Quote of the month: Gary Simmons

“Film plays a big role in how I go about making work. I’m reverent of film, filmmakers and film history. Our collective memory is contained and constructed by film.” – Gary Simmons to Okwui Enwezor in Paradise.

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Gary Simmons – Mother Oh Mother 

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Where’s the Money, Julian Hoeber

The history of horror cinema is a complicated web of socio-political narratives combined with the limitations and innovations of filmmaking itself. What Julian Hoeber’s Where’s the Money (playing now on MOCAtv) suggests is that there is a direct correlation with money (i.e. the budget) with the representation and association of the real (in low budget horror films). And that’s an interesting idea. But because Hoeber’s piece is an frenetic and cursory analysis of horror film, it doesn’t really take us where we need to go by diving deeply or succinctly enough into the very important commentary that can associate horror cinema with the real (whatever that really means).

Where’s the Money skips decades quickly, omitting many films in-between that are certainly part of the evolution of the genre; from Freaks to Scream back to Last House on the Left with a curious inclusion of Fulci’s Zombi. Here horror comes off as second-rate, like a bad video-taped porno flick, rather than embodying its position as a vital component to cinema that allows uncomfortable subject matter to be approached and eviscerated right before our very eyes. I find the idea of associating horror with low culture problematic; it’s not merely about economics but the outbursts of social issues that stem from money, and, subsequently, labor and power that makes horror such a potent genre.

What I’m saying is that horror film is infinitely more complex that what’s presented here and that the notion of economy plays out in horror more fluidly than merely in the way in which it’s created. The provocation of money and the real presented in Where’s the Money would have been better served by a narrower focus. For instance, many thinkers associate Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005) as a manifestation of 9/11 Gitmo torture scenarios back upon unwitting American tourists in Eastern Europe. However what’s really at play is the idea of economy and power. There are only two Americans in the whole film, the rest of the people being killed or doing the killing are from all over the world. That film isn’t about “torture and America” but about a globalized system of exchange and an examination of values. Exploring this faction of Hostel (which was not a low-budget film) or in recent films like Land of the Dead or We Are What We Are or even Hitchcock’s Psycho, Where’s the Money could have taken a more measurable stance about how money influences the decisions we make and how horror evaluates those choices.

Psycho House: representation and repetition

The fine line between imitation, homage, and influence in artworks and horror movies isn’t just reflected in the works of today’s filmmakers. In the early 1960s, the now iconic house featured in Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal thriller Psycho was the preeminent site of all things horror. In fact, it still quietly looms on a hillside at Universal Studios California as frightening and distant as ever to the tourists who ride by. And although Hitchcock had done something similar twenty years earlier in Rebecca (1940), using the house as a near character full of anxiety and memory, that film was all about interiority of space and of mind. Psycho, on the other hand, was a full-on exterior explosion, everything on the outside, the lure to a deadly trap. 

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The slippages again occur here, reaching further back into art history, as the bones for the Psycho house were inspired by and modeled after this 1925 painting, House by the Railroad, by American realist painter Edward Hopper. Not horrific by any means, Hopper’s paintings reveal static moments shared between an architectural space (diner, movie theater, room) and those creatures who inhabit them. 

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Thanks to the Horror and Architecture  (the new-to-me but still-awesome-after-zero-updates-for-two-years blog).

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“Bring Your Daughter to the Slaughter: witchcraft, women, and domesticity in Horror Hotel”

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.

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