The pessimism of horror cinema

The pessimism of horror cinema

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The pessimism of horror cinema a comparative study between modernist and post-modernist horror cinema
Jeknavorian, Michael
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University of South Florida
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ABSTRACT: This qualitative thesis examines levels of pessimism as they relate to modern and postmodern horror cinema. Beyond assumed differences in levels of pessimism between the two genres, the study also examines implicit and explicit moralization of these categories. Specifically, the study questions if postmodern horror cinema's characteristic increase in pessimism is simply a change in the genre's convention, yet a change that is irrespective of either genre's capabilities to moralize. First, the study singularly examines the conventions of each genre as it relates to levels of pessimism. Second, the study discusses works that bridge the two genres. And third, the study speculates on the future of pessimism in postmodern horror cinema, specifically examining the genre's increased reliance on a combination of narrative and documentary techniques. In addition, this study uses content analysis as its methodological framework, whereby representative works of horror cinema (the data) are subjected to in-depth personal reading and textual analysis given the levels of pessimism between the two genres (the coding) via text immersion. Nonetheless, this study should be viewed more as a guided and informed exploration of certain characteristics regarding the genres and less of a defense since the data will not be quantified.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2009.
Includes bibliographical references.
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by Michael Jeknavorian.

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The pessimism of horror cinema :
b a comparative study between modernist and post-modernist horror cinema
h [electronic resource] /
by Michael Jeknavorian.
[Tampa, Fla] :
University of South Florida,
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 56 pages.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2009.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
3 520
ABSTRACT: This qualitative thesis examines levels of pessimism as they relate to modern and postmodern horror cinema. Beyond assumed differences in levels of pessimism between the two genres, the study also examines implicit and explicit moralization of these categories. Specifically, the study questions if postmodern horror cinema's characteristic increase in pessimism is simply a change in the genre's convention, yet a change that is irrespective of either genre's capabilities to moralize. First, the study singularly examines the conventions of each genre as it relates to levels of pessimism. Second, the study discusses works that bridge the two genres. And third, the study speculates on the future of pessimism in postmodern horror cinema, specifically examining the genre's increased reliance on a combination of narrative and documentary techniques. In addition, this study uses content analysis as its methodological framework, whereby representative works of horror cinema (the data) are subjected to in-depth personal reading and textual analysis given the levels of pessimism between the two genres (the coding) via text immersion. Nonetheless, this study should be viewed more as a guided and informed exploration of certain characteristics regarding the genres and less of a defense since the data will not be quantified.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
Advisor: Scott Liu, Ph.D.
0 690
Dissertations, Academic
x Mass Communications
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.


The Pessimism of Horror Cinema: A Comparative Study Between Modernist and Postmodernist Horror Cinema by Michael Jeknavorian A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts School of Mass Communications College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: Scott Liu, Ph.D. Robert Dardenne, Ph.D. Kim Golombisky, Ph.D. Date of Approval: April 23, 2009 Keywords: slasher, film, movi es, villain, cross-over Copyright 2009, Michael Jeknavorian


i Table of Contents Abstract ...................................................................................................................... ........ iii Chapter 1 Introduction ....................................................................................................... .1 Chapter 2 Background/Theoretical Framework ..................................................................4 Chapter 3 Literature Review ...............................................................................................7 Philosophical Overview ...........................................................................................7 Modernism and Postmodernism Defined ...............................................................10 Pessimism as a Recurrent Theme in Postmodernism ............................................11 Modernism and Postmodernism in the Visual Arts ...............................................12 Levels of Fear Defined ...........................................................................................14 General Traits of Horror Cinema ...........................................................................15 Pessimism in Modern and Postmodern Horror Cinema ........................................16 Traits of Horror/Documentary Cinema ..................................................................19 Chapter 4 Research Questions ..........................................................................................22 Chapter 5 Methodology ....................................................................................................23 Study Design ..........................................................................................................23 Method ...................................................................................................................23 Measures ................................................................................................................24 Sample....................................................................................................................25


ii Chapter 6 Analysis ........................................................................................................... .27 Modern Horror Cinema ..........................................................................................27 Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror (1922), Dracula (1931) .......................27 The Phantom of the Opera (1925) .............................................................27 Frankenstein (1932) ...................................................................................29 Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) ......................................................30 Psycho (1960) ............................................................................................30 Cross-Over Horror Cinema ....................................................................................31 RosemaryÂ’s Baby (1968) ............................................................................31 Night of the Living Dead (1968) ................................................................32 Postmodern Horror Cinema ...................................................................................34 The Exorcist (1973) ....................................................................................34 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) ......................................................36 Halloween (1978).......................................................................................38 Friday the 13th Series (1980-Present), A Nightmare on Elm Street Series (1984-2003) ................................................................................39 The Thing (1982)........................................................................................40 Saw Series (2003-Present), Hostel (2005-2007) ........................................42 Postmodernist Horror/Documentary Cinema ........................................................42 Cannibal Holocaust (1982)........................................................................43 Hungry Bitches/2 Girls 1 Cup (2006) ........................................................44 Chapter 7 Conclusion ........................................................................................................4 7 Bibliography .................................................................................................................. ....50


iii The Pessimism of Horror Cinema : A Comparative Study Between Modernist and Postmodernist Horror Cinema Michael Jeknavorian ABSTRACT This qualitative thesis examines levels of pessimism as they relate to modern and postmodern horror cinema. Beyond assumed diff erences in levels of pessimism between the two genres, the study also examines implicit and explicit moralization of these categories. Specifically, the study questions if postmodern ho rror cinemaÂ’s characteristic increase in pessimism is simply a change in the genreÂ’s convention, yet a change that is irrespective of either genreÂ’ s capabilities to moralize. First, the study singularly examines the conventions of each genre as it relates to levels of pessimism. Second, the study discusses works that bridge the two ge nres. And third, the study speculates on the future of pessimism in postmodern horror cinema, specifically examining the genreÂ’s increased reliance on a combination of narra tive and documentary techniques. In addition, this study uses content analysis as its methodological framework, whereby representative works of horror cinema (the data) are subjected to in-depth personal reading and textual analysis gi ven the levels of pessimism between the two genres (the


iv coding) via text immersion. Nonetheless, th is study should be viewed more as a guided and informed exploration of certain characteristics regard ing the genres and less of a defense since the data will not be quantified.


1 Chapter 1 Introduction What is the draw of horror cinema? Beyond the thrill, or whatever emotive response that’s associated with watching them, is ther e any redeeming value to something that is essentially created to illicit fear from its au dience? I can remember the first horror film that really got to me. Yes, I reme mber watching the classic horror films Dracula and Psycho with my parents, yet, it wasn’t one of those films that was first to have a profound effect on me. It was a deceptively—what some might call—benign film that got to me. I was in seventh grade, and the English teacher showed the film for The Tell-Tale Heart as a supplement to the story we were reading in class. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but something about the way the main charact er crept up on the “old man” in the film, and then when he saw the old man’s eye starring at him before he killed him, is the thing that so disturbed me. Because of that single viewing, I had to sleep with both the light on in the bedroom and my face towards the bedr oom door for at least a week, impatiently waiting for the film’s memory to fade. As illustrated with the aforementioned personal anecdote, it is horror cinema’s tremendous power to affect that so interests me about it. Yet, are all genre’s of horror cinema the same, or are there differences in tone, theme and levels of pessimism that are


2 conditional to certain eras—eras such as the modern and postmodern ones? Whatever the differences may or may not be between the ge nres, it is important to frame exactly what will be addressed in this thesis, as well as cl ear rational for what won’t. To begin, this qualitative study will not address what likely enabled the differences between modern and postmodern horror cinema (as an estimate, it is most likely a combination of the advent of the 16 millimeter news camera, w ith its newfound portability, in tandem with a focus on more explicit material—material that was made possible by the debut and subsequent proliferation of pornography). Nevertheless, the subject of what actually enabled the differences (particularly, the le vels of pessimism) between these variables should be confined to the scope of another study. It can also be said that this study will not address the reasons why there may be differences in levels of pessimism between the genres. On the surface, it appears as if speculated differences of levels of pessi mism between modern and postmodern horror cinema would naturally examine why these hypo thetical differences occur. However, a thorough examination of why there are differenc es between the two ge nres must include social and historical inspecti on on a grand scale. Therefore, an examination of what the perceived characteristics (looki ng at the both the similar and dis-similar) of both genres entail is a discussion that is centralized enough on its own. Inclusion of what enabled characteristics of both genres or why it happened would fragment the dialogue.


