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Horror Films: Creating and Reflecting Fear


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Horror Films: Creating and Reflecting Fear

  1. 1. Media Studies Number 015 Horror Films: Creating and Reflecting Fear The aim of this Factsheet is to provide an overview of the horror Three different mis en scene – all recognisable as codes of horror: genre in terms of: the gothic mansion (The Others: 2001), a suburban house • The problems in attempting to deal with horror as a single (Halloween: 1978) and an isolated rural location (The Descent: 2005). genre • Audience pleasures created by the genre Chandler says that texts are grouped by genre when they have a • The methods used to attempt to create fear number of ‘shared characteristics’. Given the variety of • The importance of context in the analysing horror texts characteristics that could identify a text as horror, this approach is The content of this factsheet is suitable for A2 Level studies of not wholly useful when attempting to define the genre. However, the genre. the one thing that all horrors share to a greater or lesser extent is the audience reaction they are trying to generate. All horrors are constructed in an attempt to scare the target audience. Horror – Not a single genre The most common way to consider genre is through the identification of its most commonly used visual and aural characteristics. These Activity: Being Scared: A pleasurable experience? characteristics, sometimes called iconographies or codes and What pleasures do you think the genre offer its audience? conventions, are used by media audiences to identify the genre of Why is being scared so pleasurable? text being accessed. Once recognised, these iconographies ‘frame the audience’s expectation’ (Chandler) of the type of story the text Uses and gratification theory offers some possible pleasures will tell and the way the story will be constructed. The horror genre that might be experienced when watching horror films. For can be considered in this way and there are some iconographies example, that are often associated with horror films. • Identification • Entertainment Activity • Diversion Make a list of the codes and conventions that you associate • Escapism with the horror genre. Would all these conventions appear in • Social Interaction all horror texts or does your list contain conventions from different types (sub genre) of horror? However, horror offers more than just these simple pleasures. The following does not offer all the potential pleasures offered Within the general term ‘horror’ there exist many different sub-genres. to audiences by horror – you may have had other equally Some horror films are dark and gothic and include iconographies valid experiences and ideas. It is worth considering how such as large country houses and misty graveyards. Some horrors horrors you are studying may provide some (or all) of the are set in a familiar suburban location – perhaps a high school or a following: suburban town whilst other have an isolated rural location. The different sub genres of horror may appear on the surface to have • Physical effects – adrenaline etc - the visceral little in common in their mise en scene. • Empathy • Intrigue/mystery/suspense/problem solving (Enigma) • Catharsis/Vicarious experience • Perception of anti-mainstream activity / sub cultural belonging • Exploration of taboo subjects • Voyeurism • Preparation for death • Playing out cultural/personal fears • Confirmation of dominant ideologies and values • Masochism (&/or sadism) • A sense of community / belonging • Communicating repressed desires • ‘Acting out’ – challenging enforced values and repressions en/thumb/a/a2/Halloween2.jpg/180px- The_Descent.jpg Halloween2.jpg 1
  2. 2. 015. Horror Films: Creating and Reflecting Fear Media Studies Horrors Create Fear More recently still in Underworld Image 5 There are many techniques used by horror films to attempt to scare (2003) (image 5) the vampire is the audience. Some are relatively simple to identify such as the use represented with some similar of atmospheric music or sounds to create a feeling of unease or characteristics to the ones of uncertainty. Jump cuts in editing, camera techniques like extreme previous eras, but there have close-ups and low key lighting can create a similar impression. All been some significant changes. sub-genres of horror use a range of deliberate media language choices to promote the appropriate audience response for the text. It is a good idea to think carefully and note the way that texts you archives/UnderworldSMALL1.jpg are analysing are using media language choices to attempt to frighten the audience. However, horror films have been around for a long time and when watching texts from other eras often we, as modern audiences, find Activity that horrors loose their impact. Clearly then, creating fear is more What are the most significant differences you can identify than just a collection of eerie and creepy media language choices. between the most modern representation of a vampire and the In addition, audiences get bored. Whilst it is important for a genre older ones? Why do you think the modern representation is to be recognisable from its use of iconographies, if these codes and the way it is? conventions are overused, audiences may find the genre too predictable and clichéd. One of the main challenges that film makers have to deal with is how to find a middle ground between a Horrors tap into cultural fears recognisable genre text and one that offers something new and In addition to the audience needing changes to genre codes to unique to its audience. maintain its interest, society changes. Different eras have different ideas and values and experience different problems, fears and An Example – Vampires concerns. Successful horror films are ones that tap into specific Image 1 cultural fears and exploit them to meet the needs of the genre. The vampire is a familiar monster in horror films. Nosferatu (1922) (image 1) The best way to create fear for the audience in a horror text is to is an early example of a vampire and the play on the fears that already exist. Tudor identifies this as he says monster has been made to look rat-like. that horrors provide a ‘monstrous threat’ and this threat is ‘based on notions…from the producing society’. Horror films won’t meet their primary objective of scaring the audience if they do not in nosferatu.jpg some way represent the fears of the people watching them. Different Monsters for Different Fears Image 2 A useful way to identify the type of fears being identified by horror texts is for analyse the monsters within the films. By the 1931, however (image 2), the vampire in Dracula is represented as a Neale identified that horror texts have different types of monster. sophisticated, aristocratic figure. The monster is the source of the fear. bela_lugosi_as_dracula_75.jpg • The External Monster – an outsider. The external monster will be one who comes from ‘somewhere else’ and brings the threat to a community. Image 3 Vampire films are good examples In the 1990s (image 3 and 4) both of this as traditionally they come visual ideas of the vampire are used from Transylvania and were in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). In shown terrorising a British each version of the vampire some community. similarities are shared, such as the elongated teeth (we need to know he They are outsiders as they are is a vampire after all), but these images not (and never can be) members show how the representation has Image 4 of the community and they pic/54/039_13061~Christopher-Lee- Posters.jpg changed throughout the history of invade a previously safe and the genre. peaceful environment. Image 3 http:/ dracula_gary_oldman.jpg Image 4 2
