The works under consideration are Tania Modleski’s “The Terror of Pleasure: The Contemporary Horror Film and the Postmodern Theory” (1986) and Isabel Cristina Pinedo’s “Postmodern Elements of the Contemporary Horror Films” (1997). Both authors dwell on the peculiarity of the role which contemporary horror films play in postmodernist culture. They also try to list the key features of horror films and explain in what way they reflect the philosophy of postmodernism.
Both Tania Modleski and Isabel Cristina Pinedo start their dwelling on the topic with theoretical and historical background of postmodernism as a cultural and social phenomenon. They explain that postmodernism appeared in the 1960s in response to the changes that were taking place in the society at that period of time as well as in the opposition to modernism. For instance, Pinedo underlines that postmodernism resulted from the crisis of the postindustrial society (Pinedo, 1997, p. 86). The same idea is emphasized in Modleski’s work. She says that the industrial revolution gave people too much freedom from physical labor and that freedom had to be filled with something. So, people were thrown into the power of “the great monster” (Modleski, 1986, p. 156). According to Modleski, that monster was the mass culture which happened to become a kind of ideology aimed at pleasure. Postmodernism, which appeared as a protest against modernism, considers pleasure to be its enemy because pleasure means comfort and comfort, in its turn, means that consumers are satisfied and, therefore, may yield to mass culture and to dominated ideology (Modleski, 1986, p. 158).
Both Modleski and Pinedo consider horror films to be inherent components of postmodernist culture. Pinedo underlines that contemporary horror film are very contradictory in their nature. To illustrate that, she gives an example of the film “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” that was characterized as something which is “too arty for the blood crowd and too bloody for the art crowd” (Pinedo, 1997, p. 85). Being too complicated for traditional horror fans fond of blood and violence, the film was left rejected for quite a long time. However, this is “Henry” Pinedo dubs emblematic of all postmodernist horror films.
Both Pinedo and Modleski emphasize the adversarial features which are usually attributed to horror films. Tania Modleski says that these films usually frustrate the viewers’ expectations since their endings are often “open-ended” (Modleski, 1986, p. 160). Moreover, their characters and plot are not well-developed and they have “anti-narcissistic identification” (Modleski, 1986, p. 161). Modleski also stresses the role of a woman and the use of feminine imagery in horror films. She gives examples of a number of horror films where women play leading roles. She says that women are associated with pleasure; however, pleasure in postmodernism is not something positive but rather pejorative (Modleski, 1986, p. 163).
Pinedo also emphasizes adversarial characteristics of horror films and says that in such a way horror films reinforce the classical binary oppositions, for example, “normal/abnormal sexuality” (Pinedo, 1997, p. 87). In addition, Pinedo offers for her readers’ consideration a list of features which she believes contemporary horror films have. Firstly, horror films represent “a violent disruption of the everyday world” (Pinedo, 1997, p. 90). Thus, rationality is put to question. These films also tend to blur all possible boundaries in a violent way and an obligatory experience of fear is produced. And finally, there is that openness of the ending which Modleski mentioned. Concerning this feature, Pinedo says that horror films are characterized by the absence of narrative closure. All these features are explained by Pinedo in detail and illustrated with the examples from exact movies.
Modleski, T. (1986). The terror of pleasure: The contemporary horror film and the postmodern theory. In Studies in Entertainment (pp. 155-166). Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
Pinedo, I.C. (1997). Postmodern elements of the contemporary horror films. In Recreational Terror: Women and the Pleasures of Horror Film Viewing (pp. 85-117). State University of New York Press.