Making Sense of Horror Fiction: Exploring Theses

In light of the Halloween season, I have decided to explore horror fiction analysis. Many of the articles explore psychology, ethics, philosophy and literature, cutting across disciplines. Who knew popular works such as Stephen King’s Carrie,  could be cause for academic research!

Below you will find ten articles that explore horror fiction and their theses. I will then summarize the thesis statements, so although seemingly redundant, allows for a better understanding of the arguments.

1. Russ, J. (1980). On the Fascination of Horror-Stories, including Lovecraft’s. Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 7, No. 3, Science Fiction and the Non-Print Media, pp. 350-352.

“At its best horror fiction does attempt to give subjective, undiluted, raw, absolute, global experience-in-itself of these basic human issues. Hence the primitiveness, the crudity, the coarseness of texture of even the best of stories, like Poe’s,  although such coarseness is not a defect. It is a consequence of the material, which is common psychology of experience, not an individual psychology of particular characters.”

In her article “On the Fascination of Horror-Stories, including Lovecraft’s, ” Joanna Russ’ thesis clearly states out the premise of the content. She is arguing that behind the general fascination of horror lies the idea of a common experience. Horror explores basic human issues through fear and gore and the primitive instinct to stay alive. These instincts are shared by the general public, and therefore create a general fascination with horror.


2. Bantinaki, K. (2012). The Paradox of Horror: Fear as a Positive Emotion. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 70(4), 383-392. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/stable/43496533

Taking fear as the paradigm horror emotion, I develop an integrationist moderate hedonic account of the attraction of horror. Following Gary Iseminger’s classification, the account is integrationist to the extent that it traces the attraction of horror in the emotions it elicits: an experience, I argue, that is potentially both beneficial and rewarding, unlike its real-life occurrences… fear in response to horror can be experienced as an overall positive emotion, that is, an emotion toward which the subject has a positive stance and thus enjoys experiencing, leaving it open whether the emotional experience is also affectively pleasurable or affectively painful.”
Bantinaki’s thesis outlines exactly what she will be arguing. She uses the first person and cites major references of which she will explore. In short, her thesis outlines her argument that due to the integrationist hedonic account, horror elicits an experience that based on its fictional nature can be beneficial and rewarding. The fictional fear of un-reality creates a positive emotion. It is important to note that the context of these emotions is wwhat is most important in integrationist theory.

3.Hull, T. (2006). H.P. Lovecraft: A Horror in Higher Dimensions. Math Horizons, 13(3), 10-12. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/stable/25678597
“Lovecraft’s fiction follows a rather non-traditional approach to horror, fitting more appropriately into the sub-genre of weird fiction. Specifically, Lovecraft was primarily interested in creating an appropriate mood to inspire in the reader a sense of cosmic horror: that the hopes, dreams, and philosophies of humankind are inconsequential to the larger universe, and that as a result the chaotic forces of nature could wipe out human existence in the blink of an eye without anyone even noticing.”
In Hull’s thesis he argues that Lovecraft’s work extends outside of the genre’s norms reaching a “higher dimension” of weird fiction. This type of fiction explores the cosmic in relation with some key emotions of the human psyche: the hopes, dreams, and philosophies of humankind. The sublime “chaotic forces” threaten human existence, which as Hull argues, creates a higher type of horror that many attempt to mimic.

4. Tompkins, J. (2009). What’s the Deal with Soundtrack Albums? Metal Music and the Customized Aesthetics of Contemporary Horror. Cinema Journal, 49(1), 65-81. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/stable/25619745
“This essay argues that film music functions not only as a cross-promotional medium for marketing movies and licensed recordings, but also as a key site for effectively managing and containing processes of consumption. Heavy metal music is deployed in horror films like Freddy vs. Jason to interpellate particular niche audiences and taste communities. Thus, soundtrack albums reveal assumption within media firms that a manageable relationship between niche formats and consumer tastes exists to be exploited.”
Tompkins clearly lays out the argument of his article. He argues that there is a direct correlation with the choice of music in film soundtracks with the targeted audience. He uses horror film and metal music as an example. He argues that in films like Freddy vs. Jason, media firms target audiences with metal music, assuming their tastes in music would coincide with their taste in film and encourage consumption.

