The three cinematic categories are… ranked by degree of sublimation. On the civilized side of the continuum lie the legitimate genres; at the other end, hard on the unconscious, lie the sensation of “body” genres, horror and pornography, in that order. For De Palma, the violence of horror reduces to and enacts archaic sexual feelings. Beneath [the protagonist of Body Double] Jake’s emotional paralysis (which emerges in the “high” genre) lies a death anxiety (which is exposed in the burying-alive of horror), and beneath that anxiety lies a primitive sexual response (which emerges, and is resolved, in pornography). The layers of Jake’s experience accord strikingly, and perhaps not coincidentally, with Freud’s archaeology of “uncanny” feelings. “To some people,” Freud wrote, “the idea of being buried alive by mistake is the most uncanny thing of all. And yet psycho-analysis has taught us that this terrifying phantasy is only a transformation of another phantasy which originally had nothing terrifying about it at all, but was qualified by a certain lasciviousness—the phantasy, I mean, of intra-uterine existence [der Phantasie vom Leben im Mutterleib.]” Pornography thus engages directly (in pleasurable terms) what horror explores at one remove (in painful terms) and legitimate film at two or more. Beneath the “legitimate” plot of The Graduate (in which Ben must give up his relationship with a friend’s mother in order to marry and take his proper social place) lies the plot of Psycho (in which Norma’s unnatural attachment to his own mother drives him to murder women to whom he is attracted); and beneath that plot lies the plot of the porn film Taboo, in which the son simply has sex with his mother (“Mom, am I better than Dad?”). Pornography, in short, has to do with sex (the act) and horror with gender.
Carol J. Clover, Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film
Well, this is simply one of my favorite books, but this passage is one I keep returning to in my mind over and over again. It helps if you know the plot of Body Double, where an actor fails to get cast in a Shakespeare play and is then forced to act in horror films. But his own fears of being buried alive prevent him from finishing the filming of that horror movie, and he eventually gets a part in a pornographic film (partly as a way to pursue a woman that he thought was murdered).
Anyways, this notion of drama, horror, and pornography all being basically about the same things (but simply getting at them in very different ways, according to varying degrees of sublimation) is really fascinating. If anyone else has any suggestions for similar, theoretical literature on pornography, please feel free to make suggestions.