Notes on a Final Girl

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Below is a text I wrote for Nitehawk on women in horror film in conjunction with the film program, Final Girl…

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality.” ― Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

Nitehawk’s Final Girl program celebrates fifty years of women in horror film by highlighting the iconic Final Girl. From Georges Franju’s depiction of beauty obsession in Eyes Without a Face (1960) to Adam Wingard’s role-reversing You’re Next (2011), this series focuses on the depiction of the woman’s role within the fictional realm of horror cinema and its association with the reality of daily life. The series eschews the popular bimbo slasher film stereotype by highlighting iconic female characters who experience a revelatory journey from victim to hero. Her on-screen transformation is hardly ever pretty, brutal by sheer necessity, but it realizes an important power shift: the stereotypical male gaze turns into her gaze and then to ours. Embodying Shirley Jackson’s description of Hill House, the Final Girl’s insane break from an “absolute reality” means that it is up to her, our heroine, to restore order when the familiar world becomes an overwhelming space.

When horror films are in top form they provide an incredible cultural analysis. Historically they’ve dealt with socio-political issues, from racism to capitalism, but gender norms have always been a constant. By addressing the patriarchal culture we live in, horror tells us what the possibilities for change are and, in its own visceral way, adjusts the imbalance. This marriage of women and horror actually traces back to 18th century Gothic novels like The Castle of Otranto and the genre has carried on the tradition all the way up to the self-reflexive postmodern heyday of the 1970s-90s. Because horror has the uncanny ability to simultaneously embrace and explode stereotypes when tackling women’s roles, it reveals a victim-to-survivor figure by depicting the “weaker” sex in a position of power with far superior survival skills and intelligence. This is particularly true when they show the struggle and sublimation of women in/out of domesticity via the haunted or evil house; it’s one constant that pops up in horror films and is the commonality amongst all of the films in our Final Girl series.

The concept of the ‘Final Girl’ put forth by scholar Carol Clover in her book Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film applies directly to Shirley Jackson’s above description of the inherently evil atmosphere that permeates her novel The Haunting of Hill House written more than thirty years earlier. The extreme pressure of coping with an unreal horror that becomes the Final Girl’s reality is a commonality shared amongst many, if not most, cinematic horror heroines and it is an essential part of actually being a true Final Girl. This woman, according to Clover, is the person with whom the audience (regardless of gender) identifies with most because we share in her experience and desire for survival in the very strange land she’s found herself in. And ever since she emerged from the Italian giallo and subsequent American slasher movies of the 1970s and 80s, this Final Girl has become a reliable fixture within horror narratives. That is, of course, until post-post modern horror film tackled our comfortable associations with her head on. Regardless, whether she’s the lone survivor amongst her dead companions or the sacrificial lamb to the monster, the historic representation of women in horror is culturally significant. The two appear to be inextricably bound together.

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The House is Bad

I haven’t updated this blog in forever but that will soon change. And what better way to start than by sharing with you all the new issue of OneplusOne Journal, Occult, Magick, Evil and the Powers of Horror. Vol II, that includes my essay The House is Bad. I wrote this essay ages ago and it explores houses in the films The HauntingHouse of Usher, and Burnt Offerings that aren’t haunted but are, instead, evil by birth. Touching upon subjects I’m very interested in (space, place, and horror), I’m thrilled to have the first concretized bit of writing from me on the subject is finally published. 

An excerpt is included below but I encourage you to read read the entire issue (downloadable here) because it includes an interview with Graham Harman on H.P. Lovecraft and the horror of politeness in Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, amongst other stellar reads. Good stuff.

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Cinema was born with a house that was bad. In the late 19th century, George Méliès not only laid the foundation for moviemaking but he also established the association of horror and the home with his fantastical short, The Devil’s Castle (1896). Over one hundred years later, the idea of the “old dark house” remains unshakable; the recent phenomenal critical and commercial success of James Wan’s The Conjuring (2013) is but one example of audiences desiring classic ghostly interventions within the familial space. But while the ubiquity of the house as a site from which spirits, psychotic murderers, and demonic forces come forth is genre commonplace, there are a select few films that expound upon the house itself as being evil.

So, what is an evil house? The evil house is considered here as Deleuzian/Bergsonian durational space, one that exists in a temporal status where there is a collapse of pasts and presents, interior and exterior, memories and events. The beginnings for a bad house lay in its construction; the time in which all of the above became embedded into its foundation or, as Roderick Usher says, the house contains, “every evil rooted within its stones.” In the bad house, the horror is unseen. It is not a portal for ghosts nor is it the manifestation of awful historical events. It is a vibrant living being born and transformed from wicked environments that systematically lure, destroy, and, occasionally, protect its inhabitants. Read the rest…

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I’m pretty excited about this. I’ve been asked to put together a film program in conjunction with Mike Nelson’s exhibition Amnesiac Hide at Toronto’s Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery. It’ll take place on April 2nd and I’ll be there for a chat about film, the apocalypse, and architecture. Description is below…