3 What this study will address is what the pe rceived difference of levels of pessimism likely consist of and how the differences are manifest in the genres. Specifically, the study will use content an alysis, analyzing the explicit and implicit content of the text. The music and overt style of these selections will be deemphasized in favor of a deeper analysis regarding the mood, tone and overall objective of the works. As will be explained in the literature re view, horror cinema from the mo dern era can be viewed as relatively optimistic considering the struggles its protagonists faced. Therefore, this study will specifically look at what the moralizati on (the lesson—both implicit and explicit) of horror cine ma from both of these eras cons ists of, and, more pointedly, how levels of pessimism directly rela te to each genre’s moralization.


4 Chapter 2 Background/Theoretical Framework As stated in the introduction, this study w ill look at changes in modern and postmodern horror cinema as they relates to levels of pessimism. An examination of all the characteristics between these two genres c ould prove endless, for each genre could in theory be coded as representation of bot h eras (the modern and postmodern) and therefore subject to examinati on of every platitude within th at genre. As such, the study looks not just at the genreÂ’s fluctuation of pessimism, but ex actly what these changes in pessimism mean. It is conventionally percei ved within media studies that levels of pessimism increased with the advent of th e postmodern era, yet how this change has affected horror cinema may not be as cl ear cut. This study, through deep content analysis, will look at what th ese different levels of pessi mism reflect about the genre itself, as well as the culture that each genre is a product of. The increasing level of pessimism is a tradem ark of postmodernist thinking. But, does an increase of pessimism indicate that postm odern horror cinema has abandoned implicit moralization that modern horror cinema can be seen to offer? Upon close inspection of both genres, the idea emerges that works from the postmodern era may in fact contain the


5 same type of moralization that modern ho rror cinema offers; however, the lessons in postmodern horror cinema are imbedded, and as such, are presented in a different manner. Conversely, regarding culture, postmodern horro r cinemaÂ’s increase in pessimism could be perceived as dystopian; however, close inspec tion indicates that this also might not be the case. ItÂ’s possible that postmodern ho rror cinemaÂ’s increase in pessimism is superfluous to the genreÂ’s implicit moralizati on, and therefore, should be read more as a reflection of culture and style, and less as a decrease in the genreÂ’s ability to moralize. Therefore, itÂ’s also possible that both genres more or less make the same point; however, they do it in different fashi ons. This difference in levels of pessimism between the two genres, irrespective of moralization, is somewh at justified given that representative works from either genre operate within the confin es of the era (modern and postmodern) that theyÂ’re a product of. Therefore, the fact that both genres represent different eras is reas on that the content and theme of works reflective of these genres ha ve changed. However, saying that there are different levels of pessimism between the tw o genres isnÂ’t offering much to the media studies scholarship (although a case could probably be made that a thorough exploration of levels of pessimism of these genres can help to further underst anding of the medium and the audience). Suggesting that there might be an over-arching connection (that both genres moralize, irrespective of levels of pessimism) regarding pessimism of both


6 genres—one that might not be commonly percei ved, is another matter. Therefore, in execution of this study’s premise, several repr esentative works from each genre will be analyzed.


7 Chapter 3 Literature Review Philosophical Overview The question of evil, and what purpose it serves, is a timeless one that many have examined. The ideas of Epicurus, the ancien t Greek philosopher, are ones that come to mind. Epicurus theorized that god was either wicked for permitting evil in the world, or impotent if he couldn’t stop it (R ist, 1972). That th e horror cinema genre has historically devoted a large part of its re sources to—if not an explorati on of this theme, at least exposition pertaining to it—justi fies an overview of the nature of evil in relation to the genre. The first philosophical theory regarding evil (cal led theodicy) that is relevant to this study is that of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Le ibniz pondered how evil could exist in a world that is essentially governed by a benevolen t and omnipotent god. Leibniz rationalized about this inequity by specula ting that if God chose this world above all other worlds, then this world must therefore be good. Furthermore, in Leibniz’s view, evil is functional, in that evil serves as a type of counterpoint for higher virtues—for, how


8 would anyone know what bad is if they coul dn’t compare it to what is good (Manuel & Manuel, 1979)? Another theodicical theory (alb eit possibly a less consoling one for some) is the idea that freewill could not exist without evil. This be lief, called open theism, speculates that God, above all else, desires a true and loving relationship with mankind. Therefore, to facilitate this, freewill must reign supreme, for man must be free to make an active choice to either reject or a ccept God, otherwise, it wouldn’t real ly be love. In conjunction with this freedom is the inevitability of ma n’s bad choices (with the ultimate Western reference being Eve’s betrayal in Eden) (H artshorne, 1967). What is never explained with this theory, though, is why the full range of human emotions must include evil? It’s possible that a counterpoint to good, as suggest ed by Hobbes, necessita ted the creation of evil (Hobbes, Flathman & Johnston, 1997). Conversely, Leibniz’s rationalizat ion of evil is contrasted in satirical fashion by Voltaire (A.K.A. Francois-Marie Arouet) in his landmark work of pessimism, Candide To summarize the plot, the title char acter of the novella is methodi cally subjected to the evils of the world, to such a degree that he and his cl an inevitably retreat to pastoral life at the story’s conclusion. Endless debate has ensu red about the signifi cance of the ending—if the story’s conclusion represen ts a newfound cynicism on Candide ’s part, or if his actions are representative of a new m odel of appropriate behavior. That said, the apocalyptical tone of the novella, coming off of the real -life heels of the ca tastrophic 1755 Lisbon


9 earthquake, is too pessimistic in tone to augment the potential moralization that is represented via the work’s coda through use of the rural gard ening motif (Vo ltaire, 1966). Another take on pessimism and the nature of evil can be found by Arthur Schopenhauer, primarily in his work The World as Will and Representation In the work, Schopenhauer views the world as a place where human desires are paramount to everything else. Therefore, reason is an expe ndable luxury in relation to basic human desires—desires such as the need to procreate or to eat, and so on. The pessimism comes into play in that these human desires create e ndless conflict in the world, su ch that Schopenhauer felt that life was literally a war of all against all. Furthermore, th e ironic twist of Schopenhauer’s theory of desire is that mankind, despite bei ng subject to these self -destructive drives, has also been cruelly endowed with reason e nough to comprehend his own self-destructive tendencies (Schopenhauer, 1966). Another form of pessimism can also be f ound with the birth of modern psychology, from one of its pioneers—Sigmund Freud. Fr eud, who was directly influenced by Schopenhauer’s theory of desire and reason, also viewed mankind as constantly being in a perpetual state of conflict. But, whereas Schopenhauer illustrate d the conflict between the two traits, Freud and his contemporaries bega n to examine, not just the validity of this theory of man in a perpetual state of discord, but what ex actly was causing it. Freud theorized that the individual was at war fr om within, both from the force of his own nature alone, as well as from his relations w ith others. With this in mind, Freud almost


10 single-handedly created an entire body of la nguage that examined his premise of man being not only in a constant state of war, but virtually at war with himself (Freud, 1938). To complicate matters regarding the inner ps yche, Freud also believed that all humans were driven by two conflicting desires. These desires were the libido and the thanatos (Greek for the personification of death, which is symbolic of the death drive). Freud theorized that pleasure is related to the death desire because death represents calm (or, an inorganic state), and calmness is viewed as the ultimate pleasure. Conversely, the libido is literally fighting to exist. Thus, the dua lity between the two cr eates the conflict (Freud, 1990). This incompatibility creates a grit-inthe-oyster scenario which, in line with Schopenhauer’s theory of a world in conflict, adds another layer of pessimism to the discordance of the human experience. Modernism and Postmodernism Defined As described in the book From Modernism to Postmodernism: An Anthology Expanded there are marked differences between th e modern era and the postmodern one. Historically speaking, the work states that scholars have more or less designated that the modernist era starts at about the time of th e Industrial Revolution to just preceding the present postmodernist era. To characterize the period, the modernist era saw an increase in reason and science, and, in particular, the applic ations of reason and science as a tool to acquiring knowledge and of solving problem s. Key in this is that the era’s institutions—its schools, churches a nd families—were strong (Cahoone, 2003).


