The fascination with death has been present since the beginning of time and passed on with oral storytelling, and myths about gods and monsters that appeared to mortals as challenges, presenting an ongoing conflict between mortality and death. Going back to Homer, The Odyssey is not only the story of one man’s journey home, but his venture through numerous obstacles and most importantly, his journey through the underworld. The journey into the underworld features countless times in literatures, from Homer, to Dante’s Inferno, to more contemporary examples, such as; Lyra’s descent to the underworld in Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass. In reference to film, this idea is most prominent in psychological horror, in which the unconscious mind, it could be argued, represents the underworld. It is through accessing the unconscious, by engaging with the horror film genre, that we may understand the self and resolve buried tensions and problems.

This brings forward the discussion of horror movie subgenres and the debate regarding the conservative nature of slasher films and the message this sends out to the audience regarding morality. The rise of the slasher film was prominent in the 1980s when the US president Ronald Reagan was in power. Due to the conservative nature of this political era, the horror film genre reflected this ideology by having the killer represent what Judeo-Christian religious thinkers may have considered ‘the right hand of God’; punishing teenagers for being promiscuous, partaking in drugs and rebelling against conservative ideology, which is why it is always the virginal girl who fights back, because she is empowered by those exact same conservative ideals. This essay is not concerned with the representation of the slasher movie genre. Rather I want to discuss dream narratives in horror cinema, which focus on single lead characters, in order to explore how identification processes with such characters allow the viewer, him- or herself, to overcome terror and “survive”.

The foundation of this essay relies in employing Freud’s concept of the death drive and Jung’s shadow archetype, and how based on Freud’s death drive, Jung’s shadow archetype reveals a need for the horror movie genre based also on Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious, therefore, allowing the viewer to transform and transcend, and thus forming a link between sleep, death and horror cinema.


1. Death Drive: Finding the Need for Horror Cinema through Images of Death

The Fascination with Death

Carl Jung in Memories, Dreams, Reflections, states: “the unconscious corresponds to the mythic land of the dead.”[1] It is through making the journey to the underworld that the character, most often the hero, undergoes a transformation, by gaining a valuable piece of information, and by overcoming the fear of death or the dead. Richard Gilmore discusses Martin Winkler’s ideas on “katabasis”, which is “a kind of descent out of the ordinary, everyday world to a place where one must confront the reality of death.”[2] What drives the character to make this perilous journey is always a personal quest for a truth and for answers; therefore the journey to the underworld through the unconscious is pivotal for human growth.  It seems that once having faced the inhabitants of the underworld, the hero assimilates a sense of desire to live and to fight. It is when faced with death and overcome by fear that the hero rises up and transcends to a god like figure, to return home, transformed. According to Winkler “katabasis seems inevitably to entail at some level a search for identity. The journey is in some central, irreducible way a journey of self-discovery, a quest for a lost self.” (qtd. By Gilmore, 127) The “quest for a lost self” is similar to Jung’s idea of the “loss of soul”[3] which he relates to an experience he had in 1916, in which he dreamt his soul had flown away from him. During a turbulent time in his personal life, Jung explored his mental state through his unconscious, paying close attention to his dreams or as he states, “fantasy”. (183) In exploring the concept of soul loss, he describes coming face to face with the dead, as if he too was experiencing a journey through the underworld.

In several religious scriptures, it is widely believed that the soul is taken at the time of death, a passage from the Qu’ran reveals a similar process in sleep; "And He it is Who takes your souls at night (in sleep), and He knows what you acquire in the day, then He raises you up therein that certain conditions may be fulfilled...."[4] Although the passage does not refer to the process of dreaming, the idea of knowing what has been acquired during the day can be recognised as a reference to a reflection on the day, as is the case in dreams. Crucially, in the context of the argument of this essay, Jung’s idea of a loss of soul can also be applied to the passive nature of viewing a film. When processing the images on screen, the individual cannot control what is being projected. This suggests a similar experience of soul loss, strengthened by the experience of watching a film in a darkened room which in effect, mimics the process of sleep. Jung uses the term “collective unconscious” which was the “common psychic substrate” for the entire human race, and it was this psyche that Jung elevated to primary status in his psychoanalytic theory...”[5] In regards to Jung’s concept of the collective unconscious and also the notion of shared memory, Stanley Palombo in “Hitchcock’s Vertigo: the Dream Function in Film” states:

A successful film recapitulates in microcosm the viewer’s acquisition of his or her own memory organization. It establishes itself as it opens with what might be called “collective memories,” situations universal to the human condition, memories shared by the viewer and the culture, allusions to literature or to film history, the faces of the stars, the landmarks of a familiar city.[6]

Films that appear familiar to the audience, or appeal to the collective unconscious could be argued to do better than those that do not; through the exploration of the unknown, human emotions and familiar scenarios. Even films that follow a main character, this character will often be representative a group of people or an ideology. When watching horror films, there is a shared desire to survive. There is a shared experience which creates a bond between members of the audience through the individuals’ collective unconsciousness.

There has always been the fascination with death and death rituals, as observed in practises such as mummifications in ancient Egypt, and ship burials in Norse funeral rites. This fascination is now best observed in horror cinema, where at first, audiences are fascinated by the unknown, the uncanny and the unconscious, only for this behaviour to be later altered. Gilmore explains this further:

There is an initial fascination, a fascination with death and with the dead, a fascination that in one way or another works to summon some manifestation of the dead. Once the dead begin to arrive, however, once the reality of death becomes evident, there is a turn. The fascination becomes horror. [7]

While the approaches to death vary in different cultures, as well its rituals, from mourning to burial, the notion of death in this essay, focuses solely on death in horror films from the perspective of the audience, primarily based on the idea of transformation; therefore death is not the end of a process, but the middle, followed by rebirth, which for the purposes of this essay is transcendence. Carl Jung wrote two versions of his paper “The Transcendent Function”, first in 1916 and then a revised version in 1958. The transcendent function is the core of Jung’s theory of “Individuation”, which focuses on psychological growth, driven by the psyche which permits an ongoing process of communication to form between the conscious and the unconscious, allowing for a union. This is what I will argue is the goal of the self, achieved only after transformation. Transformation is the process the self undergoes between death and rebirth, as illustrated by Odysseus’s transformation when he passes through the underworld. Red Riding Hood also undergoes a similar transformation, into a woman, when she passes through the symbolic woods wearing her red cape which can be regarded as signifying puberty. Experiencing death is the key element of transformation, even if death is symbolic, for example if the death signifies the end of something which is not necessarily a fatality.