  3. 3. 015. Horror Films: Creating and Reflecting Fear Media Studies • The Man-made Monster – man’s Scream (1996) – the monstrous creation. The archetypal man-made monster boyfriend – apparently a good guy can be found in Frankenstein (1931). but in fact a psychologically deranged killer. He was shown to be A collection of body parts is put together a product of bad parenting and a and Dr Frankenstein brings the creature to culture which has access to too life. The creature then brings death and much media violence danger to the community. Like the vampire he could never be part of the community, the difference is, he is a creation of a member of the community. Saw III (2006) – a monstrous hospital orderly dishing out • The Internal Monster – man gone wrong. gruesome punishment for people Here the monster is human. who he perceives are morally lacking in an shallow, selfish world The human may come from within the saw3.gif community but they are thinking or behaving in a way that creates a threat from the inside. The archetype for this kind of monster is Different Locations for Different Fears Norman Bates in Psycho (1960). He is a mild Early horror often used distant locations for their settings. Typically, mannered ‘boy next door’ character on the monster movies and Hammer Horror was based on the middle surface but the film reveals that he is European world of the fairy tale which distanced the audience even murderously insane. further from the monster. The Victorian era was a common setting Normanbates.jpg for early horror too, whereas today, most horror tends to be set close to home (with an American bias in Hollywood films) and in Some monsters have traits of more than one of Neale’s categories. mundane environments such as high schools, suburban homes Frankenstein’s monster for example is ‘man made’ but when he goes and university campuses. This reflects the close proximity of the to the village he brings in violence and death as an ‘outsider’ to the internal monster – many modern horror monsters are school friends community. Norman Bates is an internal monster but the implication or people we could meet at any time. These familiar locations bring is that his flawed psychology has been caused by bad mothering. the horror closer to the audience. This way of looking at the monster in horror can be very useful. In Some modern horror, especially since the late 1960s, uses a the first half of the 20th Century the external monster dominated the countryside location for its setting. A common plot deals with a genre. Vampires, mummies and ghosts are outsiders who threaten group of town dwellers who find themselves stranded in the communities. There were early examples of the man-made monster countryside. Here they can meet all manner of monsters during this period and this is often where horror and sci fi intersect. • external monsters in the caves in The Descent (2005) or in the In these films, scientific advancements often backfired and created woods in The Blair Witch Project (1999) monsters from giant insects to deadly robots. This convention of • man made monsters in The Hills Have Eyes (1977/2006) horror became more dominant in the post-war period. It is often • internal monsters in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974/2003) observed that these monsters can be seen to represent specific cultural fears of the time. For example: The rural location is often used to symbolise a wild and dangerous • The threat of invasion generated by global political uncertainty place where monsters can stay hidden. Modern horror often uses between the two wars (1918-1939) is reflected in the external this location to show what dangers exist outside the safety of the monster civilised towns and cities where most of us live. • The fear of the way science could be used in a destructive way Conclusion in the post war ‘atomic-age’ (post 1945) after the dropping of Whatever the monster represents and wherever the monster is nuclear weapons on Japan at the end of World War II reflected located, ‘normality is threatened by the monster’ (Wood). Horror in the man made monster texts can be seen as metaphors for things perceived as different or The idea of the internal monster dominates modern horror. The shift outside the cultural norms. The monsters are ‘difference made flesh’ away from the external to the internal may allow us to identify some according to Cohen and this difference can be ‘cultural, political, of the fears and preoccupations that dominate contemporary racial, economic [or] sexual’ (Cohen). society: • World War II demonstrated that mankind was capable of By analysing the types of monsters presented to us in horror texts horrific acts, for example, the genocide of the Holocaust. and identifying what fears they represent we can identify the Rather than fearing outsiders, this has caused the culture to behaviours and ideas that the producing culture perceived as fear other humans – even those within their own communities different, frightening or that represented the ‘abnormal’. This • Since the 1950s, public understanding of psychology has approach is far more useful than a simple media language increased, particularly what has been known as ‘abnormal identification of horror conventions as it allows you to analyse the psychology’ – adding to the culture’s fear of other people values and ideologies presented by the text and can give you an within the community who could look ‘just like us’ but think insight into the context of production. and behave in dangerous ways • Modern society has become less actively religious. ‘Evil’ is Acknowledgements: This Media Studies Factsheet was researched and written by Steph Hendry Curriculum Press. Bank House, 105 King Street, Wellington, TF1 1NU. Media Factsheets may be copied free therefore often perceived as a possible human trait rather of charge by teaching staff or students, provided that their school is a registered subscriber. No part of these Factsheets may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any other form or by any other than something that comes from elsewhere means, without the prior permission of the publisher. ISSN 1351-5136 3