Horror Genre – Audience Theories

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NDY1 Creative Media Production

Unit 25: TV & Film Studies/Audience Theories

Tutor: Faustina Starrett

Student: Natasha Curry

Horror Genre – Audience Theories
Throughout this essay I will look at the various different audience theories, which can be applied the horror genre.
The horror genre is a gender ruled genre, with most of the films being predominately made by men and the audience for horror films being statically men of 15-25 years old.
The horror genre falls under many different audience theories; this is to say that different people will react differently to the media text.
Horror as a genre is more popularly known for being involved in or having the hypodermic needle model. This means that the audience of the horror genre are a passive audience, they can be easily manipulated and the media text affects their thoughts and behaviour. This is an out dated model that essentially suggests and works around the idea of the “copycat” theory, which is to say that the audience will copy what they see on the screen. While this is an out dated model we can see that it still has an effect on audiences with copious violent murder cases being reported as having been influenced by certain horror films. For Example:

  • Wes Craven’s 1996 film “Scream” inspired a series of copycat murders after its release.

  • In 1998 Rita Castillo was attacked and murdered in her apartment by her 16-year-old son and his 15-year-old cousin. The teenagers confessed to the gruesome murder of Castillo and admitted that they did it because they needed money to fund a murder spree that they had been planning, because they wanted to re-enact the story line of the first to Scream films and to do this they needed money to purchase a Ghostface mask and electronic voice boxes, which are seen in the films.

  • In 2001 Thierry Jaradin had befriended his neighbour Allison Cambier, one day while she was visiting him at his home he propositioned her and when she refused he excused himself from the room. Upon his returned her had donned the iconic Ghostface costume and selected two large kitchen knives. Jaradin stabbed Cambier 30 times in the same manner of the victim from the film’s opening scene (without the phone calls). After he had finished he telephoned authorities and confessed to the crime and later admitted to the police that he planned the incident, which was influenced by the film.

As well as crimes being influenced by horror films, they’re has also been horror films influenced or inspired by true crimes.

For example:

  • Serial killer Ed Gein loosely inspired the 1974 film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The similarities of the true crime and the film are slim, however they are still notable.

  • The house used in the film was similar to that of Ed Gein, as well as the gruesome content found in Gein’s home.

  • Another similarity is that Ed Gein also wore a human scalp and face. However Gein did this to quell his desire to be a women and not because of a skin disease as with Leatherface in the film.

  • Both Norman Bates from Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ (1960) and Buffalo Bill from ‘The silence of the Lambs’ (1991) were also loosely based on Ed Gein.

  • Norman Bates, the main character in ‘Psycho’ was loosely based on Ed Gein. Hitchcock adapted the film from a story by author Robert Bloch. The main similarities include the feminine qualities of both Bates and Gein, as well as both individual’s close attachments to their domineering mothers.

  • Buffalo Bill, the killer from ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, is the closest representation of Gein. With Buffalo Bill sharing the desire to be a woman, with his actions categorizing him as a transvestite. Both Gein and his representation Buffalo Bill skinning their victims to create a skin suit. They also both preyed on women.

  • Ed Gein also inspired the gruesome serial killer Bloody Face in the second series of American Horror Story played by Zachary Quinto, who starred as many different characters in different seasons of the show.

However the problem with saying that the horror genre comes under the hypodermic needle model is that it suggest that all audiences of the films are passive, that they have no free will and it does not consider an individual’s moral compass. Yes certain audiences will fall under this model but not all.

The Uses and Gratifications theory can also be used to describe the audience of the horror genre. This theory looks at an active audience, which will mediate and measure what they see, they will understand that a film is just moving pictures made up for entertainment purposes, this audience will not copy what they see on the big screen. This theory also suggests that audience make active use of their media in order to fulfil certain needs.

  • Escapism/Entertainment. A form of escape from everyday pressures. A source of entertainment and enjoyment.

  • Information/Surveillance. A form of finding out information on what’s going on throughout the world.

  • Personal Identity. Comparing ones own life to that of characters and situations portrayed, which helps to explore individual problems and perspectives.

  • Social Interaction. Sociability through discussion about TV & Film with peers.

Many people that watch films of the horror genre do so for entertainment purposes and enjoyment, this is because the human race has become infatuated with gore and grime. People see it as an escape from their own problems or they see it as a way for social interaction, this allows us to discuss the film or TV show with our peers, which in turn allows us to forget our own problems for a short time.
If we look at the horror genre in-depth we can see that it has had a wide spreading popularity with audiences worldwide resulting in classic horror films being adapted into television series, as to reach a wider audience and possibly peek the interest of those who do not like the horror genre as film. In my genre presentation I looked into the synergy of ‘Psycho’ and ‘The Silence of the Lambs’.

Psycho Synergy

  • In 1959 author Robert Bloch published the book entitled ‘Psycho’, which was loosely based on a series of murders committed by Ed Gein in Wisconsin during the years between 1954-1957.

  • 1960 saw the book adapted into what would become an instant classic by mastermind Alfred Hitchcock. The film adaptation saw Anthony Perkins play the role of Norman Bates.

