Number 015www.curriculum-press.co.uk
Horror Films: Creating and Reflecting Fear
M tudiesSedia
Horror – Not a single genr...
015.HorrorFilms:CreatingandReflectingFear Media Studies
Horrors Create Fear
There are many te...
015.HorrorFilms:CreatingandReflectingFear Media Studies
••••• The Man-made Monster – man’s
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Horror films hand out

  1. 1. 1 Number 015www.curriculum-press.co.uk Horror Films: Creating and Reflecting Fear M tudiesSedia 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 characteristics, sometimes called iconographies or codes and conventions, are used by media audiences to identify the genre of text being accessed. Once recognised, these iconographies ‘frame the audience’s expectation’ (Chandler) of the type of story the text will tell and the way the story will be constructed. The horror genre can be considered in this way and there are some iconographies that are often associated with horror films. Activity Make a list of the codes and conventions that you associate with the horror genre. Would all these conventions appear in all horror texts or does your list contain conventions from different types (sub genre) of horror? Within the general term ‘horror’there exist many different sub-genres. Some horror films are dark and gothic and include iconographies such as large country houses and misty graveyards. Some horrors are set in a familiar suburban location – perhaps a high school or a suburban town whilst other have an isolated rural location. The different sub genres of horror may appear on the surface to have little in common in their mise en scene. The aim of this Factsheet is to provide an overview of the horror genre in terms of: • The problems in attempting to deal with horror as a single genre • Audience pleasures created by the genre • The methods used to attempt to create fear • The importance of context in the analysing horror texts The content of this factsheet is suitable for A2 Level studies of the genre. http://www.dvdtimes.co.uk/images/others1.jpg Three different mis en scene – all recognisable as codes of horror: the gothic mansion (The Others: 2001), a suburban house (Halloween: 1978) and an isolated rural location (The Descent: 2005). Chandler says that texts are grouped by genre when they have a number of ‘shared characteristics’. Given the variety of characteristics that could identify a text as horror, this approach is not wholly useful when attempting to define the genre. However, 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. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/ en/thumb/a/a2/Halloween2.jpg/180px- Halloween2.jpg http://www.cinematical.com/media/2006/01/ The_Descent.jpg Activity: Being Scared: A pleasurable experience? What pleasures do you think the genre offer its audience? Why is being scared so pleasurable? Uses and gratification theory offers some possible pleasures that might be experienced when watching horror films. For example, ••••• Identification ••••• Entertainment ••••• Diversion ••••• Escapism ••••• Social Interaction However, horror offers more than just these simple pleasures. The following does not offer all the potential pleasures offered to audiences by horror – you may have had other equally valid experiences and ideas. It is worth considering how horrors you are studying may provide some (or all) of the following: ••••• Physical effects – adrenaline etc - the visceral ••••• 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
  2. 2. 2 015.HorrorFilms:CreatingandReflectingFear Media Studies www.curriculum-press.co.uk Horrors Create Fear There are many techniques used by horror films to attempt to scare the audience. Some are relatively simple to identify such as the use of atmospheric music or sounds to create a feeling of unease or uncertainty. Jump cuts in editing, camera techniques like extreme close-ups and low key lighting can create a similar impression. All 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 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 that horrors loose their impact. Clearly then, creating fear is more than just a collection of eerie and creepy media language choices. In addition, audiences get bored. Whilst it is important for a genre to be recognisable from its use of iconographies, if these codes and 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 recognisable genre text and one that offers something new and unique to its audience. An Example – Vampires The vampire is a familiar monster in horror films. Nosferatu (1922) (image 1) is an early example of a vampire and the monster has been made to look rat-like. Image 1 http://radgeek.com/gt/2005/04/21/ nosferatu.jpg By the 1931, however (image 2), the vampire in Dracula is represented as a sophisticated, aristocratic figure. http://www.draculas.info/_img/gallery/ bela_lugosi_as_dracula_75.jpg Image 2 In the 1990s (image 3 and 4) both visual ideas of the vampire are used in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). In each version of the vampire some similarities are shared, such as the elongated teeth (we need to know he is a vampire after all), but these images show how the representation has changed throughout the history of the genre. Image 3 Image 4 Image 3 http:/www.the_lucards.blogger.com.br/ dracula_gary_oldman.jpg Image 4 http://www.hobrad.com/oldman.jpg More recently still in Underworld (2003) (image 5) the vampire is represented with some similar characteristics to the ones of previous eras, but there have been some significant changes. Image 5 http://blogs.knoxnews.com/knx/brown/ archives/UnderworldSMALL1.jpg Activity What are the most significant differences you can identify between the most modern representation of a vampire and the older ones? Why do you think the modern representation is the way it is? Horrors tap into cultural fears In addition to the audience needing changes to genre codes to maintain its interest, society changes. Different eras have different ideas and values and experience different problems, fears and concerns. Successful horror films are ones that tap into specific cultural fears and exploit them to meet the needs of the genre. The best way to create fear for the audience in a horror text is to play on the fears that already exist. Tudor identifies this as he says 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 some way represent the fears of the people watching them. Different Monsters for Different Fears A useful way to identify the type of fears being identified by horror texts is for analyse the monsters within the films. Neale identified that horror texts have different types of monster. The monster is the source of the fear. ••••• The External Monster – an outsider. The external monster will be one who comes from ‘somewhere else’ and brings the threat to a community. Vampire films are good examples of this as traditionally they come from Transylvania and were shown terrorising a British community. They are outsiders as they are not (and never can be) members of the community and they invade a previously safe and peaceful environment. http://imagecache2.allposters.com/images/ pic/54/039_13061~Christopher-Lee- Posters.jpg
