An Inclusive Interdisciplinary Project
Sunday 1st December 2019 – Monday 2nd December 2019
Prague, Czech Republic
The Monster Within: Self-Mutilation and Externalized Violence in Beast
The University of Texas at Austin
Film studies, gender, serial killers, violence, self-mutilation, monstrosity, horror, abjection
Serial killers have long fascinated and repulsed cultural imagination. Hiding in plain sight, wearing the mask of an inconspicuous stranger, they are representative of ultimate transgression, commonly figured as all-too-human ‘monsters’—those that cannot be effectively categorized by visible corporeal difference. This paper will consider the ways in which this violence invokes the monstrous, both as category of judgment and method of self-becoming. Michael Pearce’s 2017 film Beast, explores how individuals navigate these extreme forms of shared-yet-intimate violence. The film itself, its ambiguity and structural collapses, embodies the fallibility of constructed borders between internal and external, love and hate, self and Other. Moll, the film’s troubled protagonist, pines under the punishing control of her conservative family and yearns to escape her restrictive island community. Entering into a tumultuous relationship with Pascal, a violent outcast, she struggles to navigate the inevitable collisions between her own desires and the nightmare stalking her isolated community. For there is a murderer in their midst, and Pascal is the prime suspect. As suspicions against her lover mount, Moll’s own dark past begins to consume her, and the monster she begins to truly fear is herself. Although trained by her family to internalize all forms of negative affect, Pascal’s presence begins to coax out the beast within Moll, and as the film progresses, her violence transforms, shifting from physical and psychological self-mutilation to acts of externalized violence. For Moll, the killings initiate a fragmentation of identity wherein she comes to identify both with the killer’s victims and with the killer himself. Pascal thus becomes the embodiment and enactor of her darkest and most violent fantasies—each of his murders both suffered and committed by Moll. Using feminist, film, and psychoanalytic theory, I will argue that through a torturous process of abjection, Moll moves from introjected self-harm to externalized violence, ultimately expelling her monstrous self (Pascal) in a failed attempt to reconstitute herself.
With Love from Self to Self: Monstrous Doubling and an Ethics of Care in Adolescent Literature
Rutgers University – Camden
monstrosity, ethics of care, YA literature, graphic novels, hybridity, doubling
In Noelle Stevenson’s 2015 graphic novel Nimona, the titular shapeshifter is split in two by the “heroes” who seek to understand and tame her monstrosity. Assuming the form of a small child and a towering, fire-breathing beast, Nimona attacks those who hurt her. When her one ally begs her to show mercy, both parts of herself – the child and the beast – assume a protective stance towards one another and respond, “No” (Stevenson, 237).
The hybrid composition of monsters allows storytellers to explore unmoored subjectivities, selfhoods that resist situation within the norm because its parts refuse to add up to a coherent whole. In texts such as Nimona, Patrick Ness’s Release (2017), and Eden Robinson’s Son of a Trickster (2017) and Trickster Drift (2018), adolescent monsters use their hybridity to address their own needs for care. Their hybridity and doubling allow these marginalized figures to enact compassion and, when necessary, violent protection towards themselves in the absence of care from a hostile mainstream society.
Building on Jeffrey Jerome Cohen’s theories of monstrosity as well as feminist and Indigenous scholarship on the ethics of care, I argue that the outwardly disturbing self-care modeled by literary adolescent monsters acknowledges the necessity of actively counterhegemonic care in the lives of marginalized youths, especially in response to growing right-wing populism that thrives off of the monstrosization of the Other. Drawing on my backgrounds as both an academic and a storyteller, I explore the ways in which the hybrid monster reveals care-based reactions to oppression, rage, and trauma, as well as the potential for translating care for the fragmented and marginalized self into a praxis of interdependent care within a community of monsters.
Little Monsters: Anxiety, Austerity and the Monstrous Child in Contemporary Fiction
University of Worcester
austerity, monstrosity, child, care-giving, Hilary Mantel, John Lindqvist, Doris Lessing.
