Sadism, Alienation, Disintegration: Lowbrow Horror Films and Existential Thought in Postwar America, 1955-1968

Tilsley, Daniel (2022) Sadism, Alienation, Disintegration: Lowbrow Horror Films and Existential Thought in Postwar America, 1955-1968. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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Postwar American horror films were frequently preoccupied with existential questions about the Outsider, anxiety, intersubjectivity, and meaning. This thesis demonstrates, through textual analysis of a selection of case studies from the films of producers William Castle and Roger Corman, that lowbrow horror mediated on the existential themes and debates that saturated postwar American culture, particularly youth culture, often through means ridiculed and celebrated as “bad” by later critics and scholars. Textual analysis is supported by a cultural studies approach, drawing on Barbara Klinger’s work, arguing meaning is negotiated by contextual factors and historical reception. The present research concludes that these films drew potential existential meanings, especially for young audiences who made up the bulk of regular cinemagoers by 1960, through participation within contemporary existential debates around identity and meaning. Postwar industry trends (the package-unit system; audience diversification; independent producers) meant greater emphasis was placed on distinguishing film features for target markets. Many lowbrow horror films were aligned with the existential debates that registered with youth culture, even as the genre was upscaled in the 1960s and targeted more legitimate, middle-class attitudes through mediation on psychological problems which were often read at the time as existential concerns (drawing associations with prestigious 1940s psychological melodramas). These strategies contributed to the rise of a “New” Hollywood of commercial art-films and blockbuster in the late-1960s, wherein play association with existentialism is often taken for granted. This research offers a fresh approach to the period that links alignment with existential ideas to broader developments within American film, and two periods (1940s psychological melodrama and New Hollywood) in which existentialism is taken for granted that provides a model for future research into the cultural-historiographical relationships between popular film and philosophical ideas.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art, Media and American Studies
Depositing User: Kitty Laine
Date Deposited: 05 Jun 2023 14:05
Last Modified: 05 Jun 2023 14:05

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