Social Critique versus Sadism in Horror Films

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The horror genre’s representation of women is often criticized and evaluated as being belittling and merciless. It is true that by perpetuating imagery of women in distress, horror films tend to provide no alternative to the subordination of these women and even take advantage of and capitalize on realistic concerns of women. Still, one might argue that, like the concepts present in many other genres, the prevailing themes of femininity in horror film are complex, contradictory, and fluctuating. In “Film Genre and the Genre Film,” Thomas Schatz describes film genre as “static” because it reexamines some basic cultural conflict and “dynamic” due to constant cultural changes. Robert F. Altman explains in his piece “Towards a Theory of Genre Film,” these films have a tendency to present themes that are both “cultural” and “countercultural” because genre films are expected to “simultaneously express desires and needs not provided for within the dominant ideology and reflect major tenants of that ideology.” For example, horror films such as The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby are reflective our society’s fascination with violence against women while also being critical of the existing patriarchy that allows such violence to occur. Furthermore, the variations in the presentation of these stories of female victims over time affect the efficiency and legitimacy of each film’s social agenda as well as the prominence of the genre’s sadistic appeal. Although Rosemary’s Baby, released in 1968, features an archetypal weak, female victim of horror, the film’s metaphors of emotional and sexual abuse villainize perpetrators, consequently addressing the issue of domestic abuse in a way that does not normalize the behavior. A feminist’s initial react... ... middle of paper ... ...peculations. Pleasantville, N.Y: Redgrave Pub. Co, 1977. Web. November 2013. Clover, Carol J. Men, women, and chain saws: gender in the modern horror film. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1992. Print. Lidz, Franz. “Limbs Pile Up, and Money, Too.” The New York Times. 21 October 2009. Web. November 2013. Nash Information Services. “Annual Movie Chart – 2013.” The Numbers. November 2013. Web. November 2013. Prince, Stephen. “Graphic Violence in the Cinema: Origins, Aesthetic Design, and Social Effects.” Screening Violence. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2000. Web. November 2013. Roy Morgan. “Horror Movie Gender Profile.” ValMorgan Cinema Network. 2011. Web. November 2013. Schatz, Tomas. “Film Genre and the Genre Film.” Hollywood genres: formulas, filmmaking, and the studio system. New York, N.Y: Random House, 1981. Web. November 2013

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