‘Monsters are our children’ claims Jeffrey Cohen in his 2002 book Monster Theory and from Caliban’s monstrous hybridity in The Tempest through Victor Frankenstein’s parentless Creature, to the diabolical Damian of Richard Donner’s film The Omen (1976), the image of the monstrous child has recurred culturally with daemonic persistence. These monstrous progeny articulate a range of anxieties particular to their historical moment; anxieties about reproduction and reproductive technology, about responsibility and futurity.
In this paper I argue that the abandoned, neglected or unwanted child in the contemporary moment is frequently inflected as monstrous, a monstrosity which articulates to a contemporary reader a terror of lack generated by social policies defined by what John Quiggins has termed the ‘zombie economics’ of austerity. The hunger of the infant, its monomaniacal focus on the satisfaction of its own needs, emerges in contemporary cultural productions as the monstrously insatiable child, whose hunger terrifies or consumes their putative carers. This emergence is, I demonstrate, an inscription of a growing social sense of a scarcity of resources, both economic and emotional, a response to the fear that there is not ‘enough’ to go around.
Taking an interdisciplinary approach which brings together economic and political theory with a number of psychoanalytic models of infant-caregiver relationships, the paper offers a reading of three ‘monstrous’ children in contemporary novels: the apparent changeling which makes elusive appearances in Hilary Mantel’s duology Every Day is Mother’s Day (1985) and Vacant Possession (1986), the eponymous Ben of Doris Lessing’s The Fifth Child (1989), and the vampire child Eli, of John Avjid Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In (2004). Taken together these readings argue for an understanding of the monstrous child in contemporary culture as embodying the mutilation of social and physical bodies which result from policies of austerity, voicing our fears of scarcity through their horrifying hunger.
The Physicality of Difference: Exploring the Monster and (Dis)ability in Anita Blake, the Vampire Hunter
University of Ottawa
A monster can be, and in fact often is, marked physically by difference. Werewolves have claws, excessive body hair, and animalistic facial features; zombies are covered in gashes, are missing appendages, and wear torn clothing; vampires are pale, have elongated teeth, and lack a reflection. These physical differences allow audiences to easily identify monsters, but they also marginalize them.
In the world of Anita Blake, The Vampire Hunter, where zombies, werewolves and vampires literally walk among us – vampires actually have citizenship status in Blake’s United States of America – it is not only monsters that are physically marked by difference. The main character, Anita Blake, bears scars from injuries that she sustained in the line of duty as a monster hunter. While some characters are drawn to her scars, others are repulsed or frightened by them. Healed claw marks, vampire bites, bullet and blade wounds all signal that she is other. They associate her with the supernatural world and call into question her humanity.
Using the book series and graphic novels from Anita Blake, The Vampire Hunter, this paper explores how notions of ability and disability are articulated through the use of the monster metaphor. In particular, this paper considers how physical difference marks the abled body from the disabled body by comparing how physical differences mark the monstrous and non-monstrous in the series.
“To All the Monster Girls,” When Power and Femininity Cannot Coexist: A Deconstruction of Gender in Mainstream and Independent Comic Books
This article aims to investigate and comment on the intersection between female characters in comic books and the way they wield and use power, more specifically when power is articulated in the form of superpowers or supernatural abilities. This paper argues that the majority of female heroes and villains are, albeit respected, often feared. Women who cannot be controlled do not fit into the role that society has thought for them; hence, the abilities that define them cannot coexist with the idea of femininity. When such characters escape the male/female binary classification, they tend to be categorized as “monsters”.
Recent years have seen the comic book industry incorporating different voices telling diverse stories. This article will take into account female characters created by male and female authors in independent and mainstream comic books. It will look at: Nimona from the eponymous graphic novel by Noelle Stevenson, the characters ensemble in Pretty Deadly by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Ríos, Emmy from Cullen Bunn’s Harrow County, and the Female of the Species from Garth Ennis’s The Boys. As these characters are dehumanized and made to fit into a box – whether in the shape of laboratories or prisons – they embrace their “monstrosity” and use it to their advantage.
