Beast-People Onscreen and in Your Brain
The Evolution of Animal-Humans from Prehistoric Cave Art to Modern Movies
by Mark Pizzato
February 2016, 417pp, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-4435-5
$95, £74, 83€, A131
Please contact your preferred distributor for pricing.
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-4436-2
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How is our abiding interest in beast-people films like Twilight and Dracula rooted in mankind’s animal ancestry?

A new take on our bio-cultural evolution explores how the 'inner theatre' of the brain and its 'animal-human stages' are reflected in and shaped by the mirror of cinema.

Vampire, werewolf, and ape-planet films are perennial favorites—perhaps because they speak to something primal in human nature. This intriguing volume examines such films in light of the latest developments in neuroscience, revealing ways in which animal-human monster movies reflect and affect what we naturally imagine in our minds. Examining specific films as well as early cave images, the book discusses how certain creatures on rock walls and movie screens express animal-to-human evolution and the structures of our brains.

The book presents a new model of the human brain with its theatrical, cinematic, and animal elements. It also develops a theory of “rasa-catharsis” as the clarifying of emotions within and between spectators of the stage or screen, drawing on Eastern and Western aesthetics as well as current neuroscience. It focuses on the “inner movie theater” of memories, dreams, and reality representations, involving developmental stages, as well as the “hall of mirrors,” ape-egos, and body-swapping identifications between human beings. Finally, the book shows how ironic twists onscreen—especially of contradictory emotions—might evoke a reappraisal of feelings, helping spectators to be more attentive to their own impulses. Through this interdisciplinary study, scholars, artists, and general readers will find a fresh way to understand the potential for interactive mindfulness and yet cathartic backfire between human brains—in cinema, in theater, and in daily life.


  • Creates a new model exploring the "inner theater" of human reality perceptions, fantasies, memories, and dreams in relation to art, ritual, everyday actions, and cultural events
  • Employs neuroscience research, evolutionary theory, and various performance paradigms, drawing on what is known about the animal ancestry and neural circuitry of the human brain to probe the framework of our bio-cultural evolution
  • Explains how the "emotion pictures" found in prehistoric caves represent turning points in human awareness
  • Examines a wide range of beast-people films ranging from the 1931 Dracula to the Twilight series (2008–2012) and the 2014 Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, showing how viewers connect to the films and the potential positive and negative impacts they have
Mark Pizzato, MFA, PhD, is professor of theatre and film at UNC-Charlotte, where he teaches theatre history, theory, playwriting/screenwriting, and various topics in film. Pizzato has published five books on film and theatre. Short films produced from his screenplays have won New York Film Festival and Minnesota Community Television awards. He also writes theatre and film reviews for Charlotte Viewpoint, an online magazine.


“This is an intelligent and provocative book. Pizzato marshals several disciplines ranging from anthropology to performance studies as he explains the often bizarre human animal in fact and fiction. His close reading of the monstrous homo sapien illuminates our attraction to the grotesque in cinema and other media.”—Christopher Sharrett, Professor of Film Studies, Seton Hall University

"Mark Pizzato has been building on film and theater theory to explore the no man's land between the imaginative arts and the sciences. At the same time, videocams draw us into real life dramas thousands of miles away, while virtual reality makes it possible to share imaginative narratives constructed by the arts. This is a new cultural playground and probably one that can be used for good or ill; Pizzato is an important guide to the new twilight zone."—Bernard J. Baars, PhD, The Neurosciences Institute, La Jolla, California

"Mark Pizzato has established himself as one of the leading figures marrying psychoanalytic thought with neuroscience, and his newest book, Beast-People Onscreen and in Your Brain provocatively extends his thinking to the question of the animal. Pizzato’s unique expertise in the theater enables him to shed wholly new light on what brain scientists mean when they talk about the 'theater of consciousness.' This is a book that will fundamentally change how we think about our own animality and the part that the animal plays in the functioning of our psyche."—Todd McGowan, Professor of Film, University of Vermont; Author of Enjoying What We Don’t Have

"Using the tools of neuroscience, ethology, psychoanalysis, developmental psychology, evolution theory, and aesthetics (South Asian and Western), Pizzato links what he calls the 'inner and outer theatres of the brain,' the cave art of paleolithic Europe, Christianity's blood rites, and shamanism to the 'modern screen monsters' of vampires, werewolves, hybrids, and humanoid apes. By thoroughly expounding/exploring these links, this book will change the way we think about performance."—Richard Schechner, University Professor, Performance Studies, New York University

"Beast-People Onscreen and In Your Brain is an ambitious, impressive and compelling work of theory that seamlessly weaves together neuro-science, psychoanalysis, cognitivism, film theory, prehistoric anthropology and theater theory to address our enduring fascination with the feral creatures who dwell within and without the body and psyche. Spanning the entire arc of human history, Pizzato’s book makes a clear and convincing case that we have never outgrown the dark, sheltering cave humans claimed as their first home and performance stage. For anyone in the humanities and cognitive sciences interested in how and why fearsome stories and monstrous pageants continue to enthrall, Beast People Onscreen is a vital contribution to the literature."—Jonathan L. Crane, Associate Professor/Department of Communication Studies, UNC Charlotte
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