Writing The Horror Movie

by Sara Bailey

Author Sara Bailey Isbn 9781441196187 File size 1 3 MB Year 2013 Pages 272 Language English File format PDF Category Other Tales of horror have always been with us from Biblical times to the Gothic novel to successful modern day authors and screenwriters Though the genre is often maligned it is huge in popularity and its resilience is undeniable Marc Blake and Sara Bailey offer a detailed analysis of the horror genre including its subgenres tropes and the specific requirements of the hor

Publisher :

Author : Sara Bailey

ISBN : 9781441196187

Year : 2013

Language: English

File Size : 1.3 MB

Category : Other



Writing the
Horror Movie

Writing the
Horror Movie

Marc Blake and Sara Bailey

Bloomsbury Academic
An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
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First published 2013

© Marc Blake and Sara Bailey, 2013
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
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system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers.
No responsibility for loss caused to any individual or organization acting on
or refraining from action as a result of the material in this publication can be
accepted by Bloomsbury Academic or the authors.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Blake, Marc.
Writing the horror movie / by Marc Blake and Sara Bailey.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-4411-9618-7 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. Horror films--Authorship.
2. Motion picture plays--Technique. I. Bailey, Sara. II. Title.
PN1995.9.H6B59 2013
808.2’3--dc23
2013006001
ISBN: 978-1-4411-9506-7
Typeset by Fakenham Prepress Solutions, Fakenham, Norfolk NR21 8NN

The truth is that the screenplay is a bastard form of literature. It is not a play
nor book nor movie, and not just simply a blueprint for a film. All movies,
regardless of genre, depend on the screenplay. However it is the director
who makes the movie by realizing the printed words of the script on film.
I  have seen mediocre screenplays made into very good films. And I have
seen excellent screenplays made into bad movies by incompetent directors.
Again, it’s important for people to understand that the screenplay’s
essential role in film making is the same regardless of the genre of the film.
Jon Landis, 20121
The authors of the book would like to thank the following for their help and
input. Lee Cook, for his tireless research and pestering of the famous and busy.
Michelle Kisbee for her work on the filmography. Stephen Cleary, whose lectures
on genre were inspirational. Kim Newman, Axelle Carolyn and Alan Jones for
their analysis, perception and excellent writing on the subject of horror in all its
forms. Martha Bailey and Tom Bellhouse. Christopher Smith, Steven Goldmann,
Victor Miller, Jane Goldman, Stephen Woolley, Jason Ford, Terry Bird and all
our other interviewees. Marc would like to thank the attendees of his horror
classes at City University, London, including Paul Bland, Eric McNulty, Russell
Garwood, Josh Upstart, Dorinda Montgomery, Simon Timblick and the evil twins
Samantha and Vicky. Marc and Sara would like to thank all their students past
and present at Southampton Solent University for their continued support and
enthusiasm.

Personal communication.

1

Contents

Introduction: Welcome to the Nightmareâ•… ix

1

Why Do We Like To Be Scared?â•…

2

Horror Movie Historyâ•…

1

11

3 Subgenresâ•…21
4

Staging the Horror: Five Tropesâ•…

5

Creating the Nemesisâ•…

6

The First Act: Unease and Dread, Character and Milieuâ•…

7

The Second Act: Modulating Fear, Terror and Horrorâ•…

8

The Third Act: Tragic and Redemptive Endingsâ•…

9

Prequels, Sequels and Franchisesâ•…

107

10 Adaptation: From Page to Screenâ•…

119

41

57

97

11 Cross-Genreâ•… 131
12 World Marketsâ•…

139

13 Low Budget Horrorâ•…

161

14 Forming the Idea: Writing Exercisesâ•…

181

Appendix 1: Horror Film Festivals Around the Worldâ•… 189
Appendix 2: Interviews with Writers, Directors and a Producerâ•… 193

75
85

viii Contents

Appendix 3: Our Top 20â•… 221
Filmographyâ•…223
Bibliographyâ•…243
Indexâ•…245

Introduction: Welcome to
the Nightmare

The horror movie is currently experiencing a third golden age, following the
Universal Studios Monster era of the 1930s and the movie brat auteurs of
the 1970s. Today’s technological advances are allowing scary movies to be
produced as a cottage industry and to be distributed worldwide. This genre
has traditionally been seen as a ‘way in’ to the movie business and it is a truism
that it is a great medium for budding directors and writer-director hyphenates.
Horror has a track record of appealing to producers; however, the writer is most
likely to get his work seen if it follows genre conventions. It is to this end that
this book is dedicated.
In order for the writer to sell his script, he must know his craft and understand
the demands of the genre. Our intention is to give a thorough grounding in the
history, tropes, subgenres, and in particular the pace and rhythm of horror, as
well as its underlying meanings and subtexts, so that the writer will be armed
and ready to face those legions of undead producers who are after his succulent
brainzzz.

