Sighs from the depths: rendering trauma and national history in Italian horror cinema
Silva Jr., Edward Hugh
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This thesis examines the development of the surreal and often transgressively lurid aesthetic of Italian horror cinema of the late twentieth century and its connection to the turbulent relationship between the nation’s cinema and its troubled political history. Much of the previous scholarship on Italian horror cinema tends to couch its analysis primarily through the lenses of either its transnational influences or the role of auteurs such as Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, Umberto Lenzi, or Riccardo Freda. While both approaches are vital to understanding the construction of Italy’s horror cinema as a robust movement, I argue that they neglect important historical context that can provide insight into the thematic interests that motivate the unique stylization of these texts. Often the focus on Italian horror cinema’s reputation for being mostly composed of cheap imitations of more successful international horror movements can reinforce the narrative of the horror film’s relatively low status within taste culture discourses. Exploitation films particularly fall victim to these stigmas and can have their more potent qualities ignored. Through a historical survey of the formation of Italy’s horror cinema in the aftermath of the political turbulence caused by Benito Mussolini’s Fascist regime and close, formal analysis of foundational Italian horror texts, this thesis argues that the stylistic excesses and indulgences in the grotesque that characterize Italy’s horror cinema upend the viewer’s comfort in spectatorship through confrontational aesthetics of destabilization. The aesthetics of destabilization not only challenge viewer’s passive consumption of such lurid content but also truly make them feel the sensorial destabilization and brutal impact of the violence onscreen. Ultimately, this thesis demonstrates how this stylistic approach is in conversation with Italy’s recent trauma and the inextricability of its national cinema development from this history.
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