The cinematic transgressive power of vampires.

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Dracula A.D. 1972 (Alan Gibson, 1972)

The presence of a vampire-like being originates as far back as ancient Mesopotamian times as well as featuring in folklore with fables across the world telling the tale of bloodthirsty beasts terrorising innocent villages. The beginning of the popularisation of vampires originates from early literature such as The Vampyre (John Polidori, 1819). Polidori’s work notably amalgamated the diversified elements of the vampire into a singular monster with a developed intention. Following this, in 1897 Bram Stoker wrote the Gothic horror novel Dracula which would soon go on to influence the future of vampire’s in films. This unification of various folklore and mythological creatures into one figure had aided the vampire sub-genre to develop into what it has become. Cinema has come to witness a plethora of vampire films with the creature itself materialising into a troubled immortal with a romanticised aura surrounding their blood lust.

To interpret the affective power of the vampire it is important to apprehend the early versions of the creature in cinema. One of the earliest examples of the first vampire film is Dracula halála (Károly Lajthay, 1921) however it is now considered a lost film, instead the more distinguished film born out of the German expressionist era Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (F.W. Murnau, 1922) began to pave the way for the modern vampire in cinema with Count Orlok (Max Schreck) introducing a maliciously disfigured version of Dracula who modelled rat like features with sharp fangs protruding out of his mouth. The filmic vampire mythology progressed further with Universal Pictures, Dracula (Tod Browning, 1931).

Bela Lugosi will always live as Dracula
Bela Lugosi (Dracula, 1931)

Dracula was portrayed by Bela Lugosi, his performance unveiled a more dapper and sensuous persona which would inherently transform the identity of the vampire. In 1958 Hammer Film Productions released a new version of Dracula (Terence Fisher)that explores previously uncharted areas in vampiric cinema. Christopher Lee’s depiction of an aristocratic Dracula radiated an erotic aura whose victims would fall power to, this foreboding intensity oscillating between sexual prowess and blood cements the film as establishing a new identity for the vampire. For instance, before Dracula feeds off of Mina (Melissa Stribling) he temptationally lures her towards him in an almost hypnotic fashion with her opening her neck inviting him to bite her; Dracula stood as a Antichrist archetype whose seductive disposition acted as an intrinsic quality that defined what the vampire figure embodied.

Furthermore, the concept that a vampire’s carnality acts as a means to express their transgressive power between the association of pleasure and death is heavily signified through the female vampire. Generally across European cinema the female vampire acts as a more significant character to the narrative, with developed arcs and a centrality to the narrative such as the Italian horror Black Sunday (Mario Bava, 1960) and the German film We Are the Night (Dennis Gansel, 2010). However, in mainstream Hollywood cinema, the female vampire mainly acts as a supporting character who fleetingly appears in an assertive manner to exude sexuality for a brief moment. The female vampire was first significantly featured in Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 novella Carmilla, the vampire in this story has an overwhelming sense of sexuality and seduction. This essence of vivaciousness has continued within cinema; the female vampire represents fluidity and transgression due to their dominant inherent promiscuity feeding into their desire for blood. In cinema the female vampire is often inconsequential to the narrative and only serves as an object for seductive affect (which will be addressed below). The female vampire is represented as animalistic with no conscious differentiation between lust and violence unlike the male vampire who identifies with having a debonair persona alongside a charming habitude. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Francis Ford Coppola, 1992) affiliates blood drinking with a sexual act by correlating it as an interlacing of fluids from one person to another, it is the life source for vampires despite the endings of life for the victim.

Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) • 25 Years Later - Frame Rated - Medium
Still from Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

The film follows a young barrister Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) on his journey to the Carpathian Mountains to settle a contract with Count Dracula (Gary Oldman), but when Dracula notices that Harker’s fiancee Mina (Winona Ryder) bares resemblance to his late wife, Dracula holds him hostage to take Mina as his own. Coppola’s telling of Dracula illustrates the eroticised amourosity of the female vampire through a scene involving Harker being seduced by Dracula’s brides. This scene is briefly relevant to the entire storyline, holding to the fact that Dracula’s brides are unnecessary and only present to eroticise and exert a sexual factor to allure the audiences desire. Harker stumbles upon the brides layer adorned with silk sheets and phallic pillars lining the wall, he is immediately drawn in with soft whisperings of a women’s voice inviting him to lay back as the brides emerge from under the sheets. As the nude brides arise Harker involuntarily succumbs to their devices and allows himself to be bitten ferociously by the vampires. One of the brides melts away Harker crucifix before kissing him sealing his fate.

Bram Stoker's Dracula | Some Films and Stuff
Still of Dracula’s brides scene

As the scene progresses the vampires unleash their fangs and penetrate into his skin leaving piercing marks seething with blood, the three brides entwine themselves on top of Harker whilst devouring his flesh. Their slithering motions combined with the sounds of them erotically moaning all expose this act of blood drinking as being a form of a sexual act as it satisfies and fills the vampire; thus, imitating the symboloisation of sex.

Coppola demonstrates the affective quality that this seductive image has upon the spectator through aspects such as cinesexuality. Patricia MacCormack coins cinesexuality in Barbara Steele’s Ephemeral Skin: Feminism, Fetishism and Film (2002) as being the desire for the image and the seductive image enthralls the viewer via the image itself not the meaning. For example, during the brides of Dracula scene the viewer is confronted with the undead who are almost cannibalistically feasting upon their prey. The vampires appear seductive, yet their true form is an immortal being with an uncontrollable thirst for blood. The true portrayal deviates from the female vampires aesthetically alluring outside posterior. Nevertheless the spectator’s gaze is held intrigued due to the amalgamation of seductiveness paired with the intrigue of the anomalous. Despite the over sexualisation via the silk sheets wrapping over the vampire’s bodies and the lack of clothing revealing their psychique, the scene shifts its sexualised fixation through combining of horror imagery. For instance, towards the end of the scene the brides mouths become increasingly dirtied with blood as well as one of the bride’s growing snakes out of her head (replicating Medusa). Coppola then uses an extreme close-up to reveal one of the brides biting and licking the blood gushing out of Harker’s nipple, it is this close portrayal of such imagery that affects the viewer. The strange and the seductive combine to fascinate us and hold our gaze. MacCormack (2002) suggests that “the movement of our body folds with the seduction of the image. This image doesn’t mean anything, it just looks amazing and the look, not the meaning, affects us”. Through using this notion of cinesexuality, our affective reaction to the bold and beautiful can be due to the senses being evoked via the internal investigation of fear alongside desire. The affective response conjured by the viewer is constructed through “the relationship between screen, spectator and manifestations of desire” (Kennedy, 2001, p.38). Kennedy discusses this manifestation of the viewer and the screen using Delueze’s concept that cinema can be a form of responsive affect and that the image is a powerful medium engrossing and alluring the viewer in. In the case of the vampire film, cinesexuality can be explained as a desirable “energy which effectuates some sort of emotional response” (p. 47).

The brief but poignant spectacle displayed by Dracula’s Bride’s is as aforementioned typical from Hollywood vampire cinema as the main event in mainstream vampire films is the typified male vampire whose transgressive fluidity is performed in a sauve and romantic way. Yet, the transgressive nature towards sexuality and gender strongly portrayed within the female vampire is not lost upon the male vampire as they too have rife underlying notes of bisexuality and gender fluidity. This is demonstrated in Neil Jordan’s 1994 American gothic horror Interview with the Vampire based upon Anna Rice’s 1976 book of the same name. The film focuses on the two vampires Lestat (Tom Cruise) and Louis (Brad Pitt) and their journey together throughout hundreds of years together. Lestat and Louis are both portrayed by Hollywood sex symbols who posses an inherent sense of desire amongst many audience members; the appeal is only furthered with their feminine image of beauty, long lucious hair and a sense of elegance to their identity.

Interview With The Vampire and The Origin of Remorseful ...
Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise in Interview with the Vampire

Eli Roth’s History of Horror’s (2018) episode titled Vampires discusses the romatised male vampire featured within Interview with the Vampire, with Louis and Lestat being described as “tortured heroes, amoral villains, and avatars of alternative sexuality”, this idea of the troubled hero is expressed through Louis, who has a lingering sense of dismay and anger over being a vampire and how he has to brutally kill his prey. This gives credit to the suggestion that the male vampire expresses feminine aspects in the sense that he feels distressed at having to hunt innocent people, in a way Louis does not naturally inhabit stereotyped male qualities such as an innate aggression and lack of sympathy. Lestat and Louis companionship style relationship further increases their homoerotic closeness that is ambiguously and covertly represented in the film. For example, Lestat turns Louis into a vampire, to do so he has to latch onto Louis’ neck whilst slowly pushing him to the ground with Louis moaning out in pain as Lestat’s teeth penetrate into his flesh. In order for Lestat to fully transform Louis, he has to drain him of most of his blood before feeding him his own to complete the process.

Holy Hell! Interview with the Vampire Turns 20 - Spectrum Culture
Lestat biting Louis

The intertwining of fluids between Louis and Lestat clouds the barriers between each other, serving as a metaphor for a sexual act connecting them through the exchangements of each other’s bodies via blood drinking. Cynthia Freeland in her book, The Naked And The Undead: Evil And The Appeal Of Horror (2000) discusses the femininity of the male vampires act of violence during their feeding. She comments that the erotic fixiation of sex “becomes the mouth on the neck rather than the penis in the vagina and since the vampire receives fluids (red blood) rather than spending fluids (white semen), there is a sort of feminized component” (p.156). In this scene Lestat both receives and provides blood which can be understood as a transgressive symbology for a “subversive eroticism” (p.156).

The affect that is dispensed via this scene between Louis and Lestat is evoked due to the impassive yet active nature the audience is inclined to experience. The scene is set in a dimly lit New Orleans with worn statues and memorial plaques scattered amongst withered trees, Louis meanders along still grieving the loss of his wife and unborn child, Lestat soon creeps into the frame startling Louis and the viewer before pouncing and latching himself onto Louis mortal neck. As they fall to the floor, Louis complexion gradually pales as the blood drains from his veins, Lestat whispers into his ear “I’ve drained you to the point of death. If I leave you here, you’ll die. Or .. you can be young, always my friend as we are now. But you must tell me will you come or no?” To which Louis replies “yes”. Lestat pierces his wrist to drip his immortal blood down onto Louis’s open mouth. Louis now bloodthirsty jerks Lestat’s arm so that he can suck the blood out of his wounds while a rapid heartbeat sounds chime in the background. Towards the end of the scene Louis withers and convulses as his human self becomes undead whilst Lestat watches in awe and fascination; almost mimicking the audiences reactions. This scene’s cinematography captures the eroticness of blood drinking in showing suggestive imagery via a medium close up shot of Lestat piercing into Louis neck as he tightly holds him close revelling in the pleasure he is receiving as well as the long shot of Lestat leaning back (after spending his blood on Louis) in a state of euphoria and merriment as Louis transforms into a vampire.

The spectator is affected through the above mentioned aspects due to the fact that the image is a naturally fascinating process. Freeland comments that horror introduces a unique affecting power as the imagery is not consistently pleasant, as it typically involves horrifying connotations and iconography of death. Yet people are intrigued by their natural urges to want to see more, we want to be acquainted to a proposed demise, a threat. “Horror works because we see the monster and his victims. (In film, seeing is a kind of understanding.) And depending upon how attractive the monster is and how inept the closure provided by the investigator, the film ending may or may not be satisfactory when it finally puts a stop to our ambivalent desire for the spectacle of horror” (2000, p.158). Using Freeland’s work as a support, it can be understood that affect is stimulated in vampire films such as Interview with the Vampire as a consequence of the alluring character that is a vampire whose seductive nature draws the viewer in, only for the attention to slowly move from desire to horror. As the audience has been already tempted, it becomes difficult for them to divert their gaze as the violence occurs. The violent image becomes one with the seductive, thus invoking affect amongst the spectator. Hakola (2015) states that “It is possible for the viewer to be both fascinated by and afraid of earth, to be enchanted by sublime images and despise looking, even at the same time. The different addressed positions contribute to the viewer’s active role in the viewing process (p.151). For instance, the notion of death is explored in this scene but not fully achieved, it is this fine line treading between witnessing the horrific image of death but associating it with romaticised elements of eroticsim expressed via the vampire.

Over the course of time vampires still frequent as movie monsters regularly, however their typified fang bearing and cape wearing personas have slightly vanished from the vampire uniform. Recent cinema has unveiled various forms of vampires, from the domesticated romanticised Cullen clan in the box office phenomenon Twilight Saga to the barbarous and wrathful creatures featured in 30 Days of Night (David Slade, 2007). Vampires transgressiveness knows no bounds with filmmakers having entire free reign to create tier own personal vision of the vampire who can deviate from the ‘rules’ confined by early representations of Dracula. For example, many early horror films took on Stoker’s depiction of a vampire, however with the success of films such as Interview with the Vampire, The Lost Boys (Joel Schumacker, 1987) and From Dusk Till Dawn (Robert Rodriguez, 1996) the figure of the vampire can be flexible and reshaped to conform in a mirage of circumstances, whether that be to accommodate to 1980s teen audiences with a need to watch leather jacketed, spiked hair vampires or to conform to the action blockbuster market of the late 1990s (via From Dusk till Dawn). The vampire in recent cinema has even taken an almost comedic identity with a self deprecating opinion of the dullness that comes with being a vampire. The 2014 mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows (Jemaine Clement and Taiki Waititi) follows three comically stereotyped vampires who have to navigate day to day life as centuries old creatures lacking modern socio norms. The modern vampires struggle has been expressed across multiple genres, including the indie market, with Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive (2013); vampires Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) represent a cool bohemian figure bored with society (which they refer to as zombies’) and its lack of true culture with the ‘zombies’ opting for a mundane life of work and then death. The transition of the vampire signifies the change in culture and the need to adapt monsters to a modern setting, relating to societies changing fears and problems. However, despite the significant variation of vampires offered by filmmakers, what is central to every vampire film is the need for blood. Blood is the life source for every living creature, immortal or mortal; and what is consistent throughout all of these films is that no matter how humanistic or moral a vampire may be, they will still kill to satisfy their craving.

In conclusion, a vampire’s transgressive nature knows no bounds. The vampire is purposefully seductive with a sexual aura acting as a weapon to lure in their prey; the victims of the vampire is unpreferential, with both male and female vampires feasting on humans regardless of their sex. This act of blood drinking which unites all vampires, connotates an erotic act with the process of their fangs penetrating into an individuals soft flesh replicating a sexual deed. Due to the vampires versatility in whom they choose to perform this deed on, they are seen as fluid creatures whose orientation is non definable as they take on both masculine and feminine characteristics. The catalyst behind the female vampire in early cinema is her animalistic and carnal sexuality that is untamable, unlike her male counterpart whose need for blood is achieved in a charming and romantically seductive manner. Throughout history the vampire has remained an influential monster that challenges the spectators desire for looking at the visually fascinating and horrifically seducing image. The affect experienced by audiences active role in watching the film surrounds the fear yet fascination regarding death and its ending of mortality and humanness.


30 Days of Night directed by David Slade, 2007.

Black Sunday directed by Mario Bava, 1960.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula directed by Francis Ford Coppola, 1992.

Dracula directed by Terrence Fischer, 1958.

Dracula directed by Tod Browning, 1931.

Dracula halala directed by Károly Lajthay, 1921.

Interview with the Vampire directed by Neil Jordan, 1994.

From Dusk till Dawn directed by Robert Rodriguez, 1996.

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror directed by F.W. Murnau, 1922.

Only Lovers Left Alive directed by Jim Jarmusch, 2013.

The Lost Boys directed by Joel Schumacker, 1987.

Twilight directed by Catherine Hardwicke, 2008.

We Are the Night directed by Dennis Gansel, 2010.

What We Do in the Shadows directed by Jemaine Clement and Taiki Waititi, 2014.

Reference List:

Freeland, C. (2000) The naked and the undead: evil and the appeal of horror, Boulder: Westview Press, pp. 154-160.

Gelder, K. (1994) Reading the Vampire. London: Routledge, pp. 86-107.

Hakola, O. (2015) Rhetoric of modern death in american living dead films, Bristol: Intellect ltd. pp. 145-152.

Kennedy, B.  (2001), “From oedipal myths…to new interventions”, Deleuze and Cinema: The Aesthetics of Sensation, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 38-66.

