Ferocious Fatherhood: Representations of Fatherhood & Masculinity in American Horror Cinema 1970-79.
In early American horror cinema, the primary antagonist was always positioned as an external or non-human threat in films like The Curse of The Cat People (1944), Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954), The Werewolf (1956), Dracula (1958), and The Mummy (1959). However, in the 1960s, with the release of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), the threat was now recognised not as external but as coming from within. The monster's identity was now human, and more terrifyingly, the monster was now part of the family. In American horror films of the 1970s, in particular, came a rise in the representation of bad fathers. These fathers range from the “father as a cannibal” (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974; The Hills Have Eyes, 1977);, the father as Satan (The Omen, 1976), the father as possessed (The Amityville Horror, 1979) to the father displaying monstrosity when he is absent (The Exorcist, 1973; Carrie, 1976). These fathers are positioned as figures of contempt rather than figures to be praised and revered.
These nihilistic representations of fatherhood seemed to reflect the societal changes of the time, as the “traditional nuclear family” and traditional family model were seen as prone to collapse. The structures had grown weaker due to a range of societal factors, including the emergence of second-wave feminism challenging patriarchal authority and nihilism over the state of the economy as Vietnam ended and gas prices soared. In turn, traditional patriarchal institutions such as the church, the government, and even the family were seen as collapsing. The Ferocious Father was born out of the power of the patriarch, which started to wane.
This talk aims to showcase how the complexity of the portrayals of fatherhood in 1970s American horror cinema showcases the cultural anxieties and social changes of the era and the multifaceted nature of fatherhood itself.
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The Horse Hospital, Colonnade, WC1N 1JD London
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