Chapter 5. Pragmatic deviance in realist horror films

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In horror films the link between words and images is the key to the relationship between the “represented” and “interactive” participants, as the film characters and viewers respectively (Kress and van Leeuwen 1996). This paper claims that, like crime novels (Gregoriou 2007), horror films are characterised by a communicative “deviance” expressed by the deliberate disregard of the cooperative maxims, resulting in an interaction that lacks in relevance (Sperber and Wilson 1995) both on the verbal and visual planes. The discourse of four films by Italian director Argento, all exhibiting a similar pattern of narrative development, is analysed. The killer’s speech in David Fincher’s Seven is also discussed to suggest that it is possible to extend the analysis to other national cinemas. In the opening of the films discussed the verbal message is insufficiently informative, hence pragmatically deviant, as the killer engages in a series of uncooperative and impolite moves (Culpeper 1996, 1998; Bousfield 2007a): s/he displays a disembodied voice, does not reply to interlocutors, does not let them talk, avoids answering questions and generally projects a disguised identity. On the visual level, similar techniques lead to a violation of the quantity maxim: the killer’s fuzzy profile, the camera allowing access to only parts of his/her body (as a synecdoche of the entire person) convey a deviant and unsatisfactory message to participants. In the moment of the crime resolution, towards the end of the films, the pragmatic violation persists in the killer’s excessively informative explanation of the motives behind his/her actions. Throughout the films, the information is purposefully “concealed”, “disguised” (so that participants are encouraged to draw wrong conclusions ) or, conversely, openly “disclosed” (Bubel 2008) to represented and interactive participants in different ways through the process of “frame refreshing” (Gregoriou 2007) as the revisitation of details and actions associated with the killer.


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