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Little terrors : the child antagonist in the horror film

Lennard, D 2009 , 'Little terrors : the child antagonist in the horror film', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Since the 1950s children have proven to be among the most effective and enduring
antagonists in the popular horror film, beginning with Rhoda Penmark (Patty
McCormack) of The Bad Seed (1956) and the space-invader infants of Village of the
Damned (1960), and progressing to the possessed child (Linda Blair) of The Exorcist
(1973) and, more recently, the psychic ghost-girl Samara (Daveigh Chase) of The Ring
(2002). Using theoretical approaches adopted from Marxism, feminism, film theory and
cultural studies, this thesis analyses representations of the "child antagonist" in the
horror film across the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
In contrast with the traditionally innocent characterisations of the child in
Western film and literature, the child antagonist brings to the surface the complexities
and contradictions underlying the apparently hannless meanings readily attributed to
the child. This thesis identifies the social and cinematic discourses in which the horror
film situates children. In particular, it demonstrates that the portrayal and behaviour of
child antagonists enables theorisation of the key discourses that construct popular
understandings of childhood, including innocence, class, gender, sexuality, consumer
culture, and parenting. Readings of The Bad Seed and Village of the Damned discuss
the use of child antagonists as representatives of class conflict; an examination of It 's
Alive (1974) considers monstrous offspring as reflections of paternal masculinity;
discussions of The Brood (1979) and The Ring demonstrate the child antagonist's
grounding in ideas of motherhood; an analysis of Alien (1979) considers the film's
creature as a manifestation of anxieties about reproductive technologies; and a chapter
on Hard Candy (2005) addresses the evolution of the child antagonist in light of
contemporary panic over paedophilia. These analyses emphasise the unconscious
symbolic value of the figure of the child, and the crises provoked when that symbolism
is subverted.
Representations of children in popular film are of great cultural and political
significance because of their capacity to reflect and influence public perceptions. The
Abstract Little Terrors
unique prevalence of the child antagonist in the horror film, along with the exclusion of
children as viewers, renders the genre perhaps the primary domain for the examination
of those representations. Through investigation of the child antagonist in horror, this
thesis seeks to construct a clearer view of the cultural conceptualisation of"childhood,"
and the role of horror in charting the relationship between children and adults.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Lennard, D
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Copyright 2009 the author

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