Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
American Horror Film

American Horror Film: The Genre at the Turn of the Millennium

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 275
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    American Horror Film
    Book Description:

    Creatively spent and politically irrelevant, the American horror film is a mere ghost of its former self-or so goes the old saw from fans and scholars alike. Taking on this undeserved reputation, the contributors to this collection provide a comprehensive look at a decade of cinematic production, covering a wide variety of material from the last ten years with a clear critical eye.Individual essays profile the work of up-and-coming director Alexandre Aja and reassess William Malone's muchmaligned Feardotcom in the light of the torture debate at the end of President George W. Bush's administration. Other essays look at the economic, social, and formal aspects of the genre; the globalization of the U.S. film industry; the alleged escalation of cinematic violence; and the massive commercial popularity of the remake. Some essays examine specific subgenres-from the teenage horror flick to the serial killer film and the spiritual horror film-as well as the continuing relevance of classic directors such as George A. Romero, David Cronenberg, John Landis, and Stuart Gordon.Essays deliberate on the marketing of nostalgia and its concomitant aesthetic, and the curiously schizophrenic perspective of fans who happen to be scholars as well. Taken together, the contributors to this collection make a compelling case that American horror cinema is as vital, creative, and thought-provoking as it ever was.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-454-6
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. INTRODUCTION They Don’t Make ’Em Like They Used To On the Rhetoric of Crisis and the Current State of American Horror Cinema
    (pp. vii-xxxii)
    Steffen Hantke

    Even though the horror genre has been fed by tributaries from many national literary traditions—from German Romanticism to French surrealism and South American magical realism—and even though horror cinema has prospered and developed its unique forms of expression in many film industries around the globe, it is in the United States and in the American film industry that horror, for as long as cinema itself has existed, has been a staple genre, a consistently profitable endeavor, an audience favorite, and a richly diverse form of artistic expression for writers and directors. More than any other film industry around...

  4. Part One BLOODY AMERICA: Critical Reassessments of the Trans/-national and of Graphic Violence

    • THE AMERICAN HORROR FILM? Globalization and Transnational U.S.-Asian Genres
      (pp. 3-14)
      Christina Klein

      Scholars and fans alike tend to think about film genres as products of national film industries and as expressions of national culture. We talk about the American musical, the Hollywood Western, the Japanese samurai film, or the Chinese martial arts film. Yet as film industries around the world undergo the processes of economic globalization, they are gradually becoming less national and more transnational in everything from the workers they hire to the audiences they cater to. Commercial genres are among the best places to observe this process of transnationalization taking place, as bodies of visual and narrative conventions once strongly...

    • A PARISIAN IN HOLLYWOOD Ocular Horror in the Films of Alexandre Aja
      (pp. 15-34)
      Tony Perrello

      Through the postwar period of the twentieth century, French cinema maintained a viable film industry complete with indigenous popular genres and stars and a highprofile auteurist tradition. In all these aspects, it successfully maintained a sense of national identity. However, that identity is increasingly in flux due not only to internal ideological struggles, the weight of repressed history, and pressure from the increasingly multicultural French population and French culture, but also to global influences (like Hollywood) and transnational developments in the film industry. As Elizabeth Ezra and Terry Rowden point out, national sovereignty no longer wields the regulatory power it...

    • “THE POUND OF FLESH WHICH I DEMAND” American Horror Cinema, Gore, and the Box Office, 1998–2007
      (pp. 35-57)
      Blair Davis and Kial Natale

      In 1981, renowned American film critic Roger Ebert decried the state of horror cinema at the time in his reviews of two sequels released that year,Friday the 13th Part IIandHalloween II. In reviewing the former, he describes the film’s opening sequence in which a young woman “wakes up, undresses, is stalked by the camera, hears a noise in the kitchen.” Ebert continues: “She tiptoes into the kitchen. Through the open window, a cat springs into the room. The audience screamed loudly and happily: It’s fun to be scared. Then an unidentified man sunk an ice pick into...

    • A (POST)MODERN HOUSE OF PAIN FearDotCom and the Prehistory of the Post-9/11 Torture Film
      (pp. 58-74)
      Reynold Humphries

      The title ofFearDotComrefers to a Web site that allows subscribers to access a world where they can watch acts of torture being carried out on helpless victims. Is it make-believe or genuine snuff? Subscribers are challenged by the site’s hostess, a sultry blonde, to play a game. The challenge consists of answering questions so as to reveal their most intimate fears. In every case subscribers die forty-eight hours later, victims of precisely that which they feared the most: being drowned, or killed in a car accident, or, in a memorable sequence, being submerged by a tide of cockroaches....

  5. Part Two THE USUAL SUSPECTS: Trends and Transformations in the Subgenres of American Horror Film

    • TEENAGE TRAUMATA Youth, Affective Politics, and the Contemporary American Horror Film
      (pp. 77-102)
      Pamela Craig and Martin Fradley

      Even on first viewing, perhaps the most striking elements of Gus Van Sant’s hypnotic, hauntingElephant(2003) are the film’s understated allusions to the stock character types, narrative preoccupations, and strangely resonantmise-enscèneof the American teen movie. As the camera tracks down suburban tree-lined avenues, through sterile and monotonously labyrinthine locker-lined school corridors, and via quasi-ethnographic snapshots of geeks, goths, jocks, arty-outsiders, beauty queens, and bespectacled ugly ducklings, the central imagery and thematic tropes of the Hollywood teen genre are uncannily familiar even for those of us for whom both the United States and the period of our own...