  3. 3. 3 015.HorrorFilms:CreatingandReflectingFear Media Studies www.curriculum-press.co.uk ••••• The Man-made Monster – man’s creation. The archetypal man-made monster can be found in Frankenstein (1931). A collection of body parts is put together and Dr Frankenstein brings the creature to life. The creature then brings death and 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. ••••• The Internal Monster – man gone wrong. Here the monster is human. The human may come from within the 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 Norman Bates in Psycho (1960). He is a mild mannered ‘boy next door’ character on the surface but the film reveals that he is murderously insane. http://content.answers.com/main/content/wp/en/e/ed/ Normanbates.jpg http://nalts.files.wordpress.com/2006/07/frankenstein.jpg Some monsters have traits of more than one of Neale’s categories. Frankenstein’s monster for example is ‘man made’ but when he goes to the village he brings in violence and death as an ‘outsider’ to the community. Norman Bates is an internal monster but the implication is that his flawed psychology has been caused by bad mothering. This way of looking at the monster in horror can be very useful. In the first half of the 20th Century the external monster dominated the genre. Vampires, mummies and ghosts are outsiders who threaten communities. There were early examples of the man-made monster during this period and this is often where horror and sci fi intersect. In these films, scientific advancements often backfired and created monsters from giant insects to deadly robots. This convention of horror became more dominant in the post-war period. It is often observed that these monsters can be seen to represent specific cultural fears of the time. For example: • The threat of invasion generated by global political uncertainty between the two wars (1918-1939) is reflected in the external monster • The fear of the way science could be used in a destructive way in the post war ‘atomic-age’ (post 1945) after the dropping of nuclear weapons on Japan at the end of World War II reflected in the man made monster The idea of the internal monster dominates modern horror. The shift away from the external to the internal may allow us to identify some of the fears and preoccupations that dominate contemporary society: • World War II demonstrated that mankind was capable of horrific acts, for example, the genocide of the Holocaust. Rather than fearing outsiders, this has caused the culture to fear other humans – even those within their own communities • Since the 1950s, public understanding of psychology has increased, particularly what has been known as ‘abnormal psychology’ – adding to the culture’s fear of other people within the community who could look ‘just like us’ but think and behave in dangerous ways • Modern society has become less actively religious. ‘Evil’ is therefore often perceived as a possible human trait rather than something that comes from elsewhere Scream (1996) – the monstrous boyfriend – apparently a good guy but in fact a psychologically deranged killer. He was shown to be a product of bad parenting and a culture which has access to too much media violence http://www.moviepropking.com/billy2.jpg Saw III (2006) – a monstrous hospital orderly dishing out gruesome punishment for people who he perceives are morally lacking in an shallow, selfish world http://www.worstpreviews.com/images/ saw3.gif Different Locations for Different Fears Early horror often used distant locations for their settings. Typically, monster movies and Hammer Horror was based on the middle European world of the fairy tale which distanced the audience even further from the monster. The Victorian era was a common setting for early horror too, whereas today, most horror tends to be set close to home (with an American bias in Hollywood films) and in mundane environments such as high schools, suburban homes and university campuses. This reflects the close proximity of the internal monster – many modern horror monsters are school friends or people we could meet at any time. These familiar locations bring the horror closer to the audience. Some modern horror, especially since the late 1960s, uses a countryside location for its setting. A common plot deals with a group of town dwellers who find themselves stranded in the countryside. Here they can meet all manner of monsters • external monsters in the caves in The Descent (2005) or in the woods in The Blair Witch Project (1999) • man made monsters in The Hills Have Eyes (1977/2006) • internal monsters in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974/2003) The rural location is often used to symbolise a wild and dangerous place where monsters can stay hidden. Modern horror often uses this location to show what dangers exist outside the safety of the civilised towns and cities where most of us live. Conclusion Whatever the monster represents and wherever the monster is located, ‘normality is threatened by the monster’ (Wood). Horror texts can be seen as metaphors for things perceived as different or outside the cultural norms. The monsters are ‘difference made flesh’ according to Cohen and this difference can be ‘cultural, political, racial, economic [or] sexual’ (Cohen). By analysing the types of monsters presented to us in horror texts and identifying what fears they represent we can identify the behaviours and ideas that the producing culture perceived as different, frightening or that represented the ‘abnormal’. This approach is far more useful than a simple media language identification of horror conventions as it allows you to analyse the values and ideologies presented by the text and can give you an insight into the context of production. 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 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 means, without the prior permission of the publisher. ISSN 1351-5136