"Fear Confronted Through the Monster of Jack Torrence"

An essay focusing on the fears and taboos addressed in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining



"Psychopaths and the Fear of Our Own Hidden Desires"


We fear insanity. Insanity makes people turn on themselves and others. In insanity social rules are ignored. Like children, madmen just do not seem to understand the rules. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, psychopathy is a "mental disease or disorder; `mental disorder considered apart from cerebral disease' (Billings). In mod. use, personality disorder that lacks a physiological basis, characterized by markedly impulsive, egocentric, irresponsible, and antisocial behaviour, and an inability to form normal relationships with others, sometimes accompanied by aggressiveness or charm and manifested at all levels of intelligence; the state of such a disorder." These words, "impulsive, egocentric, irresponsible" can all apply to the behavior of a child. Some psychologists argue that these childish behaviors, doing whatever they want when they want, worrying about food, etcetera, are repressed desires that we still possess as adults. For this reason we fear psychopaths: they show us the feelings that we have been taught to condemn.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson After ingesting his potion, Dr. Jekyll separates into the two personalities of Jekyll and Hyde. Jekyll is honest, respectable, inherently good and Mr. Hyde is younger, deformed, and atrocious. Mr. Hyde, who is younger than Jekyll, indulges in irresponsible and indecent pleasures, the most serious of which is murder. Hyde is an example of unbridled wants. While Hyde confronts sexual taboos with his loose relations with women and he disobeys the social rules of condemning violence. Consequentially Jekyll battles his alter-ego and so becomes the standard for a theme that reoccurs in horror films today: the insane and complex personality of people can lead to destruction of the self and others.


Psycho directed by Alred Hitchcock Norman Bates is also a legendary human monster and most probably the forerunner to the psychotic killers of slasher films (Williams 96). Norman Bates displays sexual and social taboos and fears. The film suggests the taboo of keeping things hidden before introducing Bates' ultimate hidden secret: Marion's co-worker hid tranquilizers, another character (Cassidy) hides money to avoid taxes and yet another possesses a covert bottle of whiskey in his desk (Spoto 323). Marion of course, hides her lies and theft, but the most unacceptable cover is that of Norman Bate's murder and dual personality. It is not socially acceptable to keep certain things hidden, especially when they are socially unacceptable acts that are covered.

Norman Bates' dual personality comes from a dysfunctional family--most specifically a dysfunctional relationship with his mother. He was a "momma's boy" and so his overbearing mother dominated him and kept Norman sheltered, stunting his maturity and leaving him forever like a child, especially in regards to his sexual behavior (Jancovich 223-4). He is unable to speak to the beautiful Marion without stuttering. He then voyeuristically watches her undress because he knows that he finds her attractive but cannot socially or sexually express himself to her. His immaturity includes the childish guilt of his sexual feelings because he knows his mother would not approve. In fact Norman Bates' personality is half Norman Bates and half his mother (Clover 194). He is a Jekyll/Hyde. His mother personality wants to kill Marion because the Norman side of him is aroused by Marion (Clover 194). Thus Norman's alter ego emmerges as we see his cross-dressed silouette, yet another taboo, kill Marion. Norman quickly returns to his male personality and is shocked by the horror that his Mr. Hyde has committed.

Bates is the image of our fears of family breakdown, sexual deviance, and murder. His insanity was new to American horror films because it drew the monstrous into the American family, the primary institution of life in America. Previously horror films had monsters that were supernatural and/or came from outerspace or some unspecified exotic location, but Psycho was the first to touch upon such untouchable taboos and fears.

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Slasher films

Before the 1960's, psychotic and mass killers were virtually nonexistant. This appearance of such horrific monsters is reflective of the surge of mass and serial murders in the 1950s and 1960s (Holmes and DeBurger 16-7). Some psychotic monsters of slasher films kill multitudes of people randomly while others are classified as serial killers because they have a method to selecting victims. Most commonly in slasher films several people are brutally murdered as the audience views the gorey images of death. These films primarily face taboos and fears of the family,sex, and violence and concurrently reflect the human fears of our deeply repressed childhood desires.

Like Norman Bates, these monsters question the safety and security of the family. In Texas Chainsaw Massacre for example, the killers come from a dysfunctional family that is from "the wrong side of the tracks." The Shining also highlights a dysfunctional family whose alcholic father keeps an offensive distance from his wife and son. The fear of family dysfunction brings up fears people have of being betrayed by those they most trust.

Several slasher films also display sexual deviance. Sado-masochism and cross-dressing are addressed in Silence of the Lambs, and violence and sex are associated as Freddy Krueger of A Nightmare on Elm Street attempts to seduce some of his victims. In Texas Chainsaw Massacre II, Leatherface orgasms by touching a woman's thigh with a knife. The mix of violence and sex is extremely taboo as it provokes fears of deceit, hate, and vulnerability within intimacy.

The slasher films, most notable of which are the Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th series, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Scream series,and also Silence of the Lambs and The Shining bring up other various taboos and fears. Most of them bring up the fear of chance as the murders are random. Insanity is a most obvious in all psychotic killers, but Michael in particular, who escaped from an insane asylum, expresses society's taboo for psychiatric illnesses. Many of the murderers live alone and thus they destroy the taboo of living in solitute away from social contact.


The psychotic monsters' actions can be compared to that of infants. Infants possess feelings of selfishness, rage, and vulgarity that disappear as they are taught that these feelings are unacceptable. According to film scholar Carol J. Clover, as infants we wish to destroy people that anger us and the basis of our desires are primal (food, sleep, exceretion). The psycho-killer is stuck in this stage and so he kills without remorse and often indulges in deviant sexual acts that Freud would argue we also repress. These psychotic killers, perhaps according to Freud, play out our subconscious desires that are too vulgar, violent, and vicious for our consciouses. Because we can relate to the psychotic killer and concurrently abhor it, the psychotic killer terrifies some of our deepest fears and the social rules that comprise our identities. The psychotic killers insanity encompasses childish behavior that we all once possessed and for this reason we fear that, as Norman Bates said, "We all go a little mad sometimes, haven't you?"

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