In study groups apply Todorov to Dracula, Creep and The Descent – ensure you have used clear textual examples from each film for each stageDoes the theory fit each film?To what extent is the theory useful for discussing the narrative features of the films?Is Todorov’s theory useful for considering the distinctive or predictable traits of the horror genre?Prepare a presentation You must be able to explain the narrative approach you have to the rest of the class and then explain the points you have been given aboveEveryone in the group must speak/contributeYou can use sugar paper, pens, pictures, diagrams, dramaThe theory doesn’t easily fit each film, with The Descent the narrative has different layers and so quite easily could be put into multiple 5 stagesUsing Todorov is useful, as you can compare and contrast the various stages of each film. Doing this allows ones to consider the predictable and distinctive (unique) traits of the horror genre, or even to what extent of film can be a particularly distinctive horror film – one that break with predictability
Try to apply these character types Dracula, Creep and The DescentProvide textual evidence from the films to explain how certain characters fit the ‘type’Does the theory each film?To what extent is the theory useful for discussing the narrative features of the films?Is Propp’s theory useful for considering the distinctive or predictable traits of the horror genre?Prepare a presentation You must be able to explain the narrative approach you have to the rest of the class and then explain the points you have been given aboveEveryone in the group must speak/contributeYou can use sugar paper, pens, pictures, diagrams, drama
Write down all the binary oppositions for Dracula, The Descent and Creep Provide textual evidence for the opposites you have listedTo what extent is the theory useful for discussing the narrative features of the films?It’s useful as it provides a structure that allows you to discuss the conflicts that arise in the film although the binary opposites may be numerous they usually make clear the intricacies of the conflicts that occur between the antagonist(s) and protagonist(s) Is Levi-Strauss’ theory useful for considering the distinctive or predictable traits of the horror genre?I believe that it useful for example good vs. evil is an overarching theme of the horror genre but using further binary oppositions you can find the distinctive nature of the archetypal characters used To what extent can binary opposites help us make sense of the narrative and also in some ways communicate ideology and values? (think about this for each individual film and then possibly collectively to see if there is a similarity)Prepare a presentation You must be able to explain the narrative approach you have to the rest of the class and then explain the points you have been given aboveEveryone in the group must speak/contributeYou can use sugar paper, pens, pictures, diagrams, drama
Practice with source
“How far does the casting of particular actors contribute to the
identity of your chosen production company?”
“How important are film franchises for producers and audiences?”
“What can be done to attract bigger audiences to UK films?”
“Production companies make films with the same messages and
values.’With reference to your chosen production company, how far
do you agree with this statement?”
“How far does genre contribute to the distinct identity of your
chosen production company?”
“What are some of the issues for UK producers and audiences in
Hollywood’s domination of the UK film industry?”
Qualifying your film as British under the cultural test for film
provides a number of advantages – eligibility to apply to the BFI
Film Fund and eligibility to apply for the UK film tax relief.
To apply for the cultural test, there must be one film production
company (FPC) that is registered with Companies House and
within the UK corporation tax net.The FPC must be set up before
principal photography begins and have responsibility for all
aspects of the filmmaking process from pre-production through to
The cultural test is a points-based test where the project needs 16
of a possible 31 points to pass. It comprises of four sections:
o Cultural content (up to 16 points).
o Cultural contribution (up to 4 points).
o Cultural hubs (up to 3 points).
o Cultural practitioners (up to 8 points).
How do the three
films we have
up to the test?
Horror films are set in an irrational supernatural world.
This setting also differentiates the horror film from the
thriller which has a rational explanation of events.
Despite taking place in an irrational world the horror film is
governed by rigid rules – vampires can only be killed by a
stake through the heart etc.
There is little moral certainty in the horror film; the
audience may be encouraged to identify the deaths of
There are certain conventions which the sub-genres share
- the indestructible monster
- the isolated setting
- the themes of forbidden pleasures
What is each film
an allegory of?
The PlayTheory: Audiences enjoy the adrenaline rush, the roller-
coaster ride, secure that there is no danger – it’s only a film.