In engaging with the idea of death as transformation, it is viable to link death with dreams, specifically nightmares, and horror cinema, based on the notion of sleep as a form of death as expressed by an ancient Greek Proverb: Sleep and Death are brothers.[8] Death is also referred to as sleep in religious texts, which include the Bible and the Qu’ran. Morris Dickstein states that it is “the fear of death” which “is the ultimate attraction of all horror films.”[9] Although people do not desire to have nightmares, horror cinema has a nightmarish quality which would potentially allow the individual to overcome the fear they experience. It is through exploring horror cinema and nightmares that we find the gateway to the unconscious, the land of the dead, in order to face our own shadows of death, transform and transcend.  Bruce Kawin explains, “The seeker, who is often the survivor, confronts his or her own fallibility, vulnerability, and culpability as an aspect of confronting the horror object, and either matures or dies.”[10] In this example the term “matures” is one example of what I propose with the term “transcend”, which takes place on several layers of consciousness, an emotional development, and also a development or transformation of the spirit or psyche. It is through the engagement with death and horror, that this transcendence can take place, as will be explored further on in the essay. First and foremost, to establish the link between sleep, death and horror, we need to identify the birth of horror, the events surrounding it and the appeal of horror cinema and images of death within the genre.


The Birth of Horror Cinema

The first horror film on record was Georges Melies’ Le Manoir du Diable (The Devil’s Castle) in 1896. Melies made fantasy films which were very theatrical. Eventually the spectacle of the fantastic led to horror cinema as depicted by German expressionist cinema such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922), inspired by gothic and romanticist literature, among them, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Gothic tales and figures continued to appear in literature belonging to the periods of the Enlightenment and Romanticism. In terms of cinema, it was German Expressionism which was to later inspire Horror and also film noir, with its use of Chiaroscuro Lighting, elaborate jagged edged sets and using non-human like characters such as the somnambulist in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The genre stemming from the chaos of World War I, was focused around death and most often, the supernatural. Casper Tyberj discusses Julius Langbehn’s work in relation to German Cinema and how it deals with the notion of the soul:

It has a paradoxical aspect, as does Langbehn’s notion of a light/dark duality of the German soul; on one hand, an openness to spiritual experience allows the self to escape a narrow and stifling materialism, in the same way as the two-sided soul opens the way to a transcendent union of opposites.[11]

Langbehn’s ideology is very similar to Jung’s transcendent function in exploring the opposites, depicted by the archetypes, specifically in exploring the shadow self. This is discussed in greater detail later in this chapter. Tybjerg goes on to say: “On the other hand, mystical realities may turn out to be frightening and dangerous and the divided soul faces the risk of unhealthy domination by one side or a rupture threatening the complete dissolution of the self.”  (35) An example of this in film is explicitly made in John S. Robertson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, which moves Expressionism towards science and science-fiction horror. There has been a shift in horror from castles and supernatural figures, to the horror of science as seen in David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986), the rise in slasher films such as Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and to the contemporary psychological horror film such as Mary Harron’s American Psycho (2000). Horror cinema constantly pushes the boundaries of censorship by becoming more shocking and gruesome and continues to do so with the recent banning of The Human Centipede: Second Sequence (2011) in the UK.

Not the first film to be banned by the censors, when William Friedkin’s The Exorcist was released in cinemas in 1973, the film was pulled from cinemas due to its graphic scenes of horror, specifically possession of a young girl, and the distressing effects the film had on the audience. With advances in technology, banned content has become freely available on the internet, censorship laws have shifted, and horror movies are as entertaining as ever, with films such as Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) still spewing sequels and now remakes, with the latest film of the original title, re-made by director Samuel Bayer in 2010.  The modern audience has moved on from the initial shocked and frightened reaction to the Lumiere Brothers’ L'arrivée d'un train à La Ciotat (1896), and ultimately enjoy, or are at least, curious about new and innovative ways in which characters are gruesomely slaughtered in horror films. Tom Gunning uses the term “cinema of attractions” to describe the “first modes of exhibition, the tradition of turn-of-the-century visual entertainments, and a basic aesthetic of early cinema... which envisioned cinema as a series of visual shocks.”[12] The visual shocks that Gunning discusses include real life objects such as trains, crashes and scenes of death such as Edison’s Electrocuting an Elephant (1903) and The Railroad Smash-up (1904). The birth of cinema was exciting, and audiences were not accustomed to seeing images projected onto a screen and move almost seamlessly as if they were real life. Gunning explains “A Montpellier journalist in 1896 described the Lumiere projections as provoking “an excitement bordering on terror”” (869). The excitement stems from a fascination with the moving image. Furthermore, it could be argued that these early terror-invoking images are similar to the terror-invoking scenes of death in horror films, which are about the fascination of the unknown. Gunning draws upon Augustine’s theories of “the lust of the eyes”, which is similar to “the cinema of attractions”;

By tapping into a visual curiosity and desire for novelty, attractions draw upon what Augustine, at the beginning of the fifth century, called curiositas in his catalogue of “the lust of the eyes.” In contrast to visual voluptas (pleasure), curositas avoids the beautiful and goes after the exact opposite “simply because of the lust to find out and to know.” (871)

Consequently, the lust of the eyes, the desire to explore the unknown, is what feeds our demands for shocking images which have been present since early cinema and still push boundaries with contemporary torture horror films such as James Wan’s Saw (2004) and Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005). Gunning’s cinema of attractions deals with as a specific type of cinematic style rather than simply content. Gunning states that the cinema of attractions produced “those moments of cinematic dépaysement beloved by the surrealists” (870). ‘Dépaysement’ here refers to taking something out of its natural context and placing it in a foreign context, to create a sense of displacement, so that it can be seen from a different perspective. This was a practise performed by many surrealists in their work.

Surrealists such as Germaine Dulac, Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali worked with horror imagery in film and surrealism created a new kind of horror, also paving the way for psychoanalytic study, linking cinema to the unconscious. The surrealist films were known for their dreamlike quality. Barbara Creed states:

Surrealism, as a revolutionary art movement, was and still is concerned with creating a specific emotional response, one that challenges the viewer to embrace the world of the marvellous, the dream, the abject and the irrational. Surrealism is first and foremost an attitude of mind, a desire to liberate the unconscious...”[13]

Maya Deren in her unsettling yet visionary short film, Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), explicitly illustrates the link between film and the unconscious by having a narrative that repeats within the film narrative as well as the use of dreamlike symbols. The soundtrack by Teijo Ito, a Japanese composer, is trance invoking and has a ritualistic quality to it, enhanced by the images which repeat.

