Sie sind auf Seite 1von 250

Edited by Sophia Siddique and Raphael Raphael

Bodies of Excess and the Global Grotesque
Transnational Horror Cinema
Sophia Siddique Raphael Raphael

Transnational Horror
Bodies of Excess and the Global Grotesque
Sophia Siddique Raphael Raphael
Department of Film University of Hawaii at Manoa
Vassar College Honolulu, USA
Poughkeepsie, New York, USA

ISBN 978-1-137-58416-8ISBN 978-1-137-58417-5(eBook)

DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-58417-5

Library of Congress Control Number: 2016958101

The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016

The author(s) has/have asserted their right(s) to be identified as the author(s) of this work
in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the
Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of
translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on
microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval,
electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now
known or hereafter developed.
The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this
publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are
exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use.
The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information
in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the
publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, express or implied, with respect to
the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The
publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and
institutional affiliations.

Cover image CoverZoo / Alamy Stock Photo

Printed on acid-free paper

This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by Springer Nature

The registered company is Macmillan Publishers Ltd. London
The registered company address is: The Campus, 4 Crinan Street, London, N1 9XW, United
Notes on Contributors

MaryJ.Ainslie is head of Film and Television programs at the University

of Nottingham Malaysia Campus in Kuala Lumpur. Her research focuses
upon the history and development of film in Thailand as well as the inter-
cultural links between East and Southeast Asia. She is the recipient of
several international grants and has published in Asian Cinema Journal,
Korea Journal, the Womens Studies International Journal and several
edited collections. She also co-edited an edition of the Horror Studies
Journal and the edited collection The Korean Wave in Southeast Asia:
Consumption and Cultural Production.
MikeDillon received his PhD in Critical Studies from the University of
Southern California School of Cinematic Arts and currently teaches film
studies at California State University, Fullerton. His research interests
include the study of human migration in relation to film genres, particu-
larly horror and science fiction. His publications appear in South Asian Film
and Media Studies, Reconstruction, Film & History, among other venues;
his forthcoming work includes the Bloomsbury anthology Exploiting East
Asian Cinema (co-edited with Ken Provencher) and a chapter in the
McGill-Queens anthology Negative Cosmopolitanisms.
MoritzFink is a media scholar and author. He holds a doctoral degree in
American Studies from the University of Munich. His areas of interest
include television, film and media studies, cultural studies, disability studies,
visual culture, political humor and satire. He has published in the Journal of
Literary & Cultural Disability Studies and is co-editor of the collection
Culture Jamming: Activism and the Art of Cultural Resistance (2017).

vi Notes on Contributors

JuliaGruson-Wood is a PhD candidate in the Science and Technology

Studies Program at York University. Her publications have examined rep-
resentations of disability, health, and illness in various facets of popular
culture. Currently, she is completing her doctoral thesis on the culture of
evidence and applied behavioral therapy that governs autism services, and
the lives of autistic people, in Ontario. Julia also works in the field of
autism as an educator.
StefanSunandanHonisch holds a PhD in Education from the University
of British Columbia, as well as Bachelors and Masters degrees in Piano and
Composition from the University of Victoria, and University of British
Columbia. His research is situated at the intersection of Education, Disability
Studies, and Music. His publications include articles in Music Theory Online,
and International Journal of Inclusive Education, a chapter in The Oxford
Handbook of Music and Disability Studies, and a chapter (in press) in The
Oxford Handbook of Music and the Body. His dissertation Different Eyes,
Ears, and Bodies: Pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii and the Education of the Sensorium
Through Musical Performance explores the educative possibilities and limits
of performances by musicians with disabilities. Current research projects
include an exploration of Helen Kellers articulation of a deaf-blind musical
subjectivity through her sense of touch.
SangjoonLee (PhDNewYork University) is Assistant Professor of Asian
Cinema at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information,
Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He is co-editor of Hallyu
2.0: The Korean Wave in the Age of Social Media (2015) and is currently
editing Rediscovering Korean Cinema for University of Michigan Press.
His writing has appeared in such journals as Film History, Historical Journal
of Film, Radio, and Television, Journal of Japanese and Korean Cinema,
and Transnational Cinemas. He is currently working on a monograph ten-
tatively titled The Asian Cinema Network: The Asian Film Festival and the
Cultural Cold War in Asia.
Paul RaeMarchbanks is an Associate Professor of English at California
Polytechnic State University. He teaches an array of undergraduate and
graduate courses concerned with Occidental representations of non-nor-
mative bodies and minds. Figures of particular interest at present include
Catalan painter Salvador Dal, Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier, and
American fiction writer Flannery OConnor, all of whom figure in his
Notes on Contributors vii

