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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Monstrous Resonance: Sexuality in the Horror Soundtrack (1968-1981)

  • Author(s): Woolsey, Morgan
  • Advisor(s): Knapp, Raymond L
  • Morris, Mitchell B
  • et al.

In this dissertation I argue for the importance of the film soundtrack as affective archive through a consideration of the horror soundtrack. Long dismissed by scholars in both cinema media studies and musicology as one of horror’s many manipulative special effects employed in the aesthetically and ideologically uncomplicated goal of arousing fear, the horror soundtrack is in fact an invaluable resource for scholars seeking to historicize changes in cultural sensibilities and public feelings about sexuality. I explore the critical potential of the horror soundtrack as affective archive through formal and theoretical analysis of the role of music in the representation of sexuality in the horror film. I focus on films consumed in the Unites States during the 1970s, a decade marked by rapid shifts in both cultural understanding and cinematic representation of sexuality.

My analyses proceed from an interdisciplinary theoretical framework animated by methods drawn from affect studies, American studies, feminist film theory, film music studies, queer of color critique, and queer theory. What is the relationship between public discourses of fear around gender, race, class, and sexuality, and the musical framing of sexuality as fearful in the horror film? I explore this central question through the examination of significant figures in the genre (the vampire, the mad scientist/creation dyad, and the slasher or serial killer) and the musical-affective economies in which they circulate. I argue that attention to the ways in which music interacts with moving images and narrative in the horror genre provides a new way of interrogating the political history of sexuality in the United States, one uniquely equipped to theorize and analyze areas of culture that are often left unanalyzed because of their close engagement with emotions and the body.

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