Commentary Track

Child’s Play (1988)

This week on The Spectator Film Podcast…

Child’s Play (1988) 6.28.19
Featuring: Austin, Maxx

Commentary track begins at 9:21

— Notes —

  • Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film by Carol J. Clover — This is a seminal book in academic criticism on the horror genre. Highly recommended, and we discuss it in our conversation on Child’s Play.  What follows is an excerpt discussing “White Science” and “Black Magic” from the second chapter, “Opening Up’:
    • “The world at the opening of the standard occult film is a world governed by White Science—a world in which doctors fix patients, sheriffs catch outlaws, mechanics repair cars, and so on. The intrusion of the supernatural turns that routine world on its head: patients develop inexplicable symptoms, outlaws evaporate, cars are either unfixable or repair and run themselves. Experts are called in, but even the most sophisticated forms of White Science cannot account for the mysterious happenings, which in turn escalate to the point at which the whole community (school, summer camp, family) borders on extinction. Enter Black Magic. Some marginal person (usually a woman, but perhaps a male priest or equivalent) invokes ancient precedent (which in a remarkable number of cases entails bringing forth and reading from an old tome on witchcraft, voodoo, incubi, satanic possession, vampirism, whatever). Her explanation offers a more complete account of the mysterious happenings than the White Science explanation. The members of the community take sides. At first White Science holds the day, but as the terror increases, more and more people begin to entertain and finally embrace the Black Magic solution. Doctors admit that the semen specimens or the fetal heartbeats are not human; sheriffs realize that the “outlaw” has been around for four hundred years; mechanics acknowledge that the car is something more than a machine. Only when rational men have accepted the reality of the irrational—that which is unobservable, unquantifiable, and inexplicable by normal logic—can the supernatural menace be reined in and the community returned to a new state of calm. That state of calm is not, however, the same as the opening state of calm, which is now designated as a state of ignorance. It is a new, enlightened state in which White Science, humbled in its failure, works not arrogantly against but respectfully with Black Magic. It is an ABC story, the C being a kind of religioscientific syncretism” (97-98).

  • The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to Literary Genre by Tzvetan Todorov — Here’s a link to Todorov’s book on the fantastic, where he establishes the term. It’s an incredibly useful and frequently used term by scholars, particularly when working in the realm of genre criticism. If you’re interested in learning more about the fantastic you can also check this post on Owlcation and then this excerpted PDF chapter on the fantastic.

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