The Suspense Thriller

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The research into the growth of a huge genre of film.

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The Suspense Thriller:

The Suspense Thriller Research of a Genre

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In the past, the suspense thriller was associated with the work of Alfred Hitchcock who dared to test the boundaries of film with the exceptional 1960 film Psycho which re-wrote the rules of horror/thriller and influenced filmmakers all over the world. Other than this, the suspense thriller has gained very little attention. Charles Derry wrote books about this genre and tended to focus on films that were made in the 1940s but, he had some very interesting insights into this film genre. Derry notes that suspense thrillers focus either on victims of crime or on pursued and isolated criminals. Therefore, one of their main conventions is a lack of attention to official detectives or the police which was the basis of Derry’s definition. He said the following: ‘”The Suspense Thriller” , he writes, is ‘as a crime work which presents a generally murderous antagonism in which the protagonist becomes either an innocent victim or a nonprofessional criminal within a structure that is significantly unmediated by a traditional figure of detection.’

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Given that this is a broad – though precise – definition, a definition that encompasses films as diverse as North by Northwest (1959), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), Wait Until Dark (1967), and The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) Derry goes on to identify six major sub-types. One of which is ‘the thriller of murderous passions,’ which ‘is organised around the triangular grouping of husband/wife/lover. The central is usually the murder of one member of the triangle by one or both of the other members. The emphasis is clearly on the criminal protagonist… [and] … The criminal motive is usually passion or greed. (Charles Derry)

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Derry also addressed the issues of thrills and suspense. In discussing thrills, he draws on the work of psychoanalyst Michael Balint (1959), and in particular on Balint’s distinction between ‘ philobats ’ (lovers of thrills) and ‘ ocnophobes ’ (haters of thrills). He notes that thrillers tend to plunge ocnophobic protagonists into deadly – and thrilling – situations, situations in which familiar objects, spaces and activities are replaced by – or become – objects, spaces and activities which are unfamiliar and threatening. Notes taken from ‘The Cinema Book 2 nd edition [Edited by Pam Cook and Mieke Bernink ] – BFI Publishing – ISBN 0-85170-729-7 HBK

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