COLT 103 University of Michigan Us Film Analysis This is a film analysis paper, not a film review paper !!!! The detailed writing instruction is post in

COLT 103 University of Michigan Us Film Analysis This is a film analysis paper, not a film review paper !!!!

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1. Romanticism–Psychoanalysis

2. Horror Film as Social Allegory

3. The Besieged Ego Gendering the Double 4
The Horror Film as Social Allegory
(And How it Comes Undone)
Christopher Sharrett
There is no film genre more subversive, more innately critical of the values of white
bourgeois patriarchal society, than the horror film. There is no need to recapitulate
the arguments for the horror film’s inherent radicalism; this has been well accomplished by Robin Wood (1979) in a crucial essay and by others with a concern for
the politics of the genre [Grant and Sharrett, 2004 (1984)]. With the powerful influences of Expressionism and Surrealism, modernist art movements concerned with
both psychological turbulence under the repression of patriarchal capitalism and
the agony of a civilization plunged into two world wars as a consequence of capitalist inter-imperial rivalry, the horror film is the most honest and forthright art
form in discussing the relationship of the Other to the heteronormative, the bourgeois family, “normal” community life, and/or “functional” society under capital.
And yet the genre always contains intimations of the reinstatement of repression,
with the knowledge that Eros and the death wish remain in close competition so
long as patriarchal capitalism rules. In the period of profound reaction that began
in the United States, and throughout the world, with the post-Vietnam/Watergate
backlash, the assault on civil rights and feminism, and the return of unfettered capitalism with Reagan–Thatcher–Kohl, the horror genre’s attempt to retain its radical
impulses has been difficult, as art itself tends to embody and enforce death over life,
the nullification of the erotic and the creative.
The horror cinema of the Weimar era offered films, as Robin Wood noted, “made
in the very shadow of Freud,” involved explicitly in problematizing the idea of
the monstrous (2004: xv). One can pick a film almost at random, but Murnau’s
Nosferatu (1922) is perhaps the most instructive. Count Orlock is a symbol of desire
that the heterosexual bourgeois world cannot resist; he is vanquished not by the
efforts of the citizens but by his own uncontrollable desires. Yet the film is deeply
A Companion to the Horror Film, First Edition. Edited by Harry M. Benshoff.
© 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Published 2014 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
The Horror Film as Social Allegory (And How it Comes Undone)
disturbing in its portrayal of Orlock as a grotesque, perhaps the most repulsive of all
vampires in film history. He is portrayed as an enormous rat and, not incidentally,
as an Eastern European Jew, with caricatured bald head, hooked nose, and wringing
hands with long, talon-like fingers. What is going on here? Desire is portrayed as
an insurmountable force, yet the monster embodying it is unremittingly predatory
and physically horrible. Murnau could not, in his day, shake off the burdens
of Christian civilization (although his interest in the occult suggests he tried
mightily), and as a homosexual in the Germany of the early twentieth century without any of the supports of the modern era, Orlock may suggest Murnau’s self-hatred,
his vampire lacking even the touch of charm supplied to the superannuated Dracula
by his Victorian anti-Semitic creator Bram Stoker. But Murnau was well aware of the
dangerous assumptions about self and other, about “evil” and the norm, fostered by
western culture, as he supplied part of the template for what was to come. He recognized that even as the unconscious prevails, even as the Other wreaks havoc on society, the monster remains monstrous. The revolution has not yet occurred that is truly
liberatory. And Nosferatu reminds us how the horror film, like all art, is subject to the
forces of reaction, as indeed it was with the bourgeois retrenchment of the late twentieth century. But before the reaction to the progressive activity of the Sixties, the horror film was distinctive in its remarks about the actual horrors of the bourgeois world.
Horror and the Coming of Feminism
Nosferatu points us to the tensions within the genre, the attempt by the forbidden
to burst free while still being shackled, and often destroyed, by bourgeois society.
Desire emerges, but it is constructed as repulsive (the view of it demanded by the
order of things); it “triumphs” to the extent that it points to basic contradictions
within civilization, but then is cut down. Still, the monster is often resurrected (if
not in sequels then by the suggestion, in the best films, that the other cannot be fully
vanquished). The monster is often constituted as a force in opposition to liberation,
as the Terrible Father enacting his law with a vengeance. For example, in Edgar G.
Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934) and Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon (1957),
two works where devil-worshippers are closely associated with the ruling class (in
Night of the Demon, a key theme is the ability of the ruling class to impose its will
on the impressionable and defenseless, usually portrayed as people of a lesser class)
are explicitly about the struggle against repression/oppression. In Michael Reeves’s
Witchfinder General (1968), the supporters of the church impose terror and murder,
the “righteous” ultimately bringing on an apocalypse that is an expression of the
ruling class’s basic nihilism, ideas also basic to Ulmer and Tourneur.
Two films of the 1960s suggest similar dynamics of patriarchal civilization, and
of the challenges on the horizon brought by the arrival of feminism, with Betty
Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique appearing in 1963. In them, the demonic and
the supernatural are tools marshaled by patriarchy. Robert Wise’s accomplished
The Haunting (1963), and Roman Polanski’s masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Christopher Sharrett
examine the threats posed to patriarchy by the potentially liberated woman, the
residual effects of the notion of woman as monster [see, e.g., the City Woman in
Sunrise (1927)]. Both films share in common a degree of nihilism; they suggest that
the female has no way out. Where they differ is in their analysis. While The Haunting
shows sympathy for Eleanor, it offers nothing but despair, while Rosemary’s Baby’s
radical concept satirizes all patriarchal institutions.
The Haunting is in the tradition of Terrible House narratives, the trouble within
such houses flowing from family history and the patriarchal legacy, with ghosts and
the like “haunting” the building in the sense that the assumptions of the past live on
in the present. In The Haunting, Eleanor is suddenly freed, with the death of her mean
demanding mother, from years of caregiving, only to be trapped in her sister’s stifling
nuclear family. Her escape comes via her recruitment, due to her psychic skills, by
paranormal researcher Dr. Markway, as a participant in a group investigation of the
supposedly haunted Hill House. What is in fact haunted seems less about ghosts than
the will of the man who lived there, and the ongoing effects of patriarchal civilization in the supposedly modern present. Eleanor is the archetypal “old maid” whose
thoughts, as she drives to Hill House (after a nasty family squabble) are about a home
of her own, one with middle-class respectability. It also becomes clear that she hopes
Markway will have some sexual interest in her. Eleanor’s sexual options appear to
widen when she meets the beautiful Theo, another psychic who is coded as a lesbian; the coding is hardly subtle when she winks at the idea of she and Eleanor living
in Hill House “like sisters,” and most especially when Eleanor angrily turns on her,
calling her a “monster” and, like the strange house, “one of nature’s mistakes.” Theo
must “pull back” her lesbianism, hiding it under her haute couture as if she is merely
a sophisticate rather than a debauched homosexual—but unlike the Wolfman, she
is comfortable in her own skin, not desiring death in order to stifle desires that keep
emerging against her will.
Markway, although benevolent enough, is quickly associated with Hugh Crain,
the tyrannical, ultra-religious builder of Hill House, whose two wives died under
strange circumstances (Figure 4.1). This Terrible House’s “legacy of evil” is located
specifically in the actions of its builder. Further, Hugh Crain’s actions are centered
on marriage and sexual activity, as are those of subsequent residents of the house
(the companion of Abigail particularly). Although Eleanor is a very neurotic
woman (screenwriter Nelson Gidding intended for the film to be about her nervous
breakdown, but the term, meaningless from any psychiatric standpoint, needs to be
understood within the context of the film’s examination of repression, and its devastating effects on the female), she carries on an internal monologue that is the film’s
voiceover, frequently commenting on “what the house wants,” which must be read
as what Crain/Markway/patriarchy want. Crain’s daughter Abigail self-infantilized
by living her entire life in her nursery—after her father damaged her with
fire-and-brimstone biblical admonitions. Abigail hired a young female companion
in her last years (a parallel to the Theo-Eleanor pairing), who left her one evening
to have a sexual tryst with a lover; Abigail’s pounding with her cane therefore went
The Horror Film as Social Allegory (And How it Comes Undone)
Figure 4.1 The tyrannical, ultra-religious patriarch of Hill House, Hugh Crain, whose terrible presence and vile deeds constitute the core of The Haunting (1963). Directed by Robert
Wise. Produced by Argyle Enterprises.
unnoticed by the caregiver. The associations with Eleanor’s life are made obvious.
Like Abigail, Eleanor was infantilized by a cruel old woman who used a cane to
get her attention. Eleanor was herself mentally damaged by a parent. Like Abigail’s
companion in the backstory, Eleanor becomes a sexual woman wishing to discover a
new life.