Chapter 1
Why Do We Like To Be
Scared?

The first thing any writer needs to understand is ‘know your audience’. What is
the attraction of horror? Why do we like to be scared? These questions have
been addressed by myriad writers, philosophers and academics. The writer of
horror movies requires an understanding of the theories behind the nature of
horror.
For the academic, the definition of horror is: ‘fear of some uncertain threat
to existential nature and disgust over its potential aftermath’.2 The writer, in
the case of author Stephen King, sees horror as something that serves as a
‘barometer of those things which trouble the thoughts of a whole society’.3 For
Aristotle, horror (in drama) gave an audience the opportunity to purge itself of
negative emotions through catharsis.
Horror, in essence, is the fear of the unknown.
Taking each concept in turn, let us examine them in more detail.

Fear and disgust
I recognize terror as the finest emotion, and so I will try to terrorize the
(reader) audience. But if I find I cannot terrify him/her, I will try to horrify;
and if I find I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud.
(STEPHEN KING 1981, p. 37)

R. Tamborini and J. B. Weaver. ‘Frightening entertainment: A historical perspective of fictional horror’.
In J. B. Weaver and R. Tamborini (eds), Horror films: Current research on audience preferences and
reactions. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1996; p. 2.
3
King 1981, p. 31.
2

2

Writing the Horror Movie

It is easy to bring to mind half a dozen movies that raise issues of fear and
disgust: the ‘Saw’ franchise (Wan 2004–10), Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Hooper
1974), Hostel (Roth 2005), The Human Centipede (Six 2009), Martyrs (Laugier
2008) to name but a few. These films contain graphic scenes of violence,
physical suffering and elements of Grand Guignol – a term for gore-laden horror
derived from the Elizabethan/Jacobean theatre genre.
In 1894, ‘Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol’ was established by Oscar Metenier
as a venue for naturalist performances. The building was originally a church
with gothic structures placed about the walls of the building, exuding a feeling
of eeriness from the moment audiences arrived. They endured the terror of the
shows because they wanted to be filled with strong ‘feelings’. Many attended
these shows to obtain feelings of arousal: beneath the balcony were boxes,
originally built for nuns to watch church services, which were available for
theatregoers to rent during performances, as they would often become aroused
by the action happening on stage. It has been said that audience members were
so boisterous that actors would break character and yell out, ‘Keep it down in
there!’ There were also audience members who could not handle the brutality
of the action on stage. Frequently the ‘special effects’ were too realistic, and
audience members would faint and/or vomit during performances.
Such is the appeal of disgust to an audience. The first popular example of
this type of entertainment in cinema was Herschel Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast
(1963), where, in a pale echo of Frankenstein (Whale 1931), a scientist is engaged
in collecting body parts. Rather than re-creating human life, this one needs body
parts from women to conjure up a deceased Egyptian goddess. The film contains
scenes of torture, dismemberment, decapitation and cannibalization, and is
considered to be the first real ‘gross-out’ material of its time. Two decades later
a spate of ‘video nasties’ was denied theatrical release and (in the UK) went out
only on VHS. Censorship slipped away towards the end of the twentieth century,
heralding a broader attitude to the cultural climate. Having said that, Hostel (Roth
2005) was considered to be ‘torture porn’ by critic David Edelstein, and the term
has been applied retrospectively to the ‘Saw’ series (beginning in 2004), The House
of 1000 Corpses (Zombie 2003), Wolf Creek (Mclean 2005), Ichi the Killer (Miike
2001) and Baise moi (Virginie Despentes, Coralie 2000) as well as many more.
These movies show extreme torture sequences, headless torsos, sledgehammer
blows etc., and yet many are mainstream Hollywood product with a wide release.
Indeed, the torture porn (or ‘Gorno’) subgenre has been hugely profitable. The
‘Saw’ franchise has grossed over $100 million worldwide to date. Hostel, which
cost less than $5 million to make, has grossed $80 million. Much of the attraction
of these films is aided by the development of filming techniques, advances in CGI,
prosthetics, special effects and high production values, all of which add to the
‘gross-out’ effect felt by the viewer.

