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Cutting Edge

Cutting Edge: Art-Horror and the Horrific Avant-garde

Joan Hawkins
Copyright Date: 2000
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Cutting Edge
    Book Description:

    Joan Hawkins offers an original and provocative discussion of taste, trash aesthetics, and avant-garde culture of the 1960s and 1970s to reveal the subversiveness of the horror film as a genre. Full of unexpected insights, Cutting Edge calls for a rethinking of high/low distinctions-and a reassigning of labels at the video store.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5281-5
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. I. Paracinema Culture and Psychotronic Style

    • 1 Sleaze-Mania, Euro-trash, and High Art: The Place of European Art Films in American Low Culture
      (pp. 3-32)

      Open the pages of any horror fanzine—Outré, Fangoria, Cinefantastique—and you will find listings for mail-order video companies that cater to afficionados of what Jeffrey Sconce has called “paracinema” and trash aesthetics.¹ Not only do these mail-order companies represent one of the fastest-growing segments of the video market,² but their catalogs challenge many of our continuing assumptions about the binary opposition of prestige cinema (European art and avant-garde/experimental films) and popular culture.³ Certainly, they highlight an aspect of art cinema generally overlooked or repressed in cultural analysis; namely, the degree to which high culture trades on the same images,...

    • 2 Medium Cool: Video Culture, Video Aesthetics
      (pp. 33-50)

      In many ways, paracinema catalogs are simply the newest, most technologically up-to-date manifestation of an already established mode of film and TV consumption. In the 1960s and 1970s, television programs like the San Francisco Bay Area’s weekly psychotronic fest,Creature Features,purveyed paracinema to the public. Mainly the show featured what the host, John Stanley, called “less than classic” movies in the genres of “horror, science fiction, and fantasy.”¹ But Stanley had a paracinephile’s sense of humor and irony. In addition to showing films such asCorpse Grinders(1971),Legacy of Satan(1973), andReturn of the Vampire(1943), Stanley...

  5. II. At the Crossroads

    • 3 Art Houses and Horrorshows; or, Pauline Kael Meets Georges Franju
      (pp. 53-64)

      Pauline Kael’sI Lost It at the Movies(1965) begins with “Zeitgeist and Poltergeist, or Are the Movies Going to Pieces,” an essay on taste and film culture. It’s a querulous, peevish essay in which Kael alternately mourns the death of well-crafted plot-driven cinema and lashes out against a younger generation of consumers, academics, and critics whose tastes are, she believes, draining the life out of movies. It’s a curious read. The list of films that Kael sees as contributing to the “processes of structural disintegration” in 1960s cinema reads like a veritable compendium of the film canon—Michelangelo Antonioni’s...

    • 4 The Scalpel’s Edge: Georges Franju’s Les yeux sans visage
      (pp. 65-86)

      In this chapter, I look at one of the films that Kael analyzes in “Zeitgeist” and discuss the way it has occupied two cultural sites—horror and art cinema—that Kael links through audience response and reception. A lyrical film that has been claimed as an important link in the histories of both low cinematic culture (splatter films) and high cinematic art (art movies),Les yeux sans visage(Eyes without a Face, The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus, 1959) illustrates many of the cultural tensions and contradictions that Kael sometimes unwittingly lays out in her essay. In that sense, I...

    • 5 The Anxiety of Influence: Georges Franju and the Medical Horrorshows of Jess Franco
      (pp. 87-114)

      For Europe’s “low” horror directors,Les yeux sans visagewas an influential film. Its combination of traditional Sadeian motifs with what might be called the horror of postwar anatomical economy—too few faces to go around—appealed to continental filmmakers who were trying to create a niche for themselves in a market heavily dominated by American and British horror.¹ In addition, the film’s invocation of death camp imagery seemed to lift a perhaps self-imposed political taboo. During the sixties and seventies, Italian horror directors made a string of low-budget SS sexploitation horror movies, frequently set in concentration camps. And the...

  6. III. When Horror Meets the Avant-garde

    • 6 Exploitation Meets Direct Cinema: Yoko Ono’s Rape and the Trash Cinema of Michael and Roberta Findlay
      (pp. 117-140)

      “The simplest Surrealist act,” André Breton once wrote, “consists of dashing down into the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd.”¹ In addition to highlighting the way surrealism frequently collapsed art and political action, Breton’s statement illustrates (or perhaps enacts) three of the prevailing features of twentieth-century avant-garde aesthetics: the breaking of taboos surrounding the depiction (and performance) of sex and violence, the desire to shock(épater)the bourgeoisie, and the willful blurring of the boundary lines traditionally separating life and art. Unfortunately, Breton’s statement also demonstrates a certain...

    • 7 From Horror to Avant-garde: Tod Browning’s Freaks
      (pp. 141-168)

      If avant-garde films have at times encroached vigorously on horror, at least one horror film seems to have “crossed over” into the avant-garde. That film is Tod Browning’s 1932 classicFreaks.Removed from distribution by MGM shortly after its release and banned outright in Great Britain, the film—asThe Encyclopedia of Horror Moviespoints out—immediately “acquired an unsavoury reputation which lingers on even though denied by the film itself.”¹

      Freakstells the story of a circus midget’s impossible love for a “big woman,” the circus trapeze artist Cleopatra.² When she becomes aware of Hans’s love for her, Cleopatra...

    • 8 Monsters in the Art World: Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey
      (pp. 169-204)

      Paul Morrissey’sCarne per Frankenstein(Flesh for Frankenstein, Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein, 1973) engages most of the issues raised in the previous chapters. Made by a member of Andy Warhol’s Factory, the film invokes frequent comparisons both to Warhol’s own experimental films and to other gross horror movies made during the 1970s. In that sense, it can be said to occupy a liminal space between the conventional categories of high art and low culture, much like the liminal generic-cultural space occupied by Georges Franju’sEyes without a Face,Tod Browning’sFreaks,and Yoko Ono’sRape.The confusion over the identity of...

  7. Conclusion: Mainstreaming Trash Aesthetics
    (pp. 205-216)

    Throughout this book I’ve discussed the way that consumers of both low and high culture, during the postwar period, attempted to define themselves in opposition to a dominant mainstream taste aesthetic, and the interest that both mainstream and, occasionally, high culture have had in policing taste. But I’ve also tried to draw distinctions between actual mainstream moviegoers—who, I argue, are frequently much more resilient and eclectic in their tastes than mainstream critics give them credit for being—and the mainstream, middlebrow critical establishment, the arbiters of taste, who have a certain vested interest in what the public does and...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 217-278)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 279-294)
  10. Select Filmography and Videography
    (pp. 295-302)
  11. Video Distributors
    (pp. 303-304)
  12. Index
    (pp. 305-326)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 327-327)