The connections between Hugh Crain and the paranormal “family” become most
evident when the group discovers the sculptures in the arboretum entitled “St. Francis Curing the Lepers.” The wisecracking Luke notes that the group could be Hugh
Crain and his family. Theo pushes the analogy, suggesting that the statues could be
Markway, Eleanor, Theo, and Luke. The ills of patriarchy are passed down through
the ages, an idea amplified when Theo rebuffs the advances of Luke, thus making
evident (to the group) her lesbianism, suggesting for a passing moment (especially
with Luke’s snide retort “more than meets the eye”) that she is the “monster” in their
midst (this disturbing point is the extent to which the film both endorses and criticizes the notion of Theo-as-monster). Theo sees Eleanor’s attraction to Markway,
and enrages Eleanor by making a point of the new hairstyle and wish-fantasies of her
roommate, the film hinting at sexual competition and jealousy poisoning even the
alternative sexuality that dethrones patriarchy. Eleanor’s hope for a relationship with
Markway is crushed when his wife arrives to check up on her errant husband. The
disheartened Eleanor overlooks the fact that Markway’s marriage is a disaster—he is
unconcerned, it seems, even when his wife disappears within Hill House, to be found
only in the final act. The film’s most intelligent point is that the paranormal group
(that is, a group of supposedly unusually perceptive intellects) cannot see the sexual
impulses that are glaringly obvious.
Eleanor’s extreme neurosis (centered in her sexual wish-dreams) make Markway
send her home. As she starts to drive away, Theo runs to the car, saying an affectionate farewell (“Nelly, my Nell”) suggesting that Eleanor’s sexual needs remain both
Christopher Sharrett
unrecognized and unresolved, her frustration greater than ever, as she continues to
think of dying and joining the rest of the terrible, repressed ghosts of Hill House. Her
car hits a tree as she is distracted by Markway’s wife dashing across the drive. As the
group look at the dead Eleanor, Markway says that the house “got what it wanted.”
The film seems to recognize, in 1963, the frustrations of women under bourgeois
patriarchal society, while also arguing that there is no way out. Even while offering
the option of same-sex relations, the male and his property interests (symbolized by
the immense Hill House) ultimately triumph. In this view, the film takes back what
it offers. The Haunting is nihilist and defeatist in outlook, but understanding of the
struggles to come.
Roman Polanski’s masterpiece Rosemary’s Baby might be said to be as nihilist as
The Haunting, but it is saved by its sardonic vision, its satire of marriage, the family, organized religion, and capitalism. The film shows a clear understanding of the
institutions undergirding patriarchy, responsible for the oppression of women. The
film’s appearance in an apocalyptic year, 1968, seems not incidental; Robin Wood
(1986: 84) has noted that during this period, many genre films entered an “apocalypse phase,” with The Wild Bunch appearing the following year. Rosemary and Guy
Woodhouse are a young married couple setting up housekeeping in New York City
at the mammoth, ancient Bramford apartment building (actually the Dakota, most
famous today as the site of John Lennon’s murder, which provides a resonance no
doubt producing upset to at least one generation of viewers). Guy is an aspiring actor,
full of frustration and nervous energy—as played by legendary actor/director John
Cassavetes, Guy’s very facial appearance takes on a demonic aspect. Guy makes a
Faustian deal with the devil-worshipping Minnie and Roman Castavet to allow Rosemary to be impregnated by Satan (Guy after taking a potion) so that Guy’s career
success will be guaranteed. The devil narrative is made so ludicrous (Minnie is a
nosy, grating yenta, Roman a paragon of bad taste), it is little more than a dramatic
device; not that the film is not unnerving, but its sense of dread flows from its constant emphasis on the female’s entrapment.
From early in the film there is a strong sense of the husband as manipulator, rooted
in Guy’s desire for public approval and professional success. Rosemary watches him
on a television commercial for Yamaha—a smarmy pitchman asks him to “join the
swingin’ world of Yamaha,” to which Guy quickly responds “OK.” The notion of
the banality of evil is entirely appropriate here. As Guy positions Rosemary to be the
mother of the devil, he coerces her into eating a drugged dessert; he later berates her
for a then-fashionable Vidal Sassoon haircut (one that coded Mia Farrow as waif).