The horror genre draws mostly from the moodiness and dark sets of German Expressionism and the dreamlike qualities of surrealism.  A contemporary example of this is depicted in Cronenberg’s films in which “the dream-like quality of classic surrealism is swamped by the abject horror of the nightmare.” (130-131) Surrealist imagery can often be found in the dreamscape and also the style of editing in horror films as later explored in the surrealist dreamscape of Tarsem Singh’s The Cell (2000) and editing techniques used in films such as Triangle (2009), directed by Christopher Smith, bringing attention to the typical nature of the disjointed narrative of surrealist film, in order to convey a deeply psychological experience. Morris Dickstein quotes Erwin Panofsky in “The Aesthetics of Fright”:

The movies have the power, entirely denied to the theatre, to convey psychological experiences by directly projecting their content to the screen, substituting, as it were, the eye of the beholder for the consciousness of the character.[14]

Panofsky in his essay “Style and Medium in the motion Pictures” (1934) compares theatre to cinema. Although in both scenarios the individual in the audience occupies a seat and does not move during the performance or screening, in cinema, the eye of the beholder is the camera lens, allowing for freedom of movement in time and space, whereas in theatre time and space are more static. The cinema screen becomes a gateway into the consciousness of the characters on screen, and the experience therefore affects the movie-goers’ unconscious. Relating this to horror cinema through Freudian terms, the “horror object” on screen is described by Kawin as:

an idlike force that compels attention through compulsive repetition, that often expresses itself in dream formats, complete with displacement and secondary revision (i.e., if films are like dreams, or work in similar ways with the “language” of the unconscious in a situation where the audience is as apparently passive as the dreamer, then horror films can be fruitfully compared with nightmares).[15]

Even though the movie-goer is consciously participating in what is being screened, the conscious mind can sometimes be lulled into a sleep like state in which images flash up and are retained by the unconscious; this offers another explanation of nightmares. The mind becomes passive and lets its guard down because of the similarities between the dark auditorium and closing one’s eyes for sleep. The horror experience is often linked to psychoanalysis, however Noel Carroll discusses the origins if the word;

The word “horror” derives from the Latin “horrere” – to stand on end (as hair standing on end) or to bristle – and the old French “orror” – to bristle or to shudder.... it is important to stress that the original conception of the word connected it with an abnormal (from the subject’s point of view) physiological state of felt agitation.[16]

Similar to a burn, the flame or hot object is exposed to the skin first and it is through the nerve endings that one would experience pain. Images on the cinema screen are perceived through the eyes but then experienced through the body; Physical agitations form an emotional response. Watching a horrific death sequence on screen is experienced, for example through the clenching of fists, sweaty palms or a tight feeling in the stomach. Similarly, in flying dreams, which are common types of dreams, the body jolts awake due to the sensation of flying and the sinking feeling of the body, and it is this which produces the sensation of fear. There is a correlation here between nightmares and horror films: both evoke high emotions which provoke the body to react in specific ways. Experiments with sleep have been depicted in films such as Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971), reminiscent of laboratory experiments with the discovery of REM, which is rapid eye movement during the sleep state:

A number of experiments have involved watching films with especially strong emotional content (e.g., pornographic films, movies showing the autopsy of a human corpse). The subjects are then awakened during their REM sleep the next night to see what impact the films had on their dreams. The basic result of these studies is that material from the film does frequently become incorporated directly or indirectly into the subject’s dreams...[17]

The feeling or thought that the physical experience generates is what affects the unconscious, through a genetic code or one’s learned social behaviours; ideas are formulated and unique to an individual. There is a desire to indulge in horror movies: the experience through interaction with horror films allows us to tap into emotions we would otherwise not experience such as rage and a drive to survive through character identification. As well as working on an emotional level, the experience of horror imagery evokes a sense of nostalgia: “In Jungian terms, the monster often plugs into our shared sense of the archetypes, and in the horror film we often indulge our nostalgia for the world of myth and magic.”[18] The sense of nostalgia takes us to a place to face the monsters of our own world, similar to the monsters of the world of myth and magic as depicted in The Odyssey. This return to a land of danger and death leads us to Freud’s concept of the death drive.


Exploring Freud’s Death Drive and Jung’s Shadow Archetype

Sigmund Freud explored death in terms of the death instinct[19] in his 1920 essay “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”. Freud discusses the idea of all living organisms originating from inanimate matter, which is given life by an unspecified force, therefore the purpose of the death instinct is to return to this inorganic state.  Freud explains in “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”: “If we are to take it as a truth that knows no exception that everything living dies for internal reasons-becomes inorganic life once again-then we shall be compelled to say that ‘the aim of all life is death’ and, looking backwards, that ‘inanimate things existed before living ones’.”[20] Furthermore to Freud’s discussion, he states that the death instinct also naturally opposes the life instinct which is also embodied by the libido. Freud explains this in more detail when he writes, ”Our speculations have suggested that Eros operates from the beginning of life and appears as a ‘life instinct’ in opposition to the ‘death instinct’ which was brought into being by the coming to life of inorganic substance.” (73) Ultimately, Freud’s Death Instinct can be regarded as a biological concept of the processes of life and death.


Cenzig Erdem elaborates on Freud’s death drive by stating that “[t]he death drive postpones the self-destruction of the organism by projecting aggression onto the external world and hence can be said to serve self-preservation... The subject kills the others not to kill itself.”[21] This is best illustrated by the characters who harness aggression to survive in the horror film by destroying the object of horror. The survivor undergoes a transformation, for example Nina Sairs in Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010), who transforms as a character from an innocent “sweet girl” to the dominant, risk-taking embodiment of the Black Swan persona she has to become for the performance of Swan Lake. She projects her aggression through physical violence onto her overprotective mother and also, Lilly, who is to play the “alternate” if Nina is unable to perform; Nina fears that both characters are attempting to prevent her from taking on the Black Swan role.


Jung on the other hand interprets Freud’s use of “instinct” as characteristics of, specifically archetypal models of behaviour. Following on from Jung’s idea of the collective unconscious, stems the term archetype. The term “archetype” is used because the archetypes were seen as “primordial (or “archaic”) types of images that persisted since our earliest human history.”[22] The equivalent Jungian archetype of Freud’s death instinct is the shadow archetype, which embodies death and destruction. S. S Prawer discusses the fascination of fear:

Fantasy terror-films also appeal to fears that man’s own animal nature or ‘lower’ instincts may suddenly and disastrously break out – a threat which is felt in proportion to the degree of repression to which such instincts are subjected in a given society.[23]

The shadow is not always necessarily the movie monster in the horror film, but the characteristics the main protagonist develops in order to battle an adversary. In some cases the protagonist has to assimilate and become the shadow in order to attain a sense of transcendence and to overcome horror, which is why I will be specifically analysing films that deal with lucid dreams, in which the dreamer projects his or her own fragmented psyche.

