Horror: A Tematic History in Fiction and Film af Darryl Jones

Horror: A Tematic History in Fiction and Film

Da Darryl Jones var 12 år fik familien sin første videoafspiller. Da hans mor var vild med gyserfilm, og hun ikke brød sig om at se dem alene, blev det et kært tidsfordriv for de to. Blandt filmene de så sammen var The Exorcist, Halloween, The Hills Have Eyes, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre og Zombie Flesh Eaters. I forordet til Horror: A Tematic History in Fiction and Film fortæller Jones, hvordan mange af disse film senere blev forbudt i henhold til ‘Video Recordings Act of 1984’. En form for censur han betegner således:

“… Given this history of unexamined prejudices and contradictions, the conclusion that suggests itself to me here is that the impulse to ban films such as “The Exorcist” was ultimately not predicated on moral or ideological grounds, since these grounds did not exist; rather, these films were banned for aesthetic reasons. That is, political decisions were made on matters of taste, based on conservative aesthetic belief that it is the function and purpose of art to reinforce and reassure, to comfort and to confirm what we already know, rather than to question our assumptions, to shock, to confront, or to overturn.”

I de efterfølgende 8 kapitler ser Jones nærmere på temaer gennem horrorens historie fra Horace Walpoles The Castle of Otranto (1765) og Mathew Lewis The Monk (1796) op til årtusindskiftet, og eksemplificerer dem gennem film og bøger.

Hating others: Religion, nationhood and identity
I kapitel et ser Jones nærmere på hadet mod ‘de andre’. Kapitlet starter med det gotiske, hvor briterne ser resten af Europa som de andre: “… Thus, by imaging forth the European Other as Catholic, supserstitious, barbarous, irrational, chaotic, rooted in the past, the Gothic novel allowed a British audience conversely to identify itself as Protestant, rational, ordered, stable, and modern: Continentel Europe is the domain of fantastic unreality, whereas England is rooted in contemporary realism.”

Og ender med kannibalisme – at spise de andre: “…It is Italian cinema, however, which has provided the most complete vision of man-as-meat, with a series of notorious, long-banned cannibal movies made during the 1970s and 1980s, a list which includes “Cannibal Holocaust”, “Cannibal Ferox”, “Eaten Alive”, “Prisoner of the Cannibal God”, “Deep River Savages”, and a number of others. Together, these constitute the most extreme body of work in Cinematic history, if not in aesthetic history tout court, offering a grim, relentlessly repellent vision of the human body and of human culture. Though the films differ from one another in detail and intensity … they all follow what is essentially the same plot. In these films, a group of modern, Western adventures, scientists, or film-makers, travels up the Amazon, encountering first nature in the raw, and then a tribe of Amerindian cannibals, invariably described as belonging to a culture fundamentally of the Stone or Iron Age. That is to say, the cannibals are figured as less evolved than their Western counterparts, and the films’ dietary logic follows itself a kind of Darwinian principle, moving ‘up the ladder’ from depictions of animals eating each other, to animals eating humans (or anyway attacking or killing them), to humans eating animals (real footage of the killing and eating of live animals is a regular feature in these films), to Amerindians eating each other, and culminating in scenes of the cannibals eating the Westerners. Like Montaigne’s essay, however, the films do attempt some degree of relativism: the Westerners are usually untrustworthy types – capitalist out to secure uranium (“Prisoners of the Cannibal God”), exploitative film-makers (“Cannibal Holocaust”), drug-dealers on the run (“Cannibal Ferox”), Jim Jones-type cultists (“Eaten Alive”) – who do great damage to the Amazonian communities the effectively invade, leading to an anthropophagous revenge. Typically, the films close by asking who the ‘real savages’ were.”

Mad science: Frankenstein and his monsters
I kapitel to, som undersøger Mad Science, ser Jones nærmere på Mary Shelleys Frankenstein, The Fly (både 1958 og 1986 udgaven) og en lang række fortællinger om videnskaben i horror.

“…The 20. century, in particular, provided ample reasons to fear science. The early century saw what the popular imagination understood as the ‘dethroning’ of humanity from the centre of creation as a consequence of Darwinist evolutionary theory, and many early horror movies reflects this…” “… this notion of playing God as the major transgression of scientists has become a central concern in cinematic mad science.”