  • 1983 brought us the sequel to Psycho. Directed by Richard Franklin, the sequel takes place two decades after the original murders in Psycho. The sequel saw Anthony Perkins reprise his role as Norman Bates.

  • Three years later Anthony Perkins directed and starred in the third instalment of the Psycho franchise. The third film takes place a month after the events of the sequel take place.

  • In 1992 Innovation Comics created a 3-issue comic book series entitled ‘Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho’, this helped bring the Psycho franchise to an even wider audience by including the interest of die hard horror comic book fans.

  • In 2013 following the success created by Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, A&E launched the Bates Motel TV series, which follows Norman Bates and his mother Norma and indicates that the events that take place during Normans adolescence are the reason Norman became the now iconic serial killer.

As we can see with the synergy of Psycho, the story/stories have reached a wide range of audiences from book readers to TV lovers. Bates Motel now stands as one of A&E’s most popular TV series and has reached a wider range of audiences than statistics would suggest possible. With an overall rating of 4.6 million viewers for the pilot episode, including 2.5 million adults 25-54 and 2.4 million adults 18-49 of both male and female viewers. As discussed above the ‘Psycho’ franchise has had a lot controversy with the confirmation that Norman Bates was loosely based upon Serial Killer Ed Gein, although very few cases have been reported of copycat crime involving any influence from the franchise, this suggest that audiences of the franchise are very active and understand that the films and TV series are just made up moving images, used wholeheartedly for entertainment purposes.

Silence of the Lambs Synergy

  • In 1988 author Thomas Harris published a book entitled ‘The Silence of the Lambs’

  • In 1991 following the success of the book Jonathon Demme directed the movie adaptation of the same name. The film starred Anthony Hopkins as cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lector.

  • 2001 saw the release of ‘Hannibal’ directed by Ridley Scott. Which saw Anthony Hopkins reprising his role as Hannibal the Cannibal.

  • In 2002 the third instalment of the Hannibal Lector franchise ‘Red Dragon’ was released, directed by Brett Ratner. This movie saw Anthony Hopkins reprise his role for the third time.

  • Then in 2007 ‘Hannibal Rising’ which was the prequel to ‘Red Dragon’ directed by Peter Webber was released. Starring Gaspard Ulliel as a younger Hannibal Lector.

  • Due to the popularity of the Hannibal franchise with audiences NBC network launched the Hannibal TV series in 2013. The show follows the life of Will Graham and his oddly unique relationship with psychiatrist Hannibal Lector.

Like the synergy of the Psycho franchise, we can see that the synergy of the Hannibal Lector storyline has reached a wide audience again from book readers to TV lovers. When the pilot episode of Hannibal first aired it reached an audience of 4.3 million viewers but due to the growing popularity of pirating the shows second season finale only reached an audience of 2.4 million viewers. Although looking at the ratings may seem that show is not overly popular the Hannibal TV series is one of NBC’s best-rated shows and has a huge online cult following of fans that refer to themselves as Fannibals. While there have been no reports of nay crimes being inspired by the Hannibal Lector storyline, author Thomas Harris admitted in the 25th anniversary edition of ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ book that Hannibal was indeed based upon a true serial killer, Alfredo Balli Trevion “Dr.Salazar” was a Mexican surgeon that packaged his victims in small boxes and was ruled “insane” by the court. By looking at the audiences of the Hannibal franchise we can see that there are similarities to those of the Psycho viewers. Both franchises seem to have very active audiences that fall under the Uses and Gratifications theory.
Throughout this essay we can see that the audiences for the horror genre vary between both passive and active, so in conclusion I think that trying to define an entire audience for any genre is impossible as not everyone will react in the same manner. We can see that some very serious crimes have been committed due to the “copycat” theory although when each of these crimes reached court each one was deemed not legally connected with the viewing of the films, but to have a possible connection with some form of mental illness. By looking at audiences of the horror genre in-depth we can also see that the majority of the audiences are considered to an active audience with the ability to understand that these films have been made wholeheartedly for entertainment purposes and not to influence violent behaviour.


Allison Cambier Murder Case:


Rita Castillo Murder Case:


Serial Killer Ed Gein Film Representations


Bates Motel Ratings


Hannibal TV series ratings

http://www.businessinsider.com/why-no-one-is-watching-hannibal-2014-7?IR=TKiller “Dr.Salazar” film Representation


  • Wes Craven is a Horror director having been most well know for his involvement in the Scream franchise and the Freddy Krueger franchise.

  • Ed Gein was a serial killer from Plainfield, Wisconsin. Gein confessed and was convicted of killing two women between 1954-1957, but was suspected of more murders.

  • Alfred Hitchcock is a director mostly known for his work on Psycho, Dial M for Murder and The Birds.

  • Ridley Scott an English director and producer known for his work on Alien, Hannibal and Blade Runner.

  • Dr.Salazar” Alfredo Balli Trevino a Mexican surgeon convicted of murdering his partner and chopping into little pieces and storing them in a small box.

Creative Media Audience Theories

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