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Researching Genre Research Report

Module: Researching Genre
Module Coordinator: Dr Emma Austin
Academic Year 2 (2021/2022)

Probably the best piece of work from Year 2 of my study, I proudly received a Letter of Recognition for this research report. The original work contained a bibliography after each section. I have combined each of them into one bibliography at the end of the report.

Task 1/3

Section 1: Summarise Jancovich’s key ideas: what approaches to Genre are argued or outlined?

One argument Jancovich (2002, pp. 1-18) makes is “most academic histories include films that were not originally produced or consumed as horror films.” (p. 7). And “[…] classics such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), or Nosferatu (1922) were rarely seen as horror films in their own day, they are now frequently cited as seminal examples of genre.” (p. 2). What they mean here is that the genre wasn’t necessarily defined at the time of the film’s release, but many years later when the term was starting to be used frequently to describe new films. They further support this argument by saying “Carpenter would not have seen Halloween as a slasher movie because there was no such category at the time. His film became the template for the slasher film only retrospectively.” (p. 8).

When discussing science fiction, Jancovich takes note of Bruce Kawin’s take on aliens in science fiction horror films (p. 13). If the alien is seen as a positive, such as in The Day the Earth Stood Still (Wise, 1951), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Spielberg, 1977) and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Spielberg, 1982), the film is a science-fiction film, whereas if the alien is depicted negatively (i.e., the enemy of the film), it is a horror film. Examples used are The Thing from Another World (Nyby & Hawks, 1951), Alien (Scott, 1979) and Independence Day (Emmerich, 1996). The alien’s status within the film determines whether the film is within the horror or science fiction genre, however, this does not hold true for Independence Day: The aliens are depicted negatively, as the enemy of the film, but not as a monster and therefore Independence Day cannot be categorised as a horror above science fiction.

However, this take works fine on some films, but not on others, as you wouldn’t consider Independence Day to be a horror film. In most cases, the use of the monster figure is critical to which genre the film can be placed in.

Jancovich concludes (p. 19) that “genre criticism should be about more than texts, or even the changing contexts within which they are produced.” Meaning we cannot just look at a textual analysis and must look at other context or history surrounding the film. For example, production aspects ranging from the script, filming, and marketing. (i.e., how was the film marketed? Were the trailers indicative of a horror film?) Understanding these
will help determine whether the film is a Horror or Science Fiction.

Section 2: Using your own research skills, identify, select and read other academic sources relevant to the piece. Summarise key ideas and points here.

Further exploration of Bruce Kawin’s theory (2004, p. 5): “Genres are determined not by plot-elements so much as by attitudes toward plot-elements.” Kawin doesn’t like the stereotype of “the usual assumption that a film is science fiction if it has scientists in it and horror if it has monsters” and looks further at The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Thing from Another World.

“It seems to me that we will never fully understand the horror film until we agree on a definition of the genre, and that the genre with which horror is most regularly confused is that of science fiction.” (Kawin, 2020, p. 366). Because films like The Thing from Another World use elements from both genres, it can be difficult to classify them. “Interpretative approaches to horror, of which there are many, fall approximately into three categories: psychoanalytic, cognitive and affective”. [(Bacon, 2019, p. 4).

  • Psychoanalytic: Limitations to the approach, but often used to reveal hidden meanings in horror texts.
  • Cognitive: Focus on audience interaction.
  • Affect: Philosophical; “a way of examining the somatic and emotional responses induced by horror films”, (pp. 4-5).

Bacon continues by stating that the horror genre is always changing, repeating, and reinventing itself. (p. 6).

Task 2/3

Section 1: Using appropriate academic sources, explain how your chosen media text exhibits Gothic/American Gothic conventions.

The media text I have chosen to research is The Shining (Kubrick, 1980).

A common theme in Gothic texts is that of the haunted house. The Overlook Hotel is no exception to this, as it contains many mysteries and horrors, which we learn through Danny’s psychic ability and the hotel manager as he introduces Jack to his new role as caretaker.

“The Shining’s Overlook Hotel functions as the traditional Gothic symbol of a haunted past; its climactic explosion and dissolution recalls Walpole’s Castle of Otranto, Poe’s House of Usher, and many other disintegrating Gothic structures.” (Clemens, 1999, p. 197). Although Clemens is discussing the Overlook Hotel in context of Stephen King’s 1977 book, and the hotel does not explode in the film, it is still relevant to the Gothic discussion in the sense of a haunted house.

