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5 Return of the Repressed: Euro Horror Cinema in Contemporary American Culture

Ian Olney Indiana University Press ePub

EURO HORROR CINEMA IN CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN CULTURE

As we scan the landscape of mainstream cinema in the United States today, it becomes easier to understand why Euro horror movies like The House by the Cemetery and Troll 2 currently hold such allure. For all its commitment to crowd-pleasing spectacle, contemporary Hollywood cinema simply does not offer audiences the same opportunities for performative spectatorship that Euro horror does. Bland, safe, and boring – despite their emphasis on nonstop action, celebrity actors, and flashy special effects – Hollywood films lack the postmodern qualities that afford Euro horror fans the chance to try out different points of view and play with a range of often transgressive subject positions. Moreover, rather than presenting itself as a partner in dialogue and prompting the viewer’s active participation in a conversation, the dominant cinema is largely invested in masking its gaze and colonizing ours. It denies the intersubjectivity that defines the cinematic experience by presenting itself simply as a vehicle for our entertainment and encouraging us to just go along for the ride. In short, it is a form of disposable entertainment intended to be consumed and quickly forgotten, a roller-coaster ride designed to thrill audiences without asking them to think too much or feel too deeply.

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2 Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control: The Academic Case against Euro Horror Cinema

Ian Olney Indiana University Press ePub

THE ACADEMIC CASE AGAINST EURO HORROR CINEMA

To begin, I argue that Euro horror’s liminal presence in Film Studies is partly due to the fact that when making decisions about which movies to analyze, scholars continue – consciously or not – to rely upon traditional aesthetic criteria. Although ideological rather than aesthetic issues have been the primary focus of film theory and criticism since the 1970s, the old notion that a film must possess some kind of “artistic value” to be worthy of study has endured. The persistence of this notion has stalled the scholarly exploration of some forms of popular cinema despite the powerful influence of Cultural Studies in academia. In particular, as Paul Watson contends, it has led to a pervasive (if largely unspoken and perhaps unrecognized) bias against the exploitation film, that “blatantly commercial product, sold on the basis of its apparent revelatory qualities, and designed to ensure maximum possible return from the minimum investment and resources” (76):

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3 Playing Dead, Take One: Euro Horror Film Production

Ian Olney Indiana University Press ePub

EURO HORROR FILM PRODUCTION

Euro horror movies encourage performative spectatorship because of the way in which they are made. I want to be mindful of the danger of overgeneralizing about the common identity of these films, despite – or rather because of – the fact that they are regularly lumped together by their contemporary American fans. After all, Europe comprises over fifty countries, two dozen languages, and a wide array of cultural, social, economic, political, religious, and artistic traditions. The challenge that such diversity poses to anyone wanting to make grand statements about “the” nature of European cinema is obvious. As Ernest Mathjis and Xavier Mendik write:

 

There is hardly a more difficult object of media study than European cinema. Although seemingly evident by its geographical boundaries, from the Atlantic to the Urals, from the Arctic Circle to the Mediterranean, its cultural, aesthetic, economical, political and ideological demarcations are far from clear. European cinema cannot be pinned down to a small number of production strategies, or reduced to a limited series of intentions or ideological perspectives; it does not even fit barriers of language or nations. It cannot be defined through audience and reception practices, nor through its range of textual meanings. There are no straightforward genres to hold on to, no uncontested canon, not even an undisputed series of countries (Flemish cinema? Yiddish cinema? Turkish cinema? Yugoslavian cinema?), people (Alfred Hitchcock, Luc Besson, Paul Verhoeven?) or texts (Stranger than Paradise, Buena Vista Social Club?). (“Introduction” 1–2)

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4 Playing Dead, Take Two: Euro Horror Film Reception

Ian Olney Indiana University Press ePub

EURO HORROR FILM RECEPTION

Postmodern filmmaking practices provide part of the explanation for the performative spectatorship fostered by Euro horror cinema, but not a full account. For that, we need to consider the uniquely performative ways in which Euro horror movies are now being watched in the United States. To a certain extent, film viewing always involves an element of performativity. In her phenomenological account of the cinematic experience, Vivian Sobchack appropriates Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s description of the “intertwining” or “chiasmus” of subject and object that takes place at the moment of perception in order to argue that watching a movie should be thought of not as an act, but rather as a dialogue that involves the audience and the film as equal participants. Writing that a movie “is as much a viewing subject as it is . . . a visible and viewed object” (51), Sobchack demonstrates that spectatorship is necessarily “a dialogical and dialectical engagement of two viewing subjects who also exist as visible objects” (52). Despite the fact that there are “always two embodied acts of vision at work in the theater, two embodied views constituting the intelligibility and significance of the film experience” (53), though, we often fail to recognize this, missing entirely the “dynamic activity of viewing that is engaged in by both the film and the spectator, each as viewing subjects” (45). Rather than treating the movies we watch as partners in dialogue, we tend to see them as events to which we must play passive witnesses. As a rule, the “returned gaze” (Dixon, It Looks at You 2) of cinema goes unmet.

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1 Academic Hot Spots and Blind Spots: Horror Film Studies and Euro Horror Cinema

Ian Olney Indiana University Press ePub

HORROR FILM STUDIES AND EURO HORROR CINEMA

There has been an explosion of interest in horror cinema among film scholars in recent years; in the first decade of the twenty-first century especially, the genre received unprecedented attention in the field of Film Studies. Perhaps the most visible sign of the current scholarly fascination with horror cinema is the record number of books on the subject being published by academic presses in the United States and abroad. Scores of monographs and edited volumes on seemingly every aspect of the genre, from its nature and history to its cultural and ideological dimensions to its notable directors and producers to its reception and fandom, now crowd the shelves. There is even a growing number of texts on horror cinema geared toward the film student – introductory guidebooks that offer overviews of the genre, as well as critical anthologies that collect the most important and influential essays on the subject – indicating that horror film studies has truly arrived as an area of academic inquiry. While the extraordinary number of books on horror cinema available today may be the most visible sign of scholarly interest in the genre, it is not the only one. Hundreds of articles on the horror film have appeared in a wide range of highly respected academic journals. Many of these journals have devoted entire issues to horror, and at least one – Horror Studies, a periodical published in the United Kingdom – has dedicated itself exclusively to the exploration of the genre. One might also point to the countless papers on horror cinema delivered at conferences sponsored by professional organizations like the Society for Cinema and Media Studies and the Popular Culture and American Culture associations. And this boom in horror film scholarship seems likely to continue for the foreseeable future: according to the Dissertation Abstracts Online database, dozens of doctoral dissertations on horror cinema were submitted at universities all over the world during the first decade of the 2000s, suggesting that a new generation of scholars with a substantial investment in the genre has now entered the field.

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