HORROR NARRATIVESNarrative conventions are important for defining genre.
HORROR NARRATIVES• When we think of horror narratives, we are really considering the devices that are used to communicate a story to you. In the exam you may come across questions like…
HORROR NARRATIVES• How far are the storytelling methods used in the films you have studied for this topic typical of their genre?• To what extent are the narratives of the films you have studied for this topic typical of their genre?• How are narrative devices used to increase the impact of horror in the films you have studies for this topic?• What are some of the narrative features that are distinctive in the films you have studied?• How far are the narratives of the genre films you have studied for this topic predictable?
HORROR NARRATIVES• The assumption is that the WAY a horror film is told is going to be the very similar across all horror films, thats what makes it recognisable to the audience. For the most part these questions want you to: 1. Make known that you are aware of the narrative features of the horror genre and how they are used in the films to communicate their stories 2. Discuss how this is done in a similar/typical way across all films 3. Consider how the films manage to break the ‘genre mould’ and not be typical
HORROR NARRATIVES• Aims:• To discuss and understand the storytelling methods used in Dracula, The Descent and Creep• To do this we need to consider the use of:• Narrative Structures• Narrative Theory• Narrative Themes• Use of characters• Use of settings• Micro features (typical visual and sound techniques)• And how they are used to draw the audience into the diegesis of the film.
HORROR NARRATIVE STRUCTURES A narrative convention of any genre is its predictable set of plot events• What could we say is similar about these films in terms of plot events?• Work in your study groups and write each film out in 3 acts, explaining how each act is similar.
Typical 3 Act Structure• As sited in Film a Critical Introduction• The first act in a horror film focuses on central characters beginning a venture into a strange and ultimately threatening setting.• Stumbling into a forbidding, and often forbidden, setting unleashes a wave of violence that leaves many (if not most) of the protagonists dead. As those who survive the initial onslaught begin to fight back, fear and fatigue provoke dissention within the group, putting them at greater risk. Those who have come in contact with the monster may try to warn the larger community, or they go to the authorities to muster up support, only to be met with disbelief and derision.• The climax of the film generally involves a dramatic, sometimes apocalyptic, showdown between the main characters and the monster, with varying results. In contemporary horror films the resolution of the plot leaves open the possibility of the monster’s return.
NOEL CARROLL• Noel Carroll, in his essay The Philosophy of Horror, maps out the traditional narrative structure of the horror film in three stages.• The first he names the ‘Onset phase’ where a disorder is created, generally in the form of a monster.• The second Carroll calls the ‘Discovery phase’, where the characters of the story discover that the disorder has occurred.• The third phase he calls the ‘Disruption phase’, where the characters destroy the source of the disorder and restore normality.• This similar to what Todorov stated, he argued that the basis of conventional narrative structure consists of an initial situation (situation 1); a problem which disrupts this situation; a resolution of the problem which allows the reinstatement of the initial situation, perhaps with slight changes (situation2).
Onset PhaseDiscovery PhaseDisruption Phase
Dracula is wreaking Is there an ‘Onset Phase’? The Craig kills one of the workers Onset havoc in the area in female spelunkers entered into the ‘monsters’ territory in the sewer pipe which he live going Phase out a killing people Van Helsing sends When they realise that they Craig kills the man trying toDiscovery Harker to dispose of were in the Crawlers feeding den. The POV through the attack Kate She is now witness to his actions she also knows Dracula and Dracula Phase kills Harker. Van camcorder is used for this then we see one of the Crawlers. when the controller is killed then Mandy Helsing realises the reason for Lucy’s illness. Van Helsing and The women fight for their lives Kate tries to escape withDisruption Holmwood work against the Crawlers, only living Sarah – but is order Jimmy but he dies. Then Kate Fights on with George. Kate together to kill Phase Dracula. Van Helsing is restored? And if so who’s order? (Ideological messages?) finally kills Craig – but who’s order is restored? (Ideological messages?) successful during a climatic battle
Further reading• You could also consider the ‘traditional’ three act structure – relevant for all films• And Kristen Thompson’s Four-Part Structure• You were given a sheet on the above point during the first half term
Why is narrative structure important in genre films?
