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The Ghost in the Image

Technology and Reality in the Horror Genre

Author Cecilia Sayad

Publication Date - 16 November 2021

ISBN: 9780190065775

168 pages
6 1/8 x 9 1/4 inches

In Stock


Our century has seen the proliferation of reality shows devoted to ghost hunts, documentaries on hauntings, and horror films presented as found footage. The horror genre is no longer exclusive to fiction and its narratives actively engage us in web forums, experiential viewing, videogames, and creepypasta. These participative modes of relating to the occult, alongside the impulse to seek proof of either its existence or fabrication, have transformed the production and consumption of horror stories.

The Ghost in the Image offers a new take on the place that supernatural phenomena occupy in everyday life, arguing that the relationship between the horror genre and reality is more intimate than we like to think. Through a revisionist and transmedial approach to horror this book investigates our expectations about the ability of photography and film to work as evidence. A historical examination of technology's role in at once showing and forging truths invites questions about our investment in its powers. Behind our obsession with documenting everyday life lies the hope that our cameras will reveal something extraordinary. The obsessive search for ghosts in the image, however, shows that the desire to find them is matched by the pleasure of calling a hoax.


  • Examines the role of new technologies in both documenting and fabricating "unseen" aspects of the physical world
  • Offers an original approach to supernatural horror and contributes to documentary theory
  • Includes discussions on horror in fiction and documentary films, reality TV, games, and creepypasta

About the Author(s)

Cecilia Sayad is Senior Lecturer in Film at the University of Kent. She is the author of Performing Authorship: Self-Inscription and Corporeality in the Cinema (2013) and co-editor (with Mattias Frey) of Film Criticism in the Digital Age (2015). Her articles have appeared in Screen, Film Quarterly, Cinema Journal and Framework, among others. Her "Found-Footage Horror and the Frame's Undoing" was the winner of the 2017 British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies award for Best Journal Article.


"The Ghost in the Image is a useful attempt to develop a theoretical framework with which to analyse horror's hydra like expansion beyond its fictional domain as it co-opts the factual in its desire to keep the customers coming back for more." -- Tom Ruffles, Fortean Times 430

"How does the horror genre bleed into documentary forms of seeing and knowing? The Ghost in the Image shows us how rich and complex this question becomes across a broad range of visual media in the digital era, and Cecilia Sayad proves an expert guide through the fascinating territory where nightmares and reality collide." -- Adam Lowenstein, University of Pittsburgh

"A powerful book that threads the tendrils of the natural and supernatural world into a persuasive argument on popular culture and paranormal phenomena." -- Annette Hill, Lund University, Sweden

Table of Contents


    Introduction: Of reality and images

    1. Seeking ghosts: Spirit photography, reality television, and the web
    2. Serial tellers: The factual recreations of the Amityville and Enfield hauntings
    3. Beyond the frame: Found-footage horror and the uncontainable
    4. Beyond the film: The reality of participation in experiential cinema and games
    Conclusion: Beyond horror: An Internet legend and the faking of reality


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