Hardcore Horror: Challenging the Discourses of ‘Extremity’

In Eddie Falvey, Jonathan Wroot & Joe Hickinbottom (eds.), New Blood: Critical Approaches to Contemporary Horror. Cardiff, UK: pp. 35-51 (2021)
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Abstract
This chapter explores the relationship between ‘hardcore’ horror films, and the discursive context in which mainstream horror releases are being dubbed ‘extreme’. This chapter compares ‘mainstream’ and ‘hardcore’ horror with the aim of investigating what ‘extremity’ means. I will begin by outlining what ‘hardcore’ horror is, and how it differs from mainstream horror (both in terms of content and distribution). I will then dissect what ‘extremity’ means in this context, delineating problems with established critical discourses about ‘extreme’ horror. Print press reviewers focus on theatrically released horror films, ignoring microbudget direct-to-video horror. As such, their adjudications about ‘extremity’ in horror begin from a limited base that misrepresents the genre. Moreover, ‘extremity’ is not a universally shared value, yet it is predominantly presented as if referring to an objective, universally agreed-upon standard. Such judgements change over time. Moreover, in contrast to marketers’ uses of ‘extreme’, press critics predominantly use the term as a pejorative. Although academics have sought to defend and contextualise particular maligned films and directors, scholars have focused on a handful of infamous examples. As I will explain, academic publishers implicitly support that narrow focus. As such, the cumulative body of scholarly work on ‘extreme’ horror inadvertently replicates print press critics’ mischaracterisation of the genre. These discursive factors limit our collective understandings of ‘horror’, its ostensible ‘extremity’. and of ‘extremity’ qua concept. Given that the discourse of ‘extremity’ is so commonly employed when censuring representations that challenge established genre conventions, it is imperative that horror studies academics attend to peripheral hardcore horror texts, and seek to develop more robust conceptual understandings of extremity.
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