The camera is an instrument of suspense. Given a movie frame, you want to understand what’s happening in it — and what will happen next. That balance of wonder and dread is a fundamental draw of film, and a touchstone of the horror genre. The questions Kendall R. Phillips asks in A Place of Darkness: The Rhetoric of Horror in Early American Cinema are: How did we get from the nickelodeon special-effects “cinema of attractions” to understanding horror narratives as their own genre? And what does America’s relationship with horror tell us about the idea of being American in the first place?

I reviewed A Place of Darkness for NPR Books.