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Dark Directions

Romero, Craven, Carpenter, and the Modern Horror Film

Kendall R. Phillips

Publication Year: 2012

A Nightmare on Elm Street. Halloween. Night of the Living Dead. These films have been indelibly stamped on moviegoers’ psyches and are now considered seminal works of horror. Guiding readers along the twisted paths between audience, auteur, and cultural history, author Kendall R. Phillips reveals the macabre visions of these films’ directors in Dark Directions: Romero, Craven, Carpenter, and the Modern Horror Film.

Phillips begins by analyzing the works of George Romero, focusing on how the body is used cinematically to reflect the duality between society and chaos, concluding that the unconstrained bodies of the Living Dead films act as a critical intervention into social norms. Phillips then explores the shadowy worlds of director Wes Craven. In his study of the films The Serpent and the Rainbow, Deadly Friend, Swamp Thing, Red Eye, and Shocker, Phillips reveals Craven’s vision of technology as inherently dangerous in its ability to cross the gossamer thresholds of the gothic. Finally, the volume traverses the desolate frontiers of iconic director John Carpenter. Through an exploration of such works as Halloween, The Fog, and In the Mouth of Madness, Phillips delves into the director’s representations of boundaries—and the haunting consequences for those who cross them.

The first volume ever to address these three artists together, Dark Directions is a spine-tingling and thought-provoking study of the horror genre. In analyzing the individual works of Romero, Craven, and Carpenter, Phillips illuminates some of the darkest minds in horror cinema.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix


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pp. xi

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Introduction: Auteur, Genre, and the Rhetorics of Horror

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pp. 1-15

The year 1968 was a remarkably dark one for Americans. The war in Vietnam reached its tragic zenith with the Tet offensive, and the situation on the ground was so bad that even venerable news anchor Walter Cronkite declared that the United States...

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Part One: Unconstrained Bodies in the Films of George Romero

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pp. 17-72

It is fitting that George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead begins in a cemetery. On a surface level, the location of the opening sequence in Night makes atmospheric and narrative sense. In terms of atmosphere, the aging and isolated cemetery...

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1. The Body as Contrast: Romero’s Living Dead

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pp. 22-42

It makes sense to begin with Romero’s Living Dead series. Not only have these films been Romero’s most successful—both Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead were major box office hits—but they have also been his most critically acclaimed...

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2. The Body as Site of Struggle: The Crazies, Monkey Shines, The Dark Half, Bruiser

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pp. 43-58

George Romero’s attention to the body is not limited to the shambling figures of the living dead, and in a way, it is his other films, those not in the Living Dead series, that provide a wider sense of his preoccupation with the body. The persistence...

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3. Romero’s Mythic Bodies: Martin and Knightriders

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pp. 59-72

The ongoing struggle between desire and decorum that permeates George Romero’s films is consistently located in and depicted through his use of the human body. In his Living Dead films, it is the unconstrained bodies of the living dead...

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Part Two: Gothic Dimensions in the Films of Wes Craven

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pp. 73-121

Wes Craven’s segment in Paris Je T’aime (2006)—a collection of eighteen short films by different directors devoted to the diverse arrondissements of the city—is set in the Père Lachaise Cemetery, but, perhaps surprisingly, it is not a tale...

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4. Craven’s Gothic Form: Nightmares, Screams, and Monsters

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pp. 77-96

Wes Craven’s 1984 A Nightmare on Elm Street was not his first foray into horror, nor even his first film to create a public stir. Some twelve years before his demonic Freddy Krueger emerged, Craven had shocked the American public with the savage...

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5. Gothic Technologies: The Serpent and the Rainbow, Deadly Friend, Swamp Thing, Red Eye, Shocker

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pp. 97-108

The films considered in the previous chapter reveal Wes Craven’s deep indebtedness to Bram Stoker and the gothic form embodied in Dracula. Clearly, Maximillian is a revised version of Dracula, but in a way so is Krueger, a creature of the supernatural...

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6. Gothic Families: The People under the Stairs, The Hills Have Eyes, The Last House on the Left

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pp. 109-121

American horror narratives have long centered on the family. Early horror films utilized the family as a kind of moral center, which simultaneously offered and needed protection. During the second golden age of horror, however, the family took on a different role in horror...

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Part Three: Desolate Frontiers in the Films of John Carpenter

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pp. 123-126

A uniquely geographic logic underlies much of the work of John Carpenter. Carpenter’s films are filled with forbidden places and secluded locations, populated by drifters and outlaws and malevolent forces. The locales of these films are almost...

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7. Sites under Siege: Dark Star, Assault on Precinct 13, The Thing, Village of the Damned

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pp. 127-136

While John Carpenter is most noted for directing Halloween, the seminal film in the “stalk and slash” cycle that dominated the horror genre throughout the 1980s, his two earlier films provide a clearer glimpse of the geographic sensibilities that dominate...

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8. Forbidden Thresholds: The Fog, Ghosts of Mars, Halloween, Prince of Darkness, In the Mouth of Madness

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pp. 137-148

John Carpenter’s films are filled with invading forces laying siege, and those considered in the preceding chapter share the fact that the invasions are without any clear cause. There is no particular reason that the ruthless gang surrounds the specific...

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9. Drifters in Desolation: Big Trouble in Little China, Vampires, They Live, Escape from New York, Escape from L.A.

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pp. 149-167

Jack Burton, the protagonist of Big Trouble in Little China, faces a crucial moment of decision: Burton is driving with his friend Wang as they pursue gang members who have kidnapped Wang’s fiancée, and as the pursuit winds its way into San...

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pp. 169-173

The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 represented a sea change in American politics and culture. Reagan’s “new morning in America” was a time of renewed optimism and a return to “traditional” American values. It was a cultural movement...


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pp. 177-189


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pp. 191-201

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 203-205


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pp. 207-215

Author Bio

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pp. 216

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809330973
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809330959

Publication Year: 2012