By Deirdre O’Neill.

The horror film genre has never enjoyed the respectable status of other genres such as the western or the thriller, rather, it has, to a greater or lesser extent, remained the property of the committed fan and cult film devotee. Indeed, one of the pleasures in watching horror movies is knowing that for many people they are not considered legitimate forms of entertainment, in fact the horror film has been in a more or less continuous battle with the censors during its history and has been held responsible for, amongst other things, creating psychopathic responses in people who watch them, hence the banning of the so called ‘video nasties’ in the early 1980s.

Perhaps the hostility towards the horror film is because more than any other genre it brings the spectator face to face with fears and anxieties that are generally not dealt with. Fears and anxieties which are repressed and ignored and are by definition, difficult to rationalize.

While these fears are experienced as personal ones – fear of the dark, of being alone, of death – our fears are also socially and culturally conditioned by the particular historical circumstances of the time in which we live.

These societal fears and anxieties, not dealt with openly in the public sphere, have been analysed by horror film critics in psychoanalytical and ideological terms, both perspectives considering the horror film in relation to what Robin Wood termed ‘the return of the repressed’.

The monster or the monstrous threat in the horror film represents an attack on the bourgeois world of repressed sexuality, good manners, heterosexual romance, Christian values and patriarchal order.

The figure of the ‘monster’ is the central defining mode in which this repressed returns. The guise in which the monster appears, demon, ghost, vampire, knife-wielding maniac, etc. changes, but in whatever shape the monster or ‘the other’ appears it represents a threat to the status quo. The monster transgresses the boundaries and disrupts the categories that bestow order and provide us with a semblance of security and safety. Its very existence challenges the accepted norms of the everyday world. The rapidity with which the monstrous threat is able to destabilize the norms of everyday life in the horror film bears witness to the fragility of the bourgeois order.

On October the 7th the Cinema Museum is playing host to Kim Newman and Jonathan Rigby who will be exploring horror films in their presentation From Hammer to Chainsaw: Horror of the Sixties and Seventies and discussing these particular cycles in some detail, although as Jonathan Rigby points out they will not be too rigid in their  approach as they are hoping for lots of audience participation.

Hammer horror films were, of course, made by the famous British studio that produced some of the best known and most commercially successful British horror films of the 50s, 60s and 70s, most notably vampire movies.

The slasher movie on the other hand is an American subgenre that became extremely popular after the success of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Halloween (1978) demonstrated the enormous commercial potential of extremely violent depictions of teenagers being murdered in gruesome ways. The slasher also heralded the appearance of the ‘Final Girl’ (Carol Clover’s term) who was the most efficient killer of them all.

Kim Newman

The Cinema Museum’s autumn programme continues to demonstrate a set of general principles, concerned with providing a diverse and effective experience of film and cinema going. The series of events curated by the museum, the illustrated talks and screenings of which this particular event is part of, are as much exhibits as the more permanent artefacts on display, functioning, as they do to contextualise the permanent exhibition, situating it historically while considering its contemporary relevance.

Film is an industrial and a cultural practice, one that concerns itself with technology and the transmission of culture. This seems particularly apt when discussing the horror film because many horror films concern themselves with technology and of course horror films, particularly the big budget kind, often put on display the latest technological innovations in filmmaking.

There is a merging of the old and the new technologies when we show old films that were made on celluloid and have now been digitised and transferred to DVD. The films can be spliced together, edited in ways that allow us to compare them with others; clips from one film can be instantly contrasted with clips from other films creating spaces for exploration and dialogue. The experience of watching old films is transformed into a contemporary one while gaining an insight into the history of cinema.

Jonathan Rigby

Museums are not cinemas and cinemas are not museums, both occupy different spaces and fulfil different ideological and social roles. It is these different roles and designated spaces that the Cinema Museum is attempting to subvert with its programme of curated events, which attempt to highlight the relationship between the artefacts in the museum and the actual experience of watching and discussing film. Acting as a critical intervention in the process of watching film and going to the museum this hybrid strategy at the interface of museum and cinema hopes to encourage more people to join in the discussion of cinematic practice and the role of cinema as a cultural practice both historically and contemporaneously.

Both speakers have new books being published that will be available to buy on the night:

Kim Newman, Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen Since the 1960s

Jonathan Rigby, Studies in Terror: Landmarks of Horror Cinema

To check out the programme for the French Sundaes please visit The Cinema Museum website.

Deirdre O’Neill is PhD student at the University of Ulster. Her 12-year-old son volunteers as an usher at The Cinema Museum.


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