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Shoot the Dead: Horror Cinema, Documentary, and Gothic Realism


Shoot the Dead: Horror Cinema, Documentary, and Gothic Realism

Woofter, Kristopher Karl (2016) Shoot the Dead: Horror Cinema, Documentary, and Gothic Realism. PhD thesis, Concordia University.

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This dissertation traces a “gothic-realist” genealogy in cinema that will help scholars to reconsider a whole series of horror and documentary films in the modern and postmodern periods and offers new possibilities to theorize the horror film. I explore “Gothic realism” in three paradigmatic forms. I first discuss its entry into 1940s fiction films that blend Gothic-horror’s focus on individual and collective psychic trauma as a way of interrogating a troubled wartime and postwar reality (Chapter I). Second, I discuss avant-garde and pseudo-documentaries that adopt strategies of Gothic-horror to evoke unreadable subjects and/or undetected realities—products of a productive skepticism around American environmental, social and national stability from the 1970s, through the millennial period, and into the 21st century (Chapter II). And, third, I examine mockumentary and fake found-footage horror cinema that turns to strategies of documentary and factual discourse to express a generalized millennial and 21st-century archival anxiety around human interaction with recording technologies (Chapter III). These three manifestations of Gothic realism, I argue, adopt the mood, themes, and rhetorical strategies of horror and documentary to form a critical discourse that troubles the real—focusing spectatorial attention on the limits of representation, and the inability of representations to tell us what we want to know, and feel, about our reality.
This thesis explores Gothic realism as a critical disruption of the generic categories of documentary, avant-garde, and horror cinema, opening up possibilities to investigate the relationship between what might be called the “sensorial epistemologies” shared by all three forms. Gothic realism holds these sensorial epistemologies in liminal sway, an interaction that may best be investigated through the lens of Michel Foucault’s notion of the “apparatus” (dispositif)—here, a conceptual site of critical intersections that work to defamiliarize the everyday, challenging our normal avenues for understanding the world through appeals to ambiguity of meaning, multiplicity of perspective, overdetermination of possibility, elusiveness of subject or event, and emphasis on spectacle and sensation. I focus on films that are exemplary of both a popular, highly visible cinema (e.g., Citizen Kane [1940], Capturing the Friedmans [2003], Unfriended [2015]), and of a more subversive, independent, B-movie tradition (Bluebeard [1944], The Hellstrom Chronicle [1971], Lake Mungo [2008]). Regardless of their production contexts, or status as “highbrow” or “lowbrow” cultural products, the films that I discuss deploy Gothic horror as a mode of inquiry into a reality that resists conceptual tracing and positivistic strategies. In doing so, they disrupt the comfortable categories of documentary, horror and avant-garde, opening up possibilities to investigate the relationship between the sensorial epistemologies shared by the three forms. This study concludes that Gothic horror in fiction and nonfiction cinema becomes a mode of engagement with reality that operates as a critical discourse on mediation and sensation—on the real as always-already unreadable, overwhelming, uncapturable.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Fine Arts > Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema
Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Authors:Woofter, Kristopher Karl
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:Ph. D.
Program:Film and Moving Image Studies
Date:30 September 2016
Thesis Supervisor(s):Steinberg, Marc and Maule, Rosanna
Keywords:horror cinema, documentary, gothic realism, pseudo-documentary, fake found footage horror film, mockumentary horror film, gothumentary, mock-documentary horror film
ID Code:981984
Deposited On:31 May 2017 18:44
Last Modified:18 Jan 2018 17:54
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