Theatricality in the Horror Film : A Brief Study on the Dark Pleasures of Screen Artifice

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      As is well known, the horror film generally presents a situation where normality is threatened by a monster. From this premise, this book argues that scary movies often create their terrifying effects stylistically and structurally through a radical break with the realism of normality in the form of monstrous theatricality. Theatricality in the horror film expresses itself in many ways. First and foremost, it comes across in the physical performance of monstrosity; the over-the-top performance of a chainsaw-wielding serial killer who performs his nefarious acts to terrify both his victims within the film and the audience in the cinema. Theatrical artifice can also appear as a stagy cemetery with broken-down tombstones and twisted, gnarly trees, or through the use of violently aberrant filmic techniques, or in the oppressive claustrophobia of a single-room setting reminiscent of classical drama. All these are examples of the cinematic theatricality of horror. Any performative element of a film that flaunts its ‘difference'from what is deemed realistic or normal on screen might qualify as an instance of theatrical artifice, creating an intense affect in the audience. The artificiality of the frightening spectacle is at the heart of the dark pleasures of horror. The ultimate goal of ‘Theatricality in the Horror Film'is to suggest that the theatricality of horror cinema echoes the genre's roots in ancient tragedy. Like Greek tragedy, horror cinema allows spectators to confront their deepest fears within the safe space of the auditorium, thus affording the audience a cathartic experience. In addition to catharsis, the horror film's dichotomy between the stable status quo of normality and the shockingly disruptive moment of horror also rehearses tragedy's genealogy famously articulated by Nietzsche: the terrifying carnal pleasures of Dionysian excess formalized through a dialectic confrontation with the static Apollonian principles of order, civility and normality. Tragic theatricality, this book contends, is the essence of horror cinema.
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