MacCormack, P.(2002) ‘Barbara steele’s ephemeral skin: feminism, fetishism and film’, Senses of Cinema, Issue 22. Available at: (Assessed: 14th May 2020).

Polidori, J. (1819) The Vampyre , Credo Four Publishing.

Rice, A. (1976) Interview With the Vampire, London: Sphere.

Shaviro, S. (1993) “Appendix: deleuze and guattari’s theory of sexuality”, The Cinematic Body, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 67-80.

Sheridan Le Fanu, J. (1872) Carmilla, Galloway: Anodos Books.

Stoker, B. (1897) Dracula, Oxford: Oxford University Press. ‘Vampires’ (2018)  AMC Visionaries: Eli Roth’s History of Horror, Season 1, episode 6. AMC. Available at: Shudder (Accessed: 8th May, 2020

Does film emotionally manipulate the viewer?

Films will strive to engage emotions; filmmakers will manipulate their audience’s emotions in order to provide pleasure to the viewer. Commonly the narrative and themes, imagery, sound, dialogue, performance, cinematography and primarily characters are manipulated to provoke emotions. These aspects are known as immersion, manipulation and alignment (identification). The process of identification refers to the way spectators are encouraged to relate to characters’ emotions alongside adopting their perspective. The alignment with a character is central in conjuring an emotional impact upon the viewer. The Shawshank Redemption rings very much true to this statement.

The Shawshank Redemption is a 1994 American crime drama directed by Frank Darabont. The film follows a successful banker Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and how he is sent to Shawshank Prison after committing murder. Over the years he is there, he retains hope and gains respect from many of his fellow inmates, in particular the respect of “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman).

Identification and alignment contributes itself to be a major part of how filmmakers manipulate emotions onto the spectator. The audience is constantly encouraged to sympathise and identify with Andy and Red. One way in which this is done is through the consistent voiceover which is narrated by Red. The voiceover acts as a storyteller for the film that describes and explains what is happening. Darabont uses this voiceover to his advantage as it allows characters to speak directly to us, therefore the viewer is put into Red and Andy’s viewpoint. This allows us to experience every emotion they feel from joy and hope to injustice and despair. This aspect subliminally forces the viewer to have some sort of identification with the central characters.

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Throughout The Shawshank Redemption there are many negative events that happen to the characters. Due to the viewer’s connection with Andy, whenever a matter of injustice would happen to him the audience would feel sympathy. Due to this identification, when Andy receives a form of indirect justice or retribution the audience are overcome with a sense of triumph. For example, during the scene in which the prison warden Norton (Bob Gunton) commits suicide to avoid arrest the viewer feels that righteousness has been served, due to Norton’s heinous actions throughout the film towards Andy.

Darabont strongly manipulates our emotions and how we identify with the characters. For example, every film can have an alternative reading for audiences. Not every viewer feels the same way about the characters. Particularly during the escape scene in which Andy works his way through a sewer tunnel, here the audience cannot help but feel sympathy for him as it is such an unsightly and horrible situation that would be disgusting for anyone to experience. Therefore, this shows evidence that the way in which we identify with a character (through manipulation or not) does affect the spectator’s emotional response to a film. However, if we did not feel connected to Andy then when he flees from prison it would not be that iconic ending. Instead it would be dull and uninteresting to watch.

On the other hand, for films that are of the horror genre identification to characters is not always necessary. For example, this is particularly clear in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror film The Shining. The Shining is based on Stephen King’s book of the same name. The Shining follows Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) and his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) as they look after a mysterious Overlook hotel that plagues and possesses Jack.

In most mainstream films the protagonist Is the main character that we root for and follow, however although Jack is supposed to be our protagonist the audience do not necessarily agree with his harrowing actions and emotional abuse that he puts his wife and child through. The Shining and films similar disobey the fundamental notions of alignment and identification.

Despite the fact that the audience end up disliking and not sympathising with characters, it is common for some sort of alignment to happen before the viewer end ups against loathing Jack. For example, Nicholson’s trademark of an evil snarl and furrowed brows (that is especially prominent during a beginning scene) illustrates an uneasy eerie vibe that disallows the audience to warm to him.

Analysis of Kubrick's The Shining - The Interview

With this being said, the rules of alignment are loosely strung and sporadic as although Wendy and Danny are essentially victims, we do not essentially sympathise entirely with them.  Wendy comes across as irritating and the audience only feel sympathy due to what Danny and Wendy are- a mother and child being tormented by a cruel father. If you strip this element away Wendy is hysteric and clumsy within her escape. To bring this to a brief halt: yes, being under attack from a mad man is terrifying (especially when mysterious forces are at play), but Wendy’s attempts are somewhat impassive and slack. I understand that this is a harsh comment yet, its just validation as to how alignment works. Alignment can be situational, especially when you take into consideration the above comment as to whether we sympathise with Wendy and Danny because we like them or because they are mother and child.

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It could be said that identification with a character is not necessary to make a film watchable let alone enjoyable as investigated above using The Shining. However, film does emotionally manipulate the viewer whether it is in a positive connection towards the characters or in a negative way to provoke disorientation or annoyance.

Rape-revenge meets the moral crusaders: An insight into I Spit on Your Grave (1978).

5 Essential Exploitation Films of 1978 | Attack from Planet B

The vexation over the video nasties (VN) soared across Britain, as parliament alongside the public struggled to maintain control over what seemed to be a spiralling problem towards Britain’s welfare. Despite the uproar and ‘evidence’ that the cheap exploitative films that fled the market were the cause of a direct correlation towards the recent spike of crime, the entire spectacle was sensationalised by the media. The collective sense of fear regarding VN focused on how children had unfiltered access to violent ‘sadist’ content. Campaigns pioneered by news outlets contributed to the panic; with striking headlines such as The Mail’s Headline Sadism for Six Year Olds (Petley, 2012). 

​A consequence of the debate led to an utter disregard of one’s own responsibility in deciphering what material they felt was suitable to watch. This was expressed mainly through MP’s comments directed towards the public; for example, a Channel 4 documentary titled ​’Banned in the UK‘​ (2005) exploring censorship in Britain showed Conservative MP Graham Bright inadvertently insulting audiences who wanted to watch VN. His rambunctious tirade revealed that  “If anyone can stand-up and defend the sort of horrific scenes that I have had to see and other members of Parliament have had to see, I believe that they are living in a different world to that world that I live in. I believe that research is taking place and it will show these films not only affect young people, but I believe they affect dogs as well”. The flamboyant claims indicated that this ‘research’ would indefinitely lead to the uprising of state censorship. But more importantly it connotes that adults are unable to make their own conclusions.

The correlation between the ‘good and bad’ continued with people increasingly craving graphic horror films. Jake West’s 2010 documentary ​’Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape‘​ suggested that VN soared due to the exact violence that Bright deemed unacceptable. In the documentary director and lecturer Xavier Mendik suggested that there was an alluring “thrill of the forbidden” that made VN so popular. As that notion continued, certain VN kept on appearing in the public eye. One of the more heavily criticised films was ​I Spit on Your Grave (ISOYG) directed by Meir Zarchi (1978) which gained national attention.

ISOYG follows Jennifer Hills (Camille Keaton) who takes a trip to the country to write her novel. What is supposed to be a peaceful break turns into carnage as she come across a group of local men who, after some teasing, resort to visceral gang rape and torture. After surviving the attack, she comes back, bloodthirsty for revenge. To fully grasp the reputation of the film it is important to understand the anxiety directed towards the youth of Britain needlessly repeating the crimes. Petley (2011) highlights the significant sensationalist obsession that there is an interconnection between on screen violence and real-life violence. Petley discusses how recent criminal cases at the time utilised the VN panic as a reasoning for the crimes. For example, Petley quotes that “Just as in the ​Clockwork Orange​ affair years before, a sensation-hungry press proved a godsend to many a defence counsel desperately seeking mitigating circumstances in a clearly hopeless case” (p.29). Petley suggests that the defence actively used ​ISOYG​ as an excuse for rape as “the defendant argued that watching video nasties had convinced him that women were likely to fall in love with their assailants” (p.29). However, in ​ISOYG the victim kills all her assailants with her even performing a castration. Not at one point is there any indication of Jennifer being complicit in the events. The ludicrous excuses for actual crimes only furthered the hysteria towards VN, the use of these films as justifications for recent offences indicated a strong pattern at the time that would supposedly keep on occurring if the films were not banned.

However, the use of translating the rapes in​ ISOYG to reality, comments upon the lack of understanding towards the principal narrative of the film alongside encouraging hatred towards the nasties. ​ISOYG is not tasteful nor pleasant to watch yet, isolated opinions formed by many regarding ​ISOYG surrounds the rape scenes serving as erotic material. Anyone who can have the opinion that the unbearable rape scenes would be seductive (as the press encourages) shows a disturbed view of pleasurable watching experiences. For example, Christopher Brown on the ​’Video Nasties Podcast’​ states that “I do find it worrying as a society that we consider a film like ​I Spit on Your Grave​ would ever be titillating”. This aspect of censoring films such as ​ISOYG for the greater good to avoid real life repeats based on ‘evidence’ is widely debatable as the ‘evidence’ has since been shown to be incorrect. 

To demonstrate, Petley’s 2002 essay ​ “A Crude Sort of Entertainment for a Crude Sort of Audience“​ discusses how the media were given ammunition to criticise, with the aid of film critics at the time who seemingly acted as makeshift censors, dictating what films were morally right and wrong to view. ​ISOYG fell rapidly in this category, with reviews such as Roger Ebert’s (1980) gaining attention.

ISOYG​ had a brief run in cinema theatres. During this time acclaimed film critic Ebert reviewed his unpleasant viewing experience surrounding the film and his resentment towards fellow audience members. Forty years has passed since his review yet, it still rings as a refusal to comprehend the reason as to why Zarchi’s film is cinematically meaningful. The review opened with a harsh comment concerning how such filth could be run at a prestigious theatre in Chicago. The piece progresses with Ebert denouncing the film: “The movie is nothing more or less than a series of attacks on the girl and then her attacks on the men, interrupted only by an unbelievably grotesque and inappropriate scene in which she enters a church and asks forgiveness for the murders she plans to commit”. Adding to his rant, is his disbelief over the audience themselves. Ebert marginalises the audience as being composed of “Vicarious sex criminals” who “must already have suffered a fundamental loss of decent human feelings” simply because male audience members were heckling at the screen. Ebert went as far as including ​ISOYG on his TV show with fellow critic Gene Siskel.

 On ‘​Sneak Previews with Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel​’ they aired a show titled “​Women in Danger”​ (1980). In discussion of ISOYG  ​Siskel grouped it in the exploitative category. He proposes that the film encourages voyeurism from a masculine perspective as the “nudity is always gratuitous, it’s just out in the film only to titillate the audience and maybe make one other point that women who dress this way or merely uncover their bodies are somehow asking for trouble and somehow deserve the trouble they get”. Siskel acknowledges that this notion is neither acceptable nor an excuse, yet they deem Jennifer’s clothing in ISOYG as an excuse for the rapes that occurred in the film. 

To continue, the misunderstanding and neglectful conceptions of the sexuality presented in ​ISOYG can be countered with Carol Clover’s commentary in “​Men, Women and Chainsaws​” (1992). Clover expresses that the film is difficult to watch, especially the rape scenes that last for over thirty minutes, with the direction and structure of the film being subjective for a large part, almost enforcing a temporary uncomfortable ambience towards men. She continues to explain that male audience members may then react in a non chalant fashion “to prove that they are not upset by all this rape business” (p.119).  Ebert insinuates that any reaction other than disgust from viewers is unacceptable and evidence that they have been influenced to go on to commit such crimes. Clover refutes these extravagant claims by denoting Ebert’s response to a factor of misunderstanding as she states that “the absence of psychological motivation for the rapist’s behaviour” (p.120) is what bothers him. Clover argues further that Ebert fails to recognise that the audiences heckling, and cheering is tradition at such events with the teasing and jeering being the norm and “the silent audiences of mainstream cinema” (p.118) being the exception. Clover states that the most prevalent and obvious reading from the audience that explicitly demonstrates they are not “vicarious sex criminals”, is their silence at the revenge scenes which truly depicts Jennifer’s anger and upset over the rapes. The audience identify with her sorrow and rage catalysed by the rapes, not the vicious sexual assault scenes. 

According to Petley (2012) the British press seeked incriminating evidence to push their ‘puritanical’ political agenda to execute state censorship. Petley comments that “Discrete social problems come to be represented as symptoms of an underlying social malaise, signs of a generalised moral decline” (p.5). This implies that there was a constant drive for societal dilemmas to be blamed easily upon a trivial subject, to provide a comfortable solution to the nation’s rising disputes. Petley comments on The Mail​s “​Sadism for Six Year Olds” article, ​which he describes as a farfetched ploy to reflect videos as sadistic material; the article suggests that videos have taken over the role of the babysitter due to the films having total control over the child and that the sadistic material negatively conditioned children into sadism (p.13). Increases in societal displacement is inevitable and unfortunately cannot be hushed away. Yet, officials repeatedly pushed the bill into legislation by painting the nasties as sadistic material.

The sadistic elements in ISOYG perceived as unacceptable involved the matter of sexual violence. However, Zarchi’s only uses sexual violence to express a commentary on true revenge. Clover highlights that in Britain many commentators believed the film “glorified the act of rape and had inspired ‘copycat’ crimes” (p 116) due to the dynamic surrounding “male rape fantasies” (p.115). Clover then rewards Zarchi’s work for “the way in which its brutal simplicity exposes a mainspring of popular culture” (p.116). For example, the film does not necessarily possess “artistic merit” (p. 116) or offer a new insight into the catharsis of revenge films, but it does hold command to an impassively disturbing and realistic principle that the rapists do not need to be ‘dysfunctional’ or inherently crazed to commit a horrid offence; Clover comprehends ISOYG as exposing “mainspring of popular culture” (p.116) due to its lack of “deep-seated psychological reasons” (p.119). The true horror of the film lies within its no holds attitude as to why Jennifer was raped, it’s a familiar tale with a stinging sense of reality as pure horror is unnecessary and unplanned, and not always in need of a motive. 

Despite this window of reality, we are given within ISOYG, the film is inaccurately misread. The belief that the film adopts a pleasurable position was often customary within VN debates with the BBFC having long term concerns with onscreen rape, on account of the censors being, “firmly committed to a policy that did not allow sexual violence to be represented in a way which could be consulted as enjoyable for the victim or titillating for the audience” (Barber, 2012, p.113). Despite the prolonged scenes of Jennifer unclothed and her sexually enticing her attackers for revenge, it does not provoke any form of excitement. Jennifer’s revenge employs an exploitative sexual energy with many of the murders being performed using her own body as a weapon to help lure the men into her trust before she kills them. The stance of Jennifer’s “femaleness allowed the ‘body’ story to be told with far greater relish, and her feminist rage pumped new energy into the ‘social’ story” (p.165).

ISOYG addresses pressing issues that many rape-revenge films do not tackle as accordingly. There seemed to be confusion or purposeful ignorance from disagreeing viewers that the audience is forced into the attacker’s position inflicting pain. Instead the audience is placed in Jennifer’s situation, where the spectator is horrified by the attackers’ malevolence. Zarchi carefully uses cinematography to alter perspectives, there is no frame of typical close-ups of the victim looking into the camera from a low angle as if we were the attacker and she is looking up at us making us feel complicit. Instead Zarchi constructs the frame to feature multiple close ups of the attacker’s face, which forces the viewer to be in Jennifer’s position of being subjected. The stylistic choices also employ critical sound techniques to intensify the power of the scenes. There is a calculated rejection of non- diegetic sound which prolongs the scenes and contributes to the realistic and uncomfortable atmosphere as we have no choice but to listen to Jennifer’s screams. Towards the beginning of the film there is a myriad of wide master shots highlighting Jennifer herself along with the isolating location that she is alone in. The voyeuristic tune that the camera focuses on creates an impactful response as it can be said that at one point, we were watching Jennifer without her knowledge or consent, mirroring how the men prey on her without prior knowledge or consent. The subjective positioning putting the spectator in a brief view of what the attackers see is almost a punishment set out upon the viewer for watching. 

