Title

Transnational Genre Hybridity and the British Horror Film, 2002-2012

Date of Award

July 2016

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

Advisor(s)

Roger Hallas

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities

Abstract

The first decade of the twenty-first century saw a significant increase in the production, profitability, and prestige of British horror films, since labeled “the resurgence.” Scholarship has focused on how a number of these films relate to contemporary politics regarding gender, the family, and class, and the films’ genre hybridity has been taken somewhat for granted as a given feature of postmodern filmmaking. While broader work on British cinema has shifted from national cinema studies to address the transnational, focus on this decade of British horror has remained firmly rooted in the national. My dissertation responds to both threads of conversation by reframing the films’ generic hybridity, not as postmodern intertextuality or blank pastiche but as explicitly transnational in nature. I argue that the British horror resurgence enacts what I call transnational genre hybridity in response to discourses in middle-class British film culture that condemn Americanization and frame the horror genre as unable to address contemporary cultural concerns. Further, my project analyzes this hybridity as a strategy of cultural legitimation that would locate contemporary horror as a worthy part of British national cinema, prompting a rethinking of the boundaries of British cinema, the functions of genre hybridity, and how we define the transnational.

My dissertation situates the resurgence at the intersection of two contexts: broader British sociohistorical concerns and specific discourses circulating within the national film culture in which the films were conceived, produced, and received. I investigate how these films self-reflexively draw on formal and narrative tropes specifically deployed by horror subgenres associated with other national cinemas as well as longstanding and emergent British genres; my project argues that this transnational genre hybridity positions the films within larger discourses in middle-class British film culture, including debates about what constitutes British national cinema in contradistinction to a global cinema and industry. To this end, chapter one provides a contextual overview of middle-class British film culture during the 1990s and 2000s. I trace the shifts in three specific strains of discourse: an anti-Americanization discourse that framed the American film industry and its cinema as an colonizing invader; a saved/doomed binary wherein each British film was seen as either saving or dooming the industry; and an anti-horror discourse that framed the genre as dangerous and requiring censorship. My chapter tracks these discourses through publications important to middle-class British film culture (such as Sight & Sound, Screen International, and The Guardian) to show how they created an environment wherein the horror film could resurge and flourish.

The three remaining chapters analyze how and to what end key films of the resurgence, including zombie films, hoodie horror, and Gothic horror, employ transnational genre hybridity to negotiate their relation to these discourses and position horror as a culturally legitimate genre within British national cinema. Focusing on the zombie films 28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 2002) and Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004), chapter two traces the ways in which both films reframe the zombie of American director George Romero’s original Dead trilogy (1968, 1978, 1985) by drawing on popular British WWII-era cycles like nationalistic melodramas and Ealing comedies to evoke their associated cultural value. Through generic hybridity, these films situate themselves across nations, which allows them to comment upon the relationship between the American and British film industries.

Chapter three examines Eden Lake (James Watkins, 2008) and Attack the Block (Joe Cornish, 2011), exploring how these films rework the tropes of American 1970s backwoods horror and cult action films via the contemporary British hoodie film cycle. The genre hybridity of these films thoroughly changes the American genres they draw from in order to participate in and critique the then-ongoing moral panic over working-class, racialized teens (commonly referred to as hoodies). Finally, chapter four looks at how Hammer Studios, whose celebrated horror films of the 1950s and 60s are synonymous with British horror, attempted to reclaim its cultural legitimacy domestically and abroad with The Woman in Black (James Watkins, 2012). The film hybridizes its British Gothic heritage with tropes of the contemporary Japanese Gothic, engaging with the Gothic as a global phenomenon that operates beyond the national.

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