Archive for October, 2012

Horror reflecting cultural fears?- The evolution of horror monsters

Posted in Uncategorized on October 29, 2012 by elizaob

Some things have been taken from Steph Hendry’s February 2011 Media Magazine article ‘Horror Monsters’.

Pre-World War 2:

Nosferatu (Murnau, 1922) has influenced the representation of vampires since the film was released shortly after WW1 in Germany. According to Hendry the vampire is an ‘invader’ because he “comes from ‘elsewhere’ and brings pestilence to the local community”. “His method of attack involves penetration and the exchange of bodily fluids”. To some this is seen as a sexual metaphor however, the consequence of the attack is either death or infection. This resembles German society at the time because after WW1 the economically and socially devastated nation was hit with the flu pandemic in 1918 which resulted in thousands of deaths. This resulted in the audiences in Germany responding to Count Orlok.

Germany during WW1

“Many horror texts between the wars reflected the social changes in terms of power,  authority and class that followed the political upheaval of WW1”. According to Hardy both Nosferatu and Dracula (Browning, 1931) featured a “corrupt and abusive aristocratic class who are sources of horror”. In Frankenstein (Whale, 1931) the artistocratic class is criticised. To Hardy Dr. Frankenstein takes on a “God-like role in the act of creation, but he oversteps his social position.” The film shows that in order for him to protect the village he needs to return to his “predetermined aristocratic role”. Frankenstein can also be read as a film about racial tensions in America at the time because of the sympathetic representation of the monster. The monster’s death is shown as a mob lynching of an individual who cannot integrate into dominant culture.

Dracula 1931

Post WW2 films carried on the theme of monsters that invaded or infected, and the ‘Science gone wrong’ motif crossed over to science fiction. Advanced military capabilities culminated in the nuclear attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945 and the human cruelty seen in the holocaust showed society that “mankind had shown itself to have the potential to be monstrous”. This started to be reflected in horror movies.



The changes in society in the 1960’s were mirrored in horror movies through the monsters. Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960) reflected the impact of Freudian theories on the culture’s understanding of “the human psyche”. Hardy says that: “The monster here is a man whose family dynamics  created an ‘abnormal psychology'”. The mundane settings paired with monsters that looked like ‘us’ made horror movies more real. America was at war with Vietnam in the late 60’s so audiences were getting used to seeing horrific real-life violence. This made horror directors even more determined to scare audiences with extreme violence since they had to compete with the images being shown on the evening news.

Norman Bates, killer in Psycho


Vietnam war


The human monster became more sadistic. ‘The Last House on the Left’ (Craven, 1972) and ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (Hooper, 1974) became known for their graphic violence. These films located their horror in “a mundane present” and according to Hendry “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre showed the effect of social and economic  isolation and on a rural family” . Whereas, ‘The Last House on the Left’ brought “the horror into small-town America”. Both films showed that American society “had a brutal underbelly”.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre poster

‘The Exorcist’ (Friedkin 1972) illustrated the “secularism of society” that had happened since WWII and “dealt with unease and uncertainty this was causing by using devils, demons and pagans as monsters.”. The Exorcist showed the changes in the family after the war. The possessed child was from a single-parent family headed by a working mother. At first the mother looks science for help but then goes back to religion. One could say that the film is trying to say that the modern world, with fatherless families, and their reliance on science rather than religion, allowed the demon in. Halloween (Carpenter, 1978) is a film that focuses on a boy  who is traumatised by the rising sexual liberation of teenagers, his violent attacks  are punishments for their ‘immoral’ behaviour.


Halloween film poster

80’s + 90’s:

During the 80’s many slasher movies were created since it became a “staple of the home video market”. People started to get used to the genre’s violence so directors were making films more extreme in order to maintain interest. Film franchises began to recycle ideas making them cliched and not very appealing to audiences which led horror movies to become “less economically viable”.

In the mid 90’s horror films started to saterise the cliches of the genre revitalising and reinventing it. Scream (Craven 1996) “uses an ironic approach to the genre that is self aware and self-referential.”. The film uses the “codes and conventions of the genre as a plot device,”.

Scream movie poster


Apart from remakes, ‘Splatter films’ have become very popular within the genre. It focuses on “extreme visceral violence, nudity and sadistic torture”. Saw (Wan, 2004) is a long running film franchise which uses CGI to maximise the violence in the film. Some people believe that audience “desensitisation” is the reason for the new sub-genre’s success. Television shows such as CSI uses “graphic imagery”; computer games have “long used ‘splatter’ exposing players to more and more extreme violence.”. Additionally, contemporary concerns over “the post-9/11 treatment of terror suspects and prisoners of war” could be the reason for the popularity of the sub-genre. However, the franchise has a deeper moral meaning. The monster offers second chances or punishments to people he sees as having transgressed thus, acting as a judge.

