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American Horrors: Essays on the Modern…

American Horrors: Essays on the Modern American Horror Film

by Gregory A. Waller

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A study of both popular films and problematic films, representative of the genre's violence, female victims, its reflexivity and playfulness and its ongoing redefinition of the monstrous and the normal.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: It's Not Like Just a Wind That's Passing Through. R.H.W. Dillard.

An early close reading of George Romero's classic horror film.

The Trauma of Infancy in Roman Polanski's ROSEMARY'S BABY. Virginia Wright Wexman.

Wexman argues that by presenting insanity, regression, physical alienation and female sexual dis-ease against a realistic backdrop, Polanski's horror films evoke the sort of ambiguity that Tzvetan Todorov finds to be characteristic of the 'fantastic'.

Seeing is Believing: THE EXORCIST and DON'T LOOK NOW. Marsha Kinder and Beverle Houston.

How the two films foreground the problem of interpretation. The necessity of interpretation (by characters and spectators alike) and the precise means of representing the supernatural and paranormal would prove to be of central importance in the many post-1974 films of demonic possession and psychic horror. (CARRIE, DEMON, THE CHANGELING and THE DEAD ZONE).

EYES OF LAURA MARS: A Binocular Critique. Lucy Fisher and Marcie Landy.

An analysis of the film utilising insight from feminist, ideological and psychoanalytical film criticism and theory. Representation of women, 'ideology of vision' and its treatment of 'spectatorship'.

Returning the Look: EYES OF A STRANGER. Robin Wood.

Writing after the stalk and slash cycle had saturated the market, Wood discusses this cycle as a phenomenon that in its emphasis on the sadistic terrorisation of women and the seemingly endless butchering of promiscuous teenagers, speaks to certain 'needs' of our capitalist, consumer culture. This essay shares the same basic methods and set of critical assumptions with Wood's 'Return of the Repressed'.

The Stalker Film, 1978-1981. Vera Dika.

The elements that define the stalker film as a specific sub-genre of modern horror: recurring character types, cinematic techniques and plot fuctions as well as its organisation of themes and values into a series of binary oppositions. HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY 13th, PROM NIGHT, THE BURNING and HELL NIGHT are considered.


At its most successful the horror genre offers unsettling - even mythic - narratives concerned with the nature of vision and the possibility for integration of the repressed. In contrast to the stalker films, reflexive texts like THE HOWLING carry on the traditions of the genre and instruct in the ways of reading horror.

Through a Pumpkin's Eye: The Reflexive Nature of Horror. J. P. Telotte.

Using HALLOWEEN as an example, Telotte studies characters', the camera's and viewer's mode of vision. Horror is best understood not as transparent social fable or as adolescent sexual rite of passage, but as a beneficial 'investigation of the nature of our conventional manner of seeing' which can allow us to see 'beneath the surfaces' of ourselves and our world, and let us achieve a new level of awareness.

"The Fallen Wonder of the World": Brian De Palma's Horror Films. Allison Graham.

De Palma's films analysed with reference to Herbert Marcuse. A different perspective on the representation of women and the feminine in contemporary horror.

Made for Television Horror Films. Gregory A. Waller.

A devalued but surprisingly resilient form of film. It has tended to be suggestive rather than explicit, stylistically conventional, focused on the personal and the intimate, and particularly given to narratives that feature an isolated victim, psychic investigator, endangered young wife or a threatened middle-class family. The representation of the monstrous and normal in telefilms provides a revealing contrast to theatrical horror films of the 1970's and 1980's.

More Dark Dreams: Some Notes on the Recent Horror Film. Charles Derry.

A postscript to his 1977 book Dark Dreams. An overview of the subgenres - horror of personality, of the demonic and of Armageddon, during the late 1970's - early 1980's. DRESSED TO KILL, THE HILLS HAVE EYES, SCANNERS, POLTERGEIST, THE FOURTH MAN and THE LAST WAVE are discussed.

Bringing it all Back Home: Family Economy and Generic Exchange. Vivian Sobchack.

Modern horror's representation of the 'familiar and the familial'. Patriarchy and paternity.
  snakeybaxter | Jan 13, 2014 |
This book is a collection of essays written in the 70s and 80s about the modern American Horror film. It was a book that was on a reading list for one of my college classes that we hardly used, but I was determined to eventually go back and read the whole thing.

If you are at all interested in critical examinations of horror films, this book is an excellent resource. Many of the essays deal with the victimization of the female in films such as Friday the 13th and The Eyes of Laura Mars, while others look at the breakdown of the nuclear family and the demonification of children in films like The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby.

One truly interesting thing about reading this collection is that it was published in 1987, so most of the essays deal with movies as current as 1983-84. In fact, an essay by Charles Derry on the evolution of the recent horror film touts Cronenberg and Peter Weir as the forefathers of the contemporary horror film, unfortunately, Hollywood being Hollywood, this style of visionary horror has been set aside for the much easier and profit-guaranteed slasher/gore flick such as the Saw films.

The end of the book contains an annotated bibliography of other works referenced and a filmography of the films mentioned throughout the book. Both are handy guides for further examination and I will be coming back to them later.

If you are a fan of horror films and want to see some unique interpretations you may not have considered, I'd suggest you give this book a chance. ( )
  regularguy5mb | Oct 30, 2013 |
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