This misinterpretation of violence is a prominent argument against ISOYG. The voyeuristic nature of objective positioning combined with the cruel subjective angle enforces the viewer into witnessing an alternative masochistic situation. Barbara Creed asserts how ​ISOYG ​infamous castration scene explores deeper psychoanalytic meanings rather than just an excuse to show obscene imagery. In ​The Monstrous-Feminine​ (1993) Creed comments that the scene featuring Jennifer luring Johnny (Eron Tabor) into the bath with her pleasuring him before performing a castration, indicates “the promise of an erotic pleasure associated with the desire for death and non-differentiation” with Jennifer “simultaneously playing on a masochistic desire for death, pleasure and oblivion”. This is formed through the rape scenes portrayal of events.  Jennifer is hunted like an animal and dragged down to the ground as prey, whilst the men humiliating her through allowing her to escape, to only collar her back and extend the torture. 

Creed discusses that the real threat posed in the film is the fear of women (completely disavowing the VN panic regarding women being at risk due to ​ISOYG​). Creed recalls a scene where one of the attackers psychically assaults Jennifer with a beer bottle whilst stating that he prefers his women in ‘total submission’; Creed denotes this as being a subconscious statement that he “likes his women dead or nearly dead”, thus unable to pose a threat to his masculinity. Creed concludes that ​ISOYG poses Jennifer as a feministic threat to the men on account of the invisible power over their weaknesses.

The often complicated and profound analysis offered by Clover and Creed imparts a comprehensive explanation to the excessive and gratuitous sexually violent scenes. Critics and censors such as Ebert and the BBFC overlook the cine-literacy provided by horror films such as ​ISOYG​ as all VN were grouped entirely together. Many of the films were unconnected with isolated narratives, yet they were all considered to be serving under one purpose.

This disregard brandished by the moral crusaders of encompassing the VN as a collective group rather than individual films hindered any artistic integrity formed by the narratives. 

A television special aired in Britain circa 1984 titled ​’Suitable for Viewing in the Home?’ ​ presented Barker (a keen advocate in favour of the VN) commenting on the exaggeration expressed by the media and moral watchdogs such as the NVALA, whose response was wholly melodramatic. Barker refers to the British crime film ​Scum ​ (Alan Clarke, 1979) regarding refusal of classification, yet it was only using violence to portray a message (similarly to how ​ISOYG​ does). Barker denotes the refusal to accept graphic imagery regardless of its intent to be unwarrantable as it disallows a truthful cinematic portrayal.

As time progressed the BBFC expressed a more liberal attitude to censorship, with ​ISOYG eventually being resubmitted for classification in 2001. According to the BBFC’s internet article on the entire classification of ​ISOYG, the film’s depiction of sexual violence still infringed upon their policy of not allowing scenes of a sexually violent nature to be tolerated if it sensationalises the event. The BBFC stated that “in parading and emphasising Jennifer’s youthful nakedness during the rape scenes, the film presented the sexual excitement of rape from a male perspective in a manner which could excite aggressive males with a predisposition for enjoying non-consensual sex”. Any claims that the rape scenes encourage fantasies are as Clover puts it “flatly dishonest”, and “not for a moment does she express anything but protest, fear and pain” (p.118). Despite the BBFC’s claims, ISOYG​ was classified with an eighteen certificate, with seven minutes and two seconds being cut. However, in 2010 the BBFC took another glance at the film. In recollection they agree that whilst they had removed a lot of nudity during the rape, a consequence was that the horrific elements of the rape had been removed. Therefore, performing the opposite of what their original objective was. With that in mind, the BBFC re-released the film in 2011 with only two minutes and fifty-four seconds of cuts.

As time has progressed the misconception over the pretensions of ISOYG has been rectified by the many that denounced it during the peak of the panic. Feminist and VN picketer Julie Bindel in her article ‘I Was Wrong About I Spit on Your Grave’ (The Guardian, 2011)actively admits that the film’s exploitative measures only serve to accentuate the true horror of the narrative. Bindel states that ISOYG served “as an unconscious warning to women”. Bindel continues to praise the film’s rogue justice route as “at least it does not present the criminal justice system as a friend to women”. To deduce from a contemporary perspective why and how ISOYG still remains an influential tale today, it is paramount to reflect upon why it was so loathed during the VN panic. The media positioned the VN as a direct cause of social disorder, leading to people believing the nasties were an invisible threat that could manipulate the young and vulnerable. 

In conclusion, the VN panic acted as a spectacle that only metamorphosed due to its own demise. Petley (2012) describes the panic as deepening “the reservoir of fears upon which the panics draw” (p.12). Films such as ISOYG were blasted by the press due to its influence to motivate repeat crimes and that anyone who enjoys that material or sees a further analogy to its narrative is a “vicarious sex criminal” (Ebert, 1980). ISOYG in actuality does not sympathise with the attacker but with the victim, with the premise of the film being to put the viewer through masochistic experience, where violence is permitted to account for the gory catharsis that ensues in Jennifer’s revenge scenes. 

Banned in the UK (2005) Channel 4, 7 March, 23:05. Available at: Box of Broadcasts (Accessed: 14 April 2020). 

BBFC (no date) I spit on your grave. Available at: (Accessed: 5 January 2020).  

Bindel, J. (2011) ‘I was wrong about I spit on your grave’, The Guardian, 19 January. Available at: (Accessed: 5 May 2020). 

Brown, C. (2014) I spit on your grave [Podcast] 20 July. Available at: (Accessed: 13 March 2020). 

Clover, C. (1993) Men, women, and chainsaws. Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 114-165. 

Creed, B. (1993) The monstrous feminine: film, feminism, psychoanalysis. London: Routledge.  

DaisyPumpkin23 (2018) ‘Suitable for viewing in the home ?’ (video censorship & video nasties documentary). 14 April. Available at: (Accessed: 10 March 2020). 

Ebert, R. (1980) ‘I spit on your grave’. Review of I Spit on Your Grave, directed by M. Zarchi. 

Available at: (Accessed: 5 April 2020). 

EDP2000 (2018) Sneak previews with Siskel & Ebert – ‘women in danger’ horror films (1980). 2 December. Available at: (Accessed: 18 January 2020). 

Egan, K. (2007) Trash or treasure? censorship and the changing meanings of the video nasties. Manchester: Manchester University Press. 

Peter Osborne (2016) Video nasty debate pt 1. 30 May .Available at: (Accessed: 7 March 2020). 

Peter Osborne (2016) Video nasty debate pt 2. 30 May. Available at: (Accessed: 7 March 2020). 

Petley, J. (2002) ‘ “A crude sort of entertainment for a crude sort of audience: the british critics and horror cinema ‘, in Chibnall, S and Petley, J. (eds), British horror cinema. London: Routledge, pp. 23-41. 

Petley, J. (2012) Are we insane?. The “video nasty” moral panic’, Recherches Sociologiques Et Anthropologiques, 43(1), pp. 35-57. 

Petley, J. (2011) Film and Video Censorship in Modern Britain. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Video Recordings Act 1984. Available at: (Accessed: 21 February 2020). 

Paganism, harvests and rurality: Where to begin with British folk horror.

The phrase folk horror first came to light when Piers Haggard used it to describe his 1971 film The Blood on Satan’s Claw in a 2004 interview with Fangoria magazine. He stated that he wanted to make a film of dark poetry that surrounds living in rural paths. Folk horror is a sub-genre that centers the limelight on the natural eerie environments and fables that surrounds the quiet countryside, local villagers and a higher power. The core of folk horror is the fear of the other and the ignorance that surrounds being a stranger amongst a secret that everybody else knows. This is typified by the horror principles within folk horror such as witchcraft, demons and general folklore.

The engaging notion of folk horror is that despite immediate sense of whimsical fantasy it ironically takes advantage of the reality. It is rare in these films to see the villain in their true monstrous form as they are instead typically disguised by a familiar face. The evil is in the lunacy and hysteria of the individual that is possessed by a dark higher power that you could never understand unless you were to join them.

In regards to popularisation there are three pioneers of the mix- they are aptly called the “unholy trinity”- which consists of Witchfinder General (Michael Reeves, 1968) , The Blood on Satan’s Claw (Piers Haggard, 1971) and The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973) These films are  fond of the vulnerability of isolation and the power of place.

Folk horror encompasses a deep implication within the category’s films. It is not as simplistic as defining the films to explore folklore and the occult it is so much more than that. Historical context, countercultures and significant mise-en-scene attributes collide to calculate an eerie dread- filled atmosphere that justifies the narratives subversiveness towards the outsider and creeping modernity. Prior to the consultation of the case study films it is vital to review the attitudes concerning the time and place to wholly apprehend the films. 

The social climate for the “unholy trinity” was during the late 1960s early 1970s. The 1960s solicited itself with a newfound sense of freedom; the rise of feminism, hippies and a resurgence in the occult fascinated society with rather oppressive natures of the past were being overruled. Liberalisation towards feminism including the legislation of the contraceptive pill in 1967 allowed women for the first time not feel pressured into having to follow the unofficial ‘marry and have kids’ role. There was also a focus upon the counterculture of the hippie movement. This generation was the first to not be conscripted into war which allowed them to have a ‘youth’. Hippies believed in liberalisation, socialism and environmentalism inherently what derived of this was an interest in music, drugs and free attitudes. The foundation of this counterculture laid a bridge in which folk horror films could balance upon to interrogate societal implication within its focuses. 

This pattern in the films devolves from the apparent clash between ancient ways of life and modernity. Folk horror exercises folklore in the film’s universe along with natural elements to take on an opinion towards cultural significance. For instance, The Blood on Satan’s Claw directed by Piers Haggard was released in 1971, where the optimism of the sixties had not completely burned at the time of production. Therefore, the fear of this new individualisation remained a sure threat amongst the British public. The Blood on Satan’s Claw follows a small village in 17th Century Cornwall being rattled by a cult consisting of the lands youth who are operating under the devil’s instruction to resurrect him. Notably the cults leader being a teenage girl (ironically named Angel) is more than a purposeful commentary on the generational divide between the old and the young. Haggard took on this divided culture as a metaphorical tool to equip the films narrative flow. Young discusses the potency that folk horror films played to comment upon social afflictions of the time; he states that “Cults- sexually liberal, renegade communities- are often pitted against the forces of authority, reflecting an age of growing mistrust about the developing countercultural youthquake of hippiedom and pop culture” (2013). 

As the film advances it becomes transparent that it is the devil himself who is goading the youths with the aim of becoming incarnate on earth. The film comfortably depicts graphic ritualistic rape and torture scenes performed by the village teens. This is calculated paranoid vision of the counterculture. For example, Angel is not constantly surrounded with satanic paraphernalia but instead adorns a white flowing loose gown with a crown of flowers on top of her head. Haggard also uses natural light to accentuate Angels natural gallantry by surrounding her with a sunlit glow (particularly, when she is progressing her role as the devil’s speaker). Her imagery alone presents a brunt freedom along with the sexual handling of herself and the happy nature in which she presents her actions is a harsh embodiment of what the old supposedly thought of the young at the time. 

The Blood on Satan’s Claw took a figurative dive into the legacy of folk horror to render its meaning. For example, folk horror can be examined as the root of British soil; the traces of ancient time aid’s the involvement that there is a legend and archaic pattern of settlements that create the fables of folklore surrounding mystical demons and witchcraft. Through clever cinematography Haggard transgresses the law of the land having a watchful eye upon its folk; for instance, the camera at points is positioned within the soil leering at the youth of the estate. Haggard utilises the camera as an apparatus to imply that it is the earth that controls the land. 

It is critical to consider other societal elements at the time. During the early 70s the Manson family had become a statue of fear not just in America but all over the world with many fearing that a copy-cat style group would soon be set up. It could be argued that the recognition of the Manson’s is integrated into the narrative through the idea that an outlandish troop of people are simply out for carnage. The Manson cult would make their female members perform the actual murders; they were also seen quintessentially as hippies. It could be said that Angel being a young woman with careless violent intentions is a direct reference to the cult itself. There are many ways in which social assumptions appear in the film. For example, it could be seen that Angel is a symbol for the resurrection in feminism; most men bow down and submit themselves fully to Angel. Even before her possession she is not shy to delve into her femine prowess as she is seen being flirtatious with male company near the beginning of the film. As the film progresses this erotization becomes roaring with the sexual rituals performed by the cult acting as a metaphor for visceral contractions becoming the currency the release from the chains of sexual and social repression. The adolescents act as the embodiment of destruction within the settled order. 

However, to investigate this situation in a new light the matter of youth in revolt can be seen in an alternative perspective. It is evident that the old folk of the village are in dispute with the entire ordeal. Yet, established civility and restraint that is not the hero of the film. Alternatively, there is an impression of subversive modernity that belongs to the divided community. It is visible throughout the beginning of the film that the younger townsman of the film are not taken seriously. For example, the judge dismisses Ralph’s claims at finding the skeletal remains at the beginning of the film, also a young woman is deemed mad and hysterical when she discovers a demonic claw reaching out of the floor. Satan’s presence may accentuate the conflict, but it is not the source. It has always been there. The viewer is bemused by not just the cult but also by the witch trials and mob-mentality of the community.

Moreover, any film can portray a counterculture or social movement. But somehow folk horror provides the necessary catalyst for these themes to show and be powerful. How this is achieved is primarily through location and setting. It is often in folk horror for the devil’s home to be in the woods and fields amongst small communities. Folk horror is in adoration of the English countryside; it’s the revelation that if you were to break down the countryside’s benign blanket then it will expose its sincere personality of ancient practices and pagan religions. The sub-genre focuses on a sense of realism whilst simultaneously compiling witchcraft and demonism into the narrative structure. The sense of isolation means that there is no safety provided by the city and any sense of law and order is imposed by the sites own set of norms and customs. The normality is dependent not upon an elected party but instead by a tangible force that is all seeing and knowing. 

The sense of gothic eeriness is most notable in The Wicker Man (Robin Hardy, 1973) The film carefully relays agriculture towards an anti-urban establishment to construct a carefully composed motif that relies heavily upon traditional folk horror elements. 

The narrative focuses upon a Police Sergeant ‘Neil Howie (Edward Woodward) who is sent to a small Scottish village (Summerisle) to investigate the disappearance of a young girl. Elements of the village itself and the residents are crucial in regards to its legacy within folk horror. As it has become notable, folk horror does not configure itself to chase standardized conventions of horror instead it opts for the subversion towards genre tropes. Sergeant Howie is lead to the land to be used as a sacrifice to the ‘Gods of the land’. It appears that the more north you go in folk horror the more gothic the landscape seems. However, when the ‘gothic-ness’ does not connote the usual iconography such as baron houses and dark mysticality, instead Hardy synchronises this idea of the ‘dark’ with rather bright and beaming imagery. 

This is where the ‘beauty’ of folk horror comes into play and what possibly makes it such a complex genre to define. The community embraces an uplifting spirit with a sense of harmony amongst all; folk horror concerns itself with the ambivalence towards the landscape. What may seem to be a simple village in a rural center is full of secrets. For example, the majority of the film’s visuals are caked in a traditional British landscape encompassing pleasant fields and local churches. But this is where the condemnation lies; Howie’ enters Summerisle with the expectation of solving a case yet naturally the environment ensnared him in. Of course, the villagers play a large role in his capturing, but this is solely due to the land. 

The occupants of Summerisle have fabricated the story of a missing girl to use Howie as a human sacrifice so that their crops will bloom next season. The notion of unified lunacy is hard to ignore; in reality we know that the murder of a ‘puritan’ man will not solve a natural dilemma yet, this is not the films objective. The ramification of the narrative is a complex frame similar to that of in The Blood on Satan’s Claw- formally the consensus discussed was how folk horror’s indulged in romanticising the counterculture of the time. The sub-genre seemed to dwindle in the 1980s with no true British folk horrors being actively made. This was due to the stark decline in which the counterculture took. The hippie brigade lost its momentum with the hope of free spirit, in fact the 70s became a dark decade from the detrimental Altamont festival to the tensions caused by unemployment, strikes and deindustrialisation. This all led to the vilifying of hippies who the majority of soon abandoning the liberalisation in favouring of following the humdrum mainstream. 

It could be perceived that The Wicker Man was a tale for the yearning souls that had once longed for anti-establishment. 

