Toronto Metropolitan University
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“Demons to some. Angels to others”: BDSM and how Vanilla Sex Regulates Sexuality in Hellraiser and Strangeland

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posted on 2021-05-24, 12:25 authored by Alexandrea Fiorante
[Introduction] Setting the Mood Sex is typically seen as special, thrilling and transcendent — or, alternatively, as a menacing force with the power to upset social order and diminish us to beasts. In the horror genre, representations of sex are often expressed through the imagery of BDSM (Bondage, Domination, Sadomasochism), and are aligned with monsters, torture and scary settings. The reality of the BDSM subculture is disfigured by mainstream horror films, which demonize BDSM and use it as a portable method of garnering screams. Horror as a genre allows audiences to flirt with danger, while reinforcing boundaries between pathological non-normal sexuality and protected and privileged normal sexuality. BDSM has gained considerable scholarly attention in the last two decades within and beyond sociology, particularly in the areas of sexual deviance, identity disclosure and development, stigma management (Bezreh, Pitagora, Simula), and more recently, BDSM’s diffusion into the mainstream culture (Weiss, Scott). Further, research has examined how popular culture perpetuates misconceptions about BDSM, and frames practitioners as victims of trauma, abuse, and rape (Brock, Bezreh, Rubin). This pathologization of BDSM, in part, stems from the assumption that BDSM is a mental illness, a consequence of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’s (DSM) historical conflation of psychological disorder and sadomasochism. Additionally, Western horror cinema has had a pivotal influence on popular discourses about BDSM. Less scholarship, however, has examined the relationship between horror and BDSM. This paper contributes to the scholarship on BDSM portrayals in popular culture by examining BDSM representations in two Hollywood horror films: Strangeland (1998) and Hellraiser (1987).





  • Master of Arts


  • Literatures of Modernity

Granting Institution

Ryerson University

LAC Thesis Type

  • MRP