Academic journal article Post Script

Mario Bava's the Evil Eye: Realism and the Italian Horror Film

Academic journal article Post Script

Mario Bava's the Evil Eye: Realism and the Italian Horror Film

Article excerpt

However, we are not sure that the problem arises at the level of the real, whether in relation to form or content. Is it not rather at the level of the "mental," in terms of thought?

(Deleuze 1989: 1)


1960 is often seen as a pivotal year in the history of the horror film. The reality of space exploration and the demise of the threat of atomic war suggested a "hyper-reality" which outstripped the filmmaker's ability to horrify audiences through either the demonic or the alien invader. In Baudrillardian terms, the era of explosion and exploration gave away to an introspection and implosion: "the conquest of space constitutes, in this sense, an irreversible threshold which effects the loss of terrestrial coordinates and referentially." Moreover, this loss of referentiality and the conquest of space both geographical and astronomical forms a crisis in the real, which, as Baudrillard continues, "promotes either the derealizing of human space, or the reversion of it into a simulated hyperreality" (311).

One consequence of this implosion of meaning can be mapped out in the changing face of modern horror, which turns away from the supernatural and/or otherworldly being and instead focuses in on the permeability of the boundaries of the self. From outside to inside, from other to self, horror films of the 1960s renegotiate the relation between representation and the real. The development of what can be called "realist" horror, or psychological horror, owes much to the near-simultaneous production of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho in America and Michael Powell's Peeping Tom (both 1960) in Britain. In fact, taken together these two films are often seen as originators of a new psychological trend in horror cinema.

In "More Dark Dreams: Some Notes on the Recent Horror Film," Charles Derry subdivides contemporary (post-1960s) horror into three categories: horror of personality, horror of the demonic, and horror of Armageddon. Derry argues that whereas in traditional horror, the monster is marked through difference (whether in dress or bodily appearance) and thereby set apart from others, the new monster "is invariably a man or woman who looks as normal as the average person on the street" (173).

As the monster is indistinguishable from the self, a seemingly ordinary neighbor living down the lane, the spaces that he inhabits are the mundane and everyday spaces of small town America or downtown Britain. What could be seen as a modern sensibility in horror is expressed in the new psychological horror film not only within its iconography of monstrosity, but within the all-too-real spaces in which the action takes place. For example, a small motel in backwater America (Psycho); a shopping mall (Dawn of the Dead, USA/Italy, 1978); a children's holiday camp (Friday 13th, 1980); a photographer's studio (Peeping Tom). Perhaps the most frightening element of John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) is the location of the narrative within the grassy, tree-lined streets of a typical white, suburban, and middle-class neighborhood.

In this new "realist" horror film, surface realism and the framing of the everyday merge with psychological realism, producing a journey into and through deviant minds. In Psycho, Hitchcock consciously popularizes Freudian psychology by offering an explanation of deviancy set within the strictures of the mother-child relationship. (1) Peeping Torn also validates Freud as master of diagnosing deviant psychology, by proposing that Mark Lewis (Karlheinz Bohm)'s psychosis can be explained via the father-son relationship.

However, while both Psycho and Peeping Tom arguably assert that deviant psychology can be contained and understood, (2) developments in European horror cinema suggested no such comforting catharsis. Ingmar Bergman's unsettling psychological dramas The Virgin Spring (Sweden, 1960) and The Silence (Sweden, 1963), as well as Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water (Poland, 1962), offered more naturalistic and expressionistic examples of the genre. …

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