Recently, the monsters in films such as Hostel (Roth, 2005) have become more sadistic and emotionally detached. The monsters in Hostel are “wealthy clients who pay for the ultimate consumer thrill in a manner that echoes recent concerns about human trafficking”.  Some believe that peoples reliance on technology could lead to extreme desensitisation, which is seen in recent horror monsters. Eden Lake (Watkins, 2008), Funny Games (Haneke, 2008) and The Strangers (Bertino, 2008) are all examples of “dehumanised feral youth” who are “disconcertingly emotionally removed”. “These monsters appear to be the culmination of a desensitised culture which has chosen to seek entertainment through the terrorisation of others”. The Saw franchise illustrates how victims can become a monsters themselves and  could easily be selected by Jigsaw for punishment “…these monsters are not invaders or creations of science or poor parenting;they are selfish,nihilistic creations of the culture itself”.


Alien article

Posted in Uncategorized on October 22, 2012 by elizaob

Here is an article I found on The Telegraph website about why the censors rated Alien an 18.

Hitchcock the movie

Posted in Uncategorized on October 22, 2012 by elizaob

Here is a trailer I found for the new movie ‘Hitchcock’ , it  is going to be released 8th February 2013 in the UK. The film is about Alfred Hitchcock (played by Anthony Hopkins) during the time he was filming Psycho.

Case study five- Psycho

Posted in Uncategorized on October 22, 2012 by elizaob

Psycho (1960) is a suspense/horror film which was directed by Alfred Hitchcock. At the time of its release Psycho shocked and scared its audience like never before, it has gone on to be considered one of the best movies of all time and has influenced the horror genre especially the sub genre slasher.

As soon as the movie starts the haunting music sets the mood and keeps you on edge. Hitchcock’s use of strings throughout the movie builds up tension and creates an unsettling mood. The credits at the beginning of the movie creates the feeling of disorientation which is carried on throughout the movie.

Throughout the movie it is evident that Hitchcock’s intention was to shock. At the start of the movie Marion is in her underwear in a hotel room with Sam, this suggests that they’ve just had sex and also it establishes Marion as the sex symbol in the movie. Additionally, the darkness of the hotel room and visual motif of blinds creates a film noir atmosphere. During the scene in the hotel room we learn that Marion wants to get married to Sam but he is trapped by money  problems, which makes them both unhappy but also leads Marion to become desperate. Marion’s desperation adds further significance to the line said by her bosses client, “You can pay off unhappiness” this phrase also foreshadows Marion running away with the money to help Sam with his money problems. However, one could say that Marion’s murder was a way of karma catching up with her since she stole the money.  Also, it is ironic that the scene after Marion’s body is sunk into the lake Sam is writing her a letter which is asking her if they can try and work things out, this could also show that there is no happy ending for someone who does something immoral even if it is out of desperation. Moreover, the killing of Marion sticks to the unwritten horror movie rule that a female who isn’t a virgin gets killed.

For the duration of the movie there are countless close ups of Marion’s face which further establishes her sex symbol status but also makes the audience feel uncomfortable since they may feel as if they are continuously staring at her. Furthermore, the males in the movie are always staring at her. The scene at the petrol station is a good example of this since there is a low angle shot of the police officer and the two workers at the car shop are staring at her.

Hitchcock foreshadows Norman Bates’ behaviour through his speech and the Birds of Prey motif. When we are first introduced to Norman he seems goofy, polite and insecure. Suspicions about his character start to arise when he gives Marion the key to cabin 1 so that she can be “close”. While Marion is having her dinner Norman opens up to her, when he does this he says various suspicious things which foreshadows his disturbing behaviour with his mothers corpse. Norman says phrases such as: “well, a boys best friend is his mother” “We’re all in our private traps”, “I hate what she’s [his mother] bec0me” and “we all go a little mad sometimes”. All of these phrases allude to Norman’s strange behaviour which is later revealed.

In the room where they are there are several stuffed birds of prey placed around the room. The low angle of Norman against the birds of prey during this scene makes Norman appear to resemble the birds, also throughout the scene Norman looks at Marion as if she is his prey, this idea is further emphasised when he is rocking in his chair. After Marion leaves Norman removes a painting which covers a hole that goes through to Cabin 1, Marions room. There is a close up of Norman’s eye looking through the hole and then it cuts to a shot which takes the audience through the hole, this shot makes the audience become voyeurs like Norman and they are positioned as spectators.

Marion’s murder scene has become one of the most iconic moments in film history. The scene would’ve been seen as shocking because it is very brutal even though the audience never see the knife go into Marion’s body however, the sound effects creates the allusion that we are seeing the knife go into the body. This scene allows the audience to empathise with Marion since she is killed in a shower, which is a place where we feel safe even though we are very vulnerable. This scene would’ve been controversial when it was first released especially because of the censorship rules in movies at the time, even though it appears that we see a lot of Marion’s naked body we don’t actually see it because of the obscure angles that Hitchcock used to film it. After Marion is killed there is a match cut from a close up on the drain to a close up on Marion’s eye, this haunting close up could be seen as a way of Marion asking the audience why they didn’t help her because her lifeless gaze is directed at the audience.

