Body Horror

Hell Really Exists

Hell Really Exists

Get Instant Access

The British film Peeping Tom (1960) and Psycho (1960) radically reconfigured the genre by focusing on psychologically disturbed characters in mundane contexts rather than supernatural situations in gothic settings. Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and adapted from Robert Bloch's 1959 novel, which in turn was based in part on the real-life exploits of multiple murderer Ed Gein, has proven to be perhaps the most influential horror film ever

Michael Redgrave as the ventriloquist attacked by his dummy in the omnibus British horror film Dead of Night (Alberto Cavalcanti, Basil Dearden, Robert Hamer, Charles Crichton, 1945). everett collection.

reproduced by permission.

made. Set in contemporary motel rooms, hardware stores, and used car lots, Hitchcock's film imagined the site of horror in the quotidian world of the viewer, showing that horrifying violence was an integral part of middle-class America, repressed beneath its seemingly placid exterior. Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby (1968) and William Friedkin's The Exorcist (1973) continued in the same direction, depicting satanism in contemporary New York and Washington, respectively. Both films were big-budget commercial blockbusters, and they helped bring horror more squarely into the mainstream.

In 1968 came the phenomenal box-office success of George A. Romero's independent Night of the Living Dead, one of the first midnight movies (which theaters scheduled for special midnight showings after the mainstream films had finished). Made in black-and-white on a small budget, the film became a huge cult success. Its low-budget aesthetic, combined with a new graphic representation of bodily violation—we are shown cannibalistic zombies eating steaming entrails—and its uncompromising violation of numerous horror conventions resulted in the film's powerful effect on viewers. Following in the style of graphic bodily violation introduced by Herschell Gordon Lewis in such films as Blood Feast (1963) and Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964), Romero's sequel, Dawn of the Dead (1978), took graphic violence to a new level, and instituted a cycle of so-called splatter films that focused on bodily violation. A few years before Dawn, Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) devoted most of its running time to the sadistic torture of its female protagonist. The Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg made several horror films concerned with bodily invasion, including Shivers (also known as They Came from Within, 1975), with its repulsive sluglike parasites that enter the body through the range of human orifices; The Brood (1979), featuring scenes of monstrous parturition; Scanners (1981), in which heads explode in a spray of gristle and blood; and his version of The Fly (1986), in which a scientist's body slowly falls away as he metamorphoses into an insect. Splatter was taken to comic extremes in Peter Jackson's Braindead (also known as Dead Alive, 1992) and Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead (1981). Clive Barker's Hellraiser (1987) focused intently on the pain of the flesh with scenes of flaying, bondage, and torture.

Following Romero, several young directors established their reputations by working primarily in horror, most notably Brian de Palma (Sisters, 1973; Carrie, 1976; Dressed to Kill, 1980), Wes Craven (The Last House on the Left, 1972; The Hills Have Eyes, 1977; A Nightmare on Elm Street, 1984), Larry Cohen (It's Alive, 1974; God Told Me To [also known as Demon], 1976), and John Carpenter (Halloween, 1978; The Fog, 1980; Christine, 1983, based on Stephen King's novel). Many of these horror movies, like Psycho and Night of the Living Dead, subverted the genre's traditional distinctions between good and evil, normal and monstrous, critiquing the horrors of mainstream society rather than projecting the monstrous onto the exotic ''other.'' Horror films were thus a significant part of the overall reexamination of genre movies that took place in American cinema in the 1970s.

However, the huge commercial success of Carpenter's Halloween spawned a cycle of slasher films that bespoke a much more conservative vision. Most featured elaborate serial killings strung together by weak plots. Slashers typically feature psychotic males, frequently masked like Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th (1980) and its sequels, who set about systematically to kill an isolated group of people, usually teenagers. Often the killer is motivated by a past sexual trauma activated by the sexual promiscuity of the victims he stalks, and the killings often seem to be a punishment for being sexual active or precocious, as is the case in the famous opening tracking shot of Halloween. Commonly a handheld camera is used to signify the killer's point of view, yet to what

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment