The famous piece of artwork above, “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” is said to explain the origin of the horror genre in art and literature. Lack of rationality and appreciation for science forces humans to create imaginary beasts to fear rather than elements of the material world. Rationality is in opposition to the ontological world of good versus evil.
Early horror films were often focused on struggles between good and evil, with science as the enemy. When humans play God, bad things happen. That scientist created a monster! Genetic experimentation led to this abomination! Space exploration brought back alien creatures! Whether it is the Universal Monster films of the 30’s and 40’s or the Flying Saucer films of 50’s, horror’s focus was on external threats from beast-like entities. Evil was to blame, the forces of good could identify such evil, destroy it, and the moral universe would return to normalcy.
However, the 60’s and 70’s brought a change in thinking. Rationality, modern subjective philosophies, the Vietnam War, and the deconstruction of the American family were underway. Horror was not in another dimension, in foreign countries, or on another planet…it was at home. This began as supernatural horror assaulted American households, with films like Night of the Living Dead and The Exorcist. Soon, the mystical or spectacular evil elements were abandoned in place of a new type of horror: the Slasher. These films concentrated on people as the true source of evil. Horror is tangible, realistic, and at your front door. The bad guy is not the blood-sucking monster from Transylvania, but the Sawyer family down the road.
So, I made a reactionary piece to this concept and called it, “The Awakening of Reason Makes a Monster of Man.” Here it is.