One theme surrounding the origins of Gothic is The Enlightenment where people would challenge and replace old belief systems. “I began to wonder if the haunted house could not be turned into a kind of symbol of unexpiated sin […] an idea which turned out to be pivotal in the novel The Shining” (King, 1983, p. 253). Tony Magistrale discusses how this affects Jack: “[…] the hotel methodically assaults his very identity, simulating a myriad of self-doubts and anxieties: a strained relationship with his wife and child, tendencies toward violence and self-pity […] a struggle against alcoholism, and the quest to become a successful writer.” (1988, pp. 65-66).

This is reflected well in the film, especially in the scene where Wendy finds the bruises on Danny’s neck. Jack almost appears to be doubting his knowledge that he did not give Danny the bruises and goes to the bar to fantasize about having an alcoholic drink.

Section 2: Drawing on visual analysis, explain how the formal properties of this text help establish it as a Gothic text (e.g. consider costume, makeup, set design, lighting, editing, sound, etc.

The music has an important role in The Shining even from the very beginning with the helicopter tracking shot of the car driving through the mountains. Without the soundtrack, this scene is difficult to categorize, but with the inclusion of the ominous tones, it creates a sense of doom and that something is not right – almost that the car is being followed. “Music thus combines with image to evoke a sense of menace.” (Weinstock, 2019, p. 71). We later hear similar tones when Jack is looking over the model maze, signifying that he has “[…] become the unseen force looking down on the Torrance family and the Overlook hotel” (Weinstock, 2019, p. 73).

“I wanted the hotel to look authentic rather than like the traditionally spooky movie hotel. The hotel’s labyrinthine layout and huge rooms, I believed, would alone provide an eerie enough atmosphere.” (Hill, 2005, p. 452). Here Kubrick explains how he wanted to present the hotel in The Shining, explaining how he wanted an authentic feel to each room. This reinforces the film as gothic, as a focus on authenticity is a key aspect of gothic horror.

“As the camera follows Jack into Ullman’s office, viewers get an immediate sensation that they are eavesdropping on a rather private conversation. Perhaps the slight wavering of the Steadicam contributes to this impression.” (Falsetto, 2001, p. 160). This is another example of how the audience is captivated and instead of feeling like they are just watching the story, they would feel like they are a part of it, being trapped in the eerie atmosphere which accompanies many gothic horrors.

Task 3/3

Section 1 Analysis: How does this text display genre characteristics?

The clip from Halloween (Carpenter, 1978) shows the final conflict between protagonist Laurie and antagonist Michael. This scene strongly reinforces the concept of ‘final girl’, which Carol J. Clover introduced in their 1987 essay ‘Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film’. “The image of the distressed female most likely to linger in memory is the image of one who did not die: the survivor, or Final Girl” (p. 201). Instead of the ‘final girl’ dying, she is able to fight back and, although an outside character comes to her aid, wins the conflict. Clover suggests this set a precedent for future slasher horror’s (p. 202).

The scene employs a typical approach to the soundtrack for the build-up and release of suspense. A repetitive motif of only a handful of notes is heard, which gradually gets more intense and is joined by stringed instruments which also gradually get more intense until the release when Michael attacks. Another example of this type of suspense build-up and release would be the shark’s theme in Jaws (Spielberg, 1975).

Carpenter creates a sense of claustrophobia in the scene as much of the action takes place within doorways and the closet. It feels as if the camera has been forced into the closet and is directly in front of the actor’s faces for the close-up shots, creating a real sense of unease for an audience, who wouldn’t dare step away because the hero can’t.

Section 2 Research: Are there any Production contexts that link the piece to the
horror genre?

It is a little difficult to link Halloween to historical slasher horror’s, as it is commonly said that the film is what inspired many slasher horror’s which came after. However:

Jamie Leigh Curtis plays the protagonist / survivor / ‘final girl’ and this casting choice was carefully planned. Her mother was Janet Leigh, who starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) – another story where the protagonist is attacked by an unknown assailant with a knife. It was hoped that Curtis’ connection with Leigh would generate interest in the film.

Carpenter deliberately chose against having an excess of blood and gore in Halloween, as he wanted the story to be character driven. This was echoed by critics and reviewers: “Carpenter creates excellent tension throughout and he avoids excessive blood and gore in the murder sequences. The violent actions are mostly implied more than graphically depicted, which serves to heighten the effect” (Pennington, 2014). If we return to Jaws and The Shining (Kubrick, 1980), these are other examples of a character driven horror.