The shadow archetype is described as being “[p]otentially the most powerful and dangerous image of the lot.” In reference to Black Swan, the Black Swan character is the double, the dark other, the shadow. James Iaccino, discussing Jungian archetypes in horror films goes on to say:

The shadow possesses a demonic strength that knows no bounds or restraints. Moreover, the shadow has a strong desire to live and wants to express itself just as outwardly as the persona. Looking in the mirror and “seeing our own shadow” is the first step in confronting that “dark self,” yet it must be done, no matter how painful the process, if we are ever to acknowledge the bestial part within our unconscious.[24]

I put forward the argument that the attraction of horror cinema and the nightmarish scenes of death relate more so to Jung’s shadow archetype than Freud’s biological argument for the death instinct, based on the experience of going to the cinema to confront the “dark self”. Jung’s concept of the archetypes creates a sense of purpose. The shadow archetype must be overcome or appeased in order to transform; by contrast, Freud’s death drive is a biological instinct to survive. Therefore, unlike Freud’s Death Instinct, by which it could be argued, audiences want to experience a return to an inorganic state, the experience of the horror movie allows the shadow archetype, through the unconscious, to indulge in the need for chaos and death. Therefore, fulfilling not a biological need as Freud has stated, but a psychological and arguably, spiritual need, which links the subject to a higher part of the unconscious and allows it to connect with a larger and collective unconscious. This in effect allows the individual to attain transcendence and transformation through experience as explored through Jung’s transcendent function.


Transcendence - Psyche vs. Soul


This theory marked a significant departure from Freud’s theories, which primarily focused on past traumas, present in an individual’s early years of life.  Jung, by contrast, focuses on the idea of growth from a teleological perspective, in which individuals develop into people they want to be. The significant difference between Freud and Jung’s perspective of the unconscious, relates to the treatment of the unconscious. Jung saw the unconscious as key not just to revealing and healing old wounds, but also to learning about one’s destiny, the telos of one’s life.[25] In the revised edition of his work, Jung examines the transcendent function, asking the question “How does one come to terms in practice with the unconscious?”(13) To which he responds; “Indirectly, it is the fundamental question, in practice, of all religions and all philosophies. For the unconscious is not this thing or that; it is the Unknown as it immediately affects us.” (13) In an attempt to engage with the unconscious, dreams play an important role, and through dreams, the role of archetypes. Jung explains;


It is necessary to give special attention to the images of the collective unconscious, because they are the source from which hints may be drawn for the solution of the problem of opposites. From the conscious elaboration of this material the transcendent function reveals itself as a mode of apprehension mediated by the archetypes and capable of uniting the opposites [italics added]. (65)


Surrealist film is typical of this because it depicts “disparate images”[26] to “obliterate the distinction between oppositions – particularly dream and reality, life and death, man and woman” in order to expand “the imagination.” Jung goes on to explain the idea of “apprehension” as not simply “intellectual understanding”, but “understanding through experience.” (65) However, it is in exploring the unconscious through the use of archetypes, where Jung’s theories begin to contradict. Although Jung had stated “dream is, so to speak, a pure product of the unconscious...” (72) In the original version of his paper he concluded “dreams were not an appropriate source of unconscious material.” (72) The second problem posed is the use of specific archetypes, of which he names the “anima” and “animus”, yet does not focus on the “shadow” archetype, which would appear to be the most likely choice when engaging with the unconscious because of its nature as “the other”. In analysing Jung’s paper, Miller states: “Given that the shadow embodies all that is unacceptable to the conscious ego, that it resides as an archetypal energy in the unconscious, and that the role of the transcendent function is to unite opposites, these two concepts are clearly related (73-74). Explored via the unconscious, the shadow archetype, through nightmares and horror cinema, allows the individual to develop the psyche, through experience as an observer in both cases (the dreamer and movie-goer), thus achieving what Jung describes as the transcendent function. Laura Rascaroli discusses the difference between “oneiric hallucination” and “spectoral perception” from a Freudian perspective:

[T]he images of a film are a stimulus which, from the outside, hits the perceptive extremity of the psychic system and, through consciousness, leaves a trace in memory (sometimes in the memory particular to the unconscious mind); in dreams, on the other hand, the excitation follows a regressive direction, from the unconscious to perception.[27]

The difference according to Freud is the way in which films and dreams are perceived, the similarity is the act of perceiving, if not the method. It can be argued that the dreamer is an active participant of the dream and experiences the dream first-hand, whereas the movie-goer is external and experiences things through character identification, which personalises the cinematic experience; the movie-goer too becomes an active participant psychologically and emotionally. Rascaroli discusses Christian Metz analysis of the similarities and differences between the dreamer and movie-goer:

[T]here are cases in which the spectator's cognition is closer to that of the dreamer; for instance, when the spectator is particularly tired or is absorbed by the narrative. The author also believes that spectatorship is close to that oneiric state in which the dreamer is aware of dreaming, and reassuringly reminds himself or herself that 'it's only a dream'.

This passage links film spectatorship to lucid dreaming. The moviegoer as an external subject waits to see how the events unfold for the characters on screen, they are able to distance themselves from characters as well as become attached to them. Robin Wood describes the cinema experience and the analogy of film and sleep: “The spectator sits in darkness, and the sort of involvement the entertainment film invites necessitates a certain switching-off of consciousness, a losing of oneself in a fantasy experience....Dreams-the embodiment of repressed desires, tensions, fears that our conscious mind rejects-become possible when the “censor” that guards our subconscious relaxes in sleep...”[28] This in turn creates an impact on the unconscious. Rather than an individual projecting their unconscious onto the screen, the characters and the scenarios presented on screen impact on the individual’s unconscious, therefore the experience that they learn from, is not their own. The journey undertaken by the main character on screen is not the experience of the movie-goer, but the movie-goers’ emotional and psychological response to it.


The shadow archetype in psychological horror films are not iconic horror movie monsters, but extensions of the individual through a fragmented psyche as seen in Triangle and Black Swan. The need for horror cinema and the need for the death instinct or shadow archetype, is not necessarily an answer to a question about life and death, but a pathway to something higher through exploring the transcendent function. The message of horror cinema is not to avoid doing things presented as immoral, as slasher movies are sometimes interpreted, but to allow viewers to overcome the on-screen horror. Horror cinema allows us to face the dark shadows of our unconscious and ultimately extend our life drive in a fight for survival. It is this which brings about the Jungian transformation and transcendence. Based on Jungian psychoanalytical perspective, the word ‘soul’ is often interchangeable with ‘psyche’, which means that the term ‘transcendence’ does not specifically refer to a higher state of spirit and can also be related to the mind.


1Carl G. Jung Memories, Dreams, Reflections, trans.  Richard and Clara Winston (New York: Vintage, 1989), 183.

[2] Richard A. Gilmore, "Horror and death at the movies,” In Doing philosophy at the movies (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005), 127.

[3] Carl G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, trans.  Richard and Clara Winston (New York: Vintage, 1989), 184.


[5] James F. Iaccino, Psychological Reflections on Cinematic Terror: Jungian Archetypes in Horror Films (Westport, CT: Praeger Press, 1994), 3-4.  

[6] Stanley R. Palombo, “The Dream Function in Film,” in Images in Our Souls: Cavell, Psychoanalysis and Cinema, ed. Joseph H. Smith, and William Kerigan (Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1987), 47.

[7]Richard A. Gilmore, "Horror and death at the movies,” In Doing philosophy at the movies (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005), .124-125.

