Carnival laughter is a significant feature of American horror films from the late 1970s onward which is often overlooked. In this paper I address this critical gap by developing the concept of ‘failed carnival’. The failed carnival takes elements from Mikhail Bakhtin’s idea of festive laughter and Linda Hutcheon’s theories on parody, elaborating them through the concept of interpretive communities introduced by Stanley Fish.The audience, familiar with tropes and characters of the horror films, enjoys the over-the-top violence of the failed carnival and produces a festive laughter.

However, the failed carnival does not completely erase the negative elements of terror and horror: as in any other carnival, it has well-defined limits and outside them stands what I call the ‘absolute obscene’. Originating from Julia Kristeva’s theories on ‘abjection’ and Kelly Hurley’s on the ‘abhuman’, the absolute obscene represents those elements that cannot be part of the failed carnival as they remain too disturbing to be laughed at.

In my paper, through the analysis of The Evil Dead (1981), Evil Dead 2 (1987) and Evil Dead (2013)I will demonstrate how films featuring failed carnivals allow viewers safely to become part of the carnival, thus creating a strong sense of community and a safe and positive way to perceive horror. Moreover, the possibility of the re-introduction of the absolute obscene into the failed carnival demonstrates horror film audiences’ relationship with taboo topics.

About the speaker

Valentino Paccosi is a PhD student in English at Lancaster University, UK and he teaches on the Film Studies program there. He is currently researching on the fictions of H. P. Lovecraft, their different readings and their influence on different genres in contemporary media such as film, TV and graphic novels.

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