Section 3 Application of theory: What links can you make between any theoretical
approaches to the horror genre and this text?

Two main links you can make are with Freud’s uncanny or unheimlich and Todorov’s uncanny or marvellous.

This scene links well with Freud’s theory of unheimlich. “Indeed, we have heard that in some modern languages the German phrase ein unheimliches Haus [‘an uncanny house’] can be rendered only by the periphrasis ‘a haunted house’.” (Freud, 2003, p. 148). Whilst the house in this scene certainly isn’t haunted, the uncanny feeling surrounds it – the house should be a safe place and comfortable, yet Laurie is literally fighting for survival.

“We can also call a living person uncanny, that is to say, when we credit him with evil intent. But this alone is not enough: it must be added that this intent to harm us is realized with the help of special powers.” (Freud, 2003, p. 149). This applies well to Michael. Laurie stabs him with the knitting needle, and he is presumed dead – she then stabs him with the kitchen knife, and he is once again presumed dead. And finally, he is shot six times and falls from the first-floor window, presumed dead, but mysteriously disappears. One can only assume a form of special power may be guiding him and it certainly leaves the audience with a sense of unease, or uncanny.

This also ties in with Todorov’s theory of the fantastic. “In a world which is indeed our world, the one we know, a world without devils, sylphides, or vampires, there occurs an event which cannot be explained by the laws of this same familiar world.” (Todorov, 1995, p. 25). Furthermore, this enables the audience to draw their own conclusions to Michael’s fate.

“If the group of themes of the other derives directly from taboos and hence from censorship, the same is the case for the network of themes of the self, though less directly […] The thought of the psychotic is condemned by society no less severely than behavior of the criminal who transgresses taboos” (Todorov, 1995, p. 159). This ties in with earlier scenes in the film – Laurie’s friends have been involved in ‘taboo’ activities and have been punished because of this, but Laurie was not and therefore she survives.

Research Summary 1/3

Section 1: Lecture Summary/Key Terms/Points

  • A focus on female victims and male monsters.
  • Common theme of a moral code: those who take drugs, drink alcohol, have sex outside of marriage are punished.
  • Final girl theory: rewarded for being “normal”.

Section 2: RESEARCH: Explanation of terms, theories, ideas

Stephen Neale discusses the role of the male and female in different genres. Specifically, he suggests that in a male dominated film, the female is just as important in the balance and vice versa. (1980, pp. 59-61). “[…] most monsters tend, in fact, to be defined as ‘male’, especially in so far as the objects of their desire are almost exclusively women […] it could well be maintained that it is women’s sexuality, that which renders them desirable – but also threatening – to men […]” (Neale, 1980, p. 61). In Halloween the very first death, as seen through the eyes of Michael’s mask, is that of a vulnerable and naked woman. The only on-screen death of a male character can be associated with the female body as an object of desire: the victim was getting a drink for his girlfriend, so posed as a threat to the killer should he want to attack the girlfriend next.

Common theme of a moral code: those who take drugs, drink alcohol, have sex outside of marriage are punished. This links back to Todorov’s theory (Todorov, 1995, p. 159) but Petridis expands further, comparing the difference between gender: “Any character in these films who smokes, has sex or does drugs has to die. The sex of the victims is both male and female, but there is a differentiation in the way that they are killed.” (Petridis, 2014, p. 77).

Petridis continues the discussion to the way in which females are portrayed – they are over sexualised and there is a lot of aggression towards them. “the opening sequence always presents a woman’s death and/or an image of her mutilated body” (Petridis, 2014, p. 79). Although the heroine is unlikely to be over sexualised and behaves herself, “she is rewarded for following all the laws of the community, not doing anything that is contrary to normality” (Petridis, 2014, p. 79) – the reward being that she lives.

These theories are closely linked to Final Girl theory: “The image of the distressed female most likely to linger in memory is the image of one who did not die: the survivor, or Final Girl” (Clover, 1987, p. 201).

Section 3: Application and Analysis: Media Texts

These theories can be applied to Friday the 13th (Cunningham, 1980) in different ways. The ‘final girl’ is the most obvious, with Alice (Adrienne King) prevailing over Mrs. Voorhees (Betsy Palmer). Alice has survived the ordeal and is rescued in a state of distress by the police. The film, however, seems to play around with the theory a little. We see the decomposing body of Jason pull her into the water immediately before she wakes up in a hospital bed. It serves to place doubt into the mind of the audience: the monster has been killed, the heroine apparently now safe, so the audience would be at a sense of ease before this happens.