The paper will also look at feminist theorists such as Judith Butler and Julia Kristeva to see how the element of horror contributes to deconstructing gender and how the aforementioned characters – and their monstrosity – work towards that goal.
This research plays an active role in my own webcomic Storms. The story is set in a world where labels are loose and flexible, and female and male characters alike – who coexist with multiple souls whose genders don’t always align – perform acts that aim to challenge the reader’s notion of gender as a binary structure.
Plugging Up Power: Menstruating Monsters in Horror Cinema
Monsters, menstruation, puberty, teenagers, abject, abjection, sexuality, taboo
Menstruation is a healthy bodily process that has been demonized by many cultures. The horror genre has used menstruation and PMS as a tropes to frame menstruating people, particularly teenage girls as monstrous bodies to be feared. In movies like Carrie (1976; 2013) and the Ginger Snaps franchise (2000, 2004), menstruating monsters like Carrie, Ginger, and B wreak havoc on their communities simply by being women of menstruating age.
In these films, menstrual blood flows to symbolize the horror of menstruation and the shame and humiliation that comes with womanhood. Julia Kristeva proposes that bodily fluids such as menstrual blood create the boundaries between human and ab-human. The young women in these films are on the threshold of puberty and the onset of monstrosity aligns with their first menstrual cycle. In the cases of Ginger, B, and Carrie, their mensural blood forms the boundaries that re-signify their bodies as monstrous and frames them as destructive forces to their families and communities.
In her book the Monstrous-Feminine, Barbara Creed writes about the notion of “abject terror,” in which femininity is abject itself. In this book, Creed argues that male monsters (such as those in Frankenstein or Dracula) are monsters because someone has done something to them or their body to make them monsters. On the other hand, female monsters are terrifying and monstrous simply because of their gender. It is at the onset of menstruation that Ginger, B, and Carrie become monsters to be feared. The moment of abjection occurs at the moment they cross the border of girlhood into womanhood. Shortly after this transition comes their first sexual experiences, which initiates a pivotal event that causes huge amounts of destruction and death.
By the end of these films Carrie, B, and Ginger have each embraced their femininity, menstrual cycles, and sexualities. However each of these menstruating monsters are ultimately destroyed. Their acceptance of the abject fluids they expel, their self-confidence, and their sexual openness makes these adolescent teenage girls the ultimate threat to the patriarchy. In the end, they must die in order for the patriarchy to persevere.
An Exploration of the Representation of Serial Killers in Cinema
Liselotte de Beer
University of Stavanger, Norway
serial killer; cinema; representation; characterisation
The concept of the serial killer is a distinctly human one. What happens when these serial killer figures move from the realm of the real to the realm of fiction? Storytelling is often a key ways in which people interact with the world and it is through characters that parts of the human psyche are illuminated. They are often represented as the heroes humans strive to be or as a warning of who humans are not supposed to be. However, what happens when those lines get blurred — what happens when the darkest of humankind is represented not as foe but as friend? Crime cinema might try to expose atrocities and give the impression that abhorrent deeds will not go unpunished, but it does not always have this effect. Serial killers in cinema often become romanticised or, at the very least, are given excuses for their actions. They are often given allure and a sense of celebrity status. This necessarily warrants an exploration into the way in which serial killers are represented within Hollywood cinema. This includes an examination of how they are characterised and how their character is illuminated through the very fibre of the art of cinema. Using the medium in order to stir up emotions in the audience and to draw them into the story is an essential part of the art of filmmaking. By engaging with the intersection of crime and cinema, it might be possible to come somewhat closer to the reasons for the fascination people have with murder and destruction.