Guy censors Rosemary, throwing in the garbage the book on witchcraft given her by
her old friend Hutch. The monstrous Dr. Sapirstein, who attends to Rosemary, tells
her “don’t read books!” when she complains of pains and mentions information from
a self-help medical text. The control of the female’s mind and body is constantly in
the foreground. The tendency of the female to study, and therefore gain wider understanding of herself and the world, is a taboo of patriarchy that the film insists remains
in the present—Polanski makes a point of showcasing the trappings of modernity,
including the new furniture purchased by Guy and Rosemary (Minnie asks what
The Horror Film as Social Allegory (And How it Comes Undone)
they cost). The price of upward mobility becomes literally the loss of soul, but with
the female as key sacrificial victim.
The film’s most dreadful moment is the marital rape, especially as we see Rosemary’s after-the fact acquiescence, knowing that the wife must surrender herself to
the husband as an expectation of the marital contract. Rosemary notes the scratches
on her body as she awakens from a drugged sleep into which she fell as she was
impregnated by Satan/Guy at the behest of the evil cult. Guy quickly notices Rosemary examining her body and says he has just “filed ’em down” (his fingernails). He
further states that he did not want to “miss baby night” just because Rosemary was
drunk (as he explains to her). The couple had an opulent meal in preparation for
the sex act that they hoped would result in her pregnancy, which Guy had already
arranged to be the conception of the devil’s child. The horror of the moment again
flows from the normal, from what the female must expect under current gender
A key point is that Rosemary is oppressed as much by the patriarchal world
that she has internalized as by the actions of Guy. In one of two pivotal dream
sequences, Rosemary, drifting into dream sleep, sees a shriveled old nun berating
her in parochial school. The nun’s voice is actually that of Minnie, brow-beating
her husband for the suicide of a young woman who was being groomed for the role
finally forced on Rosemary. The voice, heard through the partition, is typically fused
in Rosemary’s anxious dream state with bad memories. In so doing, oppressions past
and present become one. Both the “good” and the “evil” patriarchal institutions are
made synonymous. Later, when Rosemary is impregnated by Guy-turned-devil in
a satanic orgy, Rosemary dreams of being on a yacht piloted by President Kennedy.
When Rosemary asks Kennedy if her atheist friend Hutch can come aboard, he says
that he is “sorry about these prejudices,” but refuses to let him aboard. We see Hutch
on the beach, warning of a typhoon as winds almost knock him down—Hutch
is cast as a prophet warning of Armageddon. In the same dream, as a costumed
Roman paints Rosemary’s nude body with blood, the Pope comes forward, offering
his ring for Rosemary to kiss—the jewel of the ring consists of the odd, smelly
amulet given to Rosemary by Minnie. JFK, the Pope, and the Satanists are one and
the same, the alternatives to patriarchy no more than the silly, empty dichotomy
offered by liberalism and conservatism.
The film’s most remarkable moment is Rosemary’s panicked visit to Dr. Hill, a
young, kindly physician whom Rosemary believes will help her flee Guy and his horrid friends. Hill seems sympathetic, stating that while he does not believe in witches,
he knows that “there are a lot of crazy people in the city,” and offers to place her in a
hospital. Rosemary’s mention of Dr. Sapirstein gives Hill momentary pause. When
Rosemary awakens from a brief nap in Hill’s pleasant office, Hill has returned with
Guy and Sapirstein. It seems doubtful that Hill is part of the conspiracy; he is simply
unwilling to challenge an older, highly respected member of his profession, figuring
Rosemary to indeed be another hysterical woman.
The film’s final scene is a parody of the Nativity, with the baby devil, “the only
son” of Satan, in a cradle draped in black, approached by “wise men” from around
Christopher Sharrett
the world bearing gifts. Rosemary enters the room unseen by the others (who still
want to keep the truth from her). She is horrified by the site of her offspring, but
soon acquiesces and agrees to rock his cradle. The scene is handled with a tone both
highly satiric [the broad, smiling faces of the cultists—some of them recognizable
actors (like Hope Summers) from 1960s TV programs such as The Andy Griffith
Show—make the film’s acid commentary most emphatic] and oppressively disturbing. The female has lost, perhaps for all time. But one leaves the film with a sense that
it understands clearly the nature of gender and the oppression/repression surrounding us under patriarchal arrangements.
The Obsolescence of the Zombie
In 1968, George Romero released one of the pivotal horror films of our times, Night
of the Living Dead. A former maker of industrial films, Romero claimed he was trying
to make the most chilling film imaginable under a very limited budget, being a bit coy
about the film’s political ambitions. It is clear from wh…
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