These individuals were discouraged that the impending revolution never happened, yet their liberal beliefs were not necessarily resolved. They had learnt how to evolve amongst a permissive culture, it is problematic to deny that this generation was impactful towards the media with music, film and fashion thriving off of the hippie movement. The counterculture had become restrained and society needed a new focus to smoulder their beliefs and oppression upon. Although, there was an interest in folk customs in the 60s the strength of the occult and witchcraft resurged into the limelight. The occult came forward as the new influential subject at the heart of many folk films; films such as The Wicker Man would toy with society’s expectations and opinions of the ‘resurgence’ (particularly from both perspectives).

The role of those against the occult was exemplified through Howie who views the villager’s pagan rituals as just’ hocus pocus’, as the belief that people indeed accept paganism as fact was bemusing for many. However, Howie’s rather traditionalist views eventually comes across as rather irritating with his purity and righteousness becoming overbearing like a nagging authority dictating what is right and wrong. As the film flowers it can become somewhat easy to side with the residents of Summerisle as the bountiful nature of their freedom is undeniably alluring. It is important not to overlook the somewhat humorous fractures within the film, as it is these seeping comical moments that invite the viewer in and make them question whether standardised life is really stimulating. For example, as time has developed the film has laid a proposition over whether it is a horror film due as many see it as a musical with mystery elements thrown in. It is undeniably a hybrid film with a focus on horror, mystery and a sense of mystery; the metamorphosis of genres achieves this charming affair that gravitates the viewer inwards. Much of the music scenes in the film act as a challenge to the viewer as to what are they really watching. 

The Wicker Man incorporates multiple scenes where the townsman use music to communicate. According to Scovall (2014) the songs reveal the islander’s true intentions. Britt Eckland plays the sultry ‘Willow who tempts Howie to see if his holiness will stand the test of temptation in order to be the rightful choice for the sacrifice. It is in fact Howie’s resistance to submit himself to her that ultimately decides his fate. This musical extract undertakes the motif of the embracive sexuality that is candidly practised by the island. This specific instance acts as a blatant commentary upon societies previous sexual revolution, it could be seen that this last message of liberalisation in sexuality acts as a one last scraping testament towards the cultures dwindling acceptance. The seductive nature of Willow is an allegory used as a hope to prolong the counterculture that was fading. If Howie had succumbed to his instinctive urges, then he would not have been used as a pawn in their sacrificial games. 

The rise in witchcraft and societies expectations were all excessively fundamental in the determination of folk horror. Witchfinder General (Michael Reeves, 1968) is folk horror film starring Vincent Price that follows a self-appointed witchfinder who abuses his position to issue torture upon innocent people. With the advancement within feminism that roared in the late 1960s films such as Witchfinder General exercised the role of rewriting history that became prominent during the time. The popularisation of Wicca along with feminism motivated women to reclaim what had happened to innocent women during the 1600s. The monstrosity of what happened all the way back then had never dampened and the horror of the situation deserved to be retold in order to forget the evil inflicted. 

During the 1960s a new form of Neo-Paganism Wicca known as Alexandrian Wicca; the founders were Alex and Maxine Sanders. They soon became a household name due to the ‘supposed’ radical belief systems in which their religion was based upon. Much of the British public it was bizarre to believe in ‘witches’ which evidently led to them mostly being ridiculed amongst mainstream news outlets. However, with their means of reconnecting to nature it could be said that the rebirth of Wicca functioned as a source of inspiration for film such as Witchfinder General. It is important to note that Reeves was only 23-24 years old at the time of production; Price and Reeves clashed entirely due to Reeves wanting to take the film upon a dark serious path that did not disrespect the historical events whereas Price wanted the film to pursue a typical ‘camp’ route that he was all too familiar with in his preceding work. Witchfinder General created its own take on the landscape that seems to embody its own character. The film does not romanticise the history but instead provides a concoction of equal storytelling and history of folklore to conjure a compelling narrative. 

In Witchfinder General the authority is considered corrupt and evil. The symbolisation of establishment acts as a resurgence of threat from ancient times; this is only advanced through consequential allegories of the folk genre. Folk horror associates a terrifying treatment of the landscape with a sensibility of isolation that accentuates a form of ill-advised moral codes such as those seen in the ‘unholy trinity’. 

The notion of the land creating evil that subconsciously hypnotises its residents to act as these immoral forces that imposes pain and disturbance towards those that are considered the stranger is what defines folk horrors engagement with the land. The folklore that the land ensues is not as fantastical as it appears on print instead it is ugly and deep rooted in the soil of the earth. For instance, in Witchfinder General there is an unmistakable sense of misogyny; Hunt comments that “the witch has been studied as a focal point for the logic of misogyny (historical persecutions), as ‘implacable enemy of symbolic order’ in the horror film (Creed 1993:76) as, representative of male anxiety (Russell 1984) and/or female power (Purkiss 1996:8)” (p.89). Witchfinder General unmistakably relies upon a social commentary towards the culture of late 1960s Britain. 

This tainted history is reliant upon folk horror to transgress this message. Folk horror was popular in the 1960s and 1970s as it created a portal that immediately set up a haunting environment naturally before any narrative was added. There is something threatening about the laws of the land. The woods, fields and forests that appear in folk horror presents an omniscient force that belittles individuals as the land is all encompassing. The land plays such a large role in folk horror; without the setting the pioneers of the genre would not be so historically important within cinema.

There has been a rejuvenation in folk horror in the last couple of years. Today’s social climate is not too far different from the 1960s-70s. People are not afraid to follow their own path and liberalisation is reaching an all-time high. British folk horror films have received a welcomed return, the constant urbanisation of modern society has ironically led to some filmmakers wanting to strip this modernity back and base their work within traditional rural landscapes where the earth acts as an antagonist who has become infatuated with the modern overshadowing over nature. 

In conclusion folk horror operates through a higher power instead of moral reasoning, they are reliant upon the persistent feeling of the stranger which is complicated by the aesthetic control that is exercised throughout folk horrors. The assertive nature and control over the motives provides a statement upon the cultural and social status of the time.


Hunt, L. (2002) “Necromancy in the UK: witchcraft and the occult in British horror” in S. Chibnall and J. Petley (eds.) British horror cinema, London, Routledge, p.89.

Hutchings, P. (2015) ‘Ten great British rural horror films’, British Film Institute, Available at: (Assessed: 12th November, 2019).

Scovell, A (2017) Folk horror: hours dreadful and things strange. P.25-33.

Rob Young (23) “British Folk Gothic” in Gothic: The Dark Heart of Film, edited by James Bell, page 12


The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) Directed by Piers Haggard. UK

The Wicker Man (1973) Directed by Robin Hardy. UK

Witchfinder General (1968) Directed by Michael Reeves. UK

Coralie Fargeat’s bloody and beautiful vision of vengeance in Revenge (2017).

Feminist film theory since the 1970s has sought to ultimately critique the overall at times damning representation of woman in cinema and how to possibly orchestrate a new alternative cinema that stands for equality rather than objectivity. The argument lies not within making every film a propaganda style anthem for feminism but more for allowing films where female characters adopt more than a one dimensional persona. An area in cinema which has ultimately taken the backseat with correct representation for too long is horror.

To begin to delve into feminist film theory it is vital to establish Laura Mulvey’s Male Gaze theory. In the now infamous 1975 essay Mulvey wrote titled “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”; Mulvey describes that the Male Gaze is when the spectator adapts the perspective of the heterosexual male due to the camera observing the female in a subjective way by either looking at a females curve or suggestive stance. According to Mulvey the Male Gaze rejects women from having any identity but rather to be presented as objects instead with their only purpose to be admired for their appearance (Braudy and Cohen, 2004, p.837-848).

Although Mulvey’s beliefs are considered excessive to many, the general message in terms of cinema portraying women as submissive is in some ways verifiable. For example, in classic Universal Monster horror films women are consistently portrayed as the damsel in distress that is running from the aggressive overly masculine male. However, in recent years this notion is becoming increasingly deconstructed with a new wave of empowering horror films. One of these films to reverse strategies is Revenge.

 Revenge is a 2017 French final girl rape and revenge action horror film. The film follows Jen (Matilda Lutz) who retreats with her married lover ‘Richard (Kevin Janssens) to his secluded holiday home however, after his business associates arrive and brutally rape Jen and leaves her to die in the desert, she seeks revenge upon the three men. Fargeat is amongst the new tradition of female directors demanding a change in cinema. Throughout the film this is very clear however where this most thrives is in the ending scene of the film.

Prior to the ending scene we have seen Jen methodically kill off the enemy, yet she has not reached her primary target; her boyfriend Richard who killed her off when she became an ‘inconvenience’. As the film draws to an end we see in a rather beautifully cinematic yet raw visceral conclusion which features the ultimate battle between Jen and Richard.

The scene itself compliments the narrative. For example, the quick, crisp and clean editing that concentrates on rapid micro movements matches the quick paced movements between the two characters on screen. Along with this the editing allows the nearly ten minute scene to not draw out and keeps the tension of it flowing despite the lengthy screen time. Additionally, the radical coloring of the beige interior juxtaposed by the harsh crimson blood across every surface is over stimulating in a way that disavowals the audience’s sense of reality allowing them to become fully immersed within the film.

The scene begins with a long tracking shot of Jen tracking and then shooting a naked and afraid Richard. This small mise-en-scene aspect of costume serves as so much relevance. Traditionally, as Mulvey discusses, women are always put in a subjective manner where the camera either focuses on any bare skin or accentuates a woman’s frame. However, the complete opposite occurs in this scene. Jen from the very beginning of the film is scantily clad in little clothing. During the very first scene of her she wears bright pink earrings, a small t -shirt and skirt and she adopts an almost Lolita- like stance with her  overly big heart shaped sunglasses and the camera constantly focuses on her sucking upon a lollipop. Yet, even though in the final scene she is in even less clothing, the way Fargeat plays with the cinematography allows it to be completely different. Rather than her being barely dressed seen as being portrayed in a sexual fashion, it is now representative of her objectivity belonging to her. Jen has reclaimed and refined her beauty. In keeping with her new found warrior stance, her hair is no longer the stylised messy blonde but now dark auburn due to all of the blood in it. One of the sole messages of the film is that no matter how Jen dressed or acted she did not deserve the male ignorance that was placed upon her.

In terms of cultural context, Revenge actively positions itself as a feminist anthem that updates itself via societal context. For example, an aspect of feminism in general is constant rejuvenation and progression to keep on getting the message out. In 2017 the MeToo movement was formed and allowed victims of abuse to step forward; but what the movement truly encouraged was the idea that there is nothing wrong about how a women acts or dresses that gives anyone any consent to be sexually abusive towards them. In Revenge this was an active thought Fargeat expressed. For example, in a recent interview with The Independent whilst Fargeat was discussing Jen’s character she stated that “she wants to be seen, she wants to be noticed, she lives with her image and defines herself with that- but the real problem is not this, but the fact that the male gaze is going to treat her in a certain way because of that” (2018). Fargeat further implicates this throughout the entirety of Revenge. As previously mentioned, Jen in the beginning of the film reflects the epitome of many genre tropes of the gender sterotyping of females in horror films; she is a bombshell who simply teases men for their devotion to her; Fargeat here purposefully positions her in Mulvey’s Male Gaze in order for us to take on the position of the heterosexual male. Therefore when the tables turn after her attack and we are positioned alongside her with her point of view we are almost made to feel guilty and punished for looking at her in a sexual manner at all.

With Jen’s empowerment Richard’s vulnerability of being nude allows for the roles to be reversed and the viewer to adopt what could be called the “female gaze”. As the scene progresses and Jen and Richard meet, what ensues is a chaotic and simple game of ‘cat and mouse’ where ultimately the ‘hunter becomes the hunted’ .They chase one another in an odd hallway that loops round. They do not actually see each other till near the very end of the scene due to the confusing spiralling nature of this blood covered hallway. This loop of endless circular chasing is metaphorical for the constant loop of reversed gratification of the tables being turned throughout the film. Mid way through the scene Richard takes the opportunity to rapidly wrap cling film around his bleeding gunshot wound. Jen throughout the film has sustained being impaled by a tree, getting her ear shot off and numerous other injuries without any major care. Yet, Richard is seen taking precious time out of an active chase to tend to his wounds. Possibly, this is Fargeat’s commentary on Richards breakdown of his macho persona.

Moreover, one of the most important elements within the ending scene is the part where Richard belittles Jen when he briefly gets the upper hand in the situation. Jen slips due to the vast quantities of blood on the floor, Richard catches up to her and knocks her unconscious with the end of his gun. When Jen regains consciousness, Richard drags her across the floor and pins her up against the wall. In the following shots the camera switches from Jen’s point of view and a side angle of the situation. During Jen’s point of view Richard’s dialogue is muffled and her view of him is blurred due to the blood pouring from her head injury into her eye. The muffled dialogue and obstructed vision is expressive of how his sexist rant is simply unnecessary to hear. However, when the camera switches to our perspective again the spectator hears Richard’s pointless misogynistic ramblings directed to Jen. The focus point here is Richards line in which he boldly states “Why do women always have to put up a fucking fight?”. This impressioning of Richards male entitlement onto all women and not just Jen is the harrowing metaphor of the film entirely. Ironically in a positive fashion this prompts Jen to fulfill her vengeful mission and finally kill him. This is one of the many critiques of cinemas classic volcanic masculinity that Revenge mocks.

The manner in which Richard (and the two other men die) serves as an important nod to the accustomed way the male character typically gets killed in horror films. Within the horror genre there is almost always a ritual in which the male will die; usually it is smoothly done and in particular unexpected which allows the man no time to think or fight back. Clover states that the death of a male is “ more likely than the death of a female to be viewed from a distance, or viewed only dimly (because of darkness or fog, for example), or indeed to happen offscreen and not be viewed at all” (1992, p.35). This is entirely true especially within classic 80s slasher horror. Yet, Fargeat ensures Jen provides detailed and lasting satisfaction based kills. For example, not only is Richard shot in the stomach by her at the beginning of their battle but when she fends him off of her she fiercely thrusts her fist into his gaping shot wound that she created causing him to collapse to the ground. Jen then grabs the shotgun and shoots him dead. This intentional graphic display of carnage is exactly the aim of the film; the camera does not shy away and lingers to watch the gruesome encounter take place. The epitome of ‘feminist horror’ allows for women to do what men have done on screen countless times.

A large part of feminism surrounding horror involves the deeper psychoanalysis of themes. Within most cinema Freud manages to seep into any deep rooted crevice of meaning.  Horror does have major ties with psychology. In terms of feminism, it could be said that women are always the victim in horror. This statement is not true. For many years women have featured as the antagonist in films such as Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976), What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Robert Aldrich, 1962) and Audition (Takashi Miike, 1999). Freud connects males’ traditional fear of females to the matter of a man being fearful due to his infantile belief of the mother being castrated by the father, which causes him to adapt a role alongside the father and take on a masculine stance( Creed, 1993). According to psychoanalysis the relation between what identifies a woman as being an antagonist truly relies upon the fear that the male characters (protagonists) feel from the women having the dominating hierarchy. In the final scene in Revenge Jen has the power that Richard cowers to. For example, Jen paces forward at him with the gun carefully whilst not wasting any ammunition, whereas Richard runs backwards away from her aimlessly shooting to end the situation. The overbearing fear Richard actually feels towards Jen returns him to a small almost helplessly infantile state. He is naked, injured and terrified towards this domineering female character who manages to overpower his masculine front. Jen’s metamorphosis into a ferocious women who can make a grown man fearful could be possibly seen as a link into an illogical yet a rightful psychoanalysis opinion that Richards manish cruel vibe given off to Jen was always a front deep down in order for him to defend himself from her.

To conclude with, Revenge manages to be reflexively assaultive to all of the spectators senses due to the visceral sound, cinematography and mise-en-scene design whilst also subversing the horror genre to provide a thoughtful piece on contemporary female empowerment and feminism.

The nature of aesthetics in Suspiria (1977).

Suspiria is a 1977 Giallo occult horror film directed by Dario Argento. The plot follows a young American dancer who joins a mysterious German ballet school however, as her time there evolves she becomes weary and concerned about the dark secrets behind the school.

Suspiria is no stranger to many ‘top ten’ lists with its ambiguous sensational tones of all things witchy, haunting audience members long after their viewing. This film has always been on my radar yet, I never understood its alluring appeal. That was until I recently took a chance and watched it. And now here I am completely bewitched and enthralled by Argento’s vision of beautiful anarchy. Suspiria grabs the viewers attention within the opening sequence; the anxiety inducing music alongside the kaleidoscope of colours blasting across the frame conjure an illusive dream world which helps cement its position as a timeless piece of incredible filmmaking.