Petridis’ discussion on the moral code is particularly valid for Friday the 13th. The very first death scene is that of a couple of young lovers and Alice, who ‘behaves’ herself survives until the end. “the opening sequence always presents a woman’s death and/or an image of her mutilated body” (Petridis, 2014, p. 79).

The film continues to play with these theories, specifically Neale’s observation “[…] most monsters tend, in fact, to be defined as ‘male’, especially in so far as the objects of their desire are almost exclusively women […] it could well be maintained that it is women’s sexuality, that which renders them desirable – but also threatening – to men […]” (Neale, 1980, p. 61). Throughout the film it could be assumed that the killer is Jason, but it is unexpectedly revealed at the end of the film to be his mother, Mrs Voorhees.

The Final Girl theory can be applied to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Hooper, 1974). In the final scene, the heroine escapes from her attackers and is rescued by passersby – the quote from Clover is particularly relevant: “The image of the distressed female most likely to linger in memory is the image of one who did not die: the survivor, or Final Girl” (Clover, 1987, p. 201). Expanding on this, should the distressed female have been captured and killed, the image the audience would likely have taken home would have been that of the triumphant attackers and not the distressed female.

Research Summary 2/3

Section 1: Lecture Summary/Key Terms/Points

  • The lecture covered the importance in setting in gothic, with how the ‘haunted castle’ became the ‘haunted house’.
  • It discussed what Freud’s theory of ‘the uncanny’ meant.
  • We explored how gothic adapted into cinema, but mostly it’s effect on British and American television and how it was ideal for gothic texts.

Section 2: RESEARCH: Explanation of terms, theories, ideas

Freud first defined ‘the uncanny’ as “[…] the feeling of unease that arises when something familiar suddenly becomes strange and unfamiliar.” (Masschelein, 2011, p. 1).

As the ‘old world’ became the ‘new’, the figure of the haunted castle became the figure of the haunted house. Uncanny is the German translation of ‘Unheimlich’, literally meaning ‘unhomely’ and this can be used well with everyday items from the
home by making them ‘haunted’. “A recurring element of the uncanny in the visual arts is the importance of the (human) figure. Be it in the form of dolls, waxworks, giants, robots, body parts, or the plastified corpses of Körperwelte, the human and
the posthuman are at the center of the uncanny in the visual arts.” (Masschelein, 2011, p. 148).

Masschelein also discusses how at the turn of the century, uncanny started to be associated with haunting more often. “In various disciplines, the concept of the uncanny fits within a larger research program that focuses on haunting, the spectral, ghosts, and telepathy as material phenomena in culture and society.”(2011, p. 144).

When it came to translating gothic stories for television, producers were concerned about how they would do so effectively. “how can one translate the kind of supernatural ghost stories produced by M.R. James or Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu for example, on to the small screen, while retaining their sense of the unknown?” (Wheatley, 2006, p. 26). Wheatley continues to discuss how this style of Gothic narrative became a problem “which saw the BBC, and later the commercial companies, struggle to  maintain a sense of propriety and decency while offering their audiences the spine-chillingly supernatural as entertainment.” (p. 26).

The television was viewed as the perfect medium for gothic stories, but only when the television became a common household appliance “In fact, in Britain, it was not until the introduction of commercial television that the Gothic anthology series was again reconsidered as a viable form of television entertainment.” (Wheatley, 2006, p. 33).

American Gothic Television had a focus on Family Narratives. This tied into the ‘American Dream’, or rather the depiction of the American Dream being destroyed – an ‘American Nightmare’. (Davison, 2014, p. 489).

Section 3: Application and Analysis: Media Texts

The theory of uncanny can be applied to an episode of Doctor Who titled “Blink” (Macdonald, 2007). In the episode, an alien species threatens the Doctor and the TARDIS by taking the form of stone statue angels – but when you’re not looking,  or rather cannot see them, they move closer to attack. This is an excellent example of what Masschelein was discussing “A recurring element of the uncanny in the visual arts is the importance of the (human) figure.” (Masschelein, 2011, p. 144) and “[…] the feeling of  unease that arises when something familiar suddenly becomes strange and unfamiliar.” (2011, p. 1) and also a good example of how the genre translates to British television. At the time episodes were averaging 7.96 million viewers (Doctor Who Guide, 2022) and the creators worked carefully to create an uncanny atmosphere, with much of the action taking place in an abandoned and rundown house.

