Narratives In Horror Films

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Narratives in Horror Films


The reason why I chose this topic is to investigate the various forms of interpretations available for horror movies. The interpretation essentially includes the ideas and the visual effects which are used to captivate the audience which watches horror films. Various writers have come out to analyse the standard way of creating a horror film, some of which will be discussed below. The hypothesis of this write-up is “Horror films offer thrill amidst fear.” Horror films are known to instil a lot of fear in their audience yet for some reason they are still captivating (Tan, 2013). The main purpose of this article is to specifically look into aspects of these movies that make them so captivating amidst the amount of fear they instil in the audience.

Historical and Institutional Factors Influencing the Use of Narratives in Horror Films

There are various factors which contribute to the use of narrative in horror films. These factors are both historical and institutional. In history, there was a need to depict aspects such as demonic, dark, haunted, torment and twisted. There was a growing word about evil spirits, demons and ghosts which led to writers of movies taking an interest in the matter. They wanted to represent the audience’s fears. The major institutional factor which led to the use of narratives in horror films the need to incorporate the people’s culture into the film industry.  Long before the debut of the film industry, it was common for the elderly to share scary stories with the younger members of the community. The most notable horror films are, “The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari” and “Dracula.”

Writers’ Comments Regarding the Topic

Noel Carroll wrote an essay, “The Philosophy of Horror” which shows the traditional structure of a narrative of the horror film, “Gothic and Romantic.” Carroll stated that the narrative structure could be divided into three stages: ‘the onset stage,’ ‘the discovery phase’ and the ‘disruption phase.’ In the Onset Phase, there is the creation of a disorder, mostly depicted as a monster. In Caligari, the creation of the disorder happens when Doctor Caligari appears in Holstenwall. In the second phase, the Discovery Phase, the characters in the story come to the realization that the disorder has taken place. In Caligari, this refers to the point where Francis discovers that Doctor Caligari is the one who killed his friend, Alain, with the somnambulist Cesare, as his accomplice. In the third phase of the essay, the ‘Disruption Phase,’ the characters in the movie get rid of the cause of the disorder then get things back to their normal state. In this phase, the readers are given a false ending where Caligari is seized and fitted into a straightjacket (Wiene, Mayer & Janowitz, 1984). The ending provided is as per Carroll’s formulae. However, the readers are informed of the actual ending which takes place in the mental institution. The reader does not fully understand the normality that has been brought back since Carroll continues with the Expressionist beauty to his regularity.

In this write up, Carroll takes note of three major icons of Horror films. The first icon is the Monster and the forces that lead to its unleashing. The second icon is the ‘Bad Place’ which is the origin of the monster and the location where it was unleashed from.  The third icon is ‘Normality’ which is normally characterized with heterosexual communities and relationships.

“The Philosophy of Horror” is a write-up by Noel Carroll. Carroll describes horror as the synchronization of feelings between the movie character and the experiencing audience, a combination of repellent and threat in the scary situation, and the state of the attendant cognitive condition (Carroll, N., 2012. He also describes the repetitive strategies used to design monsters. In the second chapter, Carroll also goes through the uniqueness of the theory of illusion, the theory of thought and the theory of pretend. The opinion that the emotional response of the audience is based on the thoughts of entertainment, while the responses of the characters are based on their beliefs is what makes this piece both valuable and convincing. In the third chapter, ‘Plotting Horror,’ Carroll describes the forms of generic plots as well as their stages. He also looks into the standard functions and components of the generic plots. In this chapter, it is evident that the theory and explanation undermines the ostensible subject. Chapter Three is filled with supernumerary characteristics regarding ‘the fantastic.’ In the last chapter, Carroll applies a complete technical analysis of a narrative device. We also realize that the preciseness of the fiction is not a representation of the best analytical forte of a write (Carroll, 2003).

The author Jackey Stacey also wrote the essay, “She is not herself.” In this write up, Stacey talks about teratology. Teratology is the scientific study of marvels and monsters. It also includes the central theme of the science fiction and the horror genres, more so the theme of abjection and what she regards as “the monstrosity of sameness.” (Stacey, 2003).  The theme of the human made and programmed doppelganger is very vital to horror films from its beginning, the origin being pointed to its medieval beginnings, and the theme of the double.

Stacey talks about “Gattaca,” a dystopian Sci-Fi film which is a fantasy of a rigid society which is based on hierarchy and where generic selection and screening dictate the fate of the people. In this society, individuals with a certain genetic make-up are held in high esteem and are regarded as intellectuals, physically attractive and occupy influential positions in the society (Stacey, 2003). The other members of the society, such as Vincent, are regarded as physically inferior and are mostly given cleaning jobs at the workplaces. Vincent then proceeds to adopt the genetic identity belonging to a valid, Jerome Morrow. Morrow assists Vincent to fool other people and makes him an expert in image creation and deception. In the essay, “She is not herself,” Stacey talks of the scientific aspect of the film, “Gattaca.” The character Vincent disguises himself as Jerome using blood, urine, hair and skin samples so as to pass the DNA tests. When the film begins, there is magnification of nail cuttings making them look like frosted glass shaped like crescents. The hair is also magnified so that the strands resemble rubber pipes. The figure of a man is then seen painfully removing the outer bodily identifiers. The viewer gets scared by this sight but continues to watch it since this makes the movie more intriguing (Stacey, 2003).

Other Inputs to Be Considered Involving the Title

In review of the use of narratives in horror films, we can also look at the inputs of other writers. Vladimir Propp stated that all narratives are based on specific types of characters. They include: the donor who helps the hero in getting the magical agents, the villain, the helper who rescues or assists the hero, the guardian, the princess who often gets married to the hero, the fake hero and the actual hero. According to Propp, using the same type of characters is associated with this genre of movies and also identifies with the audience since the film maker gets the expected reactions from the audience. Roland Barthes says that horror films are based on enigma and action. The enigma refers to puzzles or questions which are embedded in the movies in order to create suspense and mystery to amuse the audience. The action refers to what a character does that has an influence on the future events of the movie. For instance, in the film, “Until Dawn,” the players’ choices influence their survival. Claude Levi-Strauss concluded that movies are created based on opposition of two ideas such as evil versus good, life versus death and hell versus heaven.


My hypothesis is “horror films offer thrill amidst fear.” The fact that horror films have a wide range of audience is not rocket science. The film creators have discovered a way to bring fear to their audience in a way that is intriguing. Horror films are mostly characterized with supernatural beings such as ghosts and demons or creatures which are formulated based perceived futuristic technological inventions. From the analysis of the various approaches taken by the writers, the common features of horror films are conflict, the antagonist and the protagonist. These characters and the situations they find themselves in invoke fear, suspense and thrill to the audience.


Wiene, R., Mayer, C. and Janowitz, H., 1984. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Lorrimer.

Carroll, N., 2003. The philosophy of horror: Or, paradoxes of the heart. Routledge.

Carroll, N., 2012. Philosophy of art: a contemporary introduction. Routledge.

Stacey, J., 2003. She is not herself: the deviant relations of Alien Resurrection. Screen, 44(3), pp.251-276.

Tan, E.S., 2013. Emotion and the structure of narrative film: Film as an emotion machine. Routledge