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Playing dead: Spectatorship, performance, and Euro -horror cinema

Alexander Ian Olney, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation explores how watching “Euro-horror”—the visceral and often surreal late-twentieth-century Continental European horror cinema of Mario Bava, Dario Argento, Jess Franco, Lucio Fulci, and others—can lead us to a better understanding of and appreciation for the potentially radical politics of “playing dead,” of producing as well as consuming horror. As a discipline, film studies continues to be dominated by the notion that horror serves primarily to reflect and reinforce the reactionary values of the dominant social order. Such an understanding of the genre is problematic, however, because it fails to take into account the gaps, contradictions, and ambiguities inherent in any horror film, as well as the ability of viewers to resist or recast the “dominant” or intended meaning of a horror movie. I seek in this dissertation to reconceptualize the horror film as a dialogical text: a network of competing and conflicting discourses that is not reducible to a single ideological imperative. Furthermore, I seek to refigure the experience of watching horror movies as an active and lively dialogue between spectator and screen, an intense form of negotiation that is not reducible to a simple process of normalization. My thesis is that the current popularity of Euro-horror in the United States stems from the way in which it affords viewers—via its assault upon traditional narrative models, its deconstruction of normative gender, sexual, and racial identities at the level of character, and its emphasis on spectacle and visual excess—the opportunity to approach film spectatorship as a form of performance in which they are invited to adopt multiple viewing positions and experiment with a range of different subject positions typically proscribed by mainstream cinema and the dominant social order. Ultimately, I attempt to show that although it has long been a critically ignored or maligned genre, often seen simply as the province of revolting bodies, horror has the capacity to become the home of bodies in revolt. ^

Subject Area


Recommended Citation

Olney, Alexander Ian, "Playing dead: Spectatorship, performance, and Euro -horror cinema" (2003). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3104623.