My latest essay for Network Awesome Magazine where I discuss the role of women in relation to historical witchcraft and domesticity in the 1960 Christopher Lee-starring “classic” Horror Hotel. Appropriately, the title is derived from the Iron Maiden song in which the video featured clips from the film.
Witchcraft is alive and thriving in the small town of Whitewood in which the atmospheric 1960 film Horror Hotel or City of the Dead (John Llewellyn Moxey) is set. From prosecuting women as witches to exploiting traditional gender roles prescribed to women in the early 1960s (sister, girlfriend, caretaker), Horror Hotel begins in the 17th century with the rather gruesome burning of condemned head-witch Elizabeth Selwyn. This opening scenic depiction of a witch and her relationship with the devil is strikingly similar to Mario Bava’s Mask of Satan/Black Sunday (1960), however this story is deeply rooted within the Puritanical history of the United States and, in particular, the terrifying witch trials that targeted young women in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692. Like Black Sunday but unlike the Salem witch trails, the witches in Horror Hotel are all too real and their devotion to Satan means trouble that spans the centuries.
Obsessed with researching the history of witchcraft in New England for her term paper, college student Nan Barlow (Venetia Stephenson) ventures off to Whitewood per the suggestion of her stoic professor Alan Driscoll (played by the scene-stealing Christopher Lee). Stubborn and strong willed, Nan dismiss the concerns of both her boyfriend and brother on the quest to discover something about Satanic worship that has never been known before. Combined with her somewhat condescending approach to the small town, this pretentious ambition to be a scholarly researcher is the core of her naiveté. Nan’s lack of common sense and the inability to gauge her surroundings ultimately leads her to a bloody sacrificial demise on the infamous Candlemas Eve.
Nan’s journey within Horror Hotel parallels, in some ways, that of Marion Crane (Janet Lee) in Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal thriller, Psycho, that was also released in the 1960. Both narratives exploit gender roles and feature a determined blonde who thinks she knows better than everyone else, striking out on her own, and who ultimately winds up paying for this bull-headedness with her life. Similarly, the audience main identification is with Nan for half of the film – her journey is our journey – as it is with Marion Crane. When each character is brutally killed (both young women are stabbed), the directors make it clear that anyone is fair game for the slaughter.
Had a blast writing this piece on Blood Freak (1972) forNetwork Awesome’sThanksgiving 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
Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II (1987) is a cinematic resurrection of the director’s earlier film Evil Dead(1981). It can be dangerous territory when an artist is given license to go back and adapt their own work but in re-appropriating his own film, Raimi, much more Georges Méliès than John Carpenter, reclaims an originality within the genre during a time of over-used horror movie conventions.
And that’s just the beginning! Click on the link above to read the whole thing including musings on architecture, Gaston Bachelard, and the video nasty.
Life is an obscure hobo bumming a ride on the omnibus of art – Maxwell H. Brock
My first essay forNetwork Awesome Magazine went up this week. It’s a re-do on a little ditty about Roger Corman’s A Bucket of Blood where I discuss sculpture, failure, the art world, murder, humor, and Deleuze. You know, the usual.
Two essays of mine have landed on the fabulous Network Awesome: The Burning (horror film and 1980s politics) and A Bucket of Blood (satirical horror and the art world). Check them out:
What Makes a Man Start Fires: 1980s American Culture and The Burning Through the lens of a campfire horror tale, Tony Maylam’s slasher classic The Burning (1981) begins with a prank gone wrong and ends with a series of revengeful murders. Gleaning from a culturally volatile period in America history, The Burning visually manifests displaced youth in the most gratuitous manner. It perpetuates, capitalizes, and exploits the fear that the unknown can happen to any one…read the rest and watch the film here.
Who Says the Art World Isn’t Scary?: Roger Corman’s Classic, A Bucket of Blood If there’s a better satirical film on the art world than A Bucket of Blood (1959) then I certainly haven’t seen it (note: John Waters’ Pecker comes close). This playful jab at the beatnik artist types of the 1950s easily translates into the ridiculousness of contemporary art. Reportedly made by “King of the B-movies” Roger Corman for a mere $50k, A Bucket of Blood is a thoughtful and provoking look at the beginning of modern art as cultural phenomenon. It has a lot in common with the 1953 version of House of Wax (André De Toth) in its representation of the frustrated and revengeful artist, however, it moves beyond the artist as “individual” to cleverly mimic — and mock — the capriciousness of the art world as a whole…read the rest and watch the movie here.
