Seduction, Serial Killers, and the Supernatural: Queering Sex and Gender in Turn-Of-The-Millennium Teen Horror Cycles
Webber, Elizabeth Crowley
How do popular film cycles reflect, create, and counter the hegemonic culture of their time? This project takes up a moment of three overlapping teen horror cycles—erotic thrillers, slashers, and supernatural films—all released in the late 1990s United States during the era of abstinence-only sex education. Specifically, I ask how these films mediate teen sex and what ideals and values inform these cinematic depictions of love and romance. This Foucauldian approach considers not only the way these films are liberatory and revelatory in their messaging, especially compared to the preceding teen horror of the late 1970s and early 1980s, but also how the messaging is quite conservative and concealing. I argue that despite the divergent semantics and intended audiences of these subgenres, what a collective study of this moment reveals is U.S. film culture’s anxiety with adolescent sexuality, inherent in the films’ overarching pleasure–danger syntax. This project is part genre study, part psychoanalytic film criticism, and part revisionist feminist history. The overarching narrative in horror studies is that nothing much happens between the first slasher cycle and the post-9/11 turn to torture porn. Building on the work of recent scholars, this thesis reveals that revisiting the late nineties is crucial because of its relevance to cycle studies and its catering to an audience often ignored and marginalized (and perhaps feared) by both scholars, the film industry, and structures of US power: that is, adolescent young women.