The horror genre and the American film industry, 1953-1968

1997 1997

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Abstract (summary)

This study examines the economic, aesthetic, technological, and cultural forces responsible for the success of horror films in the American motion picture market between 1953 and 1968. While many critics have asserted the primacy of cultural factors in the increasing popularity of the horror film in this period, drastic changes in the film industry after World War II provide a crucial background for the technological innovations, the changing patterns of exhibition and distribution, the rise of independent production, and the increasing importance of television which all left their mark on the horror genre in the fifties and sixties. Also, many narrational and stylistic elements in the films hark back to the pre-cinematic presentational mode of the carnival midway, in which the attractions and monstrosities lurking in the carny barker's tent were hawked to passersby with lurid hyperbole and arch invitations to step inside. This figure of the sinister mountebank showman was a recurrent motif in horror films as early as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919). A similar catalogue of shocks and attractions, often accompanied by direct address from the screen, characterized both the stylistic and narrational properties of postwar horror films and their promotion and exhibition, from the baroque shock effects in Warners' 3-D House of Wax to the electrified theater seats in William Castle's The Tingler. The uneasy relationship between narrative and spectacle in the horror film, simultaneously the source of its low cultural status and many of its most aesthetically sophisticated effects, is characteristic of what Eisenstein and others have called the cinema of attractions. The figure of the mountebank carnival barker, emblematic of the forces which mediate between narrative integration and disruptive spectacle, provides a link between discourses as varied as style and narration in films like Peeping Tom and Night of the Living Dead, trade accounts of the horror film phenomenon, and efforts of distributors and exhibitors to promote these films to their audience.

Indexing (details)

Motion Pictures;
Mass media;
American history;
American studies
0900: Motion Pictures
0708: Mass media
0337: American history
0323: American studies
Identifier / keyword
Communication and the arts; Social sciences
The horror genre and the American film industry, 1953-1968
Heffernan, Kevin Joseph S.
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 58/08, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
0591547457, 9780591547450
Crafton, Donald
The University of Wisconsin - Madison
University location
United States -- Wisconsin
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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