[8] According to Greek mythology, the god of sleep, Hypnos is the brother of the god of death, Thanatos. Both gods are children of Nyx, the goddess of night.

[9] Morris Dickstein, “The Aesthetics of Fright,” in Flesh and Blood: The National Society of Film Critics on Sex, Violence, and Censorship, ed. Peter Keough (Mercury House: San Francisco, 1995), 134.

[10] Bruce F. Kawin, “Children of the Light,” In Film Genre Reader, ed. Barry Grant (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995), 309-310.

[11] Casper Tybjerg, “Shadow-Souls and Strange Adventures: Horror and the Supernatural in European Silent Film” in The Horror Film: Depth of Field, ed. Stephen Prince (New Jersey and London: Rutgers University Press, 2004) 35.

[12] Tom Gunning, “An Aesthetic of Astonishment,” in Film Theory and Criticism, ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 864.

[13] Barbara Creed, “The Untamed Eye and the dark side of surrealism: Hitchcock, Lynch and Cronenberg” in The Unsilvered Screen: Surrealism on Film, ed. Harper Graeme and Rob Stone (London: Wallflower Press, 2007), 115.

[14] Morris Dickstein, “The Aesthetics of Fright,” in Flesh and Blood: The National Society of Film Critics on Sex, Violence, and Censorship, ed. Peter Keough (Mercury House: San Francisco, 1995), 138.

[15] Bruce F. Kawin, “Children of the Light” in Film Genre Reader, ed. Barry Grant (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995), 312.

[16] Noel Carroll, The philosophy of horror, or, paradoxes of the heart (New York & London:  Routledge, 1990), 24.

[17] Kelly Bulkeley, Visions of the Night: Dreams, Religion, and Psychology (New York: SUNY Press, 1999), 107.

[18] Bruce F. Kawin, “Children of the Light” in Film Genre Reader, ed. Barry Grant (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995), 312.

[19] Also referred to as Death Drive.

[20] Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, trans. James Strachey (New York and London: W.W.Norton & Company, 1961), 45-46.


[22] James F. Iaccino, Psychological Reflections on Cinematic Terror: Jungian Archetypes in Horror Films (Westport, CT: Praeger Press, 1994), 3-4.

[23] S. S. Prawer “Fascination of Fear,” in Caligari’s Children: The Film a Tale of Terror (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), 53.

[24] James F. Iaccino, Psychological Reflections on Cinematic Terror: Jungian Archetypes in Horror Films (Westport, CT: Praeger Press, 1994), 7.

[25] Jeffrey C. Miller, The Transcendent Function: Jung's Model of Psychological Growth through Dialogue with the Unconscious (New York: University of New York Press, 2004), 13.

[26] Barbara Creed, “The Untamed Eye and the dark side of surrealism: Hitchock, Lynch and Cronenberg” in The Unsilvered Screen: Surrealism on Film, ed. Harper Graeme and Rob Stone (London: Wallflower Press, 2007), 115.

[27] Laura Rascaroli, “Like a Dream: A Critical History of the Oneiric Metaphor in Film Theory,” Kinema, v.18 (Winter 2002), <>

[28] Robin Wood, “An Introduction to the American Horror Film,” In Movies and Methods vol II, ed. Bill Nichols (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 202.

2. Death Rituals: Common Motifs in Nightmarish Visions in Horror Cinema

Why we dream and types of dreams

Science, psychology and religion are all linked in the study of dreams. Kelly Bulkey states; “dreams have always been regarded as a means of relating to the sacred, to those powers and realities that transcend ordinary human existence.”[1] Although this may not be applied so much in the present, dreams have in the past been seen as a gateway to spiritual knowledge, famously illustrated by the prophetic dreams Joseph had as described in both the Bible and Qu’ran. Joseph also had the gift of dream interpretation which he shared with the Pharaoh of Egypt who was troubled by a dream he had:

He was standing by the Nile, when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed among the reeds.  After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank. 4And the cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows. [2]


The Pharaoh had a second dream: “Seven heads of grain, healthy and good, were growing on a single stalk. 6 After them, seven other heads of grain sprouted—thin and scorched by the east wind. 7 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy, full heads.” Joseph explained that both dreams had the same meaning and that “The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads of grain are seven years... The seven lean, ugly cows that came up afterward are seven years, and so are the seven worthless heads of grain scorched by the east wind: They are seven years of famine.” Based on Joseph’s interpretations, the pharaoh made changes to the way he harvested his grain and had a successful harvest. Dreams in religious scriptures often appear as messages from a higher power which is only attainable through dreams, therefore through sleep. Kelley Bulkeley discusses the treatment of dreams in a Western society:


Priests and church leaders held the position of ultimate authorities on what dreams meant, and their interpretations aimed primarily at determining whether a given dream was a revelation form God or a deceitful temptation from the Devil... Psychologists are now the ones to whom we turn for interpretations, and we follow their lead in looking to dreams for reflections of the hidden dynamics of the individual’s personality.[3]

This idea of gaining “spiritual insight” from dreams is shared be groups that practise collective dream sharing, which started appearing in the United States in the 1960s, as explored by Kelley Bulkeley:


A remarkably large number of dream sharing groups began appearing in the United States...Because these groups take so many different forms and appear in so many different contexts, there is virtually no academic research on the subject. However the phenomenon of dream sharing groups should be of interest to scholars of religion and psychology for a number of reasons. First, these groups often look to dreams specifically for spiritual insight. (31)

The most common variation of dream sharing that is practised is the experience of cinema. The psychical space (large auditorium with cushioned seats similar to a bed in a bedroom), conditions (the dark room) and images are similar to sleep patterns and dreams. Film works like dream memory. The most common type of dream reveals snippets of our daily lives, our experiences and interactions with others. They become imprinted on our memories and we often see glimpses of them when we sleep. Film is also created in a similar way:

...Film reconstructs the mental process through which individual moments of experience are integrated into larger units of stable meaning. Replicated on the celluloid strip, events can be isolated, selected, compounded, arranged, and reordered, just as they were when our interior organizational processes structure our experiences in creating long-term memories.[4]


Nightmares, on the other hand, often stem from trauma or experiences that induce fear. They can also be recreated from images or scenarios in real life that may have been too shocking and difficult for the conscious mind to process such as why when we watch horror films our minds may recreate scenarios from the films for us to experience in our nightmares. Bulkeley refers to Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and summarises Freud: “most nightmares were the result of repressed unconscious wishes breaking through the deceptive dream facade created by the censor, thus generating the intense fear so common in nightmares.” Freud later revised his theory by adding “frightening dreams that vividly replay traumatic experiences are expressing wishes from the ego (rather than from the id) to master the trauma.”[5] Jung on the other hand and in contrast to Freud stated: “nightmares were the result of consciousness becoming unbalanced and one-sided; when consciousness fails to recognise and integrate important elements of the unconscious, those elements are forced to demand attention of consciousness by means of frightening nightmares.” (146) Jung’s theory on nightmares is similar to M Kramer, who argues in “The Nightmare: A failure in dream function” that “Nightmares occur when the dreamer is suddenly incapable of integrating the emotional surge that regularly accompanies REM sleep; it is not the specific content that produces the nightmare, but what Kramer calls the “hyperresponsiveness” of the dreamer under the distinct emotional conditions created by REM sleep. (147) However, nightmares like the object posing threat in horror films can be overcome through treating the root of the fear, which would cause the imbalance or emotional surge.