book-in-progress, Grace and the Grotesque. In recent years, he has

published articles examining representations of disability in works by Mary
Shelley, Charles Dickens, the Bront sisters (Charlotte, Anne, and Emily),
Robert Browning, and Liam OFlaherty.
RaphaelRaphaels writings include Transnational Stardom: International
Celebrity in Film and Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) with Russell
Meeuf and Lets Get Social: The Educators Guide to Edmodo (International
Society for Technology in Education [ISTE], 2015) with Ginger Carlson.
He is also associate editor for the journal Review of Disability Studies and
lectures for the University of Hawaii at Mnoa. He is currently working on
a book drawing connections between disability studies and film studies. His
film and media scholarship is informed by his own practice as digital artist.
SophiaSiddique is an associate professor and Chair of the Department of
Film, Vassar College. Her research interests include Contemporary Southeast
Asian Cinemas, cyborg cinema, and Asian horror. She has published in
Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Journal of Chinese Cinemas, Singapore Journal
of Tropical Geography and Asian Cinema. Her book, Screening Singapore:
Sensuous Citizenship Formations and the National is under contract with
Amsterdam University Press.
Kevin Wynteris a Visiting Scholar in Film and Critical Studies at the
California Institute of the Arts. His research interests include violence, wear-
able screens, phenomenology, and African-American popular culture. He is
completing a monograph on transnational millennial horror films titled,
Feeling Absence: Horror in Cinema from Post War to Post-Wall. He is also the
editor of Interstice: Journal for the Video Essay.

1 Introduction1

Part I Questions of Genre17

2 Butchered inTranslation: ATransnational Grotesuqe19


3 An Introduction totheContinental Horror Film43


4 Dracula, Vampires, andKung Fu Fighters: The Legend

oftheSeven Golden Vampires andTransnational Horror
Co-production in1970s Hong Kong65

