This article explores the relationship between existentialism and the horror genre. Noël Carroll and others have proposed that horror monsters defy established categories. Carroll also argues that the emotion they provoke - 'art-horror' - is a 'composite' of fear and disgust. I argue that the sometimes horrifying images and metaphors of Sartre's early philosophy, which correlate with nausea and anxiety, have a non-coincidental commonality with art-horror explained by existentialism's preoccupation with the interstitial nature of the self. Further, it is argued that, as with some of the more sophisticated examples of the horror genre, the way for existential protagonists like Roquentin and Gregor Samsa to meet the challenge of the horrifying involves an accommodation of these features of the existential condition within their developing identity, which results in them appearing monstrous to others. Lastly, it is claimed that the association between existentialism and art-horror can explain the (paradoxical) appeal of horror.
The Fleshy Horror of the Unknowable Other in Spring and Honeymoon
Leigh Janiak’s Honeymoon (2014) and Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead’s Spring (2015) initially seem like two horror films birthed in the spirit of classical psychoanalytic film criticism. They deal with a monstrous female, a fearful, castrated male, and the “otherness” of sexual relationships. Through a close analysis of each film, however, I suggest in the following that both films “think” through problems of the gendered other, sexual politics, and cinematic affect outside the bounds of contemporary psychoanalytic or affect theory. By suggesting and analyzing two neologisms that blend the insights of psychoanalytic and affective film theory—objet a(ffect) and che(www) vuoi—I argue that both films not only complicate typical readings of horror films “about” gender and sex, but that each film performs its own type of philosophical thought about gender and “otherness” through its very form and content.
Girlhood Identity in The Craft
The teen horror film The Craft (1996) has remained a cult classic with girl audiences for two decades. Scholarship about the film has focused on its negative representation of girls’ friendships, sexuality, and desire for power. In this article, I honor the significance of girl culture by accounting for The Craft’s appeal to girl audiences. I argue that The Craft’s relevance to girls arises from its subversion of teen film tropes. The Craft explores adolescent girls’ fear of isolation by depicting a mentally ill teenager who draws strength and happiness from the company of her friends, and becomes depressed when they oust her. By flouting the imperative for adolescent girl protagonists to be white, middle-class, mentally healthy, and normatively bodied, The Craft portrays girls’ desire for understanding over the pursuit of so-called popularity, girls’ anger arising from marginalization, and girls’ exploiting of friendship as a weapon.
Looking at television series True Blood (2008-), The Vampire Diaries (2009-), and The Walking Dead (2010-), this article analyzes positive emotions in horror: the sexual emotions, trust, and hope. The article starts by substituting the positive-negative dichotomy of emotions with seeing emotions as coming in a “package“ (Solomon) and having a “story“ (Frijda), thus working together and not in opposition. It goes on to discuss the interaction of predation and sex in True Blood, torture and trust in The Vampire Diaries, and disgust, despair, and hope in The Walking Dead. The article then considers horror emotions, positive and negative, from a functional and evolutionary perspective. Comparing horror to play fighting and fiction to the pretend of play, the article suggests four reasons why horror is attractive: we learn to feel emotions (sensation), to react to emotions (evaluation), control our emotions (action tendency in the here-and-now), and to experiment (action tendency and planning for what comes next).
A Neurofilmological Approach
The acoustic blast is one of the most recurrent sound devices in horror cinema. It is designed to elicit the startle response from the audience, and thus gives them a “jump scare.” It can occur both in the form of a diegetic bang and in the form of a nondiegetic stinger (i.e., a musical blare provided by the score). In this article, I will advance the hypothesis that silence plays a crucial role in contemporary horror films, both perceptually, since it leaves the sound field free for the acoustic blast, and cognitively, since it posits the audience in an aversive anticipatory state that makes the startle more intense. I will analyze the acoustic startle using a neurofilmological approach, which takes into account findings from experimental sciences in order to better understand the relationship between physiological and psychological factors that make such an effect possible during the filmic experience.