11 The contrast to the modernist era is the postmode rnist one. As CahooneÂ’s text states, it is generally considered that postmodernist sensibilities emerged in most capitalistic countries as a result of changes attributed to World War II. However, the breadth of the postmodern idea did not traditionally ferment until the middle of the 1970s, when its ideals began to spread across the culture, pe rmeating both society at large and academic disciplines alike. Characteristic of this era is, among other things, an emergence of newfound importance in media and popular culture, a reappraisal of the structure of the family, as well as new concepts about personal responsibility, success and duty. Of particular importance within postmodernist fra ming is the notion of a loss of hope and a disbelief in objectivity. Therefore, the postm odernist individual di splays distrust for institutions and feels as if nothing can be relied upon. Conf idence in an absolute reality does not exist within the postmodern world; thus, the postmodern individual has turned, ironically, away from the group and towards the individual personality Â’s struggle for selfrealization (Cahoone, 2003). Pessimism as a Recurrent Theme in Postmodernism Although there are other postmodernist philosopher s who are equally as influential, it is Jean BaudrillardÂ’s theories of image and reality that are of particular relevance to the postmodernist horror genre. Baudrillard argued, in his seminal work Simulacra and Simulation that the postmodernist simulacra is not only deficient compared to the original but doesnÂ’t even have a basis in reality. The fact th at society views the simulacra (Disneyland is used as a metaphor in the book, wh ere its Main Street U.S.A. is viewed as historical reality by some, but be ars absolutely no relation to the original) as related to, or


12 perhaps even equal to the orig inal—and thereby interacts with the simulated stimuli as if it were an accurate copy—produces a hyperreality from which conflict undoubtedly ensues. Baudrillard showed, with this theo ry, that he did not have much hope for a society that is predicated on fantas y and reproduction (Baudrillard, 1994). Another form of pessimism in postmodern so ciety stems from the ideas presented by Jean-Francois Lyotard. Lyotard, in his work The Postmodern Condition: A Report of Knowledge suggests that one of the main char acteristics of postmodernism is the abolition of societal narratives. In the wo rk, Lyotard theorizes th at postmodern society’s dissemination of information via mass medi a, progressive communication and computer technology has destroyed common narratives. Thus this narrative has been replaced with symbols, and ultimately, relativism. As such, the postmodern world sees everything as relative. Given this, common relativisms—such as, beauty is in th e eye of the beholder— can be seen as a metaphor for any number of relativist experiences that postmodern society can offer. The result of this reduc tion of common narratives in favor of mini truths can be unsettling (Lyot ard, 1984). If the theory is valid, it shows a conspicuous lack of a center in life in favor of different wa ys to interpret things. Modernism and Postmodernism in the Visual Arts Modernism in the performing arts can be s een as trademarked by self-consciousness. This self-consciousness is manifest throughout the era’s works. After the dust settled from the numerous wars and revolutions that occurred in Europe during first part of the nineteenth century, what is characterized as modernism began to emerge in political and


13 social though in the second ha lf of the nineteenth centur y. Once the western world was awash in this era and its sensibilities, the ar ts—first in painting, and then followed by the visual arts—began to reflect the movement (Wallis, 1984). Cinema itself was slower to adopt modernist sensibilities in that th e medium didn’t begin until roughly around 1877 with the successful photography of a gallopi ng horse (ironically, phot ographed to see if all four hooves are off the ground at the same time) and subsequent make-shift projection of it at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago a few years later (Nowell-Smith, 1996). It would not be until the turn of the cent ury, though, that cinema would transition from technological novelty to that of an art form that was fully capable of reflecting the modernist era. Arguably, the short films of Parisian George Melies were the first films that were reflective of modernism, with thei r science fiction and fantasy-themed plots, which were representative of what was occurr ing in the literature of Victorian-era Europe at that time. It was from this point forward that cinematic grammar was further developed with notable American entries such as The Great Train Robbery from 1903, leading up to D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916) (Norwell-Smith, 1996). It is with these entries that modernist traits of cinema, such as self-consciousness and moralization, began to em erge. Evident of this is that each entry is clear in its representation of who the protagonist and the antagonists are, and that each entry is precise concerning tones of it s moralization and lessons (Wallis, 1984).


14 In contrast to modernism in cinema, is pos tmodernism. Postmodern cinema mirrors the postmodern era and its invariable distrust in progress. Whereas the modern eraÂ’s sensibilities of hope, progress and a belief in sc ience are intrinsic with in the eraÂ’s cinema, cinema works from the postmodern era negates this. Postmodern cinema is characterized by its use of irony and parody, as it is believe d that these are the only things that are capable of enduring future scrutiny. Likewise, postmodern cinema rejects modern cinemaÂ’s emphasis of the grand narrative in favor of a more indi vidualistic approach. This approach does not show society as evol ving, but if anything, actually contracting. Therefore, it is the artistÂ’s ability to dest roy the boundaries between high and low art, to dispute myth and to show how all platitude s are inherently unstable (Wallis, 1984). Levels of Fear Defined In predication for this stu dyÂ’s contextual examination of horror cinema, it might be helpful to be familiar with the levels of fear that horror cinema can illicit, as they have been typically conceived: Fear/terror: This type of fear is comple tely galvanizing and, suffice it to say, is the purest form of the emotion. The effects of fear/terror are si ngular, primal and intense (Prince, 2004). Horror: Horror contains aspects of fear yet, there in an overt connotation of revulsion. The essence of horror is that re vulsion of the materi al initially creates


15 fear, but that this revulsion usually then cu lminates in the act of rejection of the source material (Prince, 2004). The offensive: The next (and lowest) level is that of the offensive. The offensive can conversationally be thought of as the “g ross-out.” This cla ssification of fear is the most easily marginalized by au diences. As said best by the horror writer/director Stephen King, “F irst I go for fear, then I go for horror, and finally, I go for the gross-out—I’m not picky” (Prince, 2004, p. 25). General Traits of Horror Cinema It is also helpful to summarize what a horro r cinema work consists of. To some who analyze horror cinema, there is an assumption that the worl d is governed by natural laws, and that society, for the most part, operates in tandem with these given natural laws. H. P. Lovecraft, a popular horro r writer from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, further suggests that when one of these natural laws is broken, horror is created (Weaver, 1996). If horror is created when a natural law is broken, the general consensus from horror cinema scholars is that, essentially, the more spectral and anxiety-inducing a film is, the more it will affect an audience. Whether th e anxiety and spectral affect is created by conventional or unconventiona l antagonists (monsters, for example), or by narrative patterns, is incidental. The over-arching point is that both anxiety and a spectral affect in horror cinema are predominantly the most ef fective means of frightening an audience (Schneider, 2004).