The film’s composer is the Italian prog-rock band, Goblin. Goblin and Argento had worked before together in his previous title ‘Deep Red‘ (1975). Suspiria’s attentive score racks heavily throughout, the heaping and creeping synthetic tones both bewilder and entice the viewer into a dream-like state that rings more to the nightmare than a blissful fantasy. The symphony composed features slight demonic whispering and chanting, almost like a curse or a spell. This combined with the irregular use of synthesizers and clanging banging screeches enhance the blurring of a visual and auditory piece that allows Argento to spin a state of dread.

Suspiria has an immense lighting set up where every set is multicolored and dripping with a hyper realistic style. The film often has non-directed coloured light sources. For example, in one scene Suzy (our protagonist [Jessica Harper]) lies in bed ready to turn the lights off. Instead of being met with expected darkness, a bright glowing green light is cascaded over the walls, which transitions into warm red tones being splashed into the frame. The randomness of such colours is ignored by the characters as if what we are seeing is not actually happening on the screen and is in our minds only. The evilness that lingers in the schools halls has managed to penetrate our senses and twist our vision to see what ‘it’ wants us to see. It can be argued that it is an aura of magic like a witches spell.

Argento creates a surreal world through the use of wide angle lenses that create the image of exaggerated large dance halls that appear daunting and haunting. Scenes are often drawn out with long takes, which force the spectator into an uncomfortable position, as if they are watching something they shouldn’t be, producing a sense of voyeurism.

The nature of the school is immediately suspicious, the hallways are unnaturally long, with the ceilings and doorways being oddly high and tall. However, this works to the film’s advantage as characters often look as if they are being swallowed up by these large doorways and condensed into the mystical land that is the ‘world of Suspiria‘.

It was common at the time for Italian filmmakers to use additional dialogue recording. In Suspiria the actors spoke in their native language, with some actors speaking German, and others speaking English or Italian. The dubbing creates a disconnection from the reality of the characters. However, this is done on a beneficial note. The movie is constantly toying with the audience’s senses (sound, sight, touch) so when we see the actors dialogue as seemingly unnatural (even though there is nothing particularly wrong with it) it creates a sense of uneasiness where we feel that something is not right but we are not sure what.

The importance of prior knowledge surrounding films

Films will strive to engage emotions. Filmmakers will manipulate their audience’s emotions in order to provoke an emotional response out of the spectators. Factors such as narrative and stylistic elements (cinematography, sound and editing) will be utilised by directors in order to manipulate a spectators reaction, however, film goers and fans prior knowledge towards the viewing experience can dramatically later their entire view on the film.

Most mainstream films or any film for that matter has some sort of marketing device such as trailers, teaser trailers, posters/billboards and interactive adverts etc. Put forward in order to prompt audiences into seeing the film. These devices typically end up being featured everywhere so that most people will see it. This slight aspect of even hearing about a film can influence a spectator’s emotional response towards a film. additional factors such as hearing a film was good or bad, knowing the actors and favouring or disliking the directors can all influence opinion.

For example, I will be exploring how spectators’ emotional response can be influenced by prior knowledge of a director’s work, how high expectations affect opinion and how speculation towards casting choices affect response through the film The Shining.

The Shining is a 1980 horror film directed by Stanley Kubrick. The film stars Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd. The story follows a family as they head to an isolated hotel for the winter where and evil presence influences Jack into madness.

Kubrick’s auteur signature deems all of his films to have a clinical aesthetic due to the way he is perfectionist in his work. Kubrick is fond of being extremely precise in every stylistic feature of his films such as the way he uses non diegetic and diegetic sound, use of creative cinematography and effective framing and lighting . This aspect of perfectionism leads his films to have so much depth in them that viewers become deeply immersed and involved within the film that it leaves lasting imagery. Perhaps this aspect of prior knowledge of Kubrick’s almost OCD filming techniques influenced the viewers opinion on The Shining as it subliminally left such a sense of disorientation and eeriness on the viewer which as previously explained leaves a lasting effect on the spectator and leaves them to remember the iconic film.

Moreover The Shining stars Jack Nicholson as the main character. Nicholson is known for having an almost unusual creepy way of portraying his characters; many spectators who saw The Shining commend Nicholson for his portrayal of Jack Torrance in The Shining. However, Shelley Duvall who portrays Jack’s wife Wendy was criticised throughout the filming and the screening of the film for her portrayal. Therefore many filmgoers who saw the film already had the expectation before going to see the film that her character was going to be dull, this prior knowledge in return possibly had a negative effect on the viewers response.

The horror genre in general is well-known for having a devoted cult following and strong fan base. The Shining has a reputation for being “one of the best horror films of all time “and being “scarier than The Exorcist”. However, compared to films of today The Shining is not necessarily scary but rather eerie instead. Therefore when spectators see today the when they expect to be completely aghast at the film due to the extent of how much The Shining has been “raved “ about they instead may be disappointed as it does not illustrate traditional horror iconography and conventions. This is an example of how even prior knowledge that is positive can end up negatively influencing their emotional reaction to the film.

Moreover prior knowledge of being fans of the cast and iconic scenes can influence a spectator’s emotional response. This can be seen in The Notebook.

The Notebook is a 2004 romantic drama directed by Nick Cassavetes starring Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. The Notebook follows Noah (Gosling) and Allie (McAdams) who are from different classes who fall in love and their story of how they fell in love.

The Notebook stars Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams. Both Gosling and McAdams are well known actors who have a high fan base. Gosling in particular draws large audiences to every one of his films due to him having a reputation of being a Hollywood “heart throb “. The fans of Ryan Gosling will typically have a positive response to his films no matter what the film is. Therefore this shows how fans’ prior knowledge can influence their response in a positive way as fans usually let the film overcome their critical faculties.

Iconic scenes become the background in which famous quotes and imagery comes from. An example of an iconic scene in The Notebook is the reunion scene between Noah and Allie. This aspect of iconic scenes that are memorable and serve many references in many books, TV shows and films makes the film have an aesthetic that makes people who have never seen it want to see it. For example, The Notebook is infamous for being a romantic film that does not attract a large male audience due to how it is widely known and quoted in TV programmes. Therefore, when people who are aware of the film being an emotional love story go to view it they immediately have the expectation that the film may be cheesy, cliché and boring. This is an example of how prior knowledge can influence a spectator’s response.

Many films are adaptations of books and stories therefore, fans of the book or author already have a large knowledge of what the plot is, who the characters are and why events occur . This can work in the films favour as it can in some cases attract millions of viewers without the production company having to try and advertise. However, this can work against the film as audiences already envisioned how the setting and characters appear. Therefore, if they were to be let down by casting actors who do not fit the descriptions that present in the book etc. It can affect the spectator’s emotional response.

Comparisons between Byron Haskins War of the Worlds (1953) and Spielberg’s 2005 remake.

Within War of the Worlds (1953) directed by Byron Haskin and War of the Worlds (2005) directed by Steven Spielberg there are numerous key influences such as genre conventions and narrative that are imperative in order to sustain a film that is an accurate representation of context.

Genre refers to a system of film identification in which films that have similar characteristics can be grouped together. War of the Worlds is a 1953 sci-fi/ war film directed by Byron Haskin. This film is a hybrid genre; a hybrid genre is two genres combined to create one, such as war and sci-fi. Genre is imperative for films as they allow audiences to engage with the film but they are imperative for producers as they allow them to target their audience. Additionally a film’s genre can be influenced by social context.

During the 1950’s when War of the Worlds was made, not only had World War II ended , but it was also the time of the Cold War. The Cold War was a passive conflict between Russia and the USA between 1947 and 1991. It provoked fear amongst the public due to the strong threat of communism during this time. Communism was a threat because people did not want to fall into the system of political belief where everybody is equal and everything must be shared. War of the Worlds (1953) took advantage of this fear and had strong influences of the War in the film. For example throughout the entirety of the film war is a common theme, due to the mise-en-scene, cinematography, editing and sound; such as the soldiers costume of the army uniform, the props used such as war tanks, and the diegetic sounds of the gunfire from the military. Additionally editing influenced the war elements of the film, such as how a good proportion of the film’s screen time is based on armed forces fighting and the footage of military vehicles edited into shot. In terms of sci-fi aspects of genre, sound was majorly influential, for example the diegetic sonar laser sound made by the alien ships illustrated the sci- fi aspects, All of these genre conventions towards the war genre support how the film establishes its audience’s attention as it makes the film more realistic to the actual fears.

Moreover the genre throughout War of the Worlds (2005) directed by Steven Spielberg remains the same in terms of sci-fi aspects, the war aspect is not as emphasised. As discussed the social context during the 1950s focuses on communism and WWII however in the 2005 version of War of the Worlds the primary catastrophe was the 9/11 attack. Therefore terrorism became an influence in terms of features used to implicate fear within the viewer with many character asking one more than one occasion whether it was a terrorist attack. Although War of the Worlds 2005 has not got major characteristics of war compared to the original film, there are subliminal aspects of war. For example the tripods towering over everything in a structured stance represent the Nazis watch towers.

Narrative is a term used to describe the way in which a story is told. Narrative characteristics help to maintain a reality effect within a film and help the audience to understand the significance of particular events to particular characters.

The narrative of War of the Worlds (1953) conforms to the traditional three act structure (Syd Field’s paradigm). The first act introduces the audiences to the main characters – Clayton Forrester (Gene Barry) and Sylvia Van Buren (Ann Robinson); additionally we are introduced to two focus themes: mystery and intrigue. The second act depicts to us the aliens invading all of humanity’s attempts to discover what is attacking earth and how to demolish the aliens. Lastly the third act illustrates to the viewer how the aliens are winning and how Clayton and Sylvia are simply trying to find each other before they inevitably die.

When compared to the 2005 version of War of the Worlds the narrative is of a similar structure for example in act one, we are introduced to the situation and the main characters- Rachel (Dakota Fanning), Ray (Tom Cruise) and Robbie (Justin Chatwin). The second act shows us the aliens invading the earth and Ray’s attempts to get escape but to also keep his family safe. The third act illustrates to the audience how the public are trying to fight back however only with minimal success. Furthermore both the 1953 film and the 2005 version have deus ex machina endings. Deus ex machina is a plot device used when the main conflict is resolved by god-like means rather than the own protagonist’s actions. For example the only reason the aliens died was due to them not being able to survive on planet earth’s conditions not due to the army or anyone diminishing them.

However there are differences between the two films in terms of the dramatic conflict. The dramatic conflict typically focuses on the main characters inner struggles and sub plots. For example in War of the Worlds (1953) the dramatic conflict is created through the increasing sense of hopelessness. The central struggle is that the people and the army are battling against aliens that are becoming increasingly difficult to destroy. The main drive of the narrative is created by Clayton and Sylvia as they try to find a way to beat the invaders as well as sustain their growing romance. However the dramatic conflict in War of the worlds (2005) focuses more on Ray’s internal conflict of trying to become a more responsible parent and be there for Robbie and Rachel and how he wants to run away rather than fight. The main difference is how in the 1950s it would have been typical for the man to be the primary protector for his family and to fight off against anything that may be obstructive to this, although in the 2005 version Ray adapts a protecting role, he wants to escape and run away from the danger rather than fight it.

Themes in Fight Club (David Fincher) 1999

Fight Club is a 1999 thriller, sci-fi, drama hybrid film directed by David Fincher, starting Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. Themes act as a unifying subjector in films that aid the determination of how the narrative is formed. In Fight Club the primary themes include, breakdown of authority, anti-capitalism, identity in crisis, masculinity in crisis and anti- consumerism. The themes in Fight Club mainly drive the entirety of the plot.

Fight Club follows an office worker whose insomnia has reached a point of no return as he comes across the daring being that is Tyler Durden who alters every factor of his life.

The first 10 minutes of the film foreshadow the narrative and display each theme. Fight Club is known for being profoundly controversial as it tackled many societal issues strongly. For example during the 1900’s consumerism was at its highest level so far as the public became fascinated by buying expensive consumerism lead brands and then throwing them away. Fincher saw Fight Club as an opportunity to voice how the world has become too reliant on the circle of brands and the economy that feeds the cycle of consumerism. E.g. In each setting in the first ten minutes a Starbucks cup is featured. One shot in particular emphasizes the extent of the subject matter, For Example there is an extreme close up shot made as it pans through the bin in The Narrators office during this scene each piece of rubbish is branded this is an exaggeration of how society wastes everything. Furthermore a large part of The Narrator’s life is how it has been indoctrinated by having the perfect home with every piece of furniture making his apartment appear as if it was straight out of a lifestyle catalogue. During one shot the camera pans across his apartment however the price for each item is displayed next to it which therefore focuses the spectator on how life has become materialistic. This aspect of consumerism in my opinion is Fincher voicing that the ever increasing habit of buying and wasting destroys a person’s individuality due to the fact that everyone has similar items in their life and there is no personality left.

Moreover, a theme that is constantly implied especially within the first scene of Fight Club is the breakdown authority. For example, The Narrator evidently has many issues with his life however the doctor he visits dismisses the matter. Fight Club constantly wants to portray the people in charge as being unreliable and not trustworthy. In terms of how this aspect of the doctor not listening to the Narrator is vital is due to the fact that if the Narrator was treated of his insomnia then the chaotic Tyler Durden may have never been created therefore due to the breakdown of authority a whole terrorist army had been formed. Furthermore, during the first scene when the audience see The Narrator’s workplace we are only shown his dictate-like boss’s face for only quarter of the time that he is demanding orders this is an example of Fincher illustrating that the corporate bosses of the world are actually insignificant to people although they are known to be at the top of the societal hierarchy.

An additional theme that serves as possibly one of the most important contributions to the narrative is the aspect of anti-capitalism. Capitalism defines itself as “an economic system in which means of production and distribution are privately or corporately owned”. Fight Club seems to be against this idea of capitalism and the idea of having a specific leader. This aspect is shown continually throughout the film.

Masculinity in crisis is a major part of Fight Club. The most obvious way masculinity in crisis is formed in Fight Club is due to The Narrator attending a support group for men for testicular cancer. The name of this group “remaining men together” implies immediately that their confidence of being a masculine male is already broken as they need to remind themselves that they are men. Additionally most men in this group are seen crying, sharing stories and are seen embracing one another. This goes against everything masculinity is defined as. For example, Bob. Before Bob becomes one of the club’s viscous members he is introduced as an ex- body builder who after suffering from testicular cancer has developed breasts and appears feminine compared to characters in the film such as Tyler Durden. Moreover, when the mysterious femme fatale Marla Singer enters into The Narrators life by attending this group not one member notices. Instead she sits there in a group specifically made for men talking about problems that Marla in particular would never suffer with. This is an example of how the gender lines in Fight Club are somewhat combined due to the fact that the men here can’t psychology notice the difference between themselves and a female. Additionally by Marla attending the support groups it shows that truly she does not know who she is. This leads us onto the next theme of identity in crisis.

Identity in crisis is a major aspect of Fight Club. Identity in crisis again like most of the themes is shown throughout the entire film. However, it first comes into context in the beginning for example; The Narrator does not actually have a name. Typically the character’s name is an important part of their character development and if they have no name a connection cannot be formed. During the cancer support group scene everyone wears a badge except for The Narrator. I would argue that this is due to Fincher wanting to subliminally keep us noted that we are not meant to see The Narrator as a full character yet rather see Tyler, Marla and The Narrator as one.

Furthermore during the office scene in the opening ten minutes, everyone is seen wearing the same identical formal suits, they are all drinking coffee from a Starbucks cup and they are all photocopying. This aspect of copying is highly suggestive that everyone and everything in the world of The Narrator is as he says “a copy of, a copy, of a copy”. Therefore leading to identity to be misconstrued and blurred.


Investigating the cinematic representation of dreaming.

Throughout time cinema has been likened to dreaming. Cinema possesses an automatic alluring omen that can obstruct a whole universe of normality which includes the orderly structure of everyday life however, films also can spawn an entire cosmos of a psychedelic world where the bridge between fantasy and reality fails to exist. Dreams have been countlessly analysed for eternity due to the intriguing nature of them. Dreams have a naturally arcane prophecy that opens them to be an attractive topic of discussion both culturally and professionally.