5. Carroll, N. (1987). The Nature of Horror. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 46(1), 51-59. doi:10.2307/431308 
“It is not the purpose of this essay to analyze natural horror, but only art-horror-“horror,” that is, as it serves to name a cross-art genre whose existence is already recognized in ordinary language…Art-horror by stipulation, is supposed to refer to the product of a genre that crystallized roughly around the time of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and that has continued often cyclically, to persist through the novels and plays of the nineteenth century and the literature and films of the twentieth.”
Carroll’s thesis is somewhat abstract, he briefly describes the kind of horror he will be exploring as art horror, of which his essay will go on to explain. He gives an example of one of the works he will explore Frankenstein of whose description and epistolary style acts as art. Carroll will cross disciplines to explore film, literature, and plays that explore this genre.

6.Benshoff, H. (2000). Blaxploitation Horror Films: Generic Reappropriation or Reinscription? Cinema Journal, 39(2), 31-50. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/stable/1225551
“This essay explores how the concept of African American agency historically negotiated the generic structure of the horror film during the years of the blaxploitation film craze (roughly 1969-76). This is an important topic, since the American horror flm often hinges on filmically constructed fears of the Other- an Other-ness both drawn from constitutive of any given era’s cultural history.” 
Benshoff has a very straightforward thesis which highlights his essays objective. He states he will be exploring the idea of the Other in horror film, exploring stereotypes that black actors are often forced to fill in horror. He hopes to support this exploration through a historical look at blaxploitation of the early 70s, where black actors were exploited as the Other.

7.Briefel, A. (2005). Monster Pains: Masochism, Menstruation, and Identification in the Horror Film.Film Quarterly, 58(3), 16-27. doi:10.1525/fq.2005.58.3.16
“In what follows, I will suggest that pain is central to how we relate to the horror film- but not as a vehicle through which we can sympathize with the monster’s victims. Instead, I will propose that it is the monster’s pain that determines audience positioning in the horror film.The genre presents two contrasting modes of monstrous suffering: masochism and menstruation.”
Briefel has very original ideas about horror film. She suggests that audiences sympathies lie within the monster’s pain. She argues there are two camps one can sympathize with: masochism which represents male monsters and sadistic rampages, and the female counterpart to the act of self-mutiliation in menstruation. In short, she argues that their are feminine and masculine parts of horror that expose conservatism.

8.Lindsey, S. (1991). HORROR, FEMININITY, AND CARRIE’S MONSTROUS PUBERTY. Journal of Film and Video, 43(4), 33-44. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/stable/20687952
“The film is in essence a melodramatic rendering of female puberty where the mousy outcast triumphs(if only temporarily) over popular, better looking girls by beating them at their own game…the film surrounds such familiar issues with an aura of terror, grafting onto this plot a story of supernatural horror dealing with Carrie’s telekinetic power.”
Lindsey’s article opens with a thesis summarizing their thoughts on the film adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie. Lindsey argues that the film is a melodramatic rendition of female puberty and the struggles associated with that. The use of familiar issues makes the film popular, especially with the incorporation of fascinating themes such as terror and the supernatural.

9. Brauerhoch, A. (1995). Mixed Emotions: “Mommie Dearest.” Between Melodrama and Horror. Cinema Journal, 35(1), 53-64. doi:10.2307/1225807
“To this end the film, Mommie Dearest, falls back onto conventions of the “womans film” and employs a genre mix of melodrama and horror: it picks up the leitmotivs of the female melodrama, in which the protagonist becomes an icon of suffering; in other elements, especially in its visual style, however, the film rather reminds one of horror film.”
Brauerhoch argues that the film Mommie Dearest explores conventions of melodrama and horror. As a “womans film” the protagonist represents the female suffering that is often a stereotype in horror films. Brauerhoch argues that the film borders on historically misogynistic genres.

10. Stewart, S. (1982). The Epistemology of the Horror Story. The Journal of American Folklore, 95(375), 33-50. doi:10.2307/540021
“The narrative structure of the horror story exaggerates and displays the sequentiality of all narrative structures; hence its adaptability to the monologic narrative voice, to the phenomenon of one page after another, to the sequential shots of the film, and to the temporality of directed travel through the landscape of the “house of horrors.” The horror story form thus spans both preindustrial and postindustrial modes of fiction making and provides an important example of the ways in which folklore and literature share a repertoire of narrative devices.”
Stewart argues that the form of horror through its narrative structures, temporality, and adaptability spans the pre and post industrial modes of fiction. The relationship between folklore and literature mark the importance and popularity of these narrative devices which allow for a timeless feel.
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