Why is narrative structure important in genre films?• Narrative structure provides a formula or template in film production• It works as a ‘contract’ – the implicit agreement between a film and it’s audience that governs the way fans enjoy it• Without a typical narrative structure genre films would not be recognisable to audiences and conversely films would not be able to break with predictability
Meeting Objectives of the lesson• You should now be able to:• Discuss how narrative structure can be used as a storytelling method• Discuss the ways in which horror films have typical narrative structures• Argue if narrative structure can be used as a device to create impact in a horror film• Consider if the narrative structures of the films we have studied are distinctive or predictable
NARRATIVE THEORY• Be warned that some of what we have already discussed can come under narrative theory e.g. Noel Carroll theorising about the typical narrative structures of horror films. Also Kristen Thompson’s 4 act structure• We are now going to consider ‘traditional’ narrative theory, and it’s applications to the horror genre.
NARRATIVE THEORY• Tzvetan Todorov• Equilibrium – disequilibrium – resolution.• Vladimir Propp• Propp suggests that there are a limited number of character types that share a function• Roland Barthes• Barthes identifies 5 narrative codes which readers use to decode texts. He emphasises the active role of readers in creating meaning, and their ‘culturally formed expectations’.• Claude Levi-Strauss• Narratives are structured by pairs of binary oppositions.
Todorov’s approach to narrative• There are five stages a narrative has to pass through:1. The state of equilibrium (state of normality – good, bad or neutral).2. An event disrupts the equilibrium (a character or an action).3. The main protagonist recognises that the equilibrium has been disrupted.4. Protagonist attempts to rectify this in order to restore equilibrium.5. Equilibrium is restored but, because causal transformations have occurred, there are differences (good, bad, or neutral) from original equilibrium, which establish it as a new equilibrium.
Propp’s approach to narrative• Vladimir Propp studied hundreds of Russian folk and fairytales before deciding that all narratives have a common structure.• He observed that narratives are shaped and directed by certain types of characters and specific kinds of actions• He believed that there are 31 possible stages or functions in any narrative.• These may not all appear in a single story, but nevertheless always appear in the same sequence.• A function is a plot motif or event in the story.• A tale may skip functions but it cannot shuffle their unvarying order.
Propp’s approach to narrative• Propp believed that there are seven roles which any character may assume in the story:• Villain - struggles with hero• Donor - prepares and/or provides hero with magical agent• Helper - assists, rescues, solves and/or transfigures the hero• Princess - a sought-for person (and/or her father) who exists as goal and often recognises and marries hero and/or punishes villain• Dispatcher - sends hero off• Hero - departs on a search (seeker-hero), reacts to donor and weds at end• False Hero - claims to be the hero, often seeking and reacting like a real hero
Claude Levi-Strauss’s approach to narrative• After studying hundreds of myths and legends from around the world, Levi-Strauss observed that we make sense of the world, people and events by seeing and using binary opposites everywhere.• He observed that all narratives are organised around the conflict between such binary opposites.
Examples of binary opposites• Good vs. evil • Protagonist vs. antagonist• Black vs. white • Action vs. inaction• Boy vs. girl • Motivator vs. observer• Peace vs. war • Empowered vs. victim• Civilised vs. savage • Man vs. woman• Democracy vs. • Good-looking vs. ugly dictatorship • Strong vs. weak• Conqueror vs. conquered • Decisive vs. indecisive• First world vs. third world • East vs. west• Domestic vs. foreign/alien • Humanity vs. technology• Articulate vs. inarticulate • Ignorance vs. wisdom• Young vs. old• Man vs. nature 21
Meeting Objectives of the lesson• You should now be able to:• Discuss how narrative theory can be used as a tool for discussing the storytelling methods used in films• Argue if the application of narrative theory is useful when considering the distinctive or predictable traits of the horror genre• Consider the usefulness of some narrative theory to explain the ideology and values hidden within horror film narratives
HORROR MICRO FEATURES AS NARRATIVE CONVENTIONS• Taken from: Horror (Brigid Cherry)• ‘Horror genre most important characteristics are the modes of affect that horror films intend to create in their audiences. It is these emotional and physiological responses that remain constant while other characteristics and generic conventions evolve. We need to consider how the technical codes of cinema are manipulated in order to bring about these responses.
HORROR MICRO FEATURES AS NARRATIVE CONVENTIONS• The technical and formal features of cinema include editing, montage and pacing, camera work, framing and other aspects of cinematography and mise-en-scene such as lighting, sound and costuming, together with plot, dialogue, narrative and audience point of view, narrative structure and representations of characters. These cinematic codes have been developed and refined by horror filmmakers in order to depict horrific material visually and aurally.