Why Do We Like To Be Scared?

3

Theoretician Julia Kristeva wrote on the phenomenon of disgust and horror
in her essay on the abject – a concept that exists between the concept of
an object and the concept of the subject. The abject is seen as ‘other’, as
something that as members of society we reject. Kristeva likens this rejection to
the repulsion we feel when confronted by body fluids such as blood or semen
and waste products like urine and faeces – things that were once a part of us
but are no longer. We are at once repelled by and attracted to these internal–
external elements. It is a fascination with the corporeal, which we will explore
in greater detail in Chapter 3 (Werewolves and body horror). At its simplest, the
abject is the scab on your knee which, as a child, you were repulsed by, but
could not resist picking.
In mainstream entertainment, there has been a growing fascination with the
interior spaces of the body, as seen in TV franchises such as CSI. The body has
become in part a transgressive intertext as well as a multimedia space. We have
had exhibitions by artists such as Marc Quinn, who exhibited 4.5 litres of his frozen
blood in the Saatchi Gallery (1992) placed in a mould to represent his own head,
and Gunther Von Hagens’ notorious ‘Body Worlds’, a sensational exhibition of
authentic human bodies, willed by donors through the Institute for Plastination’s
Body Donor Program, and preserved using a process called plastination …
[they] show the inner workings of the body and the striking whole-body
specimens show the human body in real-life poses, as never seen before.4

How far can horror go? Censorship
and taboo
It is worth considering the influence of censorship on the writer and his work.
Creating a screenplay and/or movie which is so extreme that it attracts opprobrium may be good publicity, but if this is merely down to gratuitous sex,
violence or bad taste, then instead of horror it is pure sensationalism, and that
is a different thing.
In order to understand censorship, we should first look at its history and how
tolerances have shifted over time. The Hays Code,5 named after Hollywood’s
http://www.bodyworlds.com/en/prelude.html/ The German horror film Anatomy (Ruzowitzky 2000)
has people being killed and plastinated by a secret sect, the Anti Hypocratic Order.
5
While the Hays Code was voluntary and self-regulating, it was put in place to avoid government
intervention and rationalize a system that was becoming too unwieldy. Prior to this, individual states
had their own censorship policies. By 1921, legislators in 37 states had introduced almost 100 movie
censorship bills.
4

4

Writing the Horror Movie

chief censor of the time, Will H. Hays, was formed in the belief that audiences
needed moral protection. Father Daniel A. Lord and Martin Quigley, a lay
Catholic, created a code of standards in 1929, which they then presented
to Hays, their particular concern being the effect of films on children. Several
studios met with Lord and Quigley and, after some revisions, they agreed to the
stipulations of the Code. One of the main factors in adopting the Code was to
avoid government intervention: police yourself before others do it for you.
The Code was divided into two parts, the first a general set of principles,
which mostly concerned morality. The second was a set of particular applications involving a list of elements that could not be shown on screen, such as the
mixing of race. Nowadays, in most countries, to stipulate this would not only
be unacceptable to audiences, it would be against the law. Further dictates of
the Code were that sexual relations outside of marriage could not be portrayed
as attractive – a reason why the opening scene of Psycho (Hitchcock 1960)
was taboo-busting (Crane and Loomis were unmarried). Criminal action had
to be seen to engender punishment, and neither crime nor criminals could be
portrayed to elicit sympathy from the audience. It is hard to imagine something
like Silence of the Lambs (Demme 1990) being passed under this regime.
In 1966 Jack Valenti became president of the Motion Picture Association
of America (MPAA) and decided that the Hays Code was out of date. A new
system had to be introduced.
On November 1, 1968, the voluntary MPAA film rating system took effect,
with three organizations serving as its monitoring and guiding groups: the
MPAA, the National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) and the International
Film Importers & Distributors of America (IFIDA).
The original movie ratings were:
G: General Audiences – Suggested for general audiences (all ages)
M: Mature Audiences – Suggested for Mature Audiences; Parental
discretion advised
R: Restricted – People under 16 not admitted unless accompanied by
parent or adult guardian
X: Adults Only – People under 18 not admitted (changed to under 17 later
that year).
The content classification system was originally to have three ratings, with
the intention of allowing parents to take their children to any film they choose.
However, the National Association of Theater Owners urged the creation of an
Adults Only category, fearful of possible legal problems in local jurisdictions. The
‘X’ rating was not an MPAA trademark: any producer not submitting a movie for
MPAA rating could self-apply the ‘X’ rating (or any other symbol or description
that was not an MPAA trademark).