”…We should not, however, assume that all horror-movie science is necessarily mad science. Horror can result from fundamentally benign scientific endeavour which goes awry. This is the basic position of André Delambre and of Seth Brundle in both versions of “The Fly”, working on a matter-transfer device, who accidentally fuse their own genes whit those of a fly.”

”… Or, horror can be the result of the unexpected consequences of technological advancement, inn technophobic narratives in which science itself is seen as the treat, rather than the workings of individual scientists. Earlier technophobic films most commonly figured the treat in the form of transfiguring radiation, a common trope of 1950s’ horror, overshrouded as it was by cold war terrors and particularly fears of nuclear annihilation.”

”… Horror can also result from the total severing of scientific concerns from ethical conerns in a grotesque version of ’disinterested’ scientific pursuit, ’for its own sake’, without concern for the consequences. This is probably the most influential type of horror-science, as practiced by the paradigmatic trio of mad scientist, Doctors Frankenstein, Jekyll and Moreau, though all three of their original novels at least gesture towards the idea that their scientific advances are made in some way for the betterment of humanity….Finally, at the extreme end of our spectrum, there are scientists whose aims are explicitly evil … and this is not to mention the host of mad scientists bent more generally on world domination.”

Vampires: Children of the night
Kapitel tre omhandler vampyren.

“…part of the very appeal of the vampire is its symbolic flexibility and applicability: vampires have been made to mean many things. Thus we have, for example, the vampire as a symbol for pestilence, disease, or invasion; in an often related way we have the vampire as symbol for colonialism or nationalism (vampires and nationalists share the same language, the rhetoric of ‘blood and soil’); we have vampirism as a metaphor for gender-relations or sexuality, for sexual repression, perversion, or dissidence – hence the frequent Freudian readings of vampirism, and we have the vampire as a symbol of class-relations, as the embodiment of aristocracy, or as a metaphor for the ‘bloodsucking’ process of capitalism – and more generally, as above, for any exploitative human relationship.”

“…The most important thing to say about the development of vampirology across these centuries was that there was a profound shift in forms of representation between the Enlightenment and the publication of “Dracula” in 1897, a shift which, broadly speaking, saw the vampire move from a creature of folklore to one of literature. In doing so, it also partook of a considerable upward social mobility, from peasant to aristocrat (there’s also a concomitant geographical mobility – literary vampires have a fondness for the Grand Tour: class an mobility become important when the vampire is deployed metaphorically in narratives of invasion – peasants are simply not mobile enough to represent such fears), and importently in doing so, became sexualized.”

Monsters from the id: Horror, madness and the mind
I fjerde kapitel ser Jones på monstret indefra. Det 19. århundrede var fyldt med dobbeltgængermotivet, spejlbilledet og Den Anden som også er én selv, og hvor  mødet med den dobbelte varsler døden. Tæt forbundet med dette er frygten for portrættet eller spejlet som en refleksion af det korrupte og onde selv. Jones kommer bl.a. omkring Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde og Stephen Kings Mørkets halvdel.

Og fortsætter med slasherfilmene: “…Under the slasher’s mask there may be no face at all, for the killer may have no identity other than as an embodiment of unmotivated destructiveness. This is certainly the premise behind Ellis’s ‘American Psycho’, where Bateman is perpetually being mistaken for any number of his Wall Street colleagues, all of whom are indistinguishable from each other… Linked to these issues and problems of identity are problems of identification… for examble, the slasher’s heavy use of subjective camerawork, which theoretically at least invites viewer-identification with the killer himself.”

Forbidden knowledge: Textuality, metafiction and books
Kapitel fem handler om forbudt viden, som bl.a. ser nærmere på både Edgar Allan Poe og H. P. Lovecraft, men også drager nutidens mockumentar ind med The Blair Witch Project (1999)