The characters from the horror films and nightmarish worlds I explore are all linked through lucid dreams, which is most similar to the experience of the movie-goer at the cinema, when discussing the sleep state. Lucid dreaming deals with the specific state of mind in which the dreamer is conscious that they are dreaming, as is the conscious movie-goer watching a film. For example, an everyday normal dream scenario is most similar to films of early cinema, which use a montage style of editing, in which images that may not have any correlation are juxtaposed together to create meaning as seen in the films of Sergei Eisenstein. A lucid dream, on the other hand, has continuity editing which is seamless and this is because the dreamer is in control, one course of action leads directly to another without the dreamscape constantly physically shifting around them. Seamless editing often allows audiences to become fully immersed by the visuals projected to them, therefore in a state of lucid dreaming the individual is able to engage with unconscious matter more successfully.


The Dutch psychiatrist Frederick Van Eeden, “who from 1898 to 1912 gathered reports of lucid dream experiences” is “the person most widely credited with coining the term “lucid dream””. (157) In relation to my thesis, T. Kahan has been “investigating the metacognitive dimensions of lucid dreaming and using the findings from carefully performed experiments to address broader psychological and even spiritual questions about consciousness, cognition, and self-awareness.” (159-160) Lucid dreaming allows the individual to experience both reality and the dream world simultaneously as well as both consciousness and the unconscious, allowing for a deeper understanding of how the unconscious manifests itself whilst also providing an opportunity to interact with it. In relation to nightmares which are lucid, this would allow the dreamer to possibly find the root of their fear and overcome it, as depicted by the main protagonist Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street, discussed further on.


Robin Wood describes horror films as “our collective nightmares”.[6] The horror movie genre uses certain learned techniques to frighten large groups of people, most often these are thematic and explored through sub-genres of horror. In some instances, these can be technical features, the most common being the use of sound in jump scares. Part of the appeal of horror is to be afraid and to overcome the fear by allowing the film to push our boundaries. Engaging with the horror genre allows mastery over the unconscious: we as movie-goers place ourselves in unknown territories through identification with central characters and allows us to travel through these characters. This allows us to travel through these characters. We hope for them to overcome the horror so that we in turn may overcome the horror. Although we have no control over the images that are projected, we are given strength as a collective audience.  Dreaming allows the subject to interact with their uncontrolled unconscious, which is also the inaccessible unconscious when the dreamer is in waking state, similar to the movie-goer’s experience of nightmarish images of violent deaths in horror cinema. It is only when these images appear to us without warning, that we can confront them and try to understand their significance and our deep-rooted fascination with horror, which arguably can be described as being innate and part of a collective unconscious. The conscious mind is guarded, so that when we know what to expect, a filtering system is activated by the conscious mind in an attempt to protect the unconscious mind; A defense mechanism, for example, would be to close one’s eyes. James Twitchell states:

Horror stories, like nightmares, never end; they are just re-dreamed. Surely it is important that, while all the major horror texts (Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll) initially came from specific, recorded dreams, they are then retold again and again until they become allegorical.[7]

This links back to archetypal images and how they constantly reappear in different types of texts. There is an importance placed on these images, and although there is a constant shift in technology and development of the film medium, there is always nostalgia for the familiar explored by the unfamiliar.


A Nightmare on Elm Street (Blurring of Dream and Reality)

Whatever you do, don't fall asleep. ~ A Nightmare on Elm Street

Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street is perhaps the first well-known, mainstream horror film that deals with the blurring of the dream world, specifically nightmares, and the real world. The film revolves around the infamous horror movie monster, Freddy Krueger, who had been persecuted by the locals for being suspected of paedophilia and the murder of children. They burn Freddy Krueger in a boiler room and this becomes the town secret. Years later Krueger comes back for revenge by haunting the dreams of the teenagers living in the town and killing them in their dreams, and thus, killing them in real life, hence the tag line- “don’t fall asleep”.

Nightmares become linked with death because of the idea of losing control. Krueger is like a parasite of the mind who feeds off the fear of teenagers and kills them. The symbolism of Freddy Krueger appearing from the basement, up the stairs and in the house shows the steady movement form unconscious to consciousness. It illustrates the blurring between Krueger’s nightmarish world below to the real world above. The film deals with the question of consciousness and tries to gain control of the dream world in order to defeat Freddy Krueger. Nancy in the first film realises that the only way Krueger can be defeated is if he is brought into the real world and killed there: “Nancy ultimately finds in her dreams the deep resources of personal strength to overcome an evil that the adult social world had failed to defeat.”[8] Freddy, however can be seen as a product of the unconscious mind, and stays alive continuing to slaughter teens for another ten films. Other horror movies, for example, Friday the 13th (1980) and Halloween (1978), follow this pattern. These nightmarish visions which take place in different movies are recurring images of death, similar to the recurring nature of some nightmares. The key to survival is the mastery of the unconscious space and mastery of the mind to control pain, in order to overcome the horrors of the dream world.

In Freddy vs. Jason (2003), the teenagers at the asylum are given Hypnocil, first appearing in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987), a drug to keep the teens from dreaming when they slept, to prevent Freddy Krueger from killing them. However, the treatment to overcome Freddy Krueger does not work, perhaps because the treatment isn’t pharmaceutical, it is psychological and spiritual. Rather than being saved by an outside force, the strength needs to come from within, through a dramatic transformation of character. Bulkeley discusses the similarities of the film with nightmares; “A Nightmare on Elm Street does everything it can to recreate the sensation of being trapped within the terrifying world of a recurrent nightmare.” (106) A Nightmare on Elm Street plays with the link between sleep and death, it reveals the horror of losing control, but at the same time as a member of the audience, we want someone to lose emotional control, but gain control of the dream world and fight back.


The Cell (Dreamscape)

And what world do you live in? ~ The Cell

Tarsem Singh’s The Cell is a surrealist, psychological horror film which allows the audience, along with the main protagonist, child psychologist, Catherine Deane, played by Jennifer Lopez, to enter the mind of the killer Carl Stargher. She must do this to locate the whereabouts of Stargher’s victim before he fell into a coma. Using futuristic technology which allows people to enter the minds of comatose patients in order to help them gain consciousness, Catherine must delve into the mind of a twisted killer where she is faced with nightmarish dreamscapes.