16 Given the previously mentioned characteristic s about how anxiety a nd a spectral effect are particularly efficient at creating fear, why then do certa in horror films simultaneously attract audiences while frightening them as well? True, if one accepts the former premise, an effective horror film will create anxiety and a spectral aura, but are there other factors that affect the audience as well ? Phillips argues that the most successful and influential horror films are the ones that not only create tension through the medium, but that literally tap into cultural anxieties as well (Phillips, 2005) Phillips further elaborates that the things society fear reveal a great d eal about the culture of the viewer as well as giving insight into society as a whole. Th erefore, many viewers us e identified fears and phobias from horror cinema as a resource to exam ine fear triggers from their own culture. Ultimately, analysis of these fear triggers can be a powerful tool that an individual uses to make choices about how he or she interprets and reacts to certai n facets of their own culture (Phillips, 2005). Pessimism in Modern and Postmodern Horror Cinema The fear of death is a multi-c ultural and ancient fear whos e theme has been adequately documented through various art forms and literature throughout the ages. Yet, a twist emerges when analyzing contemporary societyÂ’ s view of death, and ultimately, of its conception of the human body. As suggested by the postmodern philosophy Michael Foucault, death has more or less emerged as one of the 20th centuryÂ’s (and by extension, the 21st centuryÂ’s) dominant taboos, and as such, the Thanatos (or death) drive has been ultimately repressed (Foucault & Rabinow, 1984). The postmodern idea of the body as more sacred than the soul is a relatively novel one. Po stmodern societyÂ’s recent


17 repression of the thanatos drive while simu ltaneously elevating the body to that of the ultimate commodity (or, art form, for that matter) has opened up a new playing field for horror filmmakers. An arena that purveyors of the trade have collectively responded to in sheer delight, given the prolif eration of postmodern horror ci nema that exploits this theme (Badley, 1995). And, as some writers have in essence assaulte d what civilized society holds as inviolable (the fiction of the 16th century writer the Marquis de Sade comes to mind), so have some horror filmmakers. In its infancy and then subsequent sound period, horror cinema was predominately sanguine about wh at protagonists of the genr e were capable of doing. Not so, though, with the postmodern horror film (C rane, 1994). The trend in contemporary horror cinema has been to isolate what societ y esteems and then to thereby attack those sensibilities. For instance, when the character “Jason” from the popular Friday the 13th horror series attacks, it’s a random event. Jason—in contrast with horror cinema characters from, for example, modernist horror films—is void of moral condemnation, and as such, strikes all (Crane, 1994). The same harsh examination can be applied to the postmodern re-make of the 1950’s science fiction/horror film The Thing from Another World As the work was originally conceived, the film’s protagonists defeat “the thing from an other world” while sustaining—if not an adequate amount of ps ychological trauma—minimal casualties and physical damage. Not so for the postmodern revi sionist version of the film. In this reappraisal of the tale, resistance against th e “evil” force is unproductive to the point of


18 being pointless. No matter what the characte rs in the film do, they canÂ’t defeat the violence. More so, the filmÂ’s characters esse ntially make all the right decisions in the story, yet they still die (Crane, 1994). This apocalyptic assault on societal values can increasingly be seen in other postmodern ho rror films as well. Th e postmodern view of the body as sacred, in and of itself, and not primarily as a vessel for the soul, has proliferated since the 1980s. To the postmodern eye, the body itself is something to be worshipped, refined and tran sformed (Badley, 1995). Postmodern horror cinema registers this r ecent shift in values, and its subsequent repression of the Thanatos drive, by assaulti ng it. Therefore, the postmodern horror film is keen to assault societyÂ’s new physical totem by either at tacking the body itself (as seen with the clinical attack on th e body in the horror film series Saw and Hostel ), or by using the body as a playing field, su ch as in the horror film The Exorcist where the battle is literally fought within the flesh itself (Badley, 1995). In conclusion, the most disturbing to some may be postmodernist horror cinemaÂ’s exploitation of bodily taboos. According to The Horror Film bodily products are universally prof ane because they are viewed as being both me and not me, thereby blurring the lines between self and world. In line with postmodernistÂ’s somewhat antagonizing nature, the orifices that produce these products, as well as the byproducts themselves, have b ecome a convention of the genre (Prince, 2004).


19 Traits of Horror/Documentary Cinema Along with the changes of attitude that postmodernism brought, a new format of cinema—one that was beyond sensibilities that were broadly representative of the narrative style—was ushered in. This form at was one that combined aspects of documentary cinema with that of horror —one that falls between moralization and perversion, between entertainment and edifi cation. This type of cinema, with its simulacrum-like effect of hybridized fiction a nd reality, has its roots in the shock effect of the Grand Guignol, which is a style that can be graphically naturalistic in it intent. As described in The Horror Film the documentary/horror format represents an undiluted collection of moments that thei r traditional counter parts (works of absolute fiction, in other words) could not reveal (Prince, 2004). As such, the genre was more or less la unched with the 1962 debut of the Italian documentary film, Mondo Cane (translated as a dog’s world). This original mondo film (as the genre has become to be known) was, despite its somewhat exploitive tone, something of a cultural documentation that was mostly intended to shock western audiences who were for the most part unf amiliar with certain non-western practices. However, it is with the series Savage trilogy, and in particular, the series debut entry, Savage Man Savage Beast that proved to redefine the genre. Yes, the Mondo series have always staged some events, but they were never death scenes (P rince, 2004). That Savage Man Savage Beast crossed that line warran ts discussions of it.


20 The work’s shift in theme was initially percei ved as snuff-like and exploitive of death in its scope. Critics were initially offended at the manipulative and cal lous nature that the work subjected its “characters” to, such as where Caucasian mercenaries torture and murder tribesmen, and a tourist is eaten aliv e by lions while his family watches in horror from a car, before it was discovered that at least one of the scenes (the mercenary one) was staged. This discovery of footage that the work presents as genuine, but in actuality was re-created, cast suspicion at the genre as well as dimi nished any educational value the footage might have possessed were it in fact authentic (Prince, 2004). Along with mondo-inspired works such as the pseudo-documentary series Face of Death and Death Faces is the film Snuff Not that the work is revered, which it’s not, but it earns its mondo status as being one of the fi rst films to successfully distort the divide between documentary and fiction. To recount the plot, the work primarily operates as a B-grade film up until the film’s conclusion. However, at the work that the camera pulls back and the film’s “director” enters the fram e to praise the lead actress, which is then followed in quick succession by a subsequent rape and mutilation of the actress as the crew members enter the frame hold her dow n. Critics saw through the scene quickly enough, with its patent phoniness, yet the da mage was done, so to speak, due to the producer’s histrionic skills at staging events that coinci ded with the work’s debut— events such as false leaks to the press in outrage over the film’s authenticity, sending counterfeit letters of condemnation to the medi a and hiring fake protesters to picket the film as well (Brottman, 1997).


21 Regarding the current annexation of the mondo style, the genre has recently co-opted some new techniques straight from current do cumentary footage. These techniques—the shaky camera, uneven soundtrack and vague picture quality—have been appropriated from, among other things, terrorist beheading videos of, for example, Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg, as well as footage of Saddam Hu ssein’s execution. For various reasons, the traits of the documentary footag e just mentioned, and others like it, seem to contribute to the mise-en-scene of the footage rather than detract from it. As a direct result of this, the public has become conditioned to pe rceive that footage such as this is real, irrespective of its authenticity. And as su ch, postmodernist practitioners of the mondo genre have been quick to utilize these techniques (Prince, 2004).


22 Chapter 4 Research Questions Research Question 1 (R1) : When examining what the perceived differences are between modern and postmodern horror cinema, does postmodern horror cinema tend to exhibits greater level of pessimism than modern horror cinema? Research Question 2 (R2) : Does it appear that, despite postmodern horror cinemaÂ’s level of pessimism and subsequent assault on the viewer, works from this era still tend to contain implicit moralizati on and instructional value? Research Question 3 (R3) : When examining postmodern horror cinema, does it appear that there may be an increase of the horror/documentary style? Research Question 4 (R4) : Does horror/documentary cinema tend to contain even higher levels of pessimism than postmodern horror cinema that is purely fiction?