“…What ‘Blair Witch’ really capitalized on was its audience’s collective desire to believe in the reality of what they saw… Rather, what the audience was responding to was a series of cinematic cues and devices which traditionally signify ‘reality’: shooting on video rather than film, blurry, jerky, ‘hand-held’ camera-work; the lack of a ‘classic’ three-act cinematic structure; the presence of amateur of semiprofessional actors. The documentary style of ‘Blair Witch’ serves, indeed, to draw attention to its own fictionality and artfulness in ways in which the ‘neutral’ style of classic American Cinema, though ostensibly more formalized, does not. This it does both stylistically and by self-consciously foregrounding a number of generic conventions. First, ‘Blair Witch’ is in essence an updating of one of the oldest of all Gothic devices – her the found manuscript of ‘The Castle of Otranto’ is technologically updated as the found videotape…Second, ‘Blair Witch’ is generically a work of regional Gothic (another city slicker narrative of urban folks in trouble in the country), and thus it opens with a series of mock-interviews with locals, who tell of local legends and atrocities…The ‘official’ documentary which Heather, Josh and Mike set out to mak, shot in black and white and on film, is inter-cut with the footage of the making of the movie, on video. In this, ‘Blair Witch’s unacknowledged source is a far more notorious quasi-snuff-movie, Deodato’s ‘Cannibal Holocaust’. Like the film-makers in ‘Cannibal Holocaust’, Josh, Heather and Mike perpetually film each other, and film each other filming, consistently foregrounding what the, and the film, are setting out to do.”

Them!: Narratives of pestilence and invasion
Kapitel seks har ‘de andre’ i fokus. Kapitlet indledes med et citat af John Carpenter, som teoriserer over, at alle horror-fortællinger fundementalt kan kategoriseres som enten left-wing eller right-wing horror.

“… In left-wing horror narratives, the source of the threat is within. That is, it posits an internal agency of horror: that which we have to fear is located within ourselves, in the human mind and its potential for creation or destruction, and in the human body  and its potential for metamorphosis or mutilation. ‘Frankenstein’ might be the archetype for this kind of horror. Conversely, in right-wing horror, the threat comes from without, something other, alien and external to humanity, which is coming to get ‘us’ remorselessly, and against which we must guard if we can. The archetype for this kind for horror would then be ‘Dracula’.”

Som Jones fortsætter med at sige, er denne opdeling af genren meget grov, men ikke desto mindre kan den sagtens bruges om en stor del af genren. Kapitlet handler bl.a. om H.G. Wells The War of the Worlds, James Herberts The Rats, John Wyndham Gøgene i Gorby og George A. Romeros zombi-film.

“… From the beginning, zombification had provided a ready political metaphor due to its connections with Haitian voodoo, and thus with colonialism and particularly slavery … In ‘Night of the living dead’ and its two equally impressive sequels, ‘Dawn of the dead’ and ‘Day of the dead’, Romero develops on the ‘The Plague of the Zombies’s’ vision of the walking dead as corpses in various stages of decomposition, dispenses with voodoo in favour of a mad-scientific cause of zombification, and adds cannibalism and a wholly new apocalyptic political element.”

Transformations: Body horror
Syvende kapitel omhandler transformationen og krops-horror, og her ser Jones nærmere på både The Wolf Man, Cat People, The Thing og ikke  mindst David Cronenberg og Clive Barker.

“…Clive Barker, a prolific and distinguished contributor to modern horror across a number of media, who also came to prominence in the 1980’s, shares this vision of the body as the true site of horror, in its tranformation, and pain, but also its beauty, for Barker’s characters achieve what he clearly sees as a kind of transcendence, an escape from selfhood, through their pain: ‘for some of us,’ Barker has written, ‘monsters are welcome opportunities to be different, to act in anti-normal ways, hideous and beautiful at the same time.’ Thus, Barker’s work is full of hideous/beautiful monsters, grotesque arrangements of flesh presented as aesthetic artefacts.”

Hail Satan!: Diabolism, the occult and demonic possession
Ottende og sidste kapitel går ind i det dæmoniske gys. Jones er klar over, at emnet er overvældende og gør fra starten af klart, at han kun kommer ind på selektivt udvalgte værker herunder naturligvis både Rosemarys Baby, Exorcisten og The Omen.

Darryl Jones bog er en letforståelig og grundig indføring i horrorens historie. Han kommer vidt omkring, men formår samtidig at holde fokus på emnet, således at Horror: A Tematic History in Fiction and Film bliver en vellykket og interessant udgivelse for horror-entusiaster.


Introduction: Ban this sick filth!
1. Hating others: Religion, nationhood and identity
2. Mad science: Frankenstein and his monsters
3. Vampires: Children of the night
4. Monsters from the id: Horror, madness and the mind
5. Forbidden knowledge: Textuality, metafiction and books
6. Them!: Narratives of pestilence and invasion
7. Transformations: Body horror
8. Hail Satan!: Diabolism, the occult and demonic possession

Om Horror: A Tematic History in Fiction and Film:

Udgivelsesår: 2002
Forlag: Arnold Publishers, 224 sider

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