Our world of zombies: Jim Shaw and Evan Calder Williams

I’ve been reading Evan Calder Williams’ book Combined and Uneven Apocalypse: Luciferian Marxism in which he relates capitalism’s most recent fall to the allegorical representation of the post-apocalypse in horror and science-fiction film. Williams proposes we search for new horizons in the face of the end of the world; one where the emergence of new possibilities faces off with humanity’s seemingly repetitive nature. Naturally, the zombie film encompasses a good portion of Williams’ exploration. And when considering his evaluation of the genre’s relationship to a capitalist society, I cannot help but think of The Hole (2007) by Los Angeles artist Jim Shaw.

Shaw’s first fictional feature, The Hole “…appears as an O-ist horror movie. In it, a new female convert to the religion, peering through a hole in her apartment wall, discovers a parallel world where zombies stroll in an ill-defined “somewhere”, beyond which space becomes abstracted.” Here, the space between the living “normal” world and the endless repetition of the continuous living in “zombie” world collapse, meeting through a hole in a wall in a domestic space. The zombies, all men, are dressed in suits aimlessly wandering, slightly bumping into each other. A close up into the zombie nerve center reveals the “brain” is a fuzzy television-like portal (Dani Tull’s soundrack is incredible), providing us an abstracted account of what goes on in the mind of the mindless. The film suggests a parallel world of zombies to our own, prompting the question of how do we look, evaluate, adapt, and change our own end of the world that’s so near by?

To consider this further, provided below is an excerpt of The Hole combined with excerpts from Williams’ book. 


Combine and Uneven Apocalypse: Luciferian Marxism:

This is particularly of what the figure of the zombie does and its position in the mass culture of capitalism. It thinks how real abstractions work on real bodies, of the nastiest intersections of the law of value and the law of inevitable decay. (page 80)

In this way, zombie films are not about the living dead, at least not in any direct way. They are about the undying living. They are about surplus-life, the new logic of excessive existence: something has given us all too-much-life, an inability to properly die in a system that no longer knows how or when to quit. (page 92)

Following and moving out from Lacan, we could say that anxiety is never about the radically new but rather about the horrible possibility of the same persisting…Anxiety emerges with the creeping realization that there may be no lack, no space in which to move, leaving us crushed by the awful possible certainty of knowing how things are and knowing that they will remain that way. (page 101)

The anxiety proper to zombie films is the deep horror of something not being different, of everyone remaining as limited a category as we know it to be, of the same persisting, of the end of death and lack…People are not consumers because they are scared of change. They are scared of change because they are consumers. (page 103)

It’s about labor. It’s never been about consumerism gone bad, but the lost heritage of the zombie film, the horror from more Haitian origins: of being forced to work, of knowing that “choosing” to sell one’s labor has never been a choice, just a particularly nasty illusion of free will. (page 105)

…the innovation – and perhaps the underlying horror – is not just “how horrible to be killed and brought back to life as a slave” but: what if our past is never forgotten? Not remembered by historians or marked into the very landscape and bodies of the colonies, but smuggled back in, dark knowledge too powerful to be lost and too tempting for capitalism to ignore (page 111) 

Image: The Hole zombie stills (2007)

Let’s Talk Turkey: Bad Taste and Blood Freak

Had a blast writing this piece on Blood Freak (1972) for Network Awesome’s Thanksgiving weekend program…

To me, bad taste is what entertainment is all about…but one must remember that there is such a thing as good bad taste and bad bad taste…To understand bad taste one must have very good taste. Good bad taste can be creatively nauseating but must, at the same time, appeal to the especially twisted sense of humor, which is anything but universal. – John Waters, Shock Value

Based on John Waters’ definition of “good” versus “bad” bad taste, it would be fair to say that the 1972 ludicrous quasi-morality tale on consumption (drugs, the bible, turkey, women) Blood Freak (Brad F. Grinter and Steve Hawks) falls into the latter category of bad, really bad, taste. Not that it’s exceptionally gory or gratuitous or offensive but just that it is horribly produced, horrendously acted, and has appalling dialogue. Yet still (!), Blood Freak is damn entertaining. Most likely this is because it fulfills a nostalgic desire to watch one of the worst movies ever made and to gleefully relish in its kitsch factor. Or perhaps the classic tale of a muscle-man-turned-drug-addicted-killer-turkey-man is a story for the ages.

To be completely honest, Blood Freak is a nearly indescribable film that truly must be watched to believe. But before you do, here’s a little breakdown…READ THE REST OF IT ON NETWORK AWESOME

Vincentennial celebration: Vincent Price’s art insights (3)

Written over fifty years ago, the latest selected quotes from Vincent Price’s I Like What I Know still profoundly resonate with today:

The other misunderstanding [about art] is that it is beyond their means. Yet the people of the United States live beyond their means, gladly and disastrously. They have let themselves be sold the biggest bill of goods in history by a Frankenstein – industrial advertising – of their own making. We all are perfectly content to make down payments on any luxury we’re told we can’t live without, but we can’t quite bring ourselves to chance investing in ourselves through education, art, or any of those splendors we lyrically call “the best things in life”…

Many people are blinded by fear of seeing something different, or of seeing anything differently, or by the inability to differentiate between what they know how to see and what they could see if they knew how.