The dreamscape is a fantasy setting which is not contained by real life logic. Things can be anywhere and lead to any place, and the mise-en-scene is often Dali-esque and surreal. There is a mixture of real life, domestic settings within a fantastical setting of high arches, waterscapes, and large staircases. A specific scene showing the dissection of a horse is inspired by the works of Damien Hurst, who was interested in the theme of death. The camera movements as we enter the mind of the killer, and therefore ultimately entering a different world, works unlike typical and linear camera movements. At first there are images of electrical synapses, followed by roots of plants; the camera pans up an image of feet which stand in a lake and moves up into the sky; the image is suspended upside down. The imagery is not grounded in any sense of logic but works to show what is ultimately a fragmented psyche belonging to the killer through dream logic. The dreamscape is reminiscent of Louis Bunuel and Salvador Dali’s Un Chien Andalou (1929), in which towards the end of the film, a character opens a door in a house which would logically lead to another room, however the character appears on a beach. The dreamscape also destroys the rules of gravity as seen in Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), when the main protagonist floats on the ceiling of the staircase when following a dark figure to the bedroom upstairs.

Similar to A Nightmare on Elm Street, the villain Stargher uses the dreamscape to manipulate and frighten Catherine. However, being experienced in her field, she understands that she must not accept the pain as real and create her own dreamscape, in which she can battle the villain on her own terms. The dreamscape appears as a labyrinth and has different facets, almost as if they were fragments of the psyche.


Halloween II (Symbolism in the Dream World)

White Horse - linked to instinct, purity and the drive of the physical body to release powerful and emotional forces, like rage with ensuing chaos and destruction. ~ Halloween II

Symbolism in the dreamscape is what audiences and the protagonist look for alike. These are key images that allow us to identify what is going on, or what may happen, they also aid us in decoding the dreamworld and understanding why things appear as they do. In Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween II, the image of the white horse is prominent. In the opening of the film it quotes the definition of the white horse which is similar to Freud’s death drive or Jung’s shadow archetype. We then see a young Michael Myers in an asylum being given a white horse by his mother. He recalls a dream he had in which he sees his mother’s ghost, all dressed in white with a horse walking towards him in the asylum, promising to bring him home. This notion of “home” is discussed by Freud in terms of the “Uncanny”;

The ‘home’ negatively co-present in the definition ‘the unhomely’ is ... the conscious, the surface, the ego level of our minds....That which is ‘secret’, that which usually remains hidden but is brought to light, is the unconscious mind of the individual and through and beyond this a wider region of the unconscious that we find embodied in myths, legends, and fairy-tales throughout the world; it is the realm of primitive fears, of what has been forgotten and left behind, yet returns on occasions to plague us...[9]

The sense of home is reminiscent of the mythic journey home by Odysseus. Myers is constantly trapped in a setting which to him is uncanny; his sense of home is also distorted. This is illustrated by him slaughtering members of his family in the original film.  The only sense of home he has left is his younger sister Laurie.

Laurie, Michael’s sister, upon his escape from the asylum and surviving being shot in the previous film, begins to suffer from hallucinations of the ghostly figure of the mother and the white horse, representing the chaos and destructive forces heading towards her, or perhaps even the forces present in herself through her blood tie with Michael Myers. This would explain the hallucinations of Laurie carrying out murders in the style of Michael Myers from the original film. The dreams act as a connection between Laurie and her brother Michael, a link she is not conscious of until discovering that he is her brother. The symbolism in the dreams revert back to Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious, and shared memory – in this case through genetics.


Triangle (Compulsion to Repeat)

It’s starting over again. ~ Triangle

Triangle tells the story of the main protagonist Jess who goes sailing with friends and they end up in an electrical storm. They find a ship which they board, and an unknown assailant attacks the group of friends. Once everyone has died, the scenario repeats itself. The repetition is most like Freud’s compulsion to repeat; “something that seems more primitive, more elementary, more instinctual than the pleasure principle which it over-rides.”[10]

Jess seems to be repeatedly going through an act based on some guilt or negative feeling which is a trait of Freud’s notion of a compulsion to repeat. The protagonist in Triangle repeats the cycle until she can find her way home. With each cycle, the protagonist learns more about the situation and becomes stronger and more determined. What is interesting is that she recollects the memory of being there before. The cycle repeats three times which seems significant and also links with the title of the film, as a triangle has three sides which all connect to each other. In addition, it establishes a connection with the Bermuda Triangle, which is linked to the mysterious disappearance of the crew who had been on board the ship when it set course. Of course, we find the ship in the film is fictional.

As much as the main protagonist tries to figure everything out in a controlled manner, she understands that she has to become the villain in order to escape and find her way home. Therefore, Jess has to overcome the fear and horror that she is faced with on the ship, which is a product of her unconscious, punishing her for what she has done. In “Beyond the Pleasure Principle” Freud discusses: “Dreams occurring in traumatic neuroses have the characteristic of repeatedly bringing the patient back into the situation of his accident, a situation in which he wakes up in another fright.”[11] Jess repeatedly wakes up in the same situation until she can recall the scenario and repeat it in a desperate attempt to cheat death.

The way the film is edited, specifically when the first sequence finishes and the narrative starts to repeat for the second time, creates a sense of disorientation and a feeling of being trapped. When Jess backs away from the vinyl player, the frames repeat twice to show a disturbance in the narrative, and again, the compulsion to repeat using editing techniques. This is also depicted through symbolism in the film. The name of the ship is Aeolus, after the ruler of the winds in Greek mythology. Jung states;

The Latin word animus, ‘spirit’, and anima, ‘soul’, are the same as the Greek anemos, ‘wind’. The other Greek word for ‘wind’, pneuma, also means ‘spirit’.... In Arabic, ‘wind’ is rih, and ruh is ‘soul, spirit’. These connections show clearly how in Latin, Greek and Arabic the names are given to the soul are related to the notion of moving air...[12]

The movement of the spirit is depicted in the final scene in which Jess sees herself in the accident, dead. She then gets into a taxi and travels to the harbour, symbolising the repetitive cycle of her spirit linked with the imagery of sailing, associated with the wind.