The Psychoanalytic Account: Argues that horror films allow
audiences to gratify repressed desires. In this approach it is
argued that horror films allow the audience to express these
desires before repressing them again – often with the death of the
monster.This idea has been particularly evident in studies of the
gothic horror film where the relationship between the female
victim and Dracula has been read as an expression of sexual desire
(and the male’s fear of it.)
Fantasies of Power: Suggests that we enjoy the power of the
monster and are attracted by the monster’s violation of social
Distribution:To get their films distributed studios has to make a deal with one of
the three major cinema chains which dominated British exhibition at the time –
Odeon, Gaumont (both owned by Rank) and ABC. Rank had a deal with Ealing
Studios and specialized in family-friendly films – rarely showing the new X
certificate. In making a deal with Hammer, Odeon would have welcomed the
more ‘adult’ films as a selling point, something different from that offered by the
Competition forTelevision:The style of Hammer Horror films – use of
technicolour and taboo subject matter – differentiated it from the black and
white, rather conservative television programmes. Hammer made the first gothic
horror films to be shot in colour; this decision was partly for institutional reasons
– Universal held the copyright to the Dracula and Frankenstein films and any
remakes had to look substantially different to the original black and white films.
Style:The country house studio was an excellent backdrop for studios set in the
19th century Europe but not contemporary Britain.
American Finance: Hammer productions were attractive to the US film studios as
an opportunity for co-productions, allowing Hollywood to bypass legislation
which limited the amount of money they could take out of the British film
Industry. Hammer made deals with Warner Brothers and Universal.
Copyright: Dracula was a commercial success in Britain and the USA, leading to
Universal selling the remake rights for all their gothic horror films and therefore
enabling the next ten years of gothic film production at Hammer.
Genre: During the previous decades British film
production had been dominated by war films and
Ealing comedies.The horror genre provided
something different for audiences.
Youth Audience:The 1950s may be seen as a period
for change, a new generation; the teenager emerged
as a niche market with different tastes in popular
culture to previous generations.
Classification: The introduction of the X certificate in
Britain and a new ratings system in the USA widened
the market for horror films and particularly appealed
to a more rebellious youth audience.
Received mixed reviews – degrading and exploitative
yet applauded for production values.
Given a X rating – cinema was becoming more
sensationalist. Later became a badge of honor as it
suggested maturity in British cinema.
BBFC censorship concerns reflect social concerns of
the time – in the 1950s it was juvenile delinquency.
The British public feared the Americanisation of mass
culture, especially cinema.
Audiences were appalled at the cinemas move away
from family entertainment.
British horror stems from a fascination with
the unplaeastant – Penny dreadfuls outraged
middle-classVictorian society as they became
Horror is a genre that paradoxically thrives in
times of depression and war – like comedy, it
is comfortingly cathartic.
Provoke the audience into an emotional response rather
than an intellectual or moral one.This is part of the
reaction against the reason and rationality of normal life.
Stirs up fears, anxieties and desires which are attratcive
but dangerous and/or taboo.These are feelings which are
not usually acknowledged in everyday life, but repressed.
Represented by dark and light (binary oppositions)
- The diurnal world: light and familiar, the world of
convention and institutions
- The noctural world: dark and unknown, where the artifical
layers of social convention can be stripped away.
Setting: The concept of duality is also apparent
in the settings which are often split over two
house/cellar, church/crypt, castle/dungeon.)
Journey:The characters often undertake a
journey between the two worlds.This might be
geographical but could be psychological such as
The Double Motif: Shadows and reflections are
used to suggest something unknown about the
Reinterpreted text from the original gothic
tale by Bram Stoker.
Contrasted with Nosferatu andVampyre, the
film required the audience to be scared of
what they did not know.
They expect a monster with fangs and blood
but are greeted with a charming gentleman
who has an eerie and menacing persona.
Although the film is governed by men, there is a stark
contrast between the aggressive dominance ofVan
Helsing and Dracula (patriarchal figures) and the
crippling weakened state of Harker and Arthur.Thus
suggesting their lack of understanding or
acceptance of the supernatural are a hindrance to
their masculinity and ultimately their survival.
