks—horror is in the eye of the beholder. Which leads to a rather mind-bending question, “What makes something scary?” It’s a question authors Kelly Florence and Meg Hafdahl set out to answer in their book “The Science of Monsters: The Truth about Zombies, Witches, Werewolves, Vampires, and Other Legendary Creatures”

Horror is often looped in with Science Fiction which can sometimes be used a precursor to Science Fact, so it makes sense for scientific studies to jump from the laboratories of Oxford and Harvard to that of Frankenstein and Jekyll. The fact that this book delves into finding the actual factual of what goes bump in the night and is being led by the hosts of a horror themed podcast (and self-proclaimed horror fangirls) makes this more fun than tedious even for the less then enthused reader. The book has an easy, laid back, often relatable approach to the source material, which may not have always been conveyed to professionals and experts our author’s interview. One stand-out moment is an interview with a Mayo Clinic psychiatrist regarding what sort of mental illness Norman Bates had and how he would be treated. It’s a delicate subject matter to talk about and while the authors try to keep the topic from getting too serious it tends to get dragged down with technicalities and medical jargon unneeded when the subject in question is a fictional character. However, on the other side there is a truly wonderful interview with a taxidermist in the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” chapter that helps to demystify the macabre profession and shine a spotlight on the care and artistry that goes into preserving a once living thing for eternity.

While some information may not be new to avid horror fans, such the mysterious death of a Cambodian refugee being the inspiration for “Nightmare on Elm St”, it is presented in a way that is entertaining to the full spectrum of horror fans. The care and length of research is evident through out the book, but is most noticeable in the “Night of the Living Dead” chapter where not only do the authors cite zombie legends from around the world but also have a fascinating interview with an internal medicine doctor who helps to break down questions like “Why would a shot to the head destroy a zombie?” and “If zombies were real, would they actually be able to eat a human?”. As I mentioned just a sentence above my boos, this book is relatable and enjoyable for all lovers of horror and monsters. From the classics like “Dracula” and “The Silence of the Lambs”, to the relatively newcomers like “Get Out” and “The Witch”, there is something for everyone to learn about and enjoy. It’s a quick read that just might make you feel a little bit more scholarly or at least give you fun facts to share at your next family gathering. Must keep the holidays interesting somehow for your guests, so when in doubt freak ’em out.

For my recommendation to keep this dark academia theme going, I suggest picking up “Monster She Wrote” by Lisa Kroger and Melanie R. Anderson for a dive into the rich history of female horror authors with brief summaries of the authors’ lives and passages of their works to enjoy.

Speaking of female horror authors, it would be foolish of me not to acknowledge the passing of a true icon, Anne Rice. Most well know for her epic and expansive vampire tales, she is the original goth aunt. She inspired generations of authors and fans alike and will continue to do so well into the future. May she find rest and peace on the other side. Cheers Anne!

Until next time my boos remember, be kind, be cool and stay spooky!

A transplant from New Jersey to Tennessee, Aretha (otherwise know as Britt) traded oceans and devils for lakes and cave witches. In her spare time she collects vintage Halloween decorations and spooky pop vinyls. Her greatest achievement as of recently is entering her 7th year of teaching Preschool and not letting the F word slip out in class.