Read previous quotes/posts herehere, and here.

Vincentennial celebration: Vincent Price’s art insights (2)

Vincent Price on art from his book I Like What I Know:

It is so easy today, with every medium of communication serving us feasts for the eyes, to see the world as the best of all possible worlds; to see mankind in its true light as the creator of so much beauty, to surround ourselves with the knowledge of art, man’s highest expression of gratitude for the gift of life.

Art is, or can be, an everyday experience, and if you make it such, every day will have a beginning and an end that means continuance, furtherance, and futurity. (p. 175)

Read previous quotes/posts here and here.

Image from the television show ‘What in the World’ where Vincent Price was on a panel to determine the where/what/when of objects. Watch the episode here.

Vincent Price on Art

I’m currently reading Vincent Price’s I Like What I Know, a Visual Autobiography (1969) and the horror legend has some incredibly quotable thoughts on art. Price, an avid art enthusiast, has been both a dealer and a collector. In this book he charmingly details his passion for art and it’s truly contagious:

“…it came to me that I was not going to be blessed with creative genius, and it may also have been at this moment that I made up my mind that, as long as this was true, I had darn well better compensate for it by becoming the most receptive human being I could become. I knew for sure that I liked art, and I’d better know everything I could about what I liked. I became an audience, then and there, for the drama of the eye. And once you accept that fact, it is almost impossible to be bored with life. You have a built-in recipe for the cure of that most dread disease: boredom…the living death. All you have to do is open your eyes.” (Page 65)

Film influences: David Noonan

In Frieze’s October 2006 Life in Film London-based artist David Noonan discusses, amongst others, two influential horror films: Susperia and Toby Dammit (which is certainly one of the most surreal and insane Poe adaptations in cinema). Noonan’s screenprints are filmic in themselves. A collage of images from movies, books, and magazines, they are haunting impressions of a scene that vibrate with a sense of performative movement. See his most recent exhibition at David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles.

In Suspiria (1977), directed by Dario Argento, an American ballerina enrols in an exclusive ballet school in Germany and becomes embroiled in a witches’ coven bent on chaos and destruction. The art direction is astonishing and overshadows the acting; the film is saturated in a very unnatural palette, which heightens its sense of unreality, right down to the wallpaper designs by Escher. The baroque, flamboyant soundtrack is by the Italian Prog Rock band Goblin and is a masterpiece in itself. The murders are theatrical and balletic; the film is like a violent opera.

Federico Fellinis’ short film Toby Dammit (1968) is part of the trilogy, ‘Histoires Extraordinaire’, also known as ‘Spirits of the Dead’ after a short story by Edgar Allen Poe. The film is complete with Fellini’s trademark references, from circuses to paparazzi, stardom, kitsch and glamour. The film stars Terrence Stamp at his finest: an alcoholic, self destructive thespian lured to Rome to appear in a television show by the promise of a Ferrari – in other words a Faustian pact. Fellini conjures an extraordinary, creepy atmosphere, and Stamp’s crazed, decadent performance makes it all the more powerful.

Image: Leicester Square, 2005, Archival inkjet on paper from paper collage (not one of the more filmic works but one of my favorites)

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky’s review of Survival of the Dead

Ignatiy Vishnevetsky’s review of George Romero’s Survival of the Dead. The first paragraph is beautiful:

Romero’s horror set-ups are never about the terrifying situation and always about the trouble the characters get into by trying to solve it or escape it; if Carpenter’s horror is based on inevitability / powerlessness in the face of true horror (meaning: the value of horror in defining human limitations), Romero’s is based on how easily complications could have been averted by someone with a different personality or with fewer prejudices (meaning: the value of horror in defining human shortcomings). Therefore, it is impossible to separate Romero’s situations from his characters (see also: Season of the WitchKnightriders), and so it wouldn’t really be right to call Survival of the Dead a movie about an island full of zombies; it is, in Romero tradition, a movie about a group of hard-headed individuals and how this island of zombies they come upon is organized, ruled and dealt with.

Bava on interiors

“I’m especially interested in movies stories that focus on one person: if I could, I would only tell these stories. What interests me is the fear experienced by a person alone in their room. It is then that everything around him starts to move menacingly around, and we realise that the only true ‘monsters’ are the ones we carry in ourselves. Alas, the marketplace demands terrible papier-mâché creatures, or the vampire with his sharp fangs, rising from his casket!”

Horror’s Collective Memory: Gregory Waller ‘Introduction to American Horrors’

“Taking the horror film as our guide we can and should begin to rethink the nature of ‘influence’ and ‘imitation’ and the meaning of ‘genre’ and ‘formula’ in contemporary popular culture – in so doing we inevitably rethink our own understanding of horror as well”

Gregory A. Waller, ‘Introduction’ from American Horrors (1987, University of Illinois Press) reproduced in The Horror Reader.