Van Helsing and Dracula’s authority have sexual
implications, only they are penetrators of the female
body – Dracula with his teeth andVan Helsing with a
Lucy and Mina are not unwilling victims –
which demonstrated the ineffectiveness of a
male hold over them, and involves an
acknowledgement of female desire.
Feminists argue women in Horror films are
represented as victims and damsels in
The spectator (assumed to be young and
male) was supposedly encouraged to identify
with the killer and objectify the woman who
was represented in a passive and sexualized
Masculine attributes apparent from dress
behavior, even names.
Strong and independent – the final girl is the first to
realize that something is wrong and pursues this
belief even when no one else believes her.
Intelligent and resourceful – to kill the monster the
final girl overcomes her lack of physical strength
through rational thinking and ingenuity.
Brave – the final girl sees her friends die but continue
to pursue the monster despite knowing the dangers.
Serious – unlike her companions she isn't interested in
superficial pleasures such as alcohol and partying.
Costume consists of predominantly appropriate clothing and equipment for the
extreme activities the women partake in – it is functional rather than
accentuating feminine characteristics (besides Juno)
The props (ropes/pickaxes) emphasize the physical strength and abilities of the
The relationships between the women provide the conflict and dynamic which
drives the plot forward; this means that the film defines the women through their
relationships with each other opposed to just men.
The adulterous relationship highlights betrayal and rejects the feminist idea of
The dark cave setting removes the opportunity for the women to be objectified
by the audience – the need to identify the characters in such a setting also means
that their faces in close-up dominate rather than their bodies. (not objects of the
Sarah’s sexuality is rendered obsolete by her muscular body, by the blood that is
literally soaking into her skin and by her intensely violent acts, all implying a
crossing of gender boundaries.
Women were often victims of both the
narrative threat and of a patriarchal society.
Urbanoia: deal explicitly with the conflict between the present and the
The narrative trajectory of this collision between cultures is relatively
simple, beginning with the arrival of a group or family of modern white
middle class characters into the wilderness.
The two opposing cultures will clash and this singular moment not only
acts as a precursor to the proceeding events but is often its instigator.As
the group or family enter deeper into the unfamiliar territory of the
wilderness, they are effectively hunted down and are killed one by one by
their wilderness opposites, culminating in a conflict between families or
As the group size diminishes it is usually the character that is perceived
by the audience to be the weakest that is suddenly galvanised into
violent action, steadily and efficiently hunting the hunters. An Urbanoia
film usually ends with the death of the wilderness patriarch, leaving the
sole survivor of modernity to stumble back to the city, bloody and
his female characters are being attacked not by other
women but by specifically male monsters.
The film is more about the characters themselves and
what they individually represent in relation to the
The three main protagonists, Juno is the assumed hero;
Beth is the seemingly passive character who will express
her repression in violent catharsis; and Sarah is the
traumatised group member.
Sarah does not discard her original role; instead she
absorbs it into her fractured psychology so becoming a
perverse combination of both characters: a weak female
whose strength and aggression come from her deeply
The scenes around the log cabin and the walk to the cave
entrance with symbols of death – the cabin is decorated
with mounted skulls and stuffed animal heads, whilst the
dinner bell outside the cabin ominously rings throughout
The six women come across a partly devoured stag during
their hike to the cave entrance. It is not clear as to whether
the Crawlers did this (and this seems unlikely given their
existence as cave dwellers) but the animal’s corpse
functions as yet another symbol of the slaughter the
women will eventually encounter.
The road sign welcoming visitors to the Chatooga National
Park: depicting a stag, the sign is pierced with six bullet
holes – one bullet for each of the six women.
The weakest group member will have to access their repressed
strength and aggression in order to successfully overcome the
Although the young woman may have overcome and survived the
threat, her entry back into society is marked not with a sense of
renewal but to remain within their traumatic state.The final
images of these narratives depict the woman, drenched in
blood, screaming hysterically while she desperately clings onto
some man-made object that validates her return to safety. In
many ways this ending consolidates the horror genre’s insistence
that a normal and safe society is one that only operates in
patriarchal terms. Given this, the female survivor cannot better
her male counterparts by being equally able to cope with the
violent ordeal. She must instead be reduced back to her passive
role through the irreversible nature of trauma.