23 Chapter 5 Methodology Study Design The chosen methodology for this study will be qualitative analysis. This methodology, according to Mass Media Research “relies mainly on the analysis of visual data (observations) and verbal data (words) th at reflect everyday experience” (Wimmer & Dominick, 2000, p. 102). The complex and varied nature of the contextual differences between modern and postmodern horror ci nema makes it virtually impossible to statistically measure the “what,” “where” and “when” that would t ypically constitute a quantitative research proposal. Therefore, qualitative research is more conducive to yielding the answers to “why” and “how” (although, the question of “why” has been mitigated in this study, as previously discusse d) that this proposal will be primarily exploring. Method Given the qualitative methodology, the chosen method of examination will be contextual analysis. As previously mentioned in th e “Background/Theoretical Framework” chapter, the goal of this study is not to prove but to discuss and in form. Therefore, the given


24 method will be contextual analysis. Field obser vations were rejected, for there is nothing to really observe when levels of pessimi sm between modernist and postmodernist horror cinema are examined. Likewise, the focu s group was rejected as a method, for, group interviewing of a small body of individual would be constrictive in its yield of information, and therefore, not in line with this study’s goals. Intensive, or in-depth, interv iews were originally consider ed as a study method; however, they were ultimately rejected based on their limited scope. It is possible that intensive interviews would have yielded valuable info rmation about certain variables; however, the crux of this study is a comparative examina tion of different genres of horror cinema regarding levels of pessimism. Therefore, unless a potential interv iewee could speak on some platform of authority (of which, none were available), this method would be pointless. In addition, case studies—where mu ltiple data sources are used to investigate phenomena (Wilmer & Dominick, 2000)—might ha ve been an appropriate method, but it was rejected based on, one, its general lack of scientific rigor, and, two, its massive and time-consuming scope. Therefore, contextual an alysis is most feasible within the range and condition of this study. Measures Contextual analysis, or, content analysis, is a popular “method of studying and analyzing communication in a systematic, objective a nd quantitative manner for purposes of measuring variables” (Wilmer & Dominick, 2000, p. 135). The method can be applied to either qualitative or quantitative studies. Ho wever, strict guidelines for research using


25 either method must be in place. First, the content that is analyzed is systematically organized, in that variables we re equitably selected concerni ng their genre. Furthermore, the contextual analysis that occurs within the analysis chapter was uniform. Two, the contextual analysis is objective. Therefore, the researcher has mitigated personal biases to the best of abilities, with consideration given that other researchers, should they replicate the study, might yield similar results And third, the study aims for precision, whereas the over-arching goal is an accurate representa tion of a particular body of messages (Wilmer & Dominick, 2000). Sample The represented works in this study are attri buted with being either seminal works or highly representative of the er a or category that they are coded to (Bordwell & Carroll, 1996). Therefore, each film was carefully sele cted so that it meets the criteria. In addition, most readers who are familiar with media studies will probably recognize many of the represented works here, for many of them are products of—as well as being ingrained within—the arena of popular culture. As such, the representative works are as follows: Works representing modernist horror cinema include: Nosferatu (1922), Dracula (1931), The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Frankenstein (1932), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Psycho (1960).


26 Works representing cross-ove r horror cinema include: RosemaryÂ’s Baby (1968), Night of the Living Dead (1968). Works representing postmodernist horror cinema include: The Exorcist (1973), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th series (1980-present), A Nightmare on Elm Street series (1984-2003), The Thing (1982), Saw (2003), Hostel (2005). Works representing postmodernist ho rror/documentary cinema include: Cannibal Holocaust (1980), Hungry Bitches/2 Girls 1 Cup (2006).


27 Chapter 6 Analysis Modern Horror Cinema Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror (1922), Dracula (1931) Though much is not examined in these two wo rks above their classification as a precise example of societal reproof concerning levels of pessimism, given their nature as seminal works of horror cinema, they are nonetheless mentioned. That said, both of these films portray the antagonists as successfully defeati ng the satanic evil of the vampire character (commonly known as “Dracula”). Though, as is the convention of most forms of horror cinema, from either the modern or postmodern era, some of the main characters do fall by the wayside. The Phantom of the Opera (1925) The lessons and morals of this work are part icularly literal, and as such, are rather tangible. To quickly recount the plot, the f ilm centers around a Parisian opera house that is presided over by a mysterious, yet domina nt, figure who dictates his wishes about the venue’s productions through intimidation and fo rce. It can be understood to a degree why the phantom character is rigid in his beli efs in the work when the severity of his


28 physical deformity is made plain to the viewer (albeit, in spectacular fashion). In keeping with this insight, the film indulges the phantom character to a degree, but ultimately he is not viewed favorably. In trut h, “The Phantom/Erik” is too in tense in his desires, and can be seen to have, for example, more in common with other self-destructive cinema characters that equally lack perspective, su ch as “The Wicked Witch of the West” from the film The Wizard of Oz than a character who is earnestly striving to persevere against legitimate foes. This shift in tone, from that of semi-sympa thetic character that is cloaked in mystery, possibly licit in his actions given his hidden past, literally comes crashing down when the physicality of the character is revealed with an emphasis on shock. Once the film moves past this point, The Phantom can be viewe d—more so as the character increases in severity—from the modernist perspectiv e as something of a lame dog requiring euthanizing. Once The Phantom is killed by an angry mob at the end of the film, order is therefore restored. In line with modern cinema’s moralization and somewhat explicit emphasis of ethical productiv ity, the object of The Phanto m’s desire in the work, “Christine Daae,” successfully resists th e trickery of The Phantom, and—although she may have psychological scars as a result of the trauma—she will li ve, as each audience member from the modernist era would of give n that they were in the same situation.


29 Frankenstein (1932) To a degree, there is in actuality an explicit wa rning in this work. As will be familiar to many, the plot concerns a doctor who imbues life via electricity into a grotesque stitchedtogether composite of various corpses. The dilemma comes in, though, in that the doctor,“Victor Frankenstein,” creates life, but fails to accept the awesome responsibility that comes along with power such as this. Therefore, Frankenstein is punished for not accepting that responsibility, in that, his br ide is killed. However, the creation (colloquially known as Frankenste in himself) is punished for killing as well. The work does levy some empathy at the monster characte r, the created, but mostly the character is viewed as an abomination in the film, a nd is therefore subjec t to destruction. Moralizing comes at the end of the work, when the doctor realizes the error of his ways. This realization, despite coming near the end, can be viewed as the warning. The message can be refined as such that if one tr ies to play God—or, attempts to technologize female reproduction, as is the case in the work—success will be denied, and as such, misery will follow. In addition, there is one mo re telling level of instruction that the film can be seen to offer as well. That the wo rk indicts the creator, Dr. Frankenstein, to a certain degree, is also prevalent in the dic hotomy of the monster character itself. Given the somewhat sympathetic light the monster is shown in at the end, it can be concluded that society should never again view the mons ter and the hero as fixed, for, one has the potential to become the other. Therefore, in summation, the one who aligns themselves most favorably with nature, is the one who receives the highest degree of favor.


