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The Conventions of Horror Movies and How They Affect Marketing and Audience Reception

The Conventions of Horror Movies and How They Affect Marketing and Audience Reception

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Published by Ryan Oliver Lewis
An analysis of the opening sequence of the film ‘Halloween’ (Dir: John Carpenter, 1978) and how it conforms to the conventions of the slasher horror genre. In turn, this text then explores how these generic conventions affect the way films are marketed to audiences, and how audience reception is dependent on certain expectations.
An analysis of the opening sequence of the film ‘Halloween’ (Dir: John Carpenter, 1978) and how it conforms to the conventions of the slasher horror genre. In turn, this text then explores how these generic conventions affect the way films are marketed to audiences, and how audience reception is dependent on certain expectations.

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Published by: Ryan Oliver Lewis on Dec 14, 2010
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06/25/2013

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Ryan Lewis ryan@ra
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aN aNALYSIS OF THE oPENING sEQUENCE OF THE fILM
hALLOWEEN
 (dIR
:
jOHN cARPENTER, 1978) TO sHOW hOW iT cONFORMS TO THEcONVENTIONS OF iTS gENRE AND hOW gENRE IN tURN aFFECTS THErECEPTION AND mARKETING OF A fILM.
This essay intends to look at the opening sequence of a movie(‘Halloween’) and deconstruct how what occurs on screen relates to theconventions of the genre it belongs to. It will then go on to examine how thisin turn can influence the audience of the film, critical response to it andultimately achieve commercial success.This text has been chosen as it “created the stalk and slash” sub-genre (Jones, 2005, p.102); a horror sub-genre which could be considered ahybrid of horror and teen movies, which Roger Ebert has taken to calling the“dead teenager movie”. However, to describe the sub genre as this wouldbe going too far as it would include many unrelated films of different genresbased solely upon the death of a character, something which would not fitwith Boyd-Barrett, Newbold and Van den Bulck’s definition of a sub genre(“the development of a new strand or dynamic of a genre which developsspecific themes of the original genre” (2002, p.424). This opening tenminutes also borrows some elements conventionally found within film noir.The sequence begins with a black screen, connoting menace and evil,whilst ‘typical’ horror movie music – reminiscent of the score found in‘Psycho’, the “granddaddy of slasher movies (Timpone, 2002) – plays overthe top. There are undoubtedly other links between the two films too due notonly to the score but also the presence of a masked killer stalking his victimin a voyeuristic manner and the link to a tormented childhood, things presentin ‘Psycho’ that are seen in the opening sequence of ‘Halloween’.The music is high-pitched and not melodic, as melody often providesa comfort for the viewer as it gives them something recognisable. Removingthis makes them more uncomfortable, a state in which they are moresusceptible to being shocked and scared. As Linda Williams noted in her
 
Ryan Lewis ryan@ra
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lewis.com
 
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study on horror movies “[when watching] sever people hold their ears,suggesting the importance of sound in cueing terror.” (1994, p.166).The credits then begin to appear, changing between the colours of redand orange and resembling the colours of a flame, hinting at the idea ofdanger. Also these colours, paired with black, connote danger within theanimal world and on hazard signs on roads, at building sites, etc. A pumpkin is then introduced to the screen off centre, which againunsettles the audience slightly, whilst the object itself is one associated withHalloween through semic code, alongside the title of the film, which is a sayof the year associated with scares and horror. Also during the credits thecamera zooms in on the pumpkin, finishing on an ECU of its left eye, with theflames flickering within it, an effect, and eventually, an image which is quiteunsettling.Next the film’s narrative begins, with the setting shown in white letterson black background, a contrast symbolic of the binary opposition betweengood and evil - with the white representing good to the black of evil –something which led Aaron Evans to say that “the start of ‘Halloween’ is aless subtle imitation of the opening of ‘Psycho’
2
”. The writing also revealsthat it is set on Halloween night which has semic association with the occult,the scary and the supernatural. The audio also shifts from that used over thecredit sequence to children singing a song, something quite commonly usedin horror films.The next shot is a subjective shot of a house at night, the front ofwhich is white, again contrasting with the black of the night sky and the whiteof the house. The house is reasonably isolated, being detached andtherefore having space at either side of it. The setting of both an isolatedhouse and night time are common in the horror movie and its slasher subgenre; being used time and time again in films like the ‘Texas ChainsawMassacre’. The subjective point of view is also something of a staple ofslasher movies with shots from the perspective of the killer and the victimsbeing frequently used.
 
Ryan Lewis ryan@ra
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lewis.com www.ra
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lewis.com
 
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This use of shot also hints at the Circe story type within the narrativeof the sequence, with the people on camera being ‘chased’, or maybe, moreaptly, stalked, by someone on the outside – a conventional situation for theslasher movie. In turn, through proairetic codes we presume that the personwhose viewpoint we have assumed for this segment is the villain of the story,and that those he is watching are soon to be the victims, a fact laterconfirmed. As we stay with them we notice similarities to another horrorvillain as they are “slightly reminiscent of Frankenstein’s Monster – slow,robotic and he is also a sexual killer and voyeur
1
”. Another example of proairetic code that hints at the two people beingvictims is the fact that they are young people of the opposite sex alone athome, getting intimate with each other on the couch before heading offupstairs. This situation of two teens being sexually active is very common,and “the sadomasochistic teen horror film kills off the sexually active badgirls, allowing only the nonsexual ‘good girls’ to survive”. (Grant, p.151) AlanJones (2005) even goes so far as to say that “all horror movies haveeffectively used the tale of the hook” – an old urban legend in whichpromiscuous teens come close to death when a hook handed serial killeralmost catches them when they are getting intimate on the outskirts of town.These ‘rules’ are so commonplace and apparent they were famously mockedin the post-modern horror ‘Scream’.Before the setting of the film moves indoors the shot focuses upon theupstairs window, the light of which is, expectedly turned off. This, however,coincides with a high pitched, unsettling note being played to contrast with it.This is sudden and unexpected, making the viewer jump, or feel edgy, as wellas bringing in the contrast between the expected and unexpected – anothertheme of this extract and one of Levi-Strauss’ binary oppositions, as is thecontrast found in the window between light and dark. Another thing that makes it obvious something disturbing is about tooccur is the use of contrapuntal sound effects which stand out against therelative quiet that went before it. Their suddenness and volume shock the

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