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Posted by Gina Freitag
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An Intro to the Fantastic, Freak Shows, and Disability Studies

Some of our favourite entries in the horror genre feature astonishing characters whose abilities exist in the fantastic.

As you know, the depiction of ‘otherness’ plays a central role in horror, distinguishing between the degrees of ‘heroic’ and the ‘monstrous’, reinforced by distinct physical, intellectual, emotional, and psychological signifiers, and adding to that the magical and/or supernatural. These differing traits set them further apart from what is supposedly a normative community. But at the same time, they provide a sense of transformative power; what renders a figure ‘monstrous’ might actually be the very element that makes them uniquely compelling, strong, capable, and relatable in their own right. In fact, these stand-out abilities, disabilities, or super-abilities invariably have a way of returning at crucial life-saving moments and altering the very threads of narrative fabric.

“While disability studies seems to focus primarily upon negative portrayals in social realist films, much less remarked upon are films of the “fantastic” variety, and the potential that these neglected films may hold for positive critical readings and empowering depictions of disability.” — David Church, Onscreen

The beauty of horror is that it accomplishes all of this while also providing us a forum to critically engage with those depictions, to reflect on their composition, and what they represent in larger cultural, historical and socio-political contexts. In his upcoming Black Museum lecture, Angelo Muredda gives horror its due spotlight amidst the growing overlap of disability studies and film studies. Among the resources that Angelo recommends Black Museum-ites peruse is David Church’s article on Offscreen, “Fantastic Films, Fantastic Bodies: Speculations on the Fantastic and Disability Representation.”

Stay tuned for more of Angelo’s recommended reads to follow!


Join Angelo Muredda on Thursday, February 4th for his Black Museum lecture “Accursed Ugliness: Desire, Dread, and Physical Difference in Early Horror“, followed by a Q&A, and then stick around for the live group chat as we watch The Phantom of the Opera (1925, dir. Rupert Julian), available to stream for free on YouTube.

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