30 Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) As is at this point commonly believed by f ilm scholars, the body snatchers in the work are symbolic of communists (Jancovich, 1996). The metaphor is that, as the body snatchers are trying to take over American s (as was conventionally perceived by some during the debut of this film), so goes th e assumption that communists are trying to poison, or, “snatch,” the minds of God-fearing Americans. Although some of the characters (and by proxy, members of society) fall by the wayside in the work, even this—in and of itself, beyond the defeat of th e antagonist in the film—can be seen as a type of moralization, for the implication is th at if these characters hadn’t been vulnerable to the evil in some way, or if they had only resisted more, they probably wouldn’t of been co-opted by the body snatchers in the first pl ace. Therefore, the over-arching lesson of the work, manifest by the protagonist’s defeat of the body snatchers, is, that if one is tenacious in his or her resist ance of communism (or any other foe that America, at that time, collectively perceived as having), perseverance is assured. That the other characters in the film succumbs to the body snat chers, only serves to illustrate that those characters had a propensity for this—what the film implies—destructive political/economic system in the first place. Psycho (1960) At first glance, this film appears to be a type of crossover film, whereas the work could be perceived to bridge the gap between mode rn and postmodern horror cinema. This is most likely not the case, though, as the morali zation of the film is explicit, despite the film’s dark, some would say, macabre tone. To quickly re-tell the work’s plot, the film


31 centers on a woman, “Marion Cr ane,” who seeks respite in an unpopulated motel after impulsively steeling a large amount of mone y, only to come into contact with the homicidal proprietor of the motel who is murdering women (ritualistically committing them cross-dressed in the persona of his dead mother) who excite his passions. In an ironic twist, though, Marion is punished in the work (when she’s murdered by the proprietor in the famous “shower scene”) vi rtually moments after she has decided to restitute her crime. And, in continuation with this theme, despite the trick ending of the work, where the proprietor’s mother persona is revealed in a gruesome fashion, order is restored when Marion’s murder is vindicated by virtue of the proprie tor’s arrest, literally at the hands of her sister and fianc. Cross-Over Horror Cinema Rosemary’s Baby (1968) If there ever was a film that represents a more postmodernist and pessimistic shift in horror cinema, being right on the cusp of a change in tone between the genres, this represented work may tend to be it. In su mmation, the plot of the film concerns a young couple that moves into an apartment building in New York City. The crux of the story, though, is about the title char acter’s (“Rosemary”) attempt to decipher whether her elderly neighbors and others who are close to he r are closet Satanists who secretly desire her unborn baby for the purposes of ritualisti c sacrifice, thereby causing her to launch herself into an amateur, yet paranoid investig ation, all-the-while as she slips further and further into a hysterical descent. The reve lation of actual occultism, and that Rosemary was in fact inseminated with Satan’s son, is reserved for the work’s bitter end.


32 That said, Rosemary resists in the film as long as possible, but it’s to no avail—she delivers Satan’s offspring. This would be fine, though, and in keeping with the moralization and affirmation of society’s abilities to overcome obstacles—which is trademark of modernist cinema—if Rosemary pe rsevered in her resistance until the end of the work. But, with a sardonic twist, th e film ends with Rosemary indicating possible reception towards the infant. If, for instance, Rosemary had tried to attack or harm the infant, regardless of success in that act, it w ould have indicated resist ance toward the foe. The work’s combination of showing a prot agonist who, not only does not successfully resist an adversary, but subsequently embraces it, can be viewed as a one-two effect on the audience; not only has the protagonist fail ed, but the enemy has acquired another ally. This depreciatory shift in tone and them e must of no doubt had a sobering effect on horror cinema audiences from the modern era who have been accustomed to more favorable endings in the past. Night of the Living Dead (1968) This work as well, like the former one, can be viewed as a film that bridges the gap between modern and postmodern horror cine ma, for, there are moments of human success in the film, but at ot her times, this success is overshadowed by the antagonist’s intermittent, yet supreme dominance. To summarize, this seminal work of horror is about the newly dead (otherwise known as zombies) who reanimate with an insatiable desire to consume human flesh. The work portrays th e protagonists as initially successful at opposing the zombies, but eventually they fail. This failure can be viewed as a statement


33 of inevitability and seen to symbolize a newfound tone of pessimism in society, for despite appropriate resistance, fa ilure is unavoidable. Given th is, though, ther e still is an implicit aspect of moralization in the work wh ich is somewhat in contrast to the more more pessimistic films of the postmodern era. Where, the postmodern film is typically trad emarked with a predica tion of doom from the workÂ’s commencement, Night of the Living Dead reads in a different way when viewed symbolically. Depending on how a viewer pe rceived the implicit me ssage of the work, determines how pessimistic the film actually is. To illustrate the point, the symbolic nature of the zombies themselves must be examined. Therefore, depending on oneÂ’s point of view the zombies in the work can represent those who were sending ripples of shock and disruption through 1960s society, most commonly through the mode of the civil rights movement. Those who viewed the film from this figurative perspective at the time of the workÂ’s debut most likely considered the film as pessimistic, for, the zombies (acting a surrogate for civil rights activists) appe ar to be winning at the filmÂ’s close. On the other hand, though, those (civil rights ac tivists themselves, perhaps) who viewed the work from the opposite perspective quite po ssibly had a different take on it. These viewers might have seen the zombieÂ’s attack on the living as merely representative of what the establishment had subjected them to for generations anyway. As can be seen, then, the duplicitous nature of the wor k, depending on what segment of culture was viewing it, designates it as a work that bridges the divide between modern and postmodern horror cinema.


34 Postmodern Horror Cinema The Exorcist (1973) The only horror film to receive a nomination for the prestigious “Best Picture” Academy Award, is testament to, if nothing else, how e nduring this work was (and most likely still is). That the film does not contain positive results given the character’s efforts, is evidence of a shifting tone in ho rror cinema and culture alike. To begin, this film can be viewed as a work that contains a thoroughl y apocalyptic tone, for there really is no character in the film that is not destroyed, or, at the very l east, adversely affected by its main antagonist. To summarize the plot, the work concerns a1970s-era exorcism of a 12year-old girl. However, despit e the fact that the girl, “Reg an,” appears to be purged of whatever malevolence possessed her at the end of the work, the victory is bittersweet. Both of the priests who conducted the exorcism die, some secondary character’s die, the girl’s mother has no more faith at the end of the film than at the beginning, and the girl herself has repressed the memories of the tr auma (which potentially is even worse than active retention, given the psychological pred ilection that repressed events that are negative contribute to pathology). As such, th ere is little for the vi ewer to learn, morallyspeaking, from the film. In contract, embodying th is new shift in tone representative of postmodern horror cinema, the work’s mora lization is implicit in the beginning, as opposed to the end, thereby denying the audience moralizing conclusions based on character’s abilities or accomplishments.


35 The message of the film can be viewed as so mething like this: as previously suggested in the literature review, if society values the body so much, the body will be assaulted (and in this film, not only through th e actual possession itself, but by the extensive display of intense medical examinations and procedures as we ll). This itself can be read as a type of moralization about society’s misplaced values, for, if society didn’t value the material over the spiritual, the film wouldn’t be as e ffective. However, on the other hand, it’s possible that there is no moralization in the work at all. It’s possible that the work is simply mean to disturb by attacking society’ s values, with no goal above and beyond this jolting aim. With this in mind, examples of the film’s pessimistic tone emerge more clearly. The work suggests that the girl becomes po ssessed after playing with an Ouija board. Therefore, it could be moralized that the gi rl invited the evil in by purposely interacting with this metaphysical tool, the Ouija board. However, the film shrewdly undercuts its own potential moralization by, one, circumvent ing any explanation for the possession, and, two, in a more preponderant fashion, never even confirming if the girl was in fact even possessed at all. That said, there is another level of the film that is privy to examination within the postmodern constr uct—a level that, if true, conveys great pessimism. To understand this dimension, the Christian bibl e must be referenced. There is a belief within Christianity that the battle between Satan and God has already been won by Jesus. Given this, it can be suggested that those who are affected by the devil, ones who dance


36 to the tune of his misery, are impressionable because they are not “one with Christ” to begin with. Therefore, if the girl is in fact possessed by Satan, the intent of the possession is not to harm the girl herself (as some film scholars have suggested), but to create chaos and cause those around her to loose faith in what th ey believe in. If this is true, this would probably not of been a comforting thought for 1970s film audiences given the demise of, among the work’s ot her characters, two Catholic priests. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) This work, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (which is something of an inversion fairy tale, complete with its fable-like introduction at the beginning), is a nother example of a postmodern work that contains high levels of pessimism, in additi on to an over-sweeping apocalyptic tone as well. Like the former work, The Exorcist this film shows characters that are generally unsuccessful at opposing ma levolent forces. Every protagonist in the work dies with the exception of th e lead protagonist. Lest it be viewed that this character, “Marilyn,” fares well because her life is intact at the work’s end, for, any satisfaction the audience may have attained due to her escape is mitigated by, one, the fact that her break from confinement is more due to sheer folly than any kind of ingenui ty on her part, and, two, that the audience is left with the impr ession that the character has probably been driven half insane from the trauma inf licted on her (as indicated at the end by her hysterical laugher as she’s driven away to safety) by the work’s antagonists, thereby extenuating her quality of life in the future to begin with.


