Hypatia 18.2 (2003) 215-222
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The Naked and the Undead: Evil and the Appeal of Horror. By Cynthia A. Freeland. Boulder: Westview Press. 2000.
The Naked and the Undead: Evil and the Appeal of Horror (2000) by Cynthia Freeland gathers together a number of compelling readings of a set of films that we might loosely understand as belonging to the horror genre. These include Alien (Scott 1979), Bram Stoker's Dracula (Coppola 1992), The Brood (Cronenberg 1979), Peeping Tom (Powel 1960), Repulsion (Polanski 1965), Eraserhead (Lynch [End Page 215] 1978), and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Hooper 1974). The volume proposes to illustrate a cognitivist approach to film while discussing the way in which the films that the author categorizes as horror films address the problem of good and evil and its relations to the representation of gender (7). The author argues that these films illustrate society's fears about new gender roles and their evolution (274). The appeal of the volume lies in the clarity with which it presents the themes of good and evil and explains the relations of these themes to a wide variety of film (only some of which are cited above) while illustrating the centrality of concerns about gender in these same films. The lucidity with which the author articulates her readings of the films results in material that lends itself to use in the undergraduate classroom in which the instructor wishes to provoke discussion about good and evil. The film becomes a means of supporting and untangling these concerns, concerns that might be termed philosophical in nature, such as, in the author's words, "the larger themes of good and evil" (4). The vision that the author offers of what she terms the horror film does not correspond to something inherent in the films themselves but to the manner in which they illustrate, more or less coherently, a set of previously established concerns particular to this author.
In this discussion, Freeland touches upon a number of the disciplinary and methodological problems that confront film studies today without resolving these issues. On the one hand, Freeland offers her work as scholarly in approach; on the other she does not isolate film as an object of study distinct from other forms of intellectual and artistic inquiry. She offers a thesis that claims to locate meaning as produced by the spectator but that often relies on the premise that meaning is inherent in a given film. On the whole this very intelligent work appears to use film as a pretext for testing certain philosophical precepts rather than offering insight into film itself as a cultural and social phenomenon. This is disappointing because it is precisely this type of insight that the introduction promises the reader.
Initially Freeland's notion of a film genre lacks precision and clarity, ignoring the centrality that notions of genre have played in the history of film studies. There are many films that are not horror films that consider the theme of good and evil, and there are many horror films that Freeland does not include. It would be impossible to include all films in these two categories in a single study. Freeland claims: "My strategy will be to select certain films that I consider especially good and worthwhile and to emphasize the films" (12). If Freeland's intention were to collect a number of interesting films, then this method of choosing and defining a genre would not pose a problem. However, she proposed something quite different—that is, to say that there is an inherent and scholarly logic to her choice of films.
No doubt, it would be possible to take issue with Freeland's interpretations by offering alternative interpretations, but this is not the problem that I wish [End Page 216] to raise here. I am willing to accept these readings of Freeland's chosen films as offering valid interpretations in the sense that the interpretations are supported by coherent analysis and are plausible. What I wish to consider here are the premises that Freeland articulates in her introduction, the...