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Title: The children's horror film : beneficial fear and subversive pleasure in an (im)possible Hollywood subgenre
Author: Lester, Catherine
ISNI:       0000 0004 6348 7311
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2016
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This thesis investigates the children’s horror film in Hollywood cinema. Children are typically thought of as being innocent and vulnerable, and horror – usually considered a genre for adult viewers – is one area of the media from which children are often thought of as needing protection. However, evidence shows that children’s viewership and enjoyment of horror films dates to least as early as the 1930s, while violent imagery has been used as a pedagogical tool in fairy tales, cautionary tales and other children’s stories for centuries. The number of horror films made specifically for and about children in US cinema has been steadily increasing since the 1980s, with recent releases including Coraline (2009), ParaNorman (2012) and Frankenweenie (2012). Despite this, scholarship dedicated exclusively to this rich and intriguing area is scarce. One intention of the research, explored predominantly in Chapter One, is to chart the development of this subgenre in Hollywood, explore how it differs aesthetically, formally, narratively and thematically from ‘adult’ horror, and how it mediates its content in order to be recognisably ‘horrific’ while remaining ‘child-friendly’. Following the review of scholarly literature in Chapter Two, the thesis is then divided into three case study chapters which focus on how horror films which are both addressed to a child audience and about child characters utilise iconography and conventions of the horror genre to represent specific fears and desires associated with children and childhood. Chapter Three examines texts which feature ‘monstrous’ children. These child characters’ ‘monstrosities’ are presented in a way that can be read as pleasurable and potentially cathartic for a child audience. As such, these representations largely subvert the common depiction of children as demonic antagonists in adult horror films. The chapter is also framed by societal fears that children may become ‘monstrous’ threats should they be exposed to horror in order to argue that these films offer critiques upon the relationship between children and the horror genre. Chapter Four explores texts from the late-1980s to early-1990s in which children must protect themselves and their communities from evil vampires, witches, and other monsters. These predatory ‘risky strangers’ are read as reflecting contemporaneous concerns about child abuse which were particularly prevalent during this period in the US. As such, the chapter queries whether these texts address adults’ fears about or for children more than actual children’s fears. Chapter Five examines films set in the home, which is presented as an uncanny and threatening space in which to address childhood fears and anxieties concerning maturation, independence, identity formation and familial relationships. It is argued that by facing their fears, the child protagonists of these films undergo beneficial experiences and emerge better prepared to face life ahead. This thesis argues that children’s horror films, by providing safe and pleasurable spaces in which to experience fear, can be read as offering positive and beneficial experiences for child viewers. Far from being ‘unsuitable’ for children, the imagery and conventions of the horror genre are in fact highly suited to addressing the fears and experiences of childhood. Simultaneously, however, this thesis questions the problematic ideological aspects of children’s horror films which may be ‘bad’ for children: that is, in showing children how to overcome their fears, what, or who, do these films imply children should be afraid of?
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: PN1993 Motion Pictures