Urbanoia film consistently use a vast
landscape. Its narrative function is to place
the protagonists within a space that initially
offers them an escape from their daily
experience, but will eventually isolate them
from any sense of modern society in the face
of mounting horror.
Beautiful and passive, often equating them
with romantic notions of escape.
They represent Nature as a primitive fear, as
a violent and unpredictable force.
These are groups of people who live in
harmony with the landscape and who have a
deep and explicit relationship with the
wilderness. It is this knowledge that allows
them to become such formidable
threats, regardless of how much technology
is sent into these primitive spaces.
The film’s protagonist Sarah embodies a range of
representations and critical ideas, all of which are
grounded in her status as a female and as a mother.
By surviving the accident and then witnessing further
deaths, Sarah is forced to engage with situations that
are seemingly out of the realms of her ability and
understanding which escalates her into a primitive
state (i.e. making fire)
Fight with Crawler:
- The moment of Sarah’s total descent into primitivism.
- Cathartic moment in which the death of Sarah’s
family is played out again but this time with Sarah as
the aggressive instigator
- Constructs Sarah as the horrific-feminine.
Instead of acting out a stereotyped female reaction to events – to
collapse, to run and hide or to simply give herself up to the
narrative threat – Sarah emerges as a transgressed housewife, one
who takes strength from the narrative events and empowers
herself and so becomes that which the others fear the most.
1. Stuck in the tunnel with Beth: Sarah’s almost foetal poses as she
squeezes herself through, the mise-en-scène of this sequence
bares similarities to a vaginal canal.
2. Slaying of the crawler family: Sarah’s emergence from the bloody
pool is clearly a birthing image.
3. Escape: Sarah’s hand breaks through the damp
undergrowth, then her other hand appears. Reaching out and
pressing down, a bloody Sarah pulls herself out from between the
trees roots – an almost symbolical crotch. Intertextual reference
If the candles and their flames represent Sarah’s
life, then their extinguishment by Jessie must mean
that Sarah’s life too has been extinguished.
A corridor of light is usually associated with near-
death experiences - he very fact that the darkness
catches up with Sarah only consolidates the possibility
that she has died and that the following narrative
events become, quite literally, her descent into hell.
This deliberate focussing on the tablets coupled with
the previous dream sequence generates the
possibility that the remainder of the narrative is a
combination of real events and Sarah’s hallucinations.
Most horror films function as terrifying because of
their distinct emphasis upon the imagery of abjection.
The roles and representations of female characters
and the idea that they are in fact the monster.
Creed states that these notions of rejection can take
place in three interrelated ways: the first is through
the pure image of the abject, be that in the depiction
of spilt blood, the release of vomit, salvia, and/or
sweat and the lingering imagery of putrefying flesh -
all of whichThe Descent has in abundance.
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
Can narrative theory be used as a tool to explain
how horror stories are communicated?
Equilibrium – disequilibrium – resolution.
Propp suggests that there are a limited
number of character types that share a
Narratives are structured by pairs of binary
There are five stages a narrative has to pass through:
1. The state of equilibrium (state of normality – good, bad or
2. An event disrupts the equilibrium (a character or an action).
3. The main protagonist recognises that the equilibrium has
4. Protagonist attempts to rectify this in order to restore
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
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
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
Dispatcher - sends hero off
Hero - departs on a search (seeker-hero), reacts to donor
and weds princess at end
False Hero - claims to be the hero, often seeking and
reacting like a real hero
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.
Good vs. evil
Black vs. white
Boy vs. girl
Peace vs. war
Civilised vs. savage
Conqueror vs. conquered
First world vs. third world
Domestic vs. foreign/alien
Articulate vs. inarticulate
Young vs. old
Man vs. nature
Protagonist vs. antagonist
Action vs. inaction
Motivator vs. observer
Empowered vs. victim
Man vs. woman
Good-looking vs. ugly
Strong vs. weak
Decisive vs. indecisive
East vs. west
Humanity vs. technology
Ignorance vs. wisdom
Discuss how narrative theory can be used as a
tool for discussing the storytelling methods used
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.
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