This book explores the ways in which the unashamedly disturbing conventions of international horror cinema allow audiences to engage with the traumatic legacy of the recent past in a manner that has serious implications for the ways in which we conceive of ourselves both as gendered individuals and as members of a particular nation-state. Exploring a wide range of stylistically distinctive and generically diverse film texts, its analysis ranges from the body horror of the American 1970s to the avant-garde proclivities of German Reunification horror, from the vengeful supernaturalism of recent Japanese chillers and their American remakes to the post-Thatcherite masculinity horror of the UK and the resurgence of hillbilly horror in the period following 9/11 USA. In each case, it is argued that horror cinema forces us to look again at the wounds inflicted on individuals, families, communities and nations by traumatic events such as genocide and war, terrorist outrage and seismic political change, wounds that are all too often concealed beneath ideologically expedient discourses of national cohesion. Thus proffering a radical critique of the nation-state and the ideologies of identity it promulgates, horror cinema is seen to offer us a disturbing, yet perversely life affirming, means of working through the traumatic legacy of recent times.
Trauma studies, an interdisciplinary area within the humanities, came into existence in late 1970s through psychoanalytically informed and holocaust-focused academics. This chapter is a theoretical caucus that attempts to articulate and critique the diverse ways in which traumatic memories have been inscribed as wounds on the cultural, social, psychic and political life of those who have experienced them, and those cultural products that seek to represent such experiences to those who have not. Trauma studies can thus be seen as a body of theoretical scholarship that addresses itself to cultural memory, to the modes in which traumatic historical events are representationally transmitted in time and space, to the politics of memorialising such events and experiences, and to the cultural significance of vicarious modes of witnessing trauma. Concerned with the socio-cultural and psychological ramifications of trauma, both Trauma studies and the trauma-raddled and wound-obsessed genre that is horror cinema can be seen to address themselves to psychic and social sites where individual and group identities are constituted, destroyed and reconstructed. Later this chapter turns to a discussion of author's experience with this genre.
This chapter explores two recent works of experimental, historically grounded and hence political German films that effectively encapsulate the conceptual and critical agenda. They are Jörg Buttgereit's Nekromantik and Nekromantik 2. These films are not only more thematically complex and technically sophisticated than is popularly supposed, but they also share a set of artistic and ideological concerns more usually associated with the canonic auteurs of the Young German Cinema and the New German Cinema of the turbulent years of the 1960s and 1970s. In both Nekromantik films then, Buttgereit was keen to expose the highly manipulative nature of the film medium—specifically in the second film's depiction of heterosexual pornography and the first's re-creation of the slasher horror genre. Buttgereit not only produced stylistically inventive and conceptually sophisticated works of modern horror cinema but also offered a new model of German subjectivity for a post-reunification age. It is a considerable achievement for one whose films have been widely banned, critically neglected and commonly viewed as low-budget shockers of little artistic and intellectual merit. Such attitudes, needless to say, are entirely predictable responses from a still wounded, still traumatised national culture unable yet to engage with Buttgereit's unflinchingly radical stance.
Post-war national identity and the spirit of subaltern vengeance in Ringu and The Ring
This chapter illustrates that drawing on the Japanese onryou or vengeful ghost narrative, Ringu, and later The Ring, was intimately concerned with traumatic dislocations to national self-image and the ways in which the media may promulgate ideologically dominant models of national identity for the internalisation of individuals who, as one has seen in the case of post-war Germany, nonetheless remain gravely wounded by the events of the historic past. Since the 1960s, Japanese horror cinema repeatedly had the female corpse return from the dead to demand retribution for the hitherto concealed wounds inflicted on the nation by unpunished historical crimes. This chapter also highlights the most commercially successful and culturally resonant, The Ring, Gore Verbinski's 2002 remake of Nakata Hideo's Ringu of 1998 (which is itself an adaptation of a Suzuki Koji novel of 1991), a film that has earned gross international revenues of over $229 million and became the seventh-highest grossing horror film in history. Furthermore, it explains the generic conventions of the onryou that may be seen to undermine the imperialistic agendas of both twentieth-century Japan and the twenty first-century United States.
This chapter opens with a discussion of John Winthrop, Governor of New England, who delivered a rousing sermon entitled A Model of Christian Charity. Winthrop outlined the hopes and fears of the community of men and women who had left Europe in search of religious freedom and warned of the dangers that imperiled the success of their mission to redeem the sins of the old world in the new. Winthrop warned people, that the Lord would surely break out in anger against them and stated that they would be ‘consumed out of the good land.’ The long-dead figure of John Winthrop is resurrected here for a number of reasons, primarily because close consideration of his words provides a salutary reminder that the foundational historical documents of the United States, as is the case with all nations, are continually open to ideological manipulation in the service of competing interest groups. It is nonetheless significant that by the 1970s new generation of activists, writers, artists and particularly film-makers looked to the nation's foundational mythology as a means of understanding why and how things had gone so terribly wrong in the present. Through a hugely creative deployment of the conventions of contagion horror, supernatural horror and body horror, the films of George A. Romero thus provide some of the most visually arresting political challenges to the low, dishonest decades from which they emerged.
America’s last frontier hero in the age of Reaganite eschatology and beyond
This chapter draws heavily on the misadventures of the cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter, from Ridley Scott's film Hannibal. Reflecting the hunger of American audiences for the further misadventures of Hannibal Lecter, took this film to a record-breaking $58,000,000 on its opening weekend in the United States. Such massive public interest in Lecter had of course begun with his appearance in Thomas Harris's best-selling novels Red Dragon (1981), The Silence of the Lambs (1988) and Hannibal (1999). This chapter further illustrates that the iconic Lecter's true significance lay in the ways he allowed contemporary audiences to engage psychologically and socio-culturally with the historic traumas of the Reagan years while exposing the ideological mediation of that trauma by all aspects of the culture industry. The violent murderer has been a recurrent figure in the mass cultural imagination of the United States since the earliest days of the republic. He has come to the forefront of the popular imagination at times of political, social or economic dislocation; and his outrageous deeds and fantasies have allowed for a timely re-examination of one of the core paradoxes of American social life.
The War on Terror and the resurgence of hillbilly horror after 9/11
This chapter explores the remarkable cinematic resurgence of hillbilly horror in the years since 9/11. For as George W. Bush pits the ostensible civilisation of the United States (US) against the oriental barbarism of the terrorist threat, providing himself in the process with justification for both the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq and the introduction of a range of ‘homeland security’ measures that have restricted US civil liberties with an effectiveness that would have made Nixon proud, a new generation of horror film makers have brought the next generation of hillbillies to cinema screens. Engaging with the traumatic inheritance of 9/11 though the new hillbilly horror, like Trauma Studies itself, is concerned with the complex relation between knowing and not knowing the truth, seeing and not seeing the wounds inflicted on the national psyche by recent events. This chapter later emphasizes that the sub-genre, hillbilly horror, comes to encapsulate all the archaic disorder, medieval darkness, anti-classical savagery and pantheistic paganism of the American other and the terrorist threat alike while making amply apparent the simultaneously repressive and oppressive qualities of everyday civilised life.