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Benton, R.J. (1995). The Return of the Projected: Some Thoughts on Paranoia and a Recent Trend in Horror Films. Psychoanal. Rev., 82(6):903-931.

(1995). Psychoanalytic Review, 82(6):903-931

The Return of the Projected: Some Thoughts on Paranoia and a Recent Trend in Horror Films

Robert J. Benton, Ph.D.


It can hardly have escaped the notice of anyone who is interested in horror films that there have been radical changes in the genre over the past few decades (say, roughly, since 1968, when The Night of the Living Dead appeared). For one thing, horror films have become more violent and more graphic in their depictions of blood and dismemberment. In the process, the emphasis seems to have shifted from evoking anxiety and fear in the audience to evoking a mixture of fear and disgust.

Actually, there have been many other kinds of changes as well. For example, in earlier horror films, however horrifying the immediate situation was, there was still generally a safe world somewhere out there, whereas in many recent horror films there may not be. In earlier films the “horror” could be definitively eliminated by the end of the film, while in newer films it often cannot be. In the older films the most horrible things were left to our imaginations, whereas in more recent films they are presented on screen as “real.” In earlier films, “justice” was generally meted out —the good were rewarded and the bad were punished. For example, the audience could count on the protagonist surviving essentially unharmed (and if he — the protagonist generally being male —had a love interest, then we could generally count on the two lovers being united by the end of the picture). The exception was if the protagonist alone was the cause of the unleashing of the horror, or if the protagonist became the horror, in which cases he would generally the; but even in those cases the films usually provided the viewer with substitute protagonists.

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