    • TRAUMATIC CHILDHOOD NOW INCLUDED Todorov’s Fantastic and the Uncanny Slasher Remake
      (pp. 103-118)
      Andrew Patrick Nelson

      Long before and quite apart from the self-referential “rules” expounded in Wes Craven’sScreamtrilogy or the lesson-instilling “games” orchestrated by the Jigsaw killer in theSawfranchise, horror movies in general—and slasher movies in particular—have been in the business of helping viewers reconcile themselves to some of life’s cold, hard facts. To cite a personal example: as I am not a virginal teenage girl, I know that the odds of my surviving an encounter with a masked, knife-, axe-, or chainsaw-wielding maniac are slim to none. Furthermore, I know that a willingness on my part to make...

      (pp. 119-141)
      Philip L. Simpson

      Once upon a time, it seemed as if the serial killer genre had come to dominate American popular cinema. The genre’s peculiar amalgamation of Gothic melodrama and horror reached a critical zenith during the 1990s with the immensely popular and Academy-Award winningThe Silence of the Lambs(1991), which in turn led to a proliferation of mainstream Hollywood films such asCopycat(1995),Se7en(1995), andNatural Born Killers(1994). Major Hollywood stars such as Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster, Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, and Sigourney Weaver headlined these productions, which introduced grisly on-screen mayhem to mainstream audiences that otherwise may...

    • A RETURN TO THE GRAVEYARD Notes on the Spiritual Horror Film
      (pp. 142-158)
      James Kendrick

      In the summer of 1999, M.Night Shyamalan’sThe Sixth Sensebecame an unexpected smash hit, earning $293 million at the domestic box office, which made it the second-highest grossing film of the year behind George Lucas’s muchanticipatedStar Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace. Even with its memorably creepy and intriguing trailer that all but guaranteed the pop-culture permanence of the phrase “I see dead people,” no one expectedThe Sixth Senseto become the phenomenon it did. After all, the horror genre had not produced a major blockbuster since the 1970s, whenThe Exorcistruled the box office in...

  6. Part Three LOOK BACK IN HORROR: Managing the Canon of American Horror Film

    • AUTEURDÄMMERUNG David Cronenberg, George A. Romero, and the Twilight of the (North) American Horror Auteur
      (pp. 161-192)
      Craig Bernardini

      To the average mainstream video consumer accustomed to Blockbuster or Hollywood, the independent, “alternative” video store must appear a sort of Borgesian nightmare. Where the chains wallpaper their stores with new releases and shelve “older” films broadly by genre (drama, comedy, horror), the independents subdivide and re-categorize relentlessly. Foreign films may be divided by country—logical enough, given the larger selection than in the chains—and then divided again by genre (e.g., “J-horror”). There will probably be a large “Cult” section, organized according to a manager’s whim. And then there is the defining feature of the alternatives: the “Directors” section,...

    • HOW THE MASTERS OF HORROR MASTER THEIR PERSONAE Self-Fashioning at Play in the Masters of Horror DVD Extras
      (pp. 193-220)
      Ben Kooyman

      Masters of Horror(2005–2007) is a television anthology series that debuted on October 28, 2005, on U.S. cable network Showtime and ran for two seasons. Each season comprises thirteen self-contained hour-long episodes, each directed by a different “Master of Horror”: a director deemed to have made a significant contribution to the horror genre. The show and the special features attached to its subsequent DVD releases (director interviews, tributes from past collaborators, commentaries) are exercises in self-fashioning for contemporary horror filmmakers; that is, they provide a site where directors can fashion and master their public personae. TheMasters of Horror...

    • “THE KIDS OF TODAY SHOULD DEFEND THEMSELVES AGAINST THE ’70S” Simulating Auras and Marketing Nostalgia in Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse
      (pp. 221-234)
      Jay McRoy

      In his 1936 essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Walter Benjamin posits cinema as a nexus of scientific, aesthetic, economic, and political practices that effectively sublimate bourgeois conceptualizations of a work’s “aura” to a process of simulation that ultimately “emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual” and “authenticity” (224). This formulation, however, meets its postmodern inversion in one of contemporary U.S. horror cinema’s more conspicuous trends—the application of digital technology as a means of reconstructing an idealized, historically specific viewing experience marked, visually, by the material conditions of distressed celluloid...

  7. AFTERWORD Memory, Genre, and Self-Narrativization; Or, Why I Should Be a More Content Horror Fan
    (pp. 235-242)
    David Church

    As a child inexplicably drawn to the morbid and macabre, I recall a time when the Universal horror classics were just no longer enough, but I was forbidden from watching R-rated films—thus banning the “bad” horror that intrigued me all the more through its prohibition. For sleepovers at a friend’s house, my comrades and I routinely trekked down to “Family Video,” the local small-town video store, and perused the “Horror” section located just adjacent to the flimsy wooden screen hiding the store’s porn offerings from common view. Being a semi-dutiful child, I followed my parents’ strictures and intentionally opted...

    (pp. 243-246)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 247-253)