The canon of popular cinema has long been rife with fantastic tales, yet critical studies have too often expediently mixed the fantasy genre with its kindred science fiction and horror films or dismissed it altogether as escapist fare. Framing Monsters: Fantasy Film and Social Alienation reconsiders the cultural significance of this storytelling mode by investigating how films seemingly divorced from reality and presented in a context of timelessness are, in fact, encoded with the social practices and beliefs of their era of production.
Situating representative fantasy films within their cultural moments, Joshua David Bellin illustrates how fantastic visions of monstrous others seek to propagate negative stereotypes of despised groups and support invidious hierarchies of social control. In constructing such an argument, Framing Monsters not only contests dismissive attitudes toward fantasy but also challenges the psychoanalytic criticism that has thus far dominated its limited critical study.
Beginning with celebrated classics, Bellin locates King Kong (1933) within the era of lynching to evince how the film protects whiteness against supposed aggressions of a black predator and reviews The Wizard of Oz (1939) as a product of the Depression’s economic anxieties. From there, the study moves to the cult classic animated Sinbad Trilogy (1958–1977) of Ray Harryhausen, films rampant with xenophobic fears of the Middle East as relevant today as when the series was originally produced.
Advancing to more recent subjects, Bellin focuses on the image of the monstrous woman and the threat of reproductive freedom found in Aliens (1986), Jurassic Park (1993), and Species (1995) and on depictions of the mentally ill as dangerous deviants in 12 Monkeys (1996) and The Cell (2000). An investigation into physical freakishness guides his approach to Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Beauty and the Beast (1991). He concludes with a discussion of X-Men (2000) and Lord of the Rings (2001–2003), commercial giants that extend a recent trend toward critical self-reflection within the genre while still participating in the continuity of social alienation.
Written to enhance rather than undermine our understanding of fantastic cinema, Framing Monsters invites filmmakers, critics, and fans alike to reassess this tremendously popular and influential film type and the monsters that populate it.