37 The work also conveys other levels of pe ssimism beyond what was just described. The filmÂ’s antagonists, an entire recluse family of homicidal cannibals who behave in an antisocial and erratic manner, portray a new ki nd of enemy. Gone now are foes that can potentially be rationalized with. This workÂ’s enemies cannot be dismissed as alien (as in Invasion of the Body Snatchers ) or as a product of mysterious forces (as Night of the Living Dead ). These antagonists are merely member s from postmodern society who have chosen to cannibalize, both literally and fi guratively, members of their own race. And societyÂ’s assumed marginalization of the family (which will be discussed momentarily) is not reason enough. If moralization if s ough, though, it can most likely be found, albeit implicitly, in some of the workÂ’s opening montages. The moralizing essence of the film (if in f act there is one) can likely be caught in the cattle imagery from the beginning of the wor k. The images of cattle in the work are probably not collectively just a thing to be commented on by the filmÂ’s protagonists or for audiences to gawk at. More likely, the cattle can be viewed as a figurative comparison to the family, who as such, are presented as criminally insane. Like the cattle, the family has been delegated by most of postmodern society as either, one, an expendable nuisance (no doubt as a result of widespread deinstitutionalization that occurred in the 1950s and 1960s), or, two, a potential commodity. The work further suggests that the filmÂ’s antagonists desce nded into homicidal madness after the local slaughterhouse that they were working at was closed down.


38 Therefore, the cattle’s analogous comparison to the family can be viewed as an indictment of society’s lack of compassion—or, at the very le ast—interest in others who are from the lower echelon. Moralizations or not, though, there will be no happy ending for the film’s protagonists. In line with the tone set by postmodern horror cinema, the message levied at the audience is one that implicitly cries for change, as opposed to an indication of what society is capable of overcoming. That the work makes its point posthumously (or, maybe in prologue), after ne arly every character has been annihilated, is where the increase in pessimism comes i n, thereby operating as a prime showcase of the difference in levels of pessi mism between the two genres. Halloween (1978) At first glance, this film (which is about a homicidal man who escapes institution only to return to his hometown for a motiveless ki lling spree) appears to be a puritanical representation of a mode rnist horror film, for, the work shows its protagonists as mostly either living or dying in rela tion to how much attention they pay to their surroundings. That fact that the majority of the protagonist s that are killed in th e work are distracted with prurient interests, is where potential for moralization is introduced, for, the work’s main protagonist, “Laurie Strode,” is chaste throughout. However, it is the end of the film that probably reveals the true nation of the work, and of which, is more in line with postmodernist sensibilities than modernist ones. This idea can be seen in two platforms. First, the supernatural revela tion of what the protagonists had to oppose is only revealed in the last moments. At the end of the wor k, the antagonist, “Michael Myers,” is shot six


39 times and falls from a second story balcony before disappearing, thereby shifting the characterization of him from a human foe to one that is more than likely supernatural in some capacity. The twist, in that the prota gonists were facing a virtually impenetrable force beyond their initial knowle dge, is something of a connot ative affirmation of their grand misjudgment. Second, this err of judgm ent is stressed by the works final scenes, presented in static display, where the locals of violence are shown in conjunction with a voice-over of Myers’ trademarked heavy breath ing, indicative that th e warrior’s work is still not done. The fact that this theme is in troduced at the work’s end, and not at a point where knowledge of it could benefit the prota gonists, is a postmodern ist statement in and of itself, affirming that society itself is now faced with seemingly impervious enemies. Friday the 13th Series (1980-Present), A Nightmare on Elm Street S eries (19842003). Both of these long-running film series are superfluous in their feature debuts concerning the postmodernist sensibilities of their main antagonists, given the contributions these villains have made to the genre. That said, Friday the 13th has “Jason Voorhees,” and A Nightmare on Elm Street has “Freddy Krueger.” As was mentioned in the literature review about th e Jason character, and can be said about Freddy Krueger, both are unstoppable foes that st rike all, yet, their own idio syncratic traits emerge when viewed from the postm odernist perspective. In the Friday the 13th series, Jason (with the exception of the first film in which his mother is doing the killing) succeeds, via the work’s form ula, in executing everyone in


40 each installment with the exception of the fina l protagonist. The fact that the final protagonists live in the films is in reality a ma nufactured conceit that is used to stage epic battles of good and evil. Therefore, this conc eit should be viewed solely as a narrative tool, and should not be perc eived as an indication of capabilities that the final protagonists possess. What can be appraise d from the films (if anything moralizing can be), though, is that destruction is unpred ictable, yet imminent for most. Conversely, the A Nightmare on Elm Street series (which feature a malevolent postmodern sandman who sprinkles dust in th e eyes of children who won’t sleep before delivering them their nightmares) subjects its protagonists to even harsher treatment than the Friday the 13th series does. Not only does Freddy at tack the living, but he manages to do so on two fronts: in both the waking and drea m states. And, which is traditionally the case with the series (as can be seen with the series debut), each installment usually ends with a final infringement of the protagonist’s dreams, not onl y indicating that the battle has not been won, but also suggesting that th e final protagonist will likewise loose the struggle. With this is mind—given that the Freddy character can be viewed symbolically as a 1980s-era AIDS patient, with his gr otesque appearance and back-story of ostracization, fueled by the countries fear of the disease—it furthe r compounds the aura of dread to see, in installation after in stallation, Freddy successfully killing people. The Thing (1982) It is not that this film is a seminal example of postmodernist horror cinema (although, despite it’s initial lackluster reception, the work is highly regarded by some) but, more so,


41 it is in contrast to the original film version of the story that so successfully illustrates the genres differences (as well as demonstra ting the similarities in subtext regarding moralization) when filtered thr ough the perspective of levels of pessimism. It must be said, though, that The Thing is not necessarily a re -make of the 1951 film, The Thing From Another World but is in essence more true to the literary source material, and therefore, qualifies as a va riation. Given this, the work also warrants examination because itÂ’s illustrative of one of a handful of films that is based on the same source material despite being from different eras. Therefore, as menti oned in the literature review, the characters in The Thing make informed, practical deci sions, yet they all die or are left for dead. Therefore, can the wo rk be viewed as a supreme example of postmodernist pessimism? Once again, the work shares similarities with the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street series in that the only moralization, if it can even be viewed as such, is that hope, and therefore resistance against the foe, is in vain. The difference between this work, and, for instance, the Friday the 13th series, is in tone and theme. Whereas some may view the violence in the Friday the 13th series as hyper-realistic, almost to the extreme of being tongue-in-cheek, and may thereby fixate on the series final confrontations and the protagonistÂ’s ensuing victories, or conversely, FreddyÂ’s use of humor from A Nightmare on Elm Street might distract as well, this cl aim is not as easily made about The Thing for, the outlook at the end of the work is bleakly stated. Therefore, the work can be viewed as the very embodiment of a dystopi an view of society. A tradem ark which is characteristic of postmodernism, and as such, clearly indicat ive of the differences between the two eras.


42 Saw Series (2003-Present), Hostel (2005-2007) Both of these series are more or less the most current continuati on of postmodern horror cinema sensibilities within th e confines of works that are purely fiction. Despite the hoopla and commercial success of both series (in particular, though, the Saw series, which is currently in production on the sixth installation) their main contribution to the genre is, one, that they are commercial products that have been seen by many (which is in contrast to some of the more controversial entries in this study that have had lower viewership albeit more influence over the ge nre), and, two, that as commercial products, the work’s protagonists (both minor and majo r ones) are subjected to unyielding brutality and torture at levels which probably have not been seen within the spectrum of a commercial cinema until the debut of these works. Postmodernist Horror/Documentary Cinema It is with this style of cinema, the horror/ documentary postmodernist film, that, as the genre evolves, new patterns emerge. One, it ap pears as if this styl e of horror cinema, the horror/documentary style, is on the rise. And two, these works appear to display a conspicuous lack of moralization. Or, it might be better said that moralization through tone and theme is secondary in this hybrid ization of genres—secondary to unmitigated exposition. For, it is the exposition, in and of itself, that is of paramount concern with these entries, with their complex blend of r eality, fiction and simulacra. Whether this style of filmmaking—with its, at times, controversial blend of trifectic stimulus—will continue to proliferate in the future, remains to be seen.