An example of the uncanny can be found in Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), especially with the use of a human figure. The Pale Man in the film resembles a human, but leaves viewers unsure if the character is human, returning to Masschelein’s quote of how a “feeling of unease [that] arises when something familiar suddenly becomes strange and unfamiliar”.

Research Summary 3/3

Section 1: Lecture Summary/Key Terms/Points

The lecture focused on transmedia and intertextuality, discussing convergenceculture and the effects of content across multiple platforms and their relationship to each other, where sometimes the stories consist of layers or/and are connected  between the texts.

Section 2: RESEARCH: Explanation of terms, theories, ideas

Transmedia Storytelling was discussed by Henry Jenkins in his 2006 book, Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide: “A transmedia story unfolds across multiple media platforms, with each new text making a distinctive and valuable  contribution to the whole”. (pp. 97-98). Jenkins discusses how The Matrix (Wachowski & Wachowski, 1999), The Matrix: Reloaded (Wachowski & Wachowski, 2003a), and The Matrix Revolutions (Wachowski & Wachowski, 2003b) were one of the first  examples of such storytelling, as to fully understand the subtle, but critical, details of the films, viewers would have to also see The Animatrix (Chung & Kawajiri, 2003), play the video game Enter the Matrix (Shiny Entertainment, 2003) and  read the accompanying books and comics. Using this method of storytelling may cause more confusion than immersion, however. “Critical reception of the films focused on the tangled narrative, apparent plot holes, undeveloped tangents, and shallow  characters” (Elkington, 2009, p. 220) with audiences being left confused if they are not fully immersed.

Intertextuality is “a term to indicate that all texts, whether written or spoken, whether formal or informal, whether artistic or mundane, are in some ways related to each other.” (Van Zoonen, 2017, p. 1). Van Zoonen details “the obvious example being  books made into movies or the other way around.” (p. 1), but also points out this relationship can stretch even further than just books and movies: “Disney content is the ultimate example with ‘brands’ like Pocahontas produced as film, book, game,  costumes, bed linen, bread boxes, mugs and more.” (p. 1).

Whilst discussing a negative viewpoint of the Harry Potter film series, Berit Kjos shows another example of intertextuality:

The main product marketed through this movie is a new belief system. This pagan ideology comes complete with trading cards, computer and other wizardly games, clothes and decorations stamped with HP symbols, action figures and cuddly  dolls and audio cassettes that could keep the child’s minds focused on the occult all day and into night. [emphasis added] (Jenkins, 2006, p. 202).

Section 3: Application and Analysis: Media Texts

An example of transmedia storytelling in recent years is that of the Star Wars character Mitth’raw’nuruodo (‘Thrawn’). Before Disney bought Lucasfilm, the character had been well developed in several novels by its creator / author, Timothy Zahn, but had  never appeared within the Star Wars Cinematic Universe. When the buyout happened, Disney drew a line between the Star Wars films and the many novels which expanded the stories (literally called the ‘Expanded Universe’). This enabled a continuity between Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (Marquand, 1983) and Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (Abrams, 2015). (For example, in the expanded universe, Chewbacca had been killed off, Luke Skywalker had married the Emperor’s  ‘hand’, Mara Jade, and Leia became a Jedi – all three detailed storylines which would break the continuity in The Force Awakens).

The character of Thrawn had to be reinvented within the context of the Disney timeline, and three novels were published: Thrawn (Zahn, 2017), Thrawn: Alliances (Zahn, 2018), and Thrawn: Treason (Zahn, 2019). The character was also introduced into  the animated series Star Wars: Rebels (Filoni, 2014-2018), with a cliff-hanger ending of the final episode. Thrawn: Treason ended with Thrawn heading out to deal with the Rebels – the novels and TV series are this example of transmedia storytelling  where the endings of both texts converge.

Another example is a relationship between Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Johnson, 2017) and Star Wars: Battlefront II (EA Originals, 2017). In a cutscene in Battlefront II, you see Luke Skywalker collecting a device which is revealed to be a key plot element of The Last Jedi. Watching The Last Jedi without this context leaves questions as to how the character obtained it – those questions of course answered with knowledge of the video game.

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