Why Do We Like To Be Scared?

5

With the introduction of a rating system, the US was a latecomer as far as film
classification was concerned. In the United Kingdom, the BBFC (British Board
of Film Classification) had relaxed its views in the early 1960s and it was as early
as 1932 that an H for Horror certificate was placed to alert parents to horrorthemed material. Though this was removed in favour of the universal ‘X’ rating
in 1951, it was again altered, to ‘18’, in 1982. Today the highest ratings are ‘18’
and ‘R18’ (restricted to those aged 18 and older) and only available at licensed
cinemas and sex shops, the latter not requiring a licence to sell ‘R18’ films.
There are many myths about how the BBFC rates movies (one of which
apparently involves using a protractor, although this has been repudiated).
‘Broadly speaking you will not see real male erections below an 18 [certificate].
But at 18 it’s OK’, says David Cooke, Director of the Board. ‘Probably the
nearest we get these days to getting out the protractor is on language.’6
The Board has reluctantly concluded there is no substitute for counting the
swear words in a film. ‘It doesn’t mean that’s the only thing we look at – particularly
with the f-word and the c-word – we’ll look at whether they’re comically mitigated,
or aggressively aggravated, for instance. But if you don’t count, you discover there’s
no stable boundary. So the rule of thumb is four fucks maximum at 12A.’ (ibid.)
The board is aware of the changes in what an audience will and will not
tolerate: ‘When you look at some of the films from the Video Nasty era, like
“House on the Edge of the Park” [Ruggero Deodato 1980], which has lingering
shots of women being mutilated, that just wouldn’t be made today. It’s always
been rated, but with cuts. There’s a really unpleasant sequence where a teenage
girl is forced to strip and her breasts are cut with a razor blade. It’s really highly
sexualized. … People think you should be free to make up your own mind
about what you watch, provided it’s not illegal or harmful. That means we do
pass some very strong material at 18. But we’re not just doing it because we’re
inventing it – that’s in line with that particular public finding.’ (ibid.)
The Exorcist (Friedkin 1974) was considered so shocking to moviegoers that
many were subject to nausea, convulsions, fainting and shocking displays of
anger: one viewer in San Francisco attacked the movie screen, attempting to kill
the demon. Paramedics were called to screenings, and it wasn’t long before picket
lines appeared at theatres. The film was banned on video for 14 years in the UK.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Hooper 1974) is known for its extreme
acts of violence, but actually shows little blood and no close-up of fatal blows,
making it much tamer than its successors in the genre. Despite this, it was
banned in Australia, Brazil, Finland, France, West Germany, Chile, Iceland,
Ireland, Norway, Singapore, Sweden and the UK. France banned the film twice,
claiming it would incite violence. It was not issued uncut in the UK for 25 years.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2012/jul/26/sex-violence-swearing-film-100-years-bbfc

6

6

Writing the Horror Movie

The Last House on the Left (Craven 1972) was Craven’s feature debut.
His portrayal of two teenage girls kidnapped by escaped convicts, who then
rape and torture them, proved too real for moviegoers. Craven defended the
film by saying it was ‘a reaction on my part to the violence around us, specifically the Vietnam War’, and yet the movie was censored in many countries
including the UK, where it was banned for 17 years and subject to censorship
until 2008.
More recently, the BBFC has ‘only allowed a certificate to The Human
Centipede 2 after 32 cuts had been made, including the “graphic sight of a man
masturbating with sandpaper around his penis”.’
In 2010 A Serbian Film (Spasojević 2010) was pulled from International Horror
film festival FrightFest, not because it was deemed too horrific but because its
organizers had planned to show the picture in its original uncut version and were
overruled by the local council in Westminster, London. ‘FrightFest has decided
not to show A Serbian Film in a heavily cut version because, as a festival with a
global integrity, we think a film of this nature should be shown in its entirety as
per the director’s intention,’ said event co-director Alan Jones. Subsequently,
Raindance Film Festival picked up the film at Cannes in May and then held the
UK premiere, finding a way around the ban by billing the screening as a ‘private
event’. The Sun, a UK tabloid newspaper, described the film as ‘sick’ and ‘vile’
following the festival’s 2010 press launch. In March 2011, A Serbian Film won
the Special Jury Prize in the 31st edition of Fantasporto, Portugal’s biggest film
festival, in Porto.
The answer to the question ‘How far can I go?’ depends on you. What it is
that you want for your movie? If you are putting in elements of horror that are
nothing to do with plot, narrative and story arc, then you are no longer in control
of the story.