Monsters Within the Cell: Cinematic Representations of Prison Within Film Horror
Katherine M. Ortiz
University of Central Florida
Prison, mass incarceration, film horror, otherization, the other, prisoners, cinema, mass media, film, film theory
The mass media demonizes prison, representing as monstrous and, in turn, something against the non-prisoner must fight or escape. In this paper, I will critique the monstrous prisoner to better understand morality in light of the prisoner’s mass-mediated demonization. Utilizing the theoretical framework of Harry M. Benshoff in his work relating blaxploitation horror to rethink race, sexuality and the monstrous Other, this paper sets out to use horror cinema to consider how we think about prison. Horror cinema is a critical point to discuss mass media’s articulations of the monster because it impacts how the prisoner is both defined and marginalized. Prison within the film horror genre often represents as a monster hive. For example, a common trope would be of the paranormal investigation team discovers a prison where there is a demonic presence that lurks inside. It presumes that prison is the locus of inhumanity that, in turn, becomes an important area of discussion. Depictions of prison in media impact how we think and argue about those criminalized and how to approach criminal justice. That is, the prison becomes mediated as a site of violence with no means of restorative justice. Currently, within scholarly discussions of media and prison, there is little discussion on the way we think about the monster and the prison within the United States. To critique this mass-mediated demonization of the prison, we must first analyze how we define the monster to find how that impacts representations of the prison. Second, the significance of how we conceptualize a framework of good vs. evil becomes important to the way we frame the prisoner. A method of how we distinguish our moral framework helps us to understand how we want to forward scholarly discussions of mass incarceration in media.
Monstrosity Begets Monster: The Implications of Frankenstein’s Victor on Modern Bioethics
University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, MN)
Monstrosity, monster, bioethics, genetic editing, parent, child, obligation, experimentation, ego
Given the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, many scholars and journalists, such as Foht and Regalado, are investigating the ways the novel continues to engage current bioethical dilemmas surrounding cloning and genetic editing. However, these conversations have not adequately incorporated previous work by literary critics that has defined and analyzed Victor’s responsibilities as a parent, leaving an opportunity for further investigation of the novel’s actual source of monstrosity. In this presentation, I aim to more explicitly engage previous Frankenstein literary criticism with the modern bioethical conversation in order to extend the implications of Shelley’s novel beyond a simple warning against the inadvertent creation of monsters to a more comprehensive warning against the monstrosity of failing at one’s parental obligations towards created life.
To do so, I adopt Peter Brooks’ definition of monstrosity as something outside norms or expectations, thus allowing parenthood to be seen as inherently having the potential for monstrosity and thus the potential to create monsters. Specifically, I use a synthesis and analysis of critical literary perspectives on the monstrosity within Victor’s parenting (Moers, Claridge, Levine, Mellor, Poovey, etc.) to consider how we should respond to current bioethical happenings—particularly the recent alleged live birth of genetically edited twins in China. Framing this bioethical dilemma within the understandings of the literary criticism pertaining to Victor allows us to view Dr. He Jiankui’s scientific work with a fuller understanding of the implications and relational obligations created by processes such as genetic editing. Using Frankenstein’s Victor as a model, I ultimately argue that the scientific experimentation of Dr. Jiankui should be understood as a monstrosity of its own that will likely produce similar devastating effects on society’s reception of the rumored living creations—thus encouraging the resultant genetically edited children to inevitably be seen as monsters.
The Three-Legged Bird
The hopeful promise of monstrosity: the possibility of encountering in, with monstrosity, with the strangeness and unrighteousness that have for long, and in such different shapes, inhabited the margins of Man, of HuManity . . . the possibility of encountering with it new forms of kinship, of understanding, of politics.
The everlasting impasse of hopeful promises: that they always remit to the future, to a delayed present, that they always speak of a distant horizon whose vanishing point is unable to pierce the nearby, that they delay, that they suspend, that they hung, they effect a space wherein no critical operativity seems viable.
Not to a allow the hopefulness of a promise to smooth the friction of monstrosity, to make emerge a monstrosity not only capable of shaping a future, but one also capable of shaping a present: the task at hand is not only of encounter a monstrosity, but to imagine it. Far from being a mere ‘cognitive’ process, imagination is a material ability, an art of being differently. It is a possibility of re-relating, it simultaneously encounters and creates new worlds. In order to allow imagination to do that, however, one has first to allow the possibility of its action, to assert the possibility of its possibility. That is to say, one has first to imagine imagination.