To begin to understand how going to the cinema has been likened to dreaming is to understand Sigmund Freud’s dream analysis and how it can be interpreted to spectatorship in cinema. Freud was the founder of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is defined as “a system of psychological theory and therapy which aims to treat mental disorders by investigating the interaction of conscious and unconscious elements in the mind and bringing repressed fears and conflicts into the conscious mind by techniques such as dream interpretation and free association” (Oxford Dictionaries).  It is the aspect of how repressed emotions can be reconnected by dream interruption that is vital in understanding how cinema has been likened to dreaming. For example, cinema can capture reality however it can also create a unique inner world of psychoanalysis.

Freud’s psychoanalysis theory pioneered the fact that each person’s mind consists of three basic elements. These were the ego, the id and the superego. The ego is described as the conscious self-aware eye that an individual lets society see. The superego is a person’s consciousness that is aware of social rules. Finally, the id is a person’s deep basic primal urges and desires, almost a beastly entity with no repression. These three ‘personalities’ work together to form a conscious mind. Humans are constantly internally being pushed and pulled by the superego and the id. For example, the inner id of an individual naturally would want to kill the matter that may have caused them anger or upset however, the superego is conscious of what is acceptable in society and what is not. The superego does not allow the id to take control and perform its deadly duties.

Cinema allows the audience to be immersed in situations where the reality on screen is unbeknownst different to the reality in the viewers real life. A person’s id is hidden. The horror genre allows monsters and villains to do all the things that the id thrives to do but cannot due to societal laws and pressures.  However, in horror it is typical for the ‘monster’ to be involved in a battle of survival with the ‘good’. The nature of the superego and the id is similar to how a horror film plays out. For example, in Cat People (Torneur,1942) the idea of destroying the monster and restoring the ‘status quo’ is symbolic to how the superego combats the id. In Cat People acts as the id; in the film the lead character is prompted to go to a therapist to be rid of her negative thoughts in order to restore normality. It is this aspect of needing a rational explanation for anything that may not be conventional in traditional society that connects horror to the repression of the id.

A further aspect of Freud’s theory is the matter of the unconscious. The unconscious is a borderless psycho-social realm. Humans grasp the existence of the unconscious through symptoms such as Freudian slips and dreams. Every now and then our unconscious self attempts to get out. This slip is an example of how the id desires to be released but the superego interludes.

These slips allude to the presence of desires. it is through dreams where the id gains freedom. Therefore, many psychiatrists ask their patients about their dreams as research such as Freuds have determined that dreams are very symbolic to what someone truly feels. Throughout time filmmakers have used the aspect of Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis to emphasize the narrative and deeper meaning of their films through the use of subtext and symbolising. A movement in all media forms that utilise psychoanalysis to immerse the spectator is the Surrealism movement.

The surrealist movement was a provocative, anti-political and visually disengaging movement within the world of cinema, art and theatre. Surrealism was a revolutionary movement where the purpose was to not only visually disengage the spectator but also to unlock the unconscious mind. Some of the more notable qualities of the movement included fractured narratives, sexual imagery, unlikable shocking characters and scenes which show signs of rejection towards dramatic psychology.

A particular film that is renowned in film history for being a prohibitor of the movement is Un Chien Andalou (Luis Bunuel, 1929). Un Chien Andalou is a short sixteen-minute film that presents a series of dream-like sequences to form a non-linear narrative. According to Bordwell and Thompson surrealist cinema produced “films that would perplex and shock ordinary audiences” (p.468).  In Un Chien Andalou the reaction from spectators was an array of confusion and unsettledness. The purpose that this film provided was to place the viewer into a dream-like state of confusion where the graphic imagery of eyes being slit open and dead animals being draped across a piano was also symbolic of a human’s deep unconscious mind.

Creed states that Freud believed that “large part of human thoughts remain unconscious” (p.78). Here, the connection between cinema and dreaming is made as Freud concerned his research towards the unconscious mind with the fact that the individual may not be aware about their true thoughts as it is almost locked away and suppressed by the superego. Films such as Un Chien Andalou attempts to unlock the unconscious mind and release an individual’s unknown emotions and thoughts. Additionally, Bunuel and Dali emphasise that factor that in a dream an individual is unable to control what is being played out similar to how a cinematic experience works.

The connection between cinema participation and dreaming has been assessed using Baudry’s research of cinema Apparatus. Baudry explored the fact that cinema is ideological, and that cinema maintains the cultures dominant ideology. The primary status clarified by Baudry’s work is that due to cinema being ideological, the world created by a film represents reality. Baudry suggests that by a film being relative to the spectator’s world and life surrounding them then it ensures that when the viewer is watching a film in the cinema they are passive; meaning that they are no longer able to tell the difference between the real world and the film’s world. Therefore, the spectator becomes susceptible to ideological disposition (2004). However, Creed comments how film theorists such as Mulvey contrast this opinion with those who believe that the viewer is active during cinematic experiences and that they are actively aware of their engagement towards the sadistic media they immerse themselves in (1998).

Cinema is likened to dreaming due to the simple nature of how the film is depicted to the spectator. For example, when the viewer watches a film in the cinema the lighting in the room is dark which enhances the screen, the room filters out any distractions. The reality the viewer is in is almost like a deep state of sleep where everything the viewer is witnessing is uncontrollable. When the individual is passive in this state the film can compose these ideologies passively onto the viewer.

The aspect of spectatorship and allowing the ideologies on screen to become the viewers reality similar to how dreams are formed is symbolic of the nature of voyeurism. The viewing of a film in cinema involves pleasure and desire because someone has paid and actively gone to view something they want to see. Metz has argued that the cinema is a signifier of the imaginary stage.

The imaginary stage was created as part of Lacan’s theories as to the psychoanalysis of human development. During the imaginary stage an individual will not be able to recognise reality from unreality. Metz argues that cinema acts as a retelling of the imaginary stage. For example, whilst a viewer is in the cinema they are unable to notice the difference between the screen and the self. What can be understood from Metz is that going to the cinema is similar to collective dreaming as mentioned above the individual becomes the voyeur that gets immersed in a dream like state. Therefore, the audience re-enter themselves back to the imaginary stage as the ideology on screen is their reality similar to how a dream is formed (Metz,1975).

Bordwell, D. and Thompson, K. (2008). Film Art: An Introduction. 8th Edition. New York: McGraw Hill.

Cook, P. and Bernink, M. (eds.) (1999) The Cinema Book. London: British Film Institute. P.346

Creed, B. (1998) ‘Film and psychoanalysis’, in Hill, J. and Church Gibson, P. (eds) The Oxford Guide to Film Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 77-105

English Oxford Dictionaries (no date) Psychoanalysis. Available at: (Accessed: 17 April 2018).

Metz, C. (1975) ‘ The imaginary signifier’, Screen , 16(2) available: (Assessed: 25 April 2018).


A short introduction into short films

A short film is any film that is not a feature film as it is not long enough. A short film within boundaries tells the story of a full length film however it would obviously be within a shorter duration. In terms of narrative a short films narrative is self contained meaning that you need no back stories, trailers or research to watch and understand it. Therefore a short film has to have a beginning and end with equilibrium and a disequilibrium all within a short time frame. Some short films do this well and include a range of creative cinematography and sound to even further heighten the story however due to the high demand of success points a short film must cover in order to be successful  many films fail. I have decided to watch two short films to analyse , these are ‘Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared’ 2011 directed by Joe Pelling, and Rebecca Sloan and He Dies at the End directed by Damien McCarthy 2010.

He Dies at the End directed by Damien McCarthy 2010 follows a young man working late in a desolated dark office, whilst at work a mysterious message shows up on his computer claiming someone he knows is going to die. After a range of sinister and eerie messages are received such as ‘are you alone?’ He eventually begins to become more aware of his environment and realises something is not right.

In terms of the form of the film it is effective with a self contained narrative,  follows genre conventions, and is technically proficient. However when more aspects such as cinematography and editing looked at much contribute to the narrative and overall engagement of the film.

For example the film begins with a long shot of a man sitting at his computer desk, this is a typical shot used to open a scene as this shot and any master shot immediately establishes the environment.  However the camera zooms in slowly on him as if we are put in the eyes of the ‘figure’ and are edging closer to the protagonist .The following angle used is a close up of a sign next to his desk saying ‘ life is full of surprises’. Through three camera techniques an eerie and suspenseful setting is created.

The editing in this short film contributes to the overall narrative effectively as it is shot in black and white, due to this every shadow and corner becomes darker; this aspect and the fact that the man repeatedly looks over his shoulder when this computer begins to ask him questions  (the view to the audience is of a dark long hallway) create a terrifying building tension to which provokes fear within the viewer and fulfills the mystery/ horror genre conventions.

The sound in this short film is mainly diegetic as it is the noise of computers running and keyboards typing that are primarily heard by the audience. By having this atmospheric silence it makes the audience anticipate that something is going to happen such as a sudden loud jump scare. Overall this short film is simple yet effective as it creatively delivers a traditional mystery horror without over using clichés but still using genre conventions and delivering a provoking narrative.

The second short film I have chosen to analyse is called “Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared” directed by Joe Pelling and Rebecca Sloan 2011. This film is a British, horror, satire comedy. The film is meant to appear as a children’s TV show that contains singing and talking ‘puppet-like’ figures however it eventually takes an extremely dark turn.

The form of the film takes advantage of the puppet’s natural horror aspect and ironically Pelling and Sloan use the juxtaposition of puppets and musical numbers against psychedelic and disturbing content to provoke fear and a sense of unbalance with the audience.

The film follows  three characters doing mundane stuff and teaching children how to do it such as counting and telling the time, eventually they begin singing a song, however as the song progresses it goes from innocent to being just slightly odd and uncomfortable before it takes a dramatic turn into insanity and horror.

The sound in this film contributes largely to the genre and themes of this film. For example the scene and imagery being shown to the viewer is disturbing however happy non-diegetic music is being played in the background  therefore these two aspects are used to create uneasiness and irony. Using music that goes against what you see on screen is known as contrapuntal music as opposed to music that does match what is on screen which is known as parallel music.

The first camera angle used is just various medium shots to show us the environment such as panning over the kitchen and lunchboxes, however a slight foreshadow of the narrative is shown, e.g. whilst the camera pans over the kitchen it stalls around the knifes; drawing the audience’s attention to them  before beginning  to move on. A medium long shot is next used to introduce the characters which we see sitting around a table, as the film continues a friendly ‘light’ children song begins to play. However after a variety of long shots/ medium shots, there is a close up of a clown painting that has black paint running all down it creating a pool underneath it.

Furthermore uncomfortable extreme close ups of animals’ hearts getting glitter poured over it and death being spelt out in fridge magnets  are used to make the audience feel uncomfortable with being in such close proximity of disturbia.

The editing in this film that draws attention is the use of visual effects. For example the life-like puppets become overly animated in the style of a low budget 90’s computer game, this doesn’t necessarily provoke fear in the viewer however the sudden change and hectic scenario all add to the narrative to  create confusion and a sense of tension.

Overall the short film relies heavily on cinematography and sound to showcase an unusual yet thought provoking film that has gone on to win awards and be shown on TV networks. The potential for short films is particularly underrated as much of the time they can convey twice the emotion and provoke enjoyment more than many blockbusters released today.

Comments on Hitchcock’s authorship in Psycho (1960)

Hitchcock, possibly one of the most famous directors. you could have no interest in film but still probably know his name. I do not necessarily have a keen interest in him or shockingly in any of his films; but the distinguishable mark he leaves on his list of films is commendable. 

Authorship in terms of film can be defined as the intelligence and the mind behind the final product of a film. When a filmmaker is described as obtaining an authorship, this typically distinguishes them as successful and significant within their field. The term authorship was generated by French film critics. The critics used the term to link similar stylistic and thematic ties to particular directors. It is typically directors who are coined with authorship. This is where much of the controversy derives. It is argued that behind every great director there is a team of writers, editors and producers who contribute to the product being worthy of success. However, Sir Alfred Hitchcock was one of the few directors whose films were entirely his vision regardless of what help he received.

Alfred Hitchcock is possibly one of the most notorious directors off all time. During his time as a filmmaker he directed over 60 films.  One of the aspects that make him such a respected auteur is the fact that all of his films are immediately distinguishable as his. Hitchcock consistently uses signature factors that appear across most of his films. These factors include; including cameos of himself, allowing the camera to develop a life of its own, using the soundtrack to build intensity and the use of carefully selected camera angles.

Psycho is a 1960 psychological mystery thriller that was directed and produced by Hitchcock. Many film theorists argue that Psycho invented the slasher subgenre of horror. Psycho is possibly one of the most influential films of all time and clearly defines itself as one of Hitchcock’s most significant films in terms of authorship. Psycho features many important factors of Hitchcock’s signature. These include the use of energetic editing, use of intricate cinematography that emphasises the genre and exploring typically taboo subjects.

In the infamous scene that takes place in the shower Hitchcock really delivered a powerful scene. In this scene Hitchcock often gives the camera almost human- like capabilities. For example, in the sequence the camera is strategically placed so that the viewer is not only into the victim’s situation they are also placed from the villain’s perspective. This aspect startles the viewer as the audience is put in a position of power as Hitchcock shows us the murders perspective. However, at the same time the spectator is also in a vulnerable position as we see the protagonist’s perspective. Here, Hitchcock utilises the genre in order to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat through clever cinematography. This use of shot- reverse shot in such a quick piece is heightened by Hitchcock’s typical use of energetic editing that is seen in many of his thriller films. Hitchcocks use of editing constantly creates suspense in this scene. During the scenes across all his films that are suspenseful, Hitchcock uses many shots in order to build intensity in the scene. Hitchcock’s authorship in terms of editing was associated with how he constructed a sequence to be purely cinematic and to solely rely on the assembly of film.  Hitchcocks use of exploring taboo features is an aspect that is prominent in his auteur style. In this extract the audience sees the protagonist in the shower. Although this imagery is now extremely tame throughout films, during the 60s this raised many concerns. So much so that the film boards even asked him to re shoot the scene.



Hitchcock, possibly one of the most famous directors. you could have no interest in film but still probably know his name. I do not necessarily have a keen interest in him or shockingly in any of his films; but the distinguishable mark he leaves on his list of films is commendable. 

Authorship in terms of film can be defined as the intelligence and the mind behind the final product of a film. When a filmmaker is described as obtaining an authorship, this typically distinguishes them as successful and significant within their field. The term authorship was generated by French film critics. The critics used the term to link similar stylistic and thematic ties to particular directors. It is typically directors who are coined with authorship. This is where much of the controversy derives. It is argued that behind every great director there is a team of writers, editors and producers who contribute to the product being worthy of success. However, Sir Alfred Hitchcock was one of the few directors whose films were entirely his vision regardless of what help he received.

Alfred Hitchcock is possibly one of the most notorious directors off all time. During his time as a filmmaker he directed over 60 films.  One of the aspects that make him such a respected auteur is the fact that all of his films are immediately distinguishable as his. Hitchcock consistently uses signature factors that appear across most of his films. These factors include; including cameos of himself, allowing the camera to develop a life of its own, using the soundtrack to build intensity and the use of carefully selected camera angles.

Psycho is a 1960 psychological mystery thriller that was directed and produced by Hitchcock. Many film theorists argue that Psycho invented the slasher subgenre of horror. Psycho is possibly one of the most influential films of all time and clearly defines itself as one of Hitchcock’s most significant films in terms of authorship. Psycho features many important factors of Hitchcock’s signature. These include the use of energetic editing, use of intricate cinematography that emphasises the genre and exploring typically taboo subjects.

In the infamous scene that takes place in the shower Hitchcock really delivered a powerful scene. In this scene Hitchcock often gives the camera almost human- like capabilities. For example, in the sequence the camera is strategically placed so that the viewer is not only into the victim’s situation they are also placed from the villain’s perspective. This aspect startles the viewer as the audience is put in a position of power as Hitchcock shows us the murders perspective. However, at the same time the spectator is also in a vulnerable position as we see the protagonist’s perspective. Here, Hitchcock utilises the genre in order to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat through clever cinematography. This use of shot- reverse shot in such a quick piece is heightened by Hitchcock’s typical use of energetic editing that is seen in many of his thriller films. Hitchcocks use of editing constantly creates suspense in this scene. During the scenes across all his films that are suspenseful, Hitchcock uses many shots in order to build intensity in the scene. Hitchcock’s authorship in terms of editing was associated with how he constructed a sequence to be purely cinematic and to solely rely on the assembly of film.  Hitchcocks use of exploring taboo features is an aspect that is prominent in his auteur style. In this extract the audience sees the protagonist in the shower. Although this imagery is now extremely tame throughout films, during the 60s this raised many concerns. So much so that the film boards even asked him to re shoot the scene.