The social barometer
Stephen King suggests that horror acts as a barometer for issues that bother
us as a society. For the writer of horror it is useful to consider the concept and
to study past movies for evidence of this.
Carrie (De Palma 1976) is a prime example. In the early 1970s, the fear of
the feminine was a real issue as second-wave feminism rolled across the USA.
The film begins with an almost pornographic view of pubescent high school girls
in a communal shower. It is accompanied by cheesy music, which becomes
dark and intense as the story unfolds to show teenage bullying and Carrie’s first
period. The horror for Carrie really begins as she steps over the threshold into

Why Do We Like To Be Scared?

7

womanhood and her powers increase to demonic levels. This could be read
as a societal concern about the growing power of women, particularly young
women as they learn to express themselves and their own powers of intellect
and expression.
More recently, The Mist (Darabont 2007) picks up on fear of ‘alien’ invasion
– a theme that has often fascinated moviemakers – and also scientific investigation into new methods of warfare. It is a throwback to the old monster movies
of the 1950s wherein the scientists were up to no good ‘up at the plant’. The
story then twists to its darker heart, the rise of Fundamentalism – in this case,
Christian. It is all wrapped up in the fear of the outsider, the invisible entity
bearing down upon us.
This is not new. It was explored in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and in the
1956 movie Forbidden Planet (Wilcox 1956) in which Doctor Morbius (Pigeon)
and his beautiful daughter Altaira are the only survivors on planet Altair (formerly
inhabited only by scientists). A rescue mission finds them in thrall to a mysterious
invisible beast, the Krell, which roams the planet.
In The Mist, rather than concentrate on what might or might not have been going
on at the military base (the vague ‘Project Arrowhead’), we are invited to concentrate our attention on events in the supermarket. Mrs Carmody is a religious zealot
who feeds off the fear of the others. She begins as a figure of pity and contempt (in
effect, the local bag lady) but, as events worsen, Mrs Carmody lures in those who
dismissed her, and soon the crowd are caught up in her hysteria. Her monstrous
ideology is a direct reflection of the monster outside – manifesting itself as awful
abjections: tentacles, moth-like primordial creatures, stinging flying things that
burst open to reveal hundreds more replications. King is addressing contemporary
fears head-on – fundamentalism in both religion and science.

Catharsis
Catharsis is the opportunity for the audience to purge itself of negative emotions
in a safe environment. Within the confines of the viewing area – a cinema or a
living room – the audience feels a sense of relief once the film is over. There have
been suggestions that catharsis can result in audiences finding what they see
on the screen exciting, and that exposure to these images will increase subsequent acts of aggression – an alarming idea for the screenwriter. However, there
is strong evidence7 that suggests it has the opposite effect, that horror acts as

B. J. Bushman and R. G. Geen. ‘Role of cognitive-emotional mediators and individual differences in
the effects of media violence on aggression’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58. 1990.
7