HORROR MICRO FEATURES AS NARRATIVE CONVENTIONS• The aesthetic features that are frequently used by horror filmmakers to create string emotions such as shock, fear and revulsion commonly include point-of-view camera shots and framing, dark or chiaroscuro lighting, jump cuts and variations in pacing, visual (an often violent) spectacles that employ make-up, prosthetic, animatronic, digital and other special effects, and discordant or otherwise unsettling musical cues and other sound effects’
HORROR MICRO FEATURES AS NARRATIVE CONVENTIONS …shadows only dimly lit by helmet lamps, flashlights, and flares. Even better, Marshall cleverly uses a home video-camera (with an infrared light, of course) to show much of the underground action. This has the simultaneous effect of blurring and distorting the imagery (thus hiding potential budgetary limitations) and creating a jumpy hand-held look that perfectly captures the sense of claustrophobic panic infecting the characters. But I also wanted to utilize the fact that the caves are pitch black until the girls take a light into them. The only light source there could possibly be was the source the girls have with them at the time, whether it be their helmet lights, torches, a lighter, a box of matches, flares or the fire that they create at the end. That was the only light source, so everything else had to be pitch black around them. And that enabled us to create these moments where there are very black. It increases the tension because you have no idea whats in the darkness, and neither do they until they turn their lights on."I deliberately made the Charing Cross station zing with a modernairport terminal sheen that gradually disintegrates into greens,earth tones and ochre shades as Kate goes lower and lower intomore macabre areas.”
HORROR NARRATIVE THEMES• THEME: An implicit or recurrent idea• Going with this definition it’s apparent that one way of discussing themes would be to consider the binary oppositions reoccurring across all films studied• One key theme across The Descent and Creep is the theme of entrapment and isolation• A way of exploring this theme and any other binary oppositions is to consider the use of settings and micro features
HORROR CHARACTERS AS NARRATIVE CONVENTIONS• Key to horror films in the use of ‘the monster’, and more so in contemporary horror the use of ‘the final girl’.• When discussing characters there are many ways you can go about it:• Representation and gender• Associated ideology• Use of micro features• Function within the narrative
HORROR CHARACTERS AS NARRATIVE CONVENTIONS “they are un-natural relative to a culture’s conceptual ‘THE MONSTER’ The ‘monster’ of the horror film is by far its most important feature. scheme of nature. They do Without the monster, and the not fit the scheme; they threat it imposes on the ‘normal’ violate it…monsters are in a world, there would be no ‘horror’ certain sense challenges to to speak of. Hutchings asks thethe foundations of a culture’s question “What makes a monster way of thinking.” a monster?” and answers that, (Carroll, 1990:34) “simply being dangerous is not in itself enough to bestow monster status…these monsters should not only be dangerous but ‘impure’ or ‘unnatural’ as well” (Hutchings, 2004:34-5). Hutchings attributes the traditional destruction of the monster at the end of most horror films to this preoccupation with social repression, “delivering”, he accuses, “their monsters to victimhood as those monsters are defeated and/or destroyed by the forces of good” (Hutchings, 2004:157).
HORROR CHARACTERS AS NARRATIVE CONVENTIONS the Final Girl tends to The term ‘Final Girl’ was coined byacademic Carol J. Clover to describe the ‘THE FINAL GIRL’ become more andfemale hero of the slasher film. Prior to more masculine and the advent of the slasher, it was very phallic, as she becomes rare to find a female protagonist is a horror film who did not need recusing more active and by a male. The Final Girl was different, aggressive, turninghowever. She was usually distinguished from hiding andfrom her teenage compatriots Through cowering from the her watchfulness and her aggression, and she often had some masculine killer to fighting back qualities as well – either a male- or in fact hunting him sounding name or abilities or types of down. knowledge conventionally associated with men. Most of all, she could notrely on a male hero to save her but was routinely placed in a situation where she had to save herself. (The A to Z of Horror Cinema, Peter Hutchings)
Meeting Objectives of the lesson• You should now be able to:• Discuss how characters and themes can be used as a storytelling method• Discuss the ways in which horror films have typical characters and themes• Argue if characters and themes can be used as a device to create impact in a horror film• Consider if the characters and themes in the films we have studied are distinctive or predictable