Frames of Evil: The Holocaust as Horror in American Film

By Neal, Arthur G. | Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA), June 2007 | Go to article overview

Frames of Evil: The Holocaust as Horror in American Film


Neal, Arthur G., Journal of American Culture (Malden, MA)


Frames of Evil: The Holocaust as Horror in American Film Caroline Joan (Kay), S. Picart, and David A. Frank. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

In view of the resurgence of the notion of "evil" in contemporary discourse, this reviewer was looking for an explicit conception of evil. Earlier in human history, the notion of evil had religious connotations and was associated with the supernatural. The Holocaust has now been universalized as the master symbol of secular evil in modern society. In their analysis of frames of evil in horror movies, fear and fright, stalking and injury are implicated in the harm caused to individuals by the abnormal conduct of perpetrators.

The linkage between the Holocaust and horror films was somewhat surprising, although the authors make connections that are convincing through the use of frame analysis. Specific photographic frames and the sequence in which they are developed are examined for thematic content in producing some intended effect on viewing audiences. Sharp separations are made between good and evil, perpetrators and victims in showing connections between horror movies and the Nazi Holocaust. For example, the shower scenes in both Psycho and Shindler's List use female nudity to depict vulnerability. The eroticized female body also taps into "a pornographic mode" and provides "voyeuristic pleasure" for the viewing audience. In the analysis by Picart and Frank, theories of spectatorship are given priority over theories of representation.

The dual themes of sex and violence in cinematic productions symbolize the processes of birth, life, and death. In contrast to the eroticized female body, the evil perpetrators are depicted as masculine monsters. In Schindler's List, the brutalities of the male victimizers are presented as hypermasculinized German males. As such, the Nazi monsters become the dominant cause of the Holocaust. The movie Silence of the Lambs hints at male brutality as an outgrowth of a monstrous childhood and the trauma of the Vietnam War.

Of the more than five hundred movies dealing with the Holocaust, Schindler's List was selected for analysis because of its impact on public awareness.

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