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Rethinking the Slasher Film : : Violated Bodies and Spectators in Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street


This dissertation examines the slasher film through close analyses of John Carpenter's 'Halloween' (1978), Sean S. Cunningham's 'Friday the 13th' (1980), and Wes Craven's 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' (1984). This dissertation argues that while one may find sadistic elements in these films, one also finds pronounced masochistic elements that continually thwart attempts to define the slasher film as exclusively sadistic. Recognizing this, this dissertation argues that these films are defined above all by the doubled, multiplied, and seemingly contradictory sadistic- masochistic subjectivities they offer. These subjectivities threaten to abjectly destroy established binaries (between male and female, self and other, inside and outside, and human and monster) while simultaneously interrogating the entire institution of the cinema. Conceptually, this dissertation roots itself in Didier Anzieu's Freudian take on the connections between the body and psyche (through the notion of the "skin ego"), Gilles Deleuze's work on sadism and masochism, Gaylyn Studlar's work on masochism and "bisexual" identification in cinema, Julia Kristeva's understanding of the "abject," and Mary Douglas' work on purity, anomaly, and contagion (Anzieu 39, 88; Deleuze 125, 131; Studlar 32; Kristeva 1; Douglas 2, 5). Examining these three films through a psychoanalytic- semiotic lens, this dissertation isolates the key representative features of the slasher film and argues that despite popular mischaracterizations of these films as misogynistic "blood baths," they actually aim to shatter the narrative cinema's structuring of vision and pleasure (pleasure rooted in both sadism and masochism) as well as notions of security associated with the spaces of the small town and suburban middle-class American family. The slasher film achieves this by tapping into repressed aggressions and constructing a sadistic masochistic viewer that is at once human and monster, simultaneously desiring to protect and to punish. This "abject" blurring of the lines between human and monster is the slasher film's most salient feature. Ultimately, in the slasher film, the most horrifying, uncanny monster comes from within the psyche of the viewer

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