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'Monsters on the Couch' shows that we aren't far off from beasts


‘Monsters on the Couch’ shows that we aren’t far off from beasts

Do we make the monsters, or are there monsters inside us?

Welcome to another installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be sharing various pieces of underappreciated scary books, comics, movies, and television to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.

Underneath all of the gore, hatred, and Freudian complexes, horror characters and their actions have a fascinating tie to the world of psychology, even though they’re not often dissected in an academic setting. Monsters on the Couch: The Real Psychological Disorders Behind Your Favorite Horror Movies, by clinical psychologist Brian A. Sharpless, aims to change that.

Sharpless uses his fanatic love of horror and his years of experience studying science to analyze the effects of lycanthropy, vampirism, necrophilia, and everyone’s favorite, cannibalism. Monsters on the Couch is still somehow deeply charming, as it identifies the psychological challenges inside the minds of these monsters with fun jabs and quotes from several classic films (sometimes of The Monster Squad origin).

The Beast from 1975s 'La Bete'

The Beast from 1975s ‘La Bete’

Werewolves are analyzed in comparison to serial killer ideology, and Sharpless digs into belief in these furry creatures. Maybe he dug a little too far, as Sharpless stumbled onto Google searches of the Furry community and the 1975 French film La Bete, that he says, “I’ve only read the English plot summary, which is a bit surreal and involves werewolf-on-human coitus.”

Discussions of bestial transformations and amnesia mixed with upheavals of violent and abusive tendencies lead Sharpless to state in Monsters on the Couch that this book isn’t for everyone, but this scientific analysis of horror does spark amazement. Sharpless cuts some of the discomfort with a comedic tone, which may be an issue for some, but given the unsettling topics, his choice of dark and twisted gags helps air out the more grotesque analysis, like his look at sexual obsessiveness within the human mind.

One of the strongest pieces in Monsters on the Couch is “This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful wife,” which not only references the well-loved lyric sung by David Byrne, but dives into horror films and their portrayal of misidentification syndromes. Sharpless opens with the real-life story of Madame Martin, which he jests could be “the plot of an obscure 1970s French horror film.” She suffered from Capgras syndrome, which is characterized by the false belief that an identical duplicate has replaced someone significant to the patient. In Martin’s case, her son was a duplicate, and then she finally believed that everyone was a duplicate. 

Monsters on the Couch uses this to segue into an analysis of the classic film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, describing how the movie and others like it lean on the original story of Madame Martin and her diagnosis as one that “overlaps it” through an alien lens. Sharpless then discusses the Fregoli delusion as another disorder used as a structural piece of horror, this one being named after actor Leopoldo Fregoli. This entire section is so carefully constructed and detailed that all you can do is read in awe.

Monsters on the Couch, despite its lightheartedness, truly isn’t for the faint of heart. Sharpless uses the darkness, though, to analyze horror and its depiction of mental disorders for inspiration in a brilliant, educational way. As an academic book there’s not much to disagree with, as it mostly serves as a larger analysis by someone talented and knowledgeable in their field to show the hidden aspects of horror films, whether it be Freddy Kruger or a 1970s werewolf who has a thing for human private parts.

1956s 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers'

1956s ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’

Altogether, Monsters on the Couch delivers a charming and thought-provoking look into the world of monsters of all kinds, and shows that the creatures of the night are a lot like ourselves in a way.

AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.

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