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The psychoanalytic trap in Dario Argento’s L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo/The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970)

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In horror cinema, psychoanalysis remains the dominant methodology for interpreting the relationship between gender and genre, both in terms of characters within the diegesis and the extradiegetic cinematic spectator. This Oedipalization of horror cinema relies on the disturbing sight/site of female sexuality, the embodiment of male fears of dispossession and castration. However, as Donato Totaro points out, such psychoanalytical models of horror cinema rely mainly on analyses of the American cinematic tradition, rooted in a puritanical tradition; as such, they fail to account for the more liberal ‘gender-political range’ of European horror cinema. Totaro points out that,

in the European horror film there are many instances where (a) the victims are exclusively or mainly male, and (b) the male victim/hero is sexually attracted to the female killer, not repulsed, as with the monstrous-feminine, and hence there can be no disavowal of her femininity.


In this article, I use Dario Argento’s directorial debut, L’Uccello dalle piume di cristallo/The Bird With the Crystal Plumage (1970), as a demonstrative paradigm of Totaro’s argument concerning the limitations of psychoanalytical models in relation to international horror cinema, where the killer is as likely to be female as male and female sexuality is not predetermined as monstrous, but rather provides a place of renegotiation of gendered norms. Specifically, I utilize Deleuze’s taxonomy of the time-image in order to explore the multiple ways in which The Bird With the Crystal problematizes not only the process of detection, but also the very possibility of detection, a process that calls into question the applicability of psychoanalysis to specific forms of horror cinema, represented here in the form of the Italian giallo.

Keywords: Deleuze; Guattari; Italian cinema; The Bird With the Crystal Plumage; the giallo; the time-image

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Kingston University

Publication date: September 26, 2012

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  • Horror Studies intends to serve the international academic community in the humanities and specifically those scholars interested in horror. Exclusively examining horror, this journal will provide interested professionals with an opportunity to read outstanding scholarship from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, including work conceived as interdisciplinary. By expanding the conversation to include specialists concerned with diverse historical periods, varied geography, and a wide variety of expressive media, this journal will inform and stimulate anyone interested in a wider and deeper understanding of horror
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