Both the slasher movie and its more recent counterpart the “torture porn“ film centralize graphic depictions of violence. This article inspects the nature of these portrayals by examining a motif commonly found in the cinema of homicide, dubbed here the “pure moment of murder“: that is, the moment in which two characters' bodies adjoin onscreen in an instance of graphic violence. By exploring a number of these incidents (and their various modes of representation) in American horror films ranging from Psycho (1960) to Saw VI (2009), the article aims to expound how these images of slaughter demonstrate (albeit in an augmented, hyperbolic manner) a number of long-standing problems surrounding selfhood that continue to fuel philosophical discussion. The article argues that the visual adjoining of victim and killer onscreen echoes the conundrum that in order to attain identity, the individual requires and yet simultaneously repudiates the Other.
A Movie Ban and the Dilemmas of 1920s German Propaganda against French Colonial Troops
In the early 1920s, Germany orchestrated an international propaganda campaign against colonial French troops stationed in the Rhineland that used the racist epithet “black horror on the Rhine,” and focused on claims of widespread sexual violence against innocent Rhenish maidens by African French soldiers, in order to discredit the Versailles Treaty. I argue that black horror propaganda fused elements of Allied propaganda—especially images of the barbaric “Hun”—with Germany's own wartime propaganda against colonial Allied troops. I use the significant film against colonial soldiers, Die schwarze Schmach (The Black Shame, 1921), to highlight the tensions and pitfalls of the German propagandistic strategy. As the debates over the film illustrate, black horror propaganda often had the effect of reminding audiences of German war crimes rather than diverting attention away from them. The ultimate ban of Die schwarze Schmach demonstrates the complex political nature of the 1920s backlash against atrocity propaganda.
Horror, Vampires, and the Maternal in Late Nineteenth-Century Gothic Fiction
The most intricate element shared by both psychoanalysis and gothic narratives is their preoccupation with the past and its complex impact on the genesis and state of the present. This is the case from a historical and cultural perspective as well as from the point of view of subjectivity and identity. Who are we, how do we relate to the world around us, and what threatens our sense of ‘being present/in the present’ – these questions are at the centre of any psychoanalytic inquiry and simultaneously seem to inform what could be referred to as a gothic narrative structure. The concept of haunting, the hidden spectre in the past/of the past ready to strike when we least expect it are intrinsic to both the psychoanalytic discourse per se and any tale of horror and terror where an unsuspecting hero (or more often a heroine) has to develop strategies to fight off the unspeakable monstrosities attacking him or her. Thus, what Victor Sage and Allan Lloyd Smith regard as particular to the Gothic: ‘it is a language, often an anti-historicising language, which provides writers with the critical means of transferring an idea of the otherness of the past into the present’ could also be defined as a specific element of any psychoanalytic discourse.
Eric S. Rabkin
Frankenstein and Dracula represent two different genres in print but only one in film. The emergence of science fiction from the Gothic exemplifies normal public genre development. The translation of the written Frankenstein and Dracula into film exemplifies genre development as an adaptation both to historical moment and to medium. In both the print and film cases, we can see the same mechanisms by which a genre is not only established in the public sphere but in the mind of a reader or viewer, a dialectic process in which the genre forms and informs reading and viewing and potentially, as a genre, is reformed by reading and viewing. Consideration of cognitive mechanisms involved in verbal and visual cognition shows both the interaction and the typical dominance of the visual, although genre, and hence individual works, can be modified by increasing our focus on the verbal.
Torture porn's crowning achievements, as identified by Gregory A. Burris (2010), are the Saw and Hostel series. He argues that the Saw series represents a puritanical mind-set running amok, while the Hostel movies reflect a culture struggling to come to terms with the horrors of Abu Ghraib. This article challenges this position. It identifies thematic patterns within the Saw and Hostel films to demonstrate how the images of violence on display throughout both series tend to reinforce, rather than subvert, the popularly held belief that the Abu Ghraib scandal represented mere abuse, as opposed to torture. The article shows how these films trivialize and rationalize torture and the roles that sex and gender play in this process.