Part II The Horrific Body (Disability and Horror)81

5 Dead Meat: Horror, Disability, andEating Rituals83


x Contents

6 Music, Sound, andNoise asBodily Disorders: Disabling

theFilmic Diegesis inHideo Nakatas Ringu andGore
Verbinskis The Ring 113

7 An Eyepatch of Courage: Battle-Scarred Amazon

Warriors in the Movies of Robert Rodriguez and
Quentin Tarantino133

8 Scary Truths: Morality andtheDifferently Abled Mind

inLars von Triers The Kingdom 159
PaulRae Marchbanks

Part III Responses to Trauma177

9 Towards aSoutheast Asian Model ofHorror:

Thai Horror Cinema inMalaysia, Urbanization,
andCultural Proximity179

10 Planet Kong: Transnational Flows ofKing Kong (1933)

inJapan andEast Asia205

11 Embodying Spectral Vision inThe Eye 221


List of Figures

Fig. 2.1 Grotesques unrated DVD cover 24

Fig. 2.2 Grotesque unauthorized UK DVD cover 25
Fig. 2.3 Hostel sample poster art 26
Fig. 2.4 Samples of European films falsely translated into Saw-like
DVD covers 31
Fig. 2.5 Saw sample poster art 32
Fig. 7.1 Low-angle shot of Madeleine (One Eye) in the cathedral
scene featuring a red eyepatch 143
Fig. 7.2 Long shot of One Eye holding a sawn-off shotgun
and ammunition right before the final shootout 143
Fig. 7.3 Low-angle shot of Elle Driver whistling as she is going
to kill The Bride 144
Fig. 7.4 Medium close-up of Elle Driver in a nurse costume
as she prepares to kill The Bride 145
Fig. 7.5 Low-angle shot of Sh after Machetes final shootout 147
Fig. 7.6 Long shot of Cherry Darling after Planet Terrors final
Fig. 10.1 The monster in the South Korean-American bad kong
A*P*E (1976) confronts the military 214
Fig. 10.2 The final moment of Mighty Peking Man (1977) 217


Many hands helped bring this work forth. We are especially grateful to the
editorial and production team at Palgrave Macmillan for their shepherding
of this volume through its long gestation. Thanks also go to our anony-
mous reader whose insightful feedback helped make it stronger. We are
especially grateful for the efforts (and patience) of the authors assembled
for sharing their unique and complementary voices.
R.R.: Thanks to my co-editor Sophia for the keen insights and critical
eye she brought to this project. I am also grateful to those who have nur-
tured and expanded my scholarship, including Kathleen Karlyn who, with
contagious excitement, introduced me both to Bakhtin and to the power
of genre. Thanks to Elizabeth Wheeler who passionately first shared with
me the insights of Disability Studies. I also benefited from crucial early
encouragement from other faculty at the University of Oregon, including
Julia Lesage, Michael Aronson, Sangita Gopal, Janet Wasco, and John
Gage, who supported my development of a course on the Rhetoric of
Visual Culture. Mahalo also goes to the team at the Center on Disability
Studies at the University of Hawaii at Mnoa for their encouragement,
especially Megan Conway and Steve Brown.
My parents Maryanne and Lennox have long provided inspiration as
writers and artists. My children Zeal and Anjali provided endless and
enriching distraction during this process. Finally, I wish to thank my wife
Ginger whose continuous support and patience has made it all worthwhile.

xiv Acknowledgements

S.S.: This work has been a long labor of love. I wish to thank Raphael for
his steadfast enthusiasm and commitment to seeing this project through
from inception to fruition. I wish to dedicate this anthology to the three
beloveds in my life: Samira Siddique (my sister), Sharon Siddique (my
mother), and Peggy Mema Browning (my grandmother). Thank you
for your love, encouragement, and unconditional belief in me.
My immediate and extended family have been a source of joy and love
throughout this writing process: Tony Siddique (my father), Misha and
Roxy (my nieces), Mike Browning and Frances Hartogh (my uncle and
aunt), Sophie and Katie Browning (my cousins), Parhana Moreta (my
second sister). The Harvey family: Michelle, my soul sister, Bryan, Lyla
Maryanna, Teetoo (dearly missed), David, Gary, Becky, Josh, Tanya, Seth,
Ahlam, Hannah, and Ty. Erin: while we no longer walk along the same path,
I will always cherish your support and indulgence of my horror habit. The
Root family: Pat, Paul, Maria, and Sara. The Fidler family: Sue and Rich.
This anthology would not be possible without the support of a global
community of friends. I thank each one from my heart: Carlos Alamo-
Pastrana, Sara Baldwin, Barbara Brown, Debra Bucher, Judith Cummings,
Beth Davis, Charlene Dye Dix, Eve Dunbar, Natalie Frank, Rachel
Friedman, Arnika Furhmann, Teresa Garrett, Stephen Jones, Kate Saumure
Jones, Jamie Kelly, Kenisha Kelly, Jenni Kennell, Khoo Gaik Cheng, Marsha
Kinder, Laurie Klingel, Adam Knee, Mia Mask, Andie Morgan, Marie
Murphy, Jasmine Kin Kia Ng, Heather Osborne-Thompson, Edgar Pablos,
Justin Patch, Hiram Perez, Sheri Reynolds, Ken Robinson (dearly missed),
Erndira Rueda, Dave