Monstrosity, I think, can help us with this task. And this because, I hope to show, the two are deeply connected: imagination generates monstrosity, and monstrosity imagination. Attempting to understand the materiality of this relation, my point of departure – and indeed that of arrival – is Canguilhem’s historical analysis presented in 1962 under the name ‘Monstrosity and the Monstrous.’ Using it both as a scaffold and as specimen to hybridize, I try to build with his text a genealogy in simultaneously critical and recuperative exercise.
“Bodies Strange, and Huge in Growth, and of Stupendious Makes”: Monstrous Races and Algonquians in the Reports of Capt. John Smith
When European explorers left for the Americas, they packed along expectations of what and whom they would find. Theorists and historians of first contact (Todorov, Pagden, Greenblatt) have elaborated the ways in which those expectations actively shaped colonists’ perception of the New World and its peoples, yielding partially predetermined cognitive and emotional responses with enormous historical consequence. Historians have often noted the prominence of the Plinian “monstrous races” in those expectations of what awaited Europeans in the Americas. Columbus wooed his readers with reports of sirens in Cuba, Léry frightened his with descriptions of Anthropophagi in Brazil, and Humboldt stoked male anxieties by confirming reports of Amazons in Guyana.
My paper discusses the cargo of monsters that was brought to the Jamestown colony by its most famous leader: Captain John Smith. While preparing his voyage, Smith consulted Thomas Harriot, who wrote the official report of the failed Roanoke colony and the first ethnological account of Algonquians. Harriot was accompanied by artist John White, who illustrated the fauna, flora, and people of Virginia. Both Harriot and White were influenced by a sixteenth century trend in ethnological writing that sought a racial category linking together Old and New World races. Their points of reference for understanding the Algonquian were the Pict, the Turk, and the Tatar – all of whom had a rich history of monstrous depictions. In my paper I argue that “knowledge” that known monstrous peoples were both capricious and treacherous became part of Smith’s beliefs about the indigenous people with whom he and his fellow colonists interacted in Virginia. Smith interprets the Algonquians using a Plinian vocabulary of monstrosity he absorbs partly from Harriot and White, indelibly marking American interactions with the other with suspicion and an anxious need for monopoly over the instruments of power – weapons and natural resources.
Breaking Borders and Bodies: The Mutability of the Zombie Genre
horror cinema, zombie cinema, international film, genre
The zombie has long been a cinematic monster inspired by the omnipresent fears of our society and a disruption to the status quo. However it was when George A. Romero instilled the zombie with a desire for flesh and destruction that the zombie began to both trespass and transgress our borders. In quintessential zombie films such as Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later and Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, the pervasive strength of the zombie was in their ability to shatter the divisions we try to construct around us. Whether breaking through our windows or tearing through our stomach lining, the zombie shows no qualms eviscerating the boundaries and borders we spend our lifetimes forming.
Since the renewed zombie genre exploded in popularity in the early 2000s, the zombie has continued to tear through our physical and metaphorical walls and infiltrate our lives. As the zombie expands digitally, being adapting for television, video games and exercise apps, it has also spread from its usual hunting grounds in America, Japan and Western Europe.
This paper seeks to explore the zombie genre outside of this traditional context. Using South Korea’s Train to Busan (dir: Sang-Ho Yeon, 2016), Cuba’s Juan of the Dead (dir: Alejandro Brugués, 2011) and Australia’s Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (dir: Kiah Roache-Turner, 2014) as case-studies, this paper will explore the effect transplanting the zombie into a new location has on the socio-cultural thematic focus of the genre. This paper seeks to answer how the changing environments within these three films, from bullet trains in Korea to outback dirt roads in Australia, reflect the cultural context of the films and impact what has become one of the most popular monsters of the millennium.
The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of the Monstrous Zombie Girl
zombie, evil child, monster, monstrous child, horror, patriarchy, heteronormative reproduction.
