With cookie-cutter template that very much inspired

With Psycho and Peeping Tom’s appearances within the 1960’s
generated an adapted stereotype of the homicidal maniac which its time became
popular. This new breed of genre formation seemed to have their psychos appear
reserved, indefinitely effeminate, and initially harmless young men. Hitchcock
was fixated in tearing back the containment shrouded over human affection to
reveal the inner sickness within its antagonists. The physically generic
American male with a manifesting dark core perhaps played too close to home for
the American society of its time. Of course, these depictions of such men are
heightened for the necessity of its genre, but it was in fact how such figures
injected fear into the audiences. In defence of the case for Psycho, much of
the initial fear comes from cultural paranoia of its era and the increasing
embrace of democracy.

As a result, through thriving U.S. economy the cultural
movement shuffled society from the rural and urban lifestyle over to the quaint
suburban one, creating an easier way to building the idealistic white-washed
reality that was fed to them through the consumerism of the 50’s. Suburban
culture became something that built itself around the notion that the family
home is the center or life. The fundamental purpose of suburbanization as Gary
Cross observes, was “the desire for domestic seclusion” 2, the concept of the
suburban home and the reality of it became an increasingly isolated area that
behaved like a private island almost; always remaining confined and incredibly
inward. The idea that weekdays were spent on child-care and weekends spent on
monotone activities involving gardening was a cookie-cutter template that very
much inspired concepts within cinema, most importantly the perception that the
suburbia lifestyle was in fact a trap, a particularly dangerous one for women.
This is where Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho comes into play.

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Psycho is essentially split into two stories that are
interlaced within each other. Marion’s story is what drives the first have of
the film, where we encounter her flight from Phoenix, her introduction to our
main antagonist Norman Bates which ultimately yet surprisingly leads to her
demise. It is this brutal death scene with Marion in the shower that creates
the divide in the films narrative strand. The second half of the story becomes
Norman’s as audience position is shifted, and it is within this narrative when
we see Norman being pursued by Sam, Lila, Arbogast and the psychiatrist.  Through this structure it becomes apparent
that the first half of Psycho is the one that seems to depict a more dramatic
disruption with America’s vision of suburban living.

Psycho represented a drastic shift in the nature of the
American horror film, that through the evident “house next door” genre staple
was able to lace the film with connotations of the normal American suburban
life. The audience, much like Marion in this scenario, have fantasied about the
notion of a wealthy family home, however on the other hand, very much dreamed
of the escapism from the clutches of the suburban life, therefore we as an
audience take gratitude in watching on as Marion goes forth and indulges in
these fantasies. In this situation however in classic Hitchcock manner he is
quick to punish this desire we partake in from gazing. Hitchcock begins to abuse
the advantage of voyeurism he once passed onto the audience by exploiting its
power and almost forcing the audience to witness as Marion is viciously
murdered.

Within the first half of Psycho Marion Crane our lead
protagonist within the current situation exposes herself to the corruption of
consumption in the act of theft. Kendal Phillips notes that “the resonance between the film’s first half
and suburbia helped to draw audiences into Marion’s story, to sympathise with
her crimes and desires” 3 , which through investigation becomes apparent
given the brutality of her shower scene death and its exploitive nature. We as
the audience are placed in a voyeuristic position that almost force us to rinse
away the sins of her actions, whilst also playing to the audiences own
voyeuristic desires. This voyeuristic gratification is quickly diminished as
it’s followed by a brutal act in the shower. It is until Hitchcock delves
further into the dangerous of voyeurism when through the second act of the film
he takes immense pleasure in showing the treacherous realities that accompany
you when you apply yourself to the voyeuristic gaze.

The real function of
the second half of Psycho actually stems from its rhetorical meaning which
reveals almost carefully the emptiness of the suburban image which the first
half –

One cannot ignore the physical transition Norman Bates goes
through to embody the dead spirit of his mother as he clothes himself in female
clothing to mimic his mother. He is undeniably impersonating a woman, and
matched up with his effeminate male persona reflects massively upon the notion
of sexual identity or orientation problems within the character. Such
repression was traditionally a valid motive for his extreme acts of violence,
and given that society feared what they did not know, the sheer existence of
such a human would have been more shocking to them than any event that took
place on their screen. But how does this relate to becoming a disruption in
social construct? Kendall Phillips enlightened us with some intriguing
intellect that said “for many Americans – particularly those who were white and
middle class – the cultural means of escaping their problems and anxieties
involved retreating to the suburbs” 1. In the 1950’s the popular image of an
idealised suburban lifestyle was vaccinated into the Americans veins. Driven by
a complex combination of rising economic mobility, a fear of immigrants and
minorities, and a cultural universal fear of the city and its lifestyle.

This sort of template becomes one that is easy for the
horror genre to toy with and mould as a method of depiction on society’s own
demise. The suburban vision of a secluded and remote family home is revealed as
a sterilised and suffocating environment where the human soul becomes warped
and distorted. Therefore it becomes extremely apparent when the main source of
horror within Psycho being Norman Bates paired with the absurd belief that he
embodies his dead mother distorts the “suburban” American culture through their
own fear on minorities. The infliction on Norman being a homosexual man who in
realistic terms appears to be dabbling in the transition between genders
implies that it is not the acts of the homicidal maniac that is Psycho’s
central method of fear, but the actual presence of its character Norman Bates
and what he symbolises that is the actual selling point of terror here. Even
something as simple as the imagery within Norman’s bedroom becomes so
expressionistic, one glance at the child’s bed with the stuffed animal, with classical
music blaring in his room is enough to highlight upon the idea of, not only a
smothering mother, but an obsessive child.