8

Writing the Horror Movie

a safety valve rather than an incitement to justified aggression. This theory is
known as Excitation Transfer8 by which the audience experiences an intensification of positive effect in response to plot and resolution – i.e. where the evil
is overcome by the hero/heroine. It would also appear that it is not reliant on a
happy ending, but simply on a satisfactory resolution – in effect, that it follows
the plot points expected of the genre. We will see how this works in greater
detail in Chapter 4. Of all genres, Horror is perhaps one of the most strict when
it comes to obeying the rules.
A film such as The Orphanage (Bayona 2007) takes us through each stage
towards catharsis. There is a sense of unease as Laura arrives at the orphanage.
The house looms above her and we wonder if she has seen something. There
is a growing sense of dread as we see the child with the sack over his head, as
doors slam and children are heard in the empty house. Then there is the disappearance of Simón – the horror of losing your child, and the growing fear that he
might be gone forever, brings us to the most horrific element of all – his death,
not only that but at Laura’s unwitting hand. At the end, Laura commits suicide
and so is reunited with Simón. Though not a happy ending, it brings a sense of
resolution. This is catharsis.
The Orphanage deals with the loss of a child and a sense of guilt, and is
similar in tone to The Awakening (Murphy 2011), which has a more ambiguous
ending. Here a nanny, Maud, has poisoned herself and ghost hunter Florence
so as that they might be together with Tom, a dead child. Florence, however,
tells Tom she doesn’t want to die now but that she will always be with him (he
is her deceased sibling). The child helps Florence by obtaining the medicine
that will make her regurgitate and thus purge herself of the poison. The final
scene shows us Florence leaving the school, ignored and unseen by senior
staff members. This is perhaps either because she is a ‘mere’ woman (it was
set in 1921) or because she has indeed become a ghost, a fact suggested by
her white coat. It is left to the audience to draw its conclusions, but emotional
catharsis has been achieved in Florence’s new and full awareness. Previously,
she had been in denial of the truth, a trope we see recurring in characters such
as Eleanor Lance in The Haunting (Wise 1963) and Dr Malcolm Crowe in The
Sixth Sense (Shyamalan 1999).
There is a huge risk in leaving your resolution undecided, and you need to be
confident in your skills as a writer to attempt it. In some ways, loose ends make
for better movies in this genre, but if you go for this, you must still aim for closure
in your catharsis.

Glenn D. Walters. ‘Understanding the Popular Appeal of Horror Cinema: An Integrated-interactive
Model’. Journal of Media Psychology. 9(2). 2004.
8

Why Do We Like To Be Scared?

9

The psychological
Both Freud and Jung have presented theories on the catharsis of drama. For
Freud, horror was the manifestation of recurring thoughts and feelings that had
been repressed by the ego but that seem vaguely familiar to the individual.9 For
Jung, however, horror gained popularity from its connections and relationships
with important archetypes, particularly with shadow archetypes such as shadow
mother or father – or both, as in Mum & Dad (Shell 2008). Here, ‘Mum’ and
‘Dad’ live under the flight path of London’s Heathrow Airport. Their ‘adopted’
(kidnapped) children, Birdie and Elbie, work at the airport in menial jobs. When
Lena, a young Polish cleaner, is befriended by Birdie, she is drawn into the
family’s world of torture, murder and perversity. Treated ‘like one of the family’,
Lena is designated as ‘Mummy’s Girl’, which is when the horror begins. Her
only options are to join in the madness or die. Here, the traditional role of loving
parents has been subverted into darker shadow archetypes. Dad is ‘given’ Lena
by Mum for Christmas – whether for sexual or cannibalistic gratification, we are
unsure. The family, as with the cannibal Hillbilly’s in Tobe Hooper’s The Texas
Chain Saw Massacre (Hooper 1976), play on the accepted language of familial
relationships but as an inverse nightmare parody.
This shadow archetype is also seen in Kubrick’s The Shining (Stanley Kubrick
1980) with great effect. Not only does Kubrick use the father figure as shadow
father, but also as shadow king – the Overlook Hotel symbolizing his castle.
Kubrick uses mirrors and doubling, further distorting the image of the ‘father’
figure. Jack is often talking to himself in the mirror, and the huge, wall-sized
mirrors of the ballroom reflect the stages of his growing dementia. His son
Danny, too, demonstrates an understanding of the world as being inverted, with
his constant referrals to ‘redrum’.
For these kinds of movie to work, the audience needs to suspend its disbelief.
For the horror fan, this suspension has to be rooted in an understanding of
what is real and the perception of a supernatural force or gross abnormality.
Whether it is the supernatural idea of a house being haunted, the King of
Darkness rising from the dead or that a child could be possessed by the Devil,
we have to believe for 90 minutes that these things are just possible in order
to enjoy the experience. Even films that are not supernatural still require the
same suspension. Jaws (Spielberg 1975) asks us to believe that a shark with a
brain the size of a walnut can outwit a Chief of Police, a highly educated marine
biologist, and a seasoned shark hunter. It is this dependence on suspension of
disbelief that has driven the medium from the beginning. It is the screenwriter’s

Walters 2004.

9

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