The zombie invaded our screens in 1968, and up to the present day has shown little sign of slowing down. As this gruesome figure proliferates in popular culture, one of these monsters stands out from the horde: the little zombie girl. From Karen Cooper, in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), the little zombie girl appears again and again, right through to AMC’s current TV series The Walking Dead (2010 – present). Inspiring a feeling of horror and revulsion, the zombie occupies a liminal space, on the border of the living and the dead, the human and the once was human, and in the case of the zombie girl, representing the ultimate juxtaposition of innocence and evil. Within the zombie genre, the figure of the child is often portrayed as the embodiment of innocence and purity, representing futurity and hope for mankind. The zombie child destroys this vision by destabilising assumptions about the figure of the child and childhood. Despite the potential to re-create a different social order after the end of the world, most zombie texts instead revert to the existing norms of a traditionally conservative patriarchal society. Although any zombie threatens the social order, the little zombie girl is an exceptionally powerful figure. Given the child is symbolic of the potential future for humanity, the child zombie becomes a threat for all future humanity, ceasing reproduction and replicating through disease. The monster that is the little zombie girl, poses one of the greatest threats to patriarchal society as she disrupts the heteronormative reproductive norms which underpin this social order. Drawing on studies of the evil child in literature and film, and Lee Edelman’s theory of ‘the Child’, this paper analyses the evolution of the little zombie girl, and examines the function of this, often overlooked little monster.
The Problem with Curing Monsters in Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s Bestselling Novel Dr. Müttter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine
The University of Texas at Austin
disability studies, monsters, curative violence, medical humanities, the cure, compulsory able-bodiedness
Popular literature undeniably molds cultural attitudes toward physical difference because of the vast audiences that ravenously consume them. In particular, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s 2014 New York Times bestselling novel Dr. Mütter’sMarvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine offers a biographical perspective of the life of the mid-nineteenth century figure Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter, and also poetically recounts his quirky manner and tender heart. With these affable qualities in mind, Aptowicz’s narrator characterizes the doctor as not only heroic, but also saintly forcuring people American society casts as monsters for their physical differences. While an admirable endeavor, the emphasis on his heroism highlights cultural attitudes that seek to problematically cure physical differences, demanding that bodies transform into an idealized state. Certainly, Mütter makes a remarkable impact in the lives of his patients, but instituting a cure creates a dangerous rhetoric that leads to curative violence, or the insistence that everyone who deviates from an unattainable norm must try at all costs to reach it, or they carry the stigmatizing label of monster all throughout their lives. Disability theorists like Alison Kafer and Robert McRuer criticize how individuals must fit into such a social ideal of acceptability and normalcy through their theoretical explorations of compulsory able-bodiedness and able-mindedness. From this vantage point, Mütter’s patients must fit into a normative body, lest they receive ridicule from a society that denies them access to public spaces. Doctors like Mütter who cure physical difference and disease certainly have the best of intentions, but even the best of intentions are worthy of critique.
Looking Through the Glass: Monsterizing Technology and the Social Media Cyborg
University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada)
Social Media, Cyborgs, Donna Haraway, Cyborg Manifesto, Monster, Technological Monsters, Digital Age Monsters, Identity Fragmentation, Identity Reconstruction
In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the Monster can be understood as a mirror of the Creator. While Victor Frankenstein chose to leave his own humanity behind, he created his monster through experimentation in order to produce something that would surpass human finitude. Bound together from severed limbs of different origin, the monster mirrors contemporary society. Its discussion of human finitude, and what we as a society of creators can do to surpass these finitudes, births a new “whole” through the advancement of technology.
Donna Haraway’s pioneering piece on posthumanist and feminist theory, her “Cyborg Manifesto,” argues that humans must evolve beyond themselves to become something new and infinite: a cyborg (Haraway 7). The cyborg as a monster made up of different bits and technological pieces perfectly mirrors Frankenstein’s monster. Haraway identifies the similarity of the monster and the cyborg, saying that they are both beings of fragmentation; but unlike Frankenstein’s monster, cyborgs do not long for their father and embrace their illegitimacy (9). Cyborgs appear to have a natural emptiness and search to fill a void.