43 Cannibal Holocaust (1982) This work, although not widely seen in a commer cial sense, is notori ous, nonetheless. In summation of the plot, this quasi-documentary work, with its appropriation of the mondo style, centers on a group of young documentary filmmakers who go to any lengths necessary to secure tantalizi ng footage of indigenous peoples interacting with them to such a degree that the infringed upon tribe who’s being documented subsequently attach and cannibalize the filmmakers as a hysteri cal reaction to their own society’s moral collapse. That the work can be viewed as an indictment of we stern exploitation and excess (as portrayed by the filmmakers treatment of tribes) is duplic itous given that the pursuit of this judgment is tempered by, one, ex ecution of live animal s in substitution of special effects, two, is less than favorable (s ome would say hyperbolic) in its portrayal of indigenous peoples, and three, uses shocking an d gratuitous imagery to covey this very aim—images that some would argue are equa lly, if not more heinous, than the western behavior that the work app ears to be condemning. As can be seen, the film defies simplificati on, for it is neither wholly a work of fiction nor one of reality, but lies uncomfortably a nd indefinably somewhere in the middle. Regardless, the work’s level of pessimism and apocalyptic tone (all of the main protagonists are killed by the end of the film) once again defy clarity, for the work is not easily deciphered on this level, either. Base d on the annihilatory e nding of the film, the work could be read as a condemnation to so me degree (such as, the western world needs to change its ethnocentric values, or something to that effect), yet, despite this seemly


44 implicit moralization, the work denies the audience this fictitious boon by essentially undermining its own premise. The work’s narrative shows recuperation of the protagonist’s documentary footage— including their subsequent mu rder at the hands of the indigenous peoples—along with initial discussion of the footage’ s relevance, before the footage is ordere d to be destroyed. Therefore, the final taste-in-the-mouth that th e work leaves smacks of pessimism with its marginalization of material (the documentary footage). Material that was literally acquired with blood and tears, bu t is dismissed in vain and thereby denied its chance of exhibition and therefore of any subsequent va lue that could have b een acquired from it. Hungry Bitches/2 Girls 1 Cup (2006) To preface, it is not the feature length work itself, titled Hungry Bitches that has received such notoriety, but more so, a derivative aspect of it. The film’s trailer, an approximately one-minute condensation of the wo rk which is colloquially called 2 Girls 1 Cup has seen mass distribution on the internet as a viral video. That mo st viewers are watching the derivate material, 2 Girls 1 Cup filtered through the perspectiv e of horror cinema and not as fetishized pornography, can be corroborated to a degree given the public’s reaction to the work. As described on Wikipedia (academ ic sources about the work could not be located), the trailer features “two women defecating into a cup, taking turns consuming the excrement, and vomiting into each other’s mouths [as] "Lovers Theme", from Herv Roy's Romantic Themes plays throughout” (Wikipedia, 2009). That said, the work’s


45 producer does admit that some of the situations in his film s are recreated, thereby further diluting the boundary between reality and fiction. However, the work is included in this study because—as outlined in the literature review, where different levels of fear are descri bed—many viewers are watching the work, not for prurient interests, but to shock themselves with content that they collectively perceive as offensive. As proof of this, one need only to consult any of the numerous videos available on the video sharing website, YouTube, of viewers wa tching the trailer with the specific intent of shock and disgust, some to the point of vomiting while they observe it. More in line with this study’s premise, though, is an examination of the work’s levels of pessimism. As such, pessimism is explicit within the film ’s content itself. To illustrate this point directly from the work, consuming excrement (which is usually toxic for humans to do) and eroticizing defecation woul d most likely be considered paraphilic to the majority. That said, it is not so much the graphic cont ent of the work itself that shocks (for, coprophilia is not unheard of within th e realm pornography), but—considering its forbidden and masochistic themes—the level of notoriety it has received in postmodern society. This notoriety, solely itself, is more telling than the work’s content could ever be, for its fame can be seen to solidify that, one, society has redefined what it perceives as taboo, and, two, that society is in the mids t of transcending, literally redefining, the boundaries of narrative and documentary, for, the very proliferation that the work has


46 enabled via the mode of video sharing website s of viewers-watching -viewers viewing the work is a meta-narrative all to itself.


47 Chapter 7 Conclusion This qualitative thesis has examined levels of pessimism as it relates to modern and postmodern horror cinema. Beyond assumed diff erences in levels of pessimism between the two genres, the study has examined bot h the implicit and explicit moralization of these categories as well. Throughout this guided and informed exploration, it has been speculated that cinematic moralizations might be made irrespective of perceived levels of pessimism. That said, the study examined the conventions of each genre singularly (with examples of modern works such as Frankenstein and Invasion of the Body Snatcher and postmodern examples such as The Exorcist and Halloween ) as it relates to levels of pessimism, as well as discussing works that coul d be seen to bridge the two genres (with representative works such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers and RosemaryÂ’s Baby ). Does the study answer its research questi ons? Regarding if postmodern horror cinema displays a greater level of pessimism than works for the modern era, this question was answered because pessimism tends to be at a higher level in postmodern works than ones from the modern era. It appears, with examples such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre RosemaryÂ’s Baby or The Thing that postmodern works such as these and others support


48 the idea that pessimism is a recurrent them e in postmodern works. These films, in contrast to works from the modern era, s how characters that blur the lines between antagonist and protagonist. The works also follow their own mini narrative, as opposed to following a grand narrative. Furthermor e, most of the represented postmodern works tend to portray pessimism because they are ap ocalyptic in tone and they rarely display protagonists as successfully opposing the fo e, if a clear foe is even presented. Likewise, given that pessimism is a domina nt construct within postmodern works, does that mean that horror cinema from this era does not—within the c onfinement of their own mini narratives—have an ability to moraliz e? The study uses postmodern horror cinema examples such as The Exorcist or Night of the Living Dead to illustrate that postmodern works do have an ability to moralize despite exposing audiences to confrontations that are usually undefeatable. Mo reover, the represented postmode rn works show that irony and parody are recurrent themes within the era. Whatever society values, postmodern horror cinema attacks it. This attack, though, is not merely an assault without purpose but is a reflection of the postmodern idea that all platitudes are inhere ntly unstable. So, when Night of the Living Dead for example, assaults the viewer with its apocalyptic tone, the film is using this theme as a tool to show how belief in a meta-narrative is false—for the work’s apocalyptic tone is re lative to who’s viewing the work and from what perspective—as well as disputing myth s that the modern era has mythologized. The study’s last research questions asks if there is a pr oliferation of the horror/documentary (with its reliance on a combination of both narrative and


49 documentary techniques) with in postmodern society, and, mo re specifically—given that pessimism tends to be a dominant cons truct within postmodern horror cinema—if representative works of postmodern horror/doc umentary cinema tends to contain even higher levels of pessimism than postmodern hor ror cinema that is purely fiction. With examples such as Cannibal Holocaust and Hungry Bitches/2 Girls 1 Cup as well as referencing terrorist beheading videos, it seems as if works of this nature are increasing in number. More importantly, though, these wo rks tend to show a conspicuous lack of purpose beyond their own mini na rrative of shock and awe. Whereas the use of irony in postmodern horror cinema that is purely fiction may be used to refute myths and illustrate that society’s tenants are capricious, horror/doc umentary cinema tends to substitute those aims in favor of exposing the viewer to a total bombardm ent of spectacle.


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