Keep Moving: Objects and Architecture in the Apocalypse

Inspired by Mike Nelson’s concurrent exhibition at the Power Plant, Keep Moving: Objects and Architecture in the Apocalypse is a film program of works that use objects and architectural environments as tools to give voice and visibility to the unimaginable. Keep Moving is sculptural cinema featuring Richard Lester’s 1969 surrealist post-apocalyptic farce The Bed Sitting Room preceded with artist films by Aïda Ruilova, Aldo Tambellini, and Elizabeth Price. The program provides a reflection of how objects and space define the void-like world that is in relation to the end of all things. Similar to the “semblance of atmospheres” generated in Mike Nelson’s immersive installations, these films are a pivotal way to address the past, access the present and consider a possible future world.

(Full essay coming soon)

The Trumpets of the Apocalypse – Luis Bunuel

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“The trumpets of the apocalypse have been sounding at our gates for years now, but we still stop up our ears. We do, however, have four new horsemen: overpopulation (the leader, the one waiving the flag), science, technology, and the media. All the other evils in the world are merely consequences of these. I’m not afraid to put the press in the front rank, either. The last screenplays I worked on, for a film I’ll never make, deal with a triple threat: science, terrorism, and the free press. The last, which is usually seen as a victory, a blessing, a ‘right,’ is perhaps the most pernicious of all, because it feeds on what the three other horsemen leave behind.’ – Luis Bunuel from My Last Sigh (page 251-252)

Horror Vacui – Installation

about_image_2Horror vacui: fear of an empty space

Horror vacui is a project for the 2013 Lisbon Architecture Triennale Close, Closer that fills the dreaded emptiness, the void, via a participatory architectural exchange. 

The term horror vacui describes a Moorish visual practice adopted by Portuguese builders in the 15th century, which involved covering building facades with azulejos, blue and white tiles commemorating scenes from historic events, in order to overcome the unbearable emptiness of the wall. Today’s architects are faced with a different kind of void that takes the form of a widening abyss between designers, fabricators, and users, all searching for common ground. 

Curators: Jaffer Kolb, Ang Li, Phoebe Springstubb

Gallery Goings: from Pettibon to Collins

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Brief recap of gallery exhibitions from October 2, 2013.

Aldo Tambellini We Are the Primitives of a New Era at James Cohan Gallery
Blows everything away. Read review here.

Raymond Pettibon To Wit at David Zwirner
Pettibon’s ongoing original narrative on America culture with his interest in language, humor, film noir, baseball, and surfing now includes personal expositions on his family (wife, son, dog). 

David Noonan at Foxy Productions
Theatrical in content, David Noonan’s de-sconstructed works usually hold a mythologized quality to them that’s sooky and enchanted. The interest in his new works that appropriate images of Butoh (Japanese experimental theater) lies less in the abstracted imagery and more in the politicized content the group embodies. 

Michael Raedecker at Andrea Rosen Gallery
While it may be tempting to discuss this work solely in terms of its formal qualities, it seems far more interesting to discuss the embodiment of suburbian norms through seriality and literal inversion in a nearly post-apocalyptic landscape.

Damian Ortega at Gladstone Gallery
Twenty-five suspended steel objects, each lit by overhead lights, cast shadows of the alphabet. Considered this a spatial call for a new language. STUNNING. (see image)

Phil Collins at Tanya Bodakar Gallery
Installations where the viewer must participate in order to fully comprehend the work aren’t really where my interests lie but Collin’s video The Meaning of Style is a mesmerizing commentary on the appropriation of subcultures (in this case, UK Skinhead culture). 

Josh Azzarella at Moving Image Art Fair London 2013

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Josh Azzarella is screening his Untitled #160 (Balcome) at the Moving Image Art Fair 2013 London edition this month. Read what I recently wrote about the piece below and, if you’re in London, be sure to not miss it. 

…Appropriately, this exhibition coincides with the presentation of a new video work by Josh Azzarella, Untitled #160 (Balcombe), in which he has reconstructed F.W. Murnau’s seminal silent film Nosferatu (1922) by eliminating all (un)human figures. Architecture looms more prominently than before, doors mysteriously function on their own, the gloomy atmosphere spreads more ominously, blank spaces replace title cards. Here, through this mining of culture and our collective reference to it, Azzarella establishes a precise example of what a rendering of a “world without us” or an empty distance can look like. Our relation to the memory of what was there (Meena and Jonathan Harker, Renfield, the Vampire) is entirely dependent upon a successful reading of the new and very different environment. It’s a reconfiguration of a continuously self-reflexive undying narrative of the vampire, specifically the transformative character of Dracula, repeated and recycled and transformed in its literary and cinematic forms. Untitled #160 (Balcombe) constructs a new language of absence through its ghostly presence. Through that we are able to position ourselves in a very strange, yet familiar, landscape; one that does not include us.

Untitled #160 (Balcombe) – Preview from Josh Azzarella on Vimeo.