In the last decade, social media has seen an increase in attention from the academic community. This paper moves to build on this existing work by focusing on two aspects: Social media as a tool associated with identity fragmentation, and as a medium praised for self-producing an image meant to reflect a new and cohesive “whole”. Social media allows for users to experiment on themselves and become both the creator and created. The paper will use the lens of Haraway’s “Cyborg Manifesto” and Frankenstein to focus on how humans use social media to experiment on themselves in the reconstruction of new identities and discuss whether social media aims to fill a human void. It will try to answer the question: are we not cyborgs?
Extra-Diegesis, Domesticity, and the Uncanny in the Transnational Films of Guillermo del Toro
Wake Forest University
This presentation examines the intersection of the image and extra-diegetic sound in Guillermo del Toro films centered around home and place. Del Toro’s horrific fairy tales disrupt the familiarities of place and identity by the use of extra-diegesis in the audio-visual. The sound no longer “hovers in a space in the back of our minds,” as Gorman put it, but purposefully distracts us, entering our personal space as if an invisible hand is reaching from the screen to grab us.
Philip Brophy’s idea of the cinesonic reminds us that cinema obviously can not be analyzed without its relationship to the image running parallel to it. This audiovisuality becomes crucial in this study because the extra-diegetic sound can not affect the spectator without its accompanying image. Compounding this relationship is the extraordinary complexity of the viewer. Michel Chion tackles that relationship in Audio-Vision by suggesting that, “audiovisual media do not just address the eye. They place their spectators–their audio-spectators–in a specific perceptual mode of reception” that he calls “audio-vision.” Thus, this project focuses on how the extra-diegetic folds into the audiovisual, using the del Toro films as workable material.
Using a broadly post-structuralist approach, selections of moments from multiple sources (films) reveals moments of vibrant stress between the audio-vision and the audio-viewer. Tools of postcolonial, feminist, queer, and subaltern critical theory become essential in this examination and can open up films in new and engaging ways. As a case study, the horror films of Guillermo del Toro (Chronos, The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labrynth, Crimson Peak, and The Shape of Water) provide strong interactions between audio/video/viewer that intertwine human domesticity (home, work, hotel) with deep-seated fears and the resonance of the uncanny. As they move from culture to culture, space to place, these films audiovisual language reveals a series of codes and signs that tell us about our fears, identities, perspectives, and delusions.
Your Monster, My Friend: State Propaganda and Monster Movies in Postwar Spain
Sarah D. Harris
Bennington College, Vermont USA
Monster movies, gaze, childhood, dictatorship, state control, propaganda, Spain
“To all the monsters in my nursery: May you never leave me alone,” wrote Guillermo del Toro, noted lover of Spanish monster movies and himself master of cinematic horror. One of the movies that most strongly influenced del Toro’s own monsters was the 1973 Spanish film Espíritu de la colmena (Spirit of the Beehive) by director Víctor Erice. This gorgeous and subtle film shows how a young child’s gaze resists attempts by the totalitarian dictatorship to use cinematic monsters as a mechanism for state control. The child, Ana, attends a state-sponsored traveling picture show of James Whale’s Frankenstein in her small town in La Mancha, and during this film screening and throughout the rest of Espíritu, the young protagonist’s solemn and wide-eyed gaze is the most memorable image in what it already a visually spectacular film. The use of a film within the film (Frankenstein within Espíritu), shows the potential power of its own medium, and reflects a real propagandistic tool levied on moviegoers in postwar Spain.
Although Frankenstein is offered up to the multigenerational townspeople with its explicit introductory warning about the dangers of scientists who make monsters by “playing God,” a clear instruction to exclude and obey, Ana instead invokes and even welcomes monstrous others rejected from her totalitarian society. Unable to distinguish movie magic from the real world, she gazes at both with wonder and love. After losing a bit of her innocence, the movie ends when Ana leaves her literal nursery, but not its monsters, behind. This presentation uses the example of Ana’s loving gaze upon monsters and monstrous others to show her quiet resistance to the intended message of the Francoist traveling picture shows, and therefore, explores the limits of monster movies as a mechanism for state control.