 

 

 

If nothing else,
looking at the slasher film can illustrate how the status of particular cycles
of horror production fluctuates over time. Their cheapness, crudeness and
formulaic receptiveness, along with their apparent pandering to unsophisticated
teenage audiences, led to their being seen as disregarding in much the same way
as earlier types of horrors (hammer horror for example) has been seen as
degrading when they first appeared, degrading both in their reliance on
scenarios of extreme violence in their crass and dumb exploitative nature. In
addition, however, the slashers reliance on the stalking and terrorism of women
lead to a new change, that of misogyny, with the films themselves branded as
violent and pernicious reactions against feminism. In particular, the slasher
offered ‘a conservative moralism
regarding sexuality'” 4 which in itself was just one part of a broader
turn to the right that took place within American film and American society
towards the end of the 70’s. While not usually celebratory of the slasher.
There was a willingness here to acknowledge that these films were complex and
worthy of scrutiny, and that they might contain elements that had the potential
to be progressive with this especially the case so far as the representation of
the female hero was concerned.

The American horror
film has long been threatening its audiences with the sense that something dark
and deadly was lurking at the edges of modern life. Dracula threatened defiling
chaos, the thing initiated an invasion of inhumane monsters, and psycho
unravelled the illusions of the American dream. In those films the threat was
always something that was on its way.

The American horror
film has been intimidating its audiences for a long time with the sense that
something dangerous was prowling at the edges of modern life. “Dracula
threatened defiling chaos, the thing initiated an invasion of inhumane
monsters, and psycho unravelled the illusions of the American dream”.

Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but in 1978
John Carpenters Halloween was able to borrow from the genre affairs of its past
to create a formula for the slasher sub-genre that became a staple that would
later stand as a genre blueprint, left to me imitated itself for generations. In
a metaphorical sense however, this creation is a formula that was fastened through
the darkest fears and desires from American culture at its time, especially
surrounding the suburban lifestyle. It’s simple stalk-and-slash narrative would
become repetitive through repetition, with films such as Friday The 13th
(1980) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) there to rinse the formula of any
sense of reality or authenticity, and although Halloween also became a slave to
the decline in slasher quality, there is no denying it was 1978’s Halloween that
established the slasher structure that, even through parody, remains intact
today. Carpenter’s Halloween is debatably, the most successful horror film in
American history. The formula for horror established in the film was not only instantly
effective but would dominate American horror films for the next decade.

Before I delve into the details of just what it is that
makes John Carpenter’s Halloween so successful in its crafting within the
genre, I must reflect on just how Carpenters fashioned the formula, as it is
not to be ignored that Halloween is merely a combination of various genre
features that came before it, stretching from the work of Craven to Hooper.
Though it is easy to make the assumption that Halloween birthed the sub-genre
that is here today, there is no denying that everything, even down to the
holiday-themed event, was indeed borrowed from previous horror trends. The
influences spring from Canadian horror Black Christmas (1974), The Texas Chain
Saw Massacre (1974), Last House on the Left (1972), and it was Vera Dika in Game
of Terror who demonstrated the plot structure across numerous slasher films
remains in tact, such as “1. A traumatic
past event and 2. A commemoration of the event in the present 3. The holiday –
aka Halloween” 5. Although these rules do not specifically apply to each one
of the examples given above, it is evident that each one of the influences
mentioned could fit within these genre boundaries. In fact, this theory stood
more inclined after Halloween. Films such as My Bloody Valentine (1981), April
Fools Day (1986), Silent Night,
Deadly Night (1984), Mother’s Day
(1980), Valentine (2001) are all
but a few who adapted Vera Dika’s theory, and whether through intention or was accidental
all withheld the formula from ever deteriorating, regardless of the poor taste
in gore and originality some of these films failed to inspire.

But what exactly was the appeal at its time, and what was it
about this particular combination of genre tropes that instantly created a state
of tension and mayhem for its audiences? Taken for face value Halloween is a hugely
unsettling and still quite terrifying horror film, and although for audiences now
the films made sense of terror can only be read from the stalk-and-slashing of
Michael Myers paired with an unnerving piano-beat and synth score, for its time
it was perhaps the subtle connotations and reflective commentaries on U.S. economy
and lifestyle that was the most unnerving aspect of the film and its formula. Something
to be questioned however is that is Carpenter’s Halloween is arguably a
culmination of various anxieties and tensions within the cultural movement of
America that had developed before its creation, dating back to 1931. Come 1978,
it became apparent that Halloween was in fact a pinnacle moment in American
horror films, and could arguable be seen as the end of the American horror film
as the diverse and inconsistent elements of the modern horror film are merged from
Carpenter’s carefully constructed tale.

Thus far, the story of American horror film has been one of
approaching chaos. A brief recap seems in order. In 1931, Dracula represented the
sense of social upheaval and chaos that threatened Americans during the period
between the two world wars. His was an invasive defilement but, at the same
time, a seductive lure over the edge of civilized boundaries. The danger of
invasive chaos was brought closer, out of the gothic past and into the conceivable
world of the present. In 1960 Alfred Hitchcock lured audiences into the
theatres to view another advancement in the modern horror film as the horrific chaos
lurking on the boundaries of American culture was brought next door in the
sympathetic form of Norman Bates. However, where Hawks has

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