As summer winds down and I get ready to kick this blog back into high-gear for autumn, here are some art/horror/curating links from the past couple of months:
James Morgart’s Hostile Rebirth of Horror: The Morality of Eli Roth’s Hostel 1 and 2 on Horror News.net Many of us in the horror academia biz love to look at the classics (Night of the Living Dead, Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, etc.) and with good reason: these films changed the course of horror forever and are still relevant works. However, it’s important to realize that they were made over thirty years ago and the political/social/culture relevance we ascribe to them is in retrospect and not pointed to our moment of now. Some have argued that horror today (at least American horror) doesn’t cut the mustard and, hey, maybe they’re right. Still, it’s critically important that we (and by we I mean all of us fascinated with horror film) to put into context movies of the past decade. And Morgart did that with Roth’s Hostile films quite well. It’s a much needed and appreciated beginning.
Mario Bava Week on Network Awesome: Speaking of Mario Bava, Network Awesome did an, ahem, pretty damn awesome series on the influential director claiming it “Mario Bava Week”. I’m going to publicly declare that it should be a celebration of “Mario Bava 24/7/365” because where would horror be without him? There would be no American slashers or John Carpenter (wait, maybe that would be a good thing). Regardless, endless credit needs to be given to Bava in scholarly horror history and props to Network Awesome for stepping forward with insightful articles and free-style online screenings of his classics like Danger Diabolik and Rapid Dogs (his last film and a true gem).
Kim Newman and Mark Kermode in Conversation at the British Film Institute: I’ll be honest, one of the places that I miss most in London is the BFI. There’s no better place to go in the world on a dark and rainy afternoon to see The Picture of Dorian Gray, Repulsion, or Eyes without a Face. I’ve even seen bizarro wonders like Miss Leslie’s Dolls to much loving fan-fare on the big screen there. BFI definitely celebrates horror history in a respectful manner. That’s why I wish I could’ve seen this conversation in person, one celebrating the launch of Newman’s “essential horror tome” Nightmare Movies: forty years of fear. Both Newman and Kermode are such visible fans of the genre it becomes infectious.
Ian White’s Invisible Cinemas on LUX: Ian White talks about the movement of film (artist film and video) from the context of the cinema into the museum saying, “In my experience as a writer – which I think is also shared by some of those in academia, probably to a greater profit – it’s not ‘cinema’ but the museum that is publishing monographs and catalogues that are invaluable resources for research, career enshrinements and a decent contributor’s fee.” For me, I am increasingly attracted to the idea of encountering a film or video as you would an artwork – sometimes half-way through the story but this fractured exposure can break itself open to new readings and increased interest.
Scala Forever film series: Speaking of London love, how am-az-ing is this multi-month long homage to Scala Cinema? The fact that they use Big Black in the video promo is simply icing on the awesome cake. Sigh. Began 13 August and runs through 2 October.
Maureen Dowd’s Washington Chain Saw Massacre in the New York Times: It’s interesting how horror is not just a political commentary in-and-of itself but also a comparative tool in which to talk about today’s politics. But as I mentioned above, I think it’s a little tricky to relate what’s happening in the present with films made 30/40/50 years ago. Those films still have resonance but relevance needs to be found with what’s being culturally produced today. It takes more work but it’s going to have more urgency in meaning. Still, Dowd referencing horror is a clear indication of horror’s relevance within popular culture.
Look and Learn in Frieze Magazine: In celebration of its twenty year run, Frieze Magazine is talking about art world developments during this period. This conversation with Alex Farquharson, Sofía Hernández Chong Cuy, Anthony Huberman, Christy Lange, Maria Lind, and Polly Staple on the proliferation of curatorial programmes addresses – but appropriately doesn’t solve – the emerging, evolving, contested, and diverse role of the curator since the 1990s. What stuck with me: How do you want to articulate what you stand for and how do you want to share that with the world? To me, that statements strikes on the core of what being a curator is.
On that note I will leave you with the funniest discovery of my summer: a horror/curator convergence featuring none other than Shaft…