Black Swan (The Shadow)

Perfection is not just about control. It's also about letting go. Surprise yourself so you can surprise the audience. Transcendence. And very few have it in them. ~ Black Swan

The opening of the films starts with a ballet sequence, followed by Natalie Portman’s character, Nina Sairs, waking up and telling her mother about a dream she had. The dream, we find out is prophetic of her upcoming role as the Swan Queen in the new production of Swan Lake, in which she will have to embody both the White Swan and the Black Swan. Through the course of the film, Nina must learn to embody both psyches but not through perfecting her method, but perfection through letting go of herself. She must explore her identity and push her boundaries in order to allow the Black Swan to emerge. This allows for a fragmented psyche and the narrative splits between reality and the dream world, as Nina battles with her dark other: “The figure of the phantom double owes its perennial fascination to... ‘a return of the repressed’”[13] The double, representative of  Jung’s shadow archetype, is beautifully portrayed in the final scene with her shadow, larger than life on the wall behind her. Prawer explains: “A Doppleganger represents, in the first instance, the hidden part of our self...but it also revives primitive beliefs in the independent, almost bodily existence of our soul, mirror and puppet magic, demons or gods that amuse themselves by taking on our shapes...” (118) The double appears first in the dark alley sequence, in which the double mimics Nina’s actions of putting her phone away, however when they pass, the double is in fact another person. This happens at several points in the film, distorting the truth with a confused and troubled psyche. The climatic sequence of the film reveals both Nina and her double in a confrontation just before the Black Swan goes onto the stage, in which Nina embodies the Black Swan by destroying the threat of the other by saying “No, It’s my turn”.

Unlike the films discussed earlier, Black Swan does not try to control what is happening in the narrative. Nina must learn to lose control. She isn’t trying to overcome or destroy the Black Swan, she is embodying it, accepting it as her counterpart, but with it are obvious dangers as it tries to take over her White Swan persona. She attains perfection through embodiment, and although death is the answer, she has undergone a complete transformation and achieves transcendence, symbolised by the wings and the large shadow in the final segment of the performance on stage, followed by perfection through death, showing a complete cycle from birth, death and rebirth as the Black Swan.



The unconscious contains everything that is unknown to the conscious part of the mind.  It is also the unknown that draws audiences to the horror genre as it explores this territory and brings to surface different objects of fear such as spiders, serial killers, clowns and so on. It also deals with common anxieties from an emotional perspective - childbirth, swimming and flying are just to name a few. Horror cinema is universal and is for everyone. It takes a common theme and exploits it to create horror. Audiences engage with the unknown in the horror film genre even if it is simply because of curiosity, and through this there is an exploration of the unconscious. Transcendence is achieved through the mastery of the unconscious and the union of the self as Jung describes through the transcendent function. However, Freud’s death drive can also be applied to transcendence because death is the answer to how to achieve transcendence and it is also the end of a life force.  Death is universal to every being; therefore, it is natural to be fascinated by images of death as well as fearing death. It is the fear of the unknown which is explored by the horror genre. Audiences are able to engage with this material without exposing themselves to physical harm – the images of death appeal and satisfy the death drive which is present in each being, and according to Jung, through the shadow archetype, individuals can gain a better understanding of the psyche or the soul. This links back to Langbehn’s idea of the soul relating to German Expressionist cinema. Horror stems from expressionism and surrealism, which both try and engage with the unconscious thematically at its most basic level. There is a duality between the conscious and unconscious mind as well as the self. Psychological horror cinema explores this theme explicitly through various films discussed in this essay.


[1] Kelly Bulkeley, Visions of the Night: Dreams, Religion, and Psychology (New York: SUNY Press, 1999), 34.


[3] Kelly Bulkeley, Visions of the Night: Dreams, Religion, and Psychology (New York: SUNY Press, 1999), 34.

[4] Stanley R. Palombo, “The Dream Function in Film,” in Images in Our Souls: Cavell, Psychoanalysis and Cinema, ed.  Joseph H. Smith and William Kerigan (Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1987), 47.

[5]  Kelly Bulkeley, Visions of the Night: Dreams, Religion, and Psychology (New York: SUNY Press, 1999), 146.

[6] Robin Wood, “An Introduction to the American Horror Film,” In Movies and Methods vol II, ed. Bill Nichols (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 203.

[7] James B. Twitchell, “The Psychological Attraction of Horror,” in Dreadful Pleasures: An Anatomy of Modern Horror (Oxford University Press: New York, 1985), 72.

[8] Kelly Bulkeley, Visions of the Night: Dreams, Religion, and Psychology (New York: SUNY Press, 1999), 106.

[9] S. S. Prawer, “The Uncanny,” in Caligari’s Children: The Film a Tale of Terror (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), 136.   

[10] Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, trans. James Strachey (New York and London: W.W.Norton & Company, 1961), 25.

[11] Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, trans. James Strachey (New York and London: W.W.Norton & Company, 1961), 11.

[12] Terrie Waddell, Mis/takes; Archetype, Myth and Identity in Screen Fiction (London and New York: Routledge, 2006), 160.

[13] S. S. Prawer, “The Uncanny,” in Caligari’s Children: The Film a Tale of Terror (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), 118.   




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A Clockwork Orange, dir.  Stanley Kubrick , feat.  Malcolm McDowell, Patrick Magee (Warner Bros., 1971).


A Nightmare on Elm Street, dir. Wes Craven, feat. Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund (New Line Cinema, 1984).


A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, dir. Chuck Russell, feat. Heather Langenkamp, Robert Englund  (New Line Cinema, 1987)


Black Swan, dir. Aaron Aronofsky, feat. Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis (Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2011).


Dr. Jekyll Mr. Hyde, dir. John S. Robertson, feat.  John Barrymore, Charles Lane (Paramount Pictures, 1920).


Electrocuting an Elephant, dir. Thomas Edison (1903).


Freddy vs. Jason, dir. Ronny Yu, feat. Robert Englund, Ken Kirzinger (New Line Cinema, 2003).


Halloween II, dir. Rob Zombie, feat. Scout Taylor-Compton, Tyler Mane (Dimension Films, 2009).


Hostel, dir. Eli Roth, feat.  Jay Hernandez, Derek Richardson (Lions Gate Films, 2005).


L'arrivée d'un train à La Ciotat, dir. Lumiere brothers (Kino Video, 1896).


Le Manoir du Diable, dir. Georges Melies, feat. Jeanne d'Alcy (1896).


Meshes of the Afternoon, dir. Maya Deren, feat. Maya Deren, Alexander Hammid (Mystic Fire Video, 1943).


Mulholland Drive, dir. David Lynch, feat. Naomi Watts, Laura Harring (Universal Pictures, 2001).


Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, dir. F. W. Murnau, feat.   Max Schreck, Greta Schröder (Film Arts Guild, 1922).


Railroad Smash-up, dir. Thomas Edison (1904).


Saw, dir. James Wan, feat.  Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell (Lions Gate Films, 2004).

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, dir. Robert Wiene, feat. Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt (Decla-Bioscop, 1920).


The Cell, dir. Tarsem Singh, feat. Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn (New Line Cinema, 2000).


The Exorcist, dir. William Friedkin, feat.  Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow (Warner Bros., 1973).


The Eye, dir. Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang, feat.  Angelica Lee, Chutcha Rujinanon (Metro Tartan Distribution Ltd., 2002).


Triangle, dir. Christopher Smith, feat. Melissa George, Joshua McIvor (Icon Entertainment, 2009).


Un Chien Andalou, dir. Luis Buñuel, feat. Pierre Batcheff, Simone Mareuil (Les Grands Films Classiques, 1929).