Psycho could be read from a Freudian point of view especially if we analyse the character of Norman Bates. At the end of the movie we find out that Norman killed his mother and her lover because of his sexual jealous. Freud came up with a theory called the Oedipus complex, this is the idea that boys go through a stage around the age of 5 when they want to kill their father in order to have sex with their mother. From what we see in the film it is clear that Norman hasn’t passed through this stage and may still have the mind of a 5 year old, this is especially seen when Norman can’t say the word “bathroom”. Also, when Lila goes into  Norman’s room we see that he has a stuffed teddy bear on his bed, which further illustrates the fact that he still might have the mind of a 5 year old.

Overall, Psycho is one of the most influential horror movies of the 20th century due to its gripping storyline and iconic shower scene.

Case study four- Freudian reading of Alien (1979)

Posted in Uncategorized on October 21, 2012 by elizaob

Alien (1979) is a science fiction horror film directed by Ridley Scott. The screenwriter Dan O’Bannon said that “One thing that people are all disturbed about is sex… I said ‘That’s how I’m going to attack the audience; I’m going to attack them sexually. And I’m not going to go after the women in the audience, I’m going to attack the men. I am going to put in every image I can think of to make the men in the audience cross their legs. Homosexual oral rape, birth. The thing lays its eggs down your throat, the whole number.'”, this was successful since the film is filled with many phallic symbols and plays on the fear of vagina dentata through the alien.

As soon as the movie starts there are many examples of sexual imagery. The roving camera in the first scene goes into a tunnel which leads to a larger opening then into a room which resembles a womb. In this room all the crew are asleep in something which resembles an egg, this could mean that the Nostromo crew are the ship’s children since the computer which controls the ship is called mother. However, in horror movies figures of authority either let the characters down or turn out to be monstrous, the former is correct in this case because Ripley discovers later on in the movie that Ash has been ordered, by mother, to return the Alien to the Nostromo’s employers even if the crew lose their lives.

The alien spaceship resembles female genitalia. The entrance of the ship looks like open legs, as the roving camera goes further into the ship we are led into a bigger opening which looks like a womb.One could say that the inside of the spaceship resembles the inside of a vagina since it is warm like a womb which is “full of leathery objects like eggs.”

O’Bannon’s intention to “ attack the men” in the audience is very successful since the Aliens appearance and movements are quite predatory and sexual. Elaine Scarrat says that the “life cycle designs are highly sexualised and externalise what humans see as ‘private’ reproductive organs…the penis-shaped head has a powerful visual force and challenges notions of decency”. The Alien’s design adds to the fear of rape that is created throughout the movie . Scaratt also says that, “The most frightening aspect of Alien is invasion of the human body as a host for its offspring. Rape is an elemental fear and the film exploits this unfinchingly with what some would argue is even more disturbing than female rape as it is less acknowledged-male rape- when Kane is penetrated by the face hugger.” Kane giving birth to the Alien taps into a males supposed fear of giving birth which enables O’Bannon to achieve his goal in making his male audience feel highly uncomfortable. However, males aren’t the only people targeted by O’Bannon females are too. During the scene when the Alien kills Lambert it is identical to what would happen during a rape. The Alien slowly approaches her, brushes aside Parker and then turns back to Lambert, the Alien then puts its tail (phallic symbol) between her legs and kills her.

According to some Ripley is one of the best female protagonists of all time, this could be because Ripley is considered to be a ‘Final Girl‘. Mark Janovich describes a ‘Final Girl’ as “intelligent, watchful, level-headed” and “the first character sense something is amiss”. Ripley has all these characteristics, a good example of this is at the beginning of the film when she is the only person who decides not to allow Kane into the ship after he is penetrated by the Alien. Janovich then goes on to say that “By the end of the movie the point of view of the film is hers” this is also true since after everyone is killed she is the last one left to kill the Alien so we see things from her point of view. Elaine Scarrat explains that ” Sigourney Weaver is an androgynous figure whose hinted at masculine qualities make Ellen Ripley a intelligent action hero”, this further emphasises Janovich’s argument that “the gender of the Final Girl is compromised from the outset by her masculine interests…apartness from other girls”  Ripley’s “apartness from other girls” is shown throughout the film because she is constantly arguing with Lambert and even has a physical fight with her. Janovich ends his argument by stating that the Final Girl “looks for the killer” which in Ripley’s case is the Alien, Ripley does look for the Alien before getting onto the shuttle but fails to find it until she is already aboard the shuttle. However, once she discovers that the Alien is with her she has a final showdown with it and blasts it into space.