Scene analysis of Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963).

The Haunting is a 1963 horror film directed by Robert Wise. The film is an adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s novel – The Haunting of Hill House. Throughout time the film has stood as one of the greats’ within the horror genre and community. Wise created a masterful visual experience in the film due to the intense yet subtle cinematography. Image result for the haunting robert wise

Immediately just after as we are introduced to our main character an uneasy environment is established, due to the high angle shot of the room. She is standing in the middle of the room this makes her seem more vulnerable and alone. However this is an open cue created for the audience to make them aware of what the events ahead are  but, as she stands in the centre of the room there appears to be standard everyday objects constantly staring at her, watching her, taking account of every movement she makes. This is depicted to the audience by the object (statue or a figurine) being eye level. Furthermore just as she lies down on the bed there is an odd low angle used. The effect that is created is that something is under the bed observing her covertly. Low camera angles usually indicate a person’s high status giving them the effect of being powerful or intimidating, this is not the case for this use of low angle because here she is the victim, the one who is weak compared to the unknown entity.

Moreover as the screen slowly darkens in tone there are brief views of the outside of the house and various features of what is in the house. These are shown by an ominous low angle shot of the outside of the house which portrays how vast the house is, it equally depicts the house as threatening, dire, and merciless.  A long shot is used to illustrate the empty feeling of the house.

She is woken from the callings from the person next door, and the audience is introduced to a whole new setting as she goes into the room next to her. The sound of a constant knocking noise is now more prominent and our first true character introduction is shown. The main character is always positioned higher than the other woman. This illustrates to the audience which character to focus on. Additionally framing is used to represent the characters relationship with each other. They are positioned particularly close to one another even though the room is very spacious. As well as informing the viewer that they know each other, this also depicts how fearful they are due to them huddling close for protection.

There is a close up shot of the main character’s face. A close up is used to reveal what the character’s emotional mood is. This is an intimate and powerful shot, and it expresses her facial expressions which were worried and concerned. Not only does this reflect what the audience is feeling but it also has significance to the narrative.

Image result for the haunting robert wise

Additionally when the chaotic noise continues there is a very sudden zoom in on the door which is where the sound is situated from. This energetic, quick and sporadic movement shows the urgency of the situation. It also informs the audience to focus on what is there. The frantic zooming in gives the audience more connection with the narrative and what is happening.

Just as a false sense of security is created by the disturbing sound calming down, a loud crashing noise is made and a  dutch angle is used. A  dutch angle is an angle which is tilted diagonally rather than being on a straight horizontal line. This showed that something still was unhinged. Immediately after the dutch angle, the camera zooms in on a door handle. This extreme close up shot shows the audience that there is a face on the door handle looking directly at the camera. Similarly to the beginning of the extract where there were inanimate objects staring at the main character, however now they are staring at us.

The camera pans all around the frame of the door. However when it gets to the bottom of the door frame the camera holds for a brief second. Although brief this is very powerful as it emphasizes the gap between the floor and the door. This alarms the viewer that focus of the paranormal events occurring is beyond that door, which makes the emotional tone of the extract much more sinister.

The cinematography in this scene captivates the audience through its energetic camera movements. Wise’s use of low angles, close-ups, and high angles create an ominous, inauspicious, and eerie atmosphere which plays out throughout the extract.

Analysis of Blue Velvet’s (David Lynch, 1986) opening sequence.

Throughout cinema mise en scene has become vital in understanding exactly how the auteur conveys the narrative in the film. Blue Velvet is a neo-noir based drama directed by infamous surrealism director David Lynch. Blue velvet maintains an iconic status since its release in 1986 due to the layers upon layers of in depth detail involving mise en scene that is conjured together to create such a symbolic film.

Blue Velvet follows an investigation that leads a curious young man onto a voyeuristic path, where he is drawn to a mysterious young nightclub singer. This sequence is the opening scene in the film. This scene shows an idyllic picturesque suburbia during a summer’s day however, the narrative shifts as the audience is shown a man’s brutal death followed by a series of phallic and disturbing visual imageries.

To begin with, the sound in Blue Velvet is the first element that is portrayed to the viewer. The scene begins with Bobby Vinton’s cover of the track ‘Blue Velvet’. The song itself is orchestrally soft with melodic tones that immediately draw the viewer in through its synchronisation towards what is being shown on screen.  The scene begins with a spotless image of a white picket fence laden with bright red roses in the foreground. This evident image of an immaculate set up along with the 50s doo wop style music synchronises together to reflect what the narrative at that time wishes to portray. The synchronised sound calibrates where our thoughts and emotions should reside for the sequence. Lynch’s choice of song along with the imagery that is shown anchors our emotions to be more emotionally involved in the narrative.

Furthermore, the sound towards the end of the scene continues with the aspect of synchronisation. For example, at the end of the sequence the camera shows drifts from the American dream style imagery to dark sinister based visuals of the ground from the utopian world that the viewer was just subjected to.  The sound that is presented here is diegetic as the viewer hears a varied range of crunching and hissing sounds that reflect an almost seedy underbelly of the blameless pleasant lifestyle that the audience has been shown. This sequence has no dialogue; therefore, the non-diegetic soundtrack is what carries the relationship between the images and the scene.

Editing is one of the most major concepts in dealing with how the film is portrayed. In the opening sequence for Blue Velvet the shots flow effortlessly between one another; the aspect of continuity editing means that the viewer does not realise the particularities of shot changes and angles as they are so immersed in the story line. However, although the sequence follows strong aspects of continuity editing, a major part of the narrative is being manipulated subliminally as the editing visually and narratively depicts strong instances of surrealism. For example, there is a shot of picturesque yellow flowers against a white picket fence, the shot then dissolves into a medium long shot of a group of blonde haired children crossing the road. The dissolving of the shot is one that is not necessarily overused or popular in cinema. Lynch’s use of this transition choice reflects the haziness and dream-like quality of flowy movement that contributes to the structure of the entire opening of the film’s subplot.

Moreover, a large part of this opening sequence is due to the subliminal way Lynch builds a sense of dread and tension. As described, the scene is extremely friendly and calm. Therefore, when the audience first sees the anticipation build up towards the end the result has a larger effect on audiences. The editing towards the end of the sequence becomes quick and sharp in terms of its cuts rather than the soft dissolves previously used. What we see on screen is a man dying due to a build up of stress from his garden hose getting tangled. The camera quickly cuts as the hose becomes blended and twisted, then to the man angrily struggling and then finally back to the hose at the top bursting out with water. These three shots are repeated with the man growing increasingly incandescent with rage, leaving the viewer purposefully shocked and fathomed with the sequence as the harmonious pace has been bluntly disturbed.

It is determined that the blurriness of the shot combined with elements such as soft lighting provides the emotion that this sequence comes across as more of a dream or a favorable memory. Lynch’s auteur style is known for its juxtaposition of alluringly bizarre sequences that are reliant upon traditional surrealistic elements such as dreams along with somewhat normal occasions. This aspect of dreams is heavily used throughout in order to not only startle the viewer but to make the film an art piece.

Camera movement, framing and cinematography is a cardinal demeanor within this sequence. Framing translates to what the director has decided to show on screen. The framing in this sequence anchors our relationship with the scene. In this sequence apart from the untarnished imagery, a significantly vital image to the scene is the image of the objective framing angle. Subjective and objective camera angles have a significant relationship to the viewers connection to the story line. Subjective camera angles put the camera in the eyes of the subject in the film, an objective camera angle is where the camera provides the illusion that the viewer is observing the scene from ‘behind the scenes. Prior to the tension building in the film, the audience is objectively shown a woman watching a gun on the television. The gun in this scene is immediately out of place; the violent imagery aggressively distresses the audience as the calm scenario that the viewer has become accustomed to has been altered. The imagery of the gun is soon followed by a series of shots of a man growing increasingly frustrated with a gardening hose becoming tangled which then leads to him dying and having a stroke. The end of the sequence disrupts the small harmonious equilibrium that has been established in the opening shots as a series of violent connotations are made.

Image result for blue velvet opening sequence

The framing is vital in this scene since the frames primarily foreshadow  the entire narrative of the film. The most striking themes of Blue Velvet are sexual dysfunction, surrealism and voyeurism. The theme of sexual dysfunction provides itself to a major part of this sequence’s narrative. As the man is collapsing down to the ground as a result of his death, the hose that he was previously seen struggling with is carefully positioned through angles and framing to represent a phallus object. Lynch then uses a wide angle to show a dog and a young child helplessly and innocently oblivious to what is at hand. However, the importance of the shot is due to the framing, cinematography and editing that is used next. A close up of the dog rapidly attacking the water that is being sprayed out of the phallic hose is shown to the audience. The framing that Lynch has used has focused all our attention on the subject at hand which is this aspect of sexual dysfunction. This is due to this dog’s animal instinct is what the truth behind the American dream truly is; it is ‘everyman for itself. Although the dog’s presumed owner is dead on the ground the dog needlessly is focused on its own self.  In terms of the cinematography here, Lynch’s use of a close up combined with the scene being sporadically edited to be in slow motion brings the audience closer to the uncomfortable narrative and highlights the true message of the film.

Furthermore, the final shot we are shown is the camera moving slowly almost like a snake through the ground. This shot is one that is imperative to the sequence. Everything that the audience has seen up until now has just been the buildup. This shot shows the audience what is purely placed underneath the ground of this idyllic neighborhood; the camera shows an endless supply of disgustingly gruesome insects squirming throughout the grass.  The bright and over saturated reds and blues that the audience were subjected to before, makes the now dark black ground seem even more hermetic and grotesque.

The seedy underbelly of the American dream is exposed due to Lynch’s use of revolving the sequence around aspects such as the seduction to the almost perverted landscape and the chastity of the narrative in this sequence. is further highlighted due to the mise en scene aspects as discussed such as cinematography, framing, sound and editing.

An investigation into the historical context surrounding Nosferatu (1922)

Film under any pretence defines itself as a fluidity between real world events and the fictional universe the film itself presents. For example, media sources of any specifications from theatre to film translates the context of a time to screen. Not only does this provide the viewer with an immense experience during the viewing but also this enables the film to serve a purpose and to contribute a certain opinion or viewpoint into the realms of society.

Nosferatu is a 1922 German horror film directed by F.W. Murnau. Nosferatu follows the story of a real estate agent selling a home to a visceral malevolent vampire who has a bloodthirsty desire for the agent’s guiltless wife. This film was filmed in the early 1920s in Germany; during the time that this film was based in Germany the state of the economic and political situations was mainly revolving around matters such as the evolution of Adolf Hitler becoming part of the main structure of the German government (Stibbe, 2010). Due to the fact that Nosferatu was based in a different time to when it was actually filmed; the nature of reflecting major social issues that were happening at the time of production such as Hitler was not as relevant and necessary to the film as the economic and political situations were so distant to the time that the film was based in.

Nosferatu is based in the 1830s in Germany, during this time the primary social issues that were developed from the economic and political included Germany expanding in terms of infrastructures and society civilizing out into new careers and beliefs. This aspect of German society dividing themselves between individual’s wealth and class status that became largely present during the 1830s was also distinct during the 1920s. The film was filmed after World War one and before World War two therefore, the friction between the fear that the public suffered, and the power and uprising of the enemy was still new. The constant threat of dread that became a large social issue translated into the film using the narrative. For Example, in the film the protagonist must go to Transylvania to greet the firms’ new client, as his travels begin many local villagers are fearful of even the mention of the antagonist’s name. This evident divide between an external force and society in the film is ever accordant to the social issues after the first World War as many people were constantly afraid of external forces causing havoc and chaos again. This then furthermore illustrates how particular social issues during the 1920s became buried within the film.

How Nosferatu was made and the stem of the film itself is infamous as it originates from a notorious novel. Nosferatu was based on Bram Stoker’s 1897 book’ Dracula. However, after the film’s release Stokers heirs gained knowledge that was in fact essentially copyrighting the novel as F.W. Murnau had not received authorization to adapt the book into a film. To prevent this lawsuit from occurring Murnau had changed key names from the book such as instead of using the character’s name as ‘Count Dracula’ it had been changed to ‘Count Orlock’ instead. However, Stokers’ heirs won the case and all copies of Nosferatu had to be destroyed. Yet, some copies of the film remained. Nosferatu since then has become one of the most noted and prominent films of the horror genre (Turner Classic Movies, no date).

Moreover, Nosferatu is a film that was part of the prominent German Expressionist movement within cinema. During the early 1920s many Hollywood large budget productions all followed a pattern and structure in terms of not only narrative but also stylistic elements such as pace and cinematography. Many studios that were in Europe found it increasingly difficult to make their production budgets as large as Hollywood studios such as Warner Brothers. Therefore, studios Germans decided against making their films replicate the blockbusters and instead create new and defiant styles of films. These films became part of the German Expressionist genre. A large part of German Expressionism in film was how the auteurs of the movement viewed their films almost as an art piece (Eisner, 2008). An aspect that is particularly noticeable in Nosferatu where expressionist cinema is notably evident is how conventions of the genre are constantly in use; in one scene of the film Count Orlock is seen standing in a doorway. Although the shot in terms of narrative is simplistic, the shot is brimming with details that account for the context of the genre. For example, as Count Orlock is seen in the doorway there is a door frame behind him this frame not only provides the scene with multidimensional compositional aspects, but it also fulfils the nature of the feature of German Expressionism as the multi-dimensional depth makes the setting have a perplex atmosphere.  Furthermore, although the silence of the film adds to the malevolent nature of the film it means that additional aspects such as mise en scene and cinematography stand out more. For example, the rambunctious nature of this shot makes the viewer dismiss the fact that there is an abundance of diegetic sound as they are still immersed in the film due to the striking and memorable scenes that Murnau along with expressionist conventions have created.

Moreover, the German Expressionist movement defied much of what Hollywood’s films contained for example, the use of lighting and camera angles in Nosferatu is purposefully constructed to be noticeable and non-discrete. For example, in one infamous shot from the film the viewer is shown a staircase with Count Orlok’s almost reptile-like shadow peered across the wall. Murnau uses the shadow and light in this scene to be almost semiotic. This is further emphasised by the high contrast constantly used in the film. The shadows in this shot are extremely telling of Count Orlok’s potency over anyone in his presence. This power over the characters replicates his power that he has over the audience. In terms of camera angles; German expressionist cinema used unusual camera angles that were not the typical constant eyeline views that were portrayed in Hollywood cinema. For example, in Nosferatu the composition of scenes were ones that the viewer may not have been subjected to. Ironically, Murnau’s use of unconventional compositions and angles became extensively reproduced throughout cinema.

To continue, in terms of the sociology of the film; Nosferatu deeply emulates what the audiences’ repressed fears were at the time. Nosferatu could possibly be viewed as a significant metaphor for how a pandemic at the time killed and terrorised many people. In Nosferatu all the people in the town are under attack by a presumed plague however, all the townspeople’s deaths are at the hands of Count Orlok’s bloodthirsty nature. In the film the audience is shown people being terrified of the disease and being told to stay inside. This aspect of the narrative replicates what had happened during the Influenza pandemic during 1980-1920. The Influenza pandemic killed between twenty to forty million (Johnson and Mueller, 2002). Nosferatu was shortly made after this therefore, the horror of the aftermath of the pandemic remained fresh in people’s minds.

To conclude with, the political and economic state of the nation and time in which Nosferatu was made is widely reproduced within the film from a variety of aspects ranging from the metaphorical sense of the narrative to cinematic features such as the mise en scene.


Bordwell, D and Thompson, K (2003) Film History: An Introduction, 2nd Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill. Pp. 463- 465.

Daum. A.W (2002) ‘Science, politics, and religion: humboldtian thinking and the transformations of civil society in Germany, 1830-1870 ‘ vol. 17, p.3

Eisner, L (2008) The haunted screen. California: Thames and Hudson. Pp. 7- 8.

Stibbe. M (2010) Germany, 1914-1933: politics, society and culture. New York: Pearson. Pp, 253.

Turner Classic Movie (no date) Nosferatu. Available at:, N. P. A. S. and Mueller, J. (2002) ‘Updating the Accounts: Global Mortality of the 1918-1920 “Spanish” Influenza Pandemic.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine, vol (76) no,1. pp. 105-115.

A brief understanding of Italian Neorealism

Italian neorealism is possibly one of the most vital and inspiring cinematic movements of all time. Ruberto and Wilson define the movement “as a method of ethical-political engagement with the everyday” (2007, p.16). Neorealism in its own retrospect translates to the anti- act of ridding the mundane and introducing a flexible interpretation of what is normal. Italian Neorealism evolved due to Italy’s young generations needing to be unconfined from society’s reality of cinema. This essay will be discussing the movement and its primary key stylistic features that occurred in the movement using the films Rome Open City (Roberto Rossellini, 1945) and Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio de Sica, 1948).

Throughout history, Italy was known during the beginnings of cinema to produce many almost American influenced romantic comedies and dramas which focused on higher class characters. However, when Benito Mussolini was brought into power, the cinematic market in Italy changed due to the countries then Fascist political stance. Cook comments on how Fascists “were aware of cinemas immense potential for propaganda” (2016, p.276). Therefore, the films produced by Italy became politically connected and were all almost documentaries. This strict nature of films narrative led many people to perceive the films as very much manufactured. Many audiences believed that cinema needed a more realistic stance. After the fall of Mussolini’s run many filmmakers desired to produce media which went above what was forbidden during the Fascist regime. For example, although the propaganda laden films were perceived as an accurate portrayal of reality, many of the themes that occur in real life were left out. Filmmakers such as Rossellini and De Sica wanted to convey narratives that explored previous taboo film topics such as opposing social and political views that would have gone against the state.

Bordwell and Thompson state that Neorealism was motivated by filmmakers “aiming to reveal contemporary social conditions” (2017, p.478). Here, the true aspect of Neorealism is highlighted. Italian Neorealism primary focus was to draw drastic attention to daunting societal based problems at the time. For instance, the increasing rate of unemployment and exploiting the lack of money people had due to war. Neorealism can be defined by its key stylistic features. As Shiel states, Neorealism did everything the opposite of Hollywood, for example filmmakers navigate towards “the use of nonprofessional actors, the avoidance of omental mise- en- scene, a preference for natural light, a freely-moving documentary style of photography…. ‘an avoidance of complex editing” (2006, p.2). Many of these features appear in Neorealist filmmaker Rossellini’s 1945 film Rome Open City. This particular film is seen as a rightful advocate of Italian Neorealism as it was one of the first films of the movement to be made.

Rome Open City is centred at the end of the second world war and follows a variety of characters including a priest and a communist official attempting to resist the present German occupation held in Rome. Gottlieb comments on how in the film Rossellini Captures “without distortion the often messy and unpredictable reality that rarely figured in conventional films” (2004, p.6). In 1945 many of the major film studios had been eradicated due to the War, this then resulted in many sets and sound equipment becoming very rare (Bordwell and Thompson, 2017, p.478). Therefore, the overtaking neorealist filmmakers had to use locales and much of the final visuals would have a rugged style to them due to Rossellini having to use a range of different photographic stocks. Rome Open City conforms to neorealism primarily due to the raw plot nature. The second half of the film features a bold torture scene that openly confronts the audience with harsh truths that depicts the struggle against the German opposition in a way that other films had not. Bondanella comments on how when this film was made “Italian film had definitely moved into a new phase” (2001, p.35). Here, the complete transition from fascist control over what films can and cannot be shown to Italian society had completely shifted over into a creative freedom that transformed the way cinema was portrayed and perceived.

Stylistic features such as improvisational acting is a prominent feature in Neorealism that occurred often. The freedom that the cast had led to dramatic reactions that at times highlighted the traumatic themes present in the films additionally, the freedom the actors obtained requires the framing to also develop a loose flexible style. For example, during the death of Pina in Rome Open City, a woman is seen running down the street towards her partner, the scene is shown from many different angles including a seemingly long lens shot. This small aspect is vital in understanding the connection between cinematography and neorealism as the long lens angle provides the audience with a view that appears as if it is a part of a newsreel which adds to Rossellini’s vision of the film exploiting graphic themes in a way that comes across as realistic which alerts the viewers’ attention to the horrific real themes.

Neorealism constantly explored the lives of the lower working class. In terms of actors in films of the movement many of them were well known however, they would be hired with the intent to almost mock their typical character role to act as a rejection to the ‘norm’. additionally, many actors were non-professional as they not only conformed suitably to the role but also it led to the realistic essence of truly portraying the poverty in society. Many Neorealist films would utilise children in order provoke a reaction from the viewer as seeing a child in drastic poverty is unpleasant. A film that is an important display of Neorealism is the 1948 film Bicycle Thieves directed by Vittorio de Sica.

Bicycle Thieves follows the story of a man called Antonio’s (Lamberto Maggiorani) bicycle being stolen and him and his young sons Bruno (Enzo Staiola) journey to track it down. Bicycle Thieves was made in a time where “Italy’s social and economic fabric was threadbare” (De Sica, 2008, p.14). Here, the aspect of how the film was shot in an oppressive state is highlighted as being an important feature on how it has become a film recognised for its stance within the movement. The film focuses on how the working class had to live exceptionally difficult lives after the devastation of the War. For example, the film follows a simple plot however, the significance of the bike is what drives the entire narrative. For example, without the bike the father will lose his job which then increases the struggle for his family.

Italian Neorealism cinema constantly reminded the audience of the hardship present within the story. This was accurately the case within this film as the use of intricate details portrayed by key stylistic features that are present in many Neorealism films. A large aspect as previously mentioned in the film is the aspect of the stories of the lower working class. Even though a scene may be solely focused on the lead character, De Sica carefully frames the scene that ensures the audience still sees copious crowds of people. For example, during the early scenes in the film Maria ‘Antonios wife (Lianella Carell) has been forced to sell her belongings to support her family. De Sica shows Maria going to a store to sell the items, throughout this scene the camera constantly shows us an extraneous line of people waiting to do the same as they cannot afford to survive.

Continuing on, the use of cinematography is ever presently informing and emphasising the plot to the viewer. For instance, there is a scene involving Antonio entering a church. The first shot that audience witnesses are of an elderly man who appears sombre and comfortless as his clothes are ragged and his expression is dreary. This informs the viewer that everyone that is present within the Community that Antonio and his family live in is struggling from the pressure of the War. The camera immediately transfixes on this man prior to the protagonist which indicates that it is not only Antonio and his family that has been brought under by poverty.

The ending of the film is one of much discussion amongst film theorists and critics. Bicycle Thieves ending is abrupt and unforeseen. The film ends with a shot depicting Antonio and Bruno dismally sitting on the edge of the pavement at a loss without a bike. The wide shot changes the paradigm as at first, we are very much briefly shown just the two characters in sombre however, as the camera angle changes to a wide shot the frame shows that they are surrounded by crowds of people. This scene shows that despite the film focusing on one man’s story hundreds of other people are suffering as well in the exact same way. Italian Neorealism challenges the audience’s perceptions to what viewers are used to. In classic Hollywood films the ending would have a clear answer that was mainly positive and worked within the protagonist’s favour in order to not trigger a negative reaction from viewers. However, Neorealism was about confronting the viewer to think and to generate emotions that were not simply happy but complex and thought provoking.

Sometime after the height of Neorealism in Italy the country began to repair itself with the economy and culture returning to a sustainable level. As Italy was rebuilding, the government ensured that “censorship and state pressures began to constrain the movement” (Bordwell and Thompson, 2017, p.479). Due to this fact, cinema had transitioned into being occupied by large scale mainstream Italian films which forced Neorealism to lose its stance with smaller production companies with many of the well-known filmmakers of the Italian Neorealism movement reinventing themselves as directors who focused on mainly romance or western films. However, throughout the world many countries are continuing to create new original versions of Neorealism; Such as French New Wave Cinema which also sought to challenge perceived ideologies in cinema.

Italian Neorealism has obtained the presence within film history as being one of the most vital and significant movements which inventively pioneered a variety of new ways to invite realism onto the screen leaving a mark behind as being one of the most recognised but brief innovations in global cinema.

Reference list
Bordwell, D. and Thompson, K (2017) ‘Historical Changes in Film Art: Conventions and Choices, Tradition and Trends’ in Film History: An Introduction, 2nd Ediiton. New York: McGraw- Hill, pp. 477- 479.
Bondanella, P (2001) Italian Cinema: From Neorealism to the Present. NY: Bloomsbury, p. 35.
Cook, D. (2016) ‘ Wartime and postwar cinema: Italy and the united states, 1940-1951’ in A History of Narrative film, 5th Edition, NY: W.W. Norton and Company, p.276
De Sica, V (2008) Bicycle Thieves, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, P.14
Horton, A. and Gottlieb, S (2004) Roberto Rossellini’s rome open city, Cambridge: Cambirdge University Press, p.6
Ruberto L. and Kristi, M (2007) Italian neorealism and global cinema, Michigan: Wayne State University Press, p.16
Shiel, M (2012) Italian Neorealism: Rebuilding the Cinematic City , Columbia: Columbia University Press, p.2

An Exploration into Surrealist Film

Surrealism is a provocative, anti-political and visually disengaging movement within the world of cinema, art and theatre. Surrealism can be found in the world of media however surrealistic cinema is a medium in which directors can truly explore every aspect of film which typically would never work at all in mundane mainstream cinema. I will be illustrating three staple films across surrealist cinema across a variety of different time frames:

Un Chien Andalou is a French 1929 surrealist film directed by Luis Bunuel and influenced by Salvador Dali. The short sixteen-minute film presents abrupt, surrealistic imagery which includes eyes being slit open and dead horses being dragged over pianos through a series of dream-like sequences.

The Phantom of Liberty is a 1974 surrealist film directed by Luis Bunuel. This was Bunuel’s penultimate film and one of his most well-known films. This film contains distinctive aspects of surrealistic characteristics such as uncomfortable scenes, implications of child abduction and paedophilia and scenes of sexual taboo.

Finally, the third film is Blue Velvet. Blue Velvet is a 1986 American mystery and neo-noir film. It is written and directed by the influential David Lynch, who has rightfully gained a certain reputation as an auteur for confronting audiences with his own personal vision, showing physical and psychological deformity.

In surrealist films people act as if they would in dreams, where there are no conventional notions of narrative. Bunuel has stated that the Un Chien Andalou derived from dreams that both him and Dali had experienced. Therefore, taking this into consideration dreams are a major convention throughout the film. The surrealist element of dreams become more of a representation of a nightmare in Un Chien Andalou. For example, one scene depicts ants infesting a human hand, the hands reaction is eerily dull, and calm compared to what your body’s reaction would be if this were to happen in reality. What this represents is how it is common within dreams for people to lose their reactive abilities to what is occurring around them. Additionally, this scene brings in elements of people’s unconscious fears and phobias of insects infesting your body.


It is a common characteristic of surrealist films to completely ignore the laws of time and space. For example, at the beginning of each sequence a title card is displayed saying “16 years later” etc. These uninformative title cards have no real connection to the scenes that they claim to bracket. Even though the title cards will state that the following events take place years later all of the presented characters do not look any older and the setting is identical to what was previously shown. The title cards are only there to act as an overt attempt to mock and criticise bourgeois society and how they attempt to find meaning towards everything. The condemning nature that surrealism has towards the bourgeois will become apparently frequent throughout Bunuel’s work.

 Furthermore, Un Chien Andalou follows the Freudian nature of dream theory surrounding displacement and disconnected structures, which is an additional characteristic of surrealist film. The sequences that follow each other have no relevance. For example, the only aspect of linear narrative that we have is of the eye being slit open and then the image of the moon, however, these images are not actually structured at all. The only reason these two sequences seem related is due to re-association, as these two aspects (eye and moon) are the same shape. Re-association is also a common element in dreams.

Un Chien Andalou tackles every aspect of mainstream cinema in order to shock bourgeoisie society. A further scene depicts a woman prodding a decapitated hand with a stick. During this scene Bunuel manages to complete several conventions of surrealistic cinema in order to disturb the viewer.

Firstly, this scene illustrates social satire, for example, the policeman that arrives at the scene stores the hand away in a box seemingly for his own keepsake and does not show any desire to solve the case. By Bunuel adding this small aspect in he achieves the notion of mocking societies authoritive figures. Additionally, bourgeois audiences were familiar with characters in which they could identify with and sympathise with. In this scene we see a woman getting ran over, yet the audience do not really care as they haven’t had the opportunity to identify or connect with her as not one character is on screen long enough for them to obtain any sort of emotional connection with them.

Bunuel is well known for his surrealist films. His film The Phantom of Liberty (1974) offers an additional insight into surrealist film. The Phantom of Liberty is connected by a series of unfinished narrative sequences unlike most surrealist films, the sequences are loosely connected. For example, the minor character in one scene becomes the major character in the next. Although these scenes have a continuous flow, it does not constitute a true story. This aspect of non-linear narratives is a staple for most surrealist films.

A common characteristic that is repeatedly used throughout surrealistic films and The Phantom of Liberty is making the viewer feel uncomfortable. Bunuel accomplishes this through using sexual obsessive imagery that is linked to pain. In one sequence an aunt and her nephew have an incestuous affair however, when the aunt cowards away and attempts to leave, her nephew becomes increasingly violent and passive with her. A lot of pressure and aggression is seen here, due to the nature of this scene being a taboo it makes the viewer uncomfortable as what is being seen is unnatural and morally wrong.

In addition, a common characteristic that is featured ion surrealist films is characters that we cannot sympathise with. This same scene of the incestuous affair is an example of how the viewer does not sympathise with the character. For example, although we know that the nephew is in the wrong by intimidating and pressuring the aunt, the audience do not particularly care if something bad happens to her, even though in a mainstream film we would. This is due to the characters not having recognisable goals or motives and we do not learn anything about them, not even their names. Therefore, we cannot identify with them.

Mainstream audiences during the 1970’s were not particularly challenged as they were used to seeing mundane images on screen. If anything was risqué or visually provoking it was seen as a disgrace that should be banned. However, surrealistic filmmakers thrived on making the bourgeoisie uncomfortable. One way in which Bunuel achieved this was through sexual imagery linked to fetishism and pain.

This aspect of sexual imagery during the time was not common to see on screen as It was seen by society as a taboo private matter that should not be discussed. However, Bunuel took this aspect and abused it so that eventually The Phantom of Liberty featured aspects of necrophilia, incest, paedophilia and sadomasochism.  One scene candidly mocks the bourgeoisie views on inappropriate content. The scene shows four monks and a nurse join a seemingly average couple. However, they soon change outfits and perform a ludicrous bondage act despite them being in the company of religious figures. This scene proves itself to be unusually humorous but also bothersome at the same time.

Mainstream films identify with the following characteristics; use of continuity editing that promotes a narrative structure that is chronological, storylines based around enigma and resolution and characters that the audience can relate to and follows them on a journey. The third film Blue Velvet (1986) is not necessarily a true surrealist film however, it does have many surrealistic influences which is visible throughout. Therefore, it does conform to some extent towards surrealistic cinema.

one aspect that is repeatedly highlighted throughout the film is the aspect of dark scenes that make the viewer uncomfortable. This is one of the main characteristics that define a surrealistic film. Therefore as this film is influenced by surrealism, dark scenes are profusely obvious here.

For example, during one scene Jeffrey hides in Dorothy’s closet, whilst Frank inflicts bizarre fantasies upon her this involves Frank physically and emotionally abusing Dorothy all whilst he inhales an unidentified gas. Besides the graphic sexually violent nature which immediately makes the audience uncomfortable, it is more Frank’s behaviour that creates themes of displeasure amongst the viewer. Frank repeatedly refers to Dorothy as “mommy “at the same time as he beats her to the floor. This aspect of surrealism of making the viewer uncomfortable and conveying scenes of a dark nature are both features that conjure with other surrealist elements present to illustrate how Blue Velvet conforms to surrealistic cinema. Additionally, out of Un Chien Andalou and The Phantom of Liberty, which both depicts the extremes of surrealistic film, Blue Velvet (based on this scene alone) is extremely dark which falls into the category of surrealism.

To finalise, it could be argued that surrealism in true form does not have any conventions and is a free-flowing movement that does not have any holds. Yet, it seems that regardless of whether surrealism is an exploration of dreams and in a way the opposite of ‘mainstream’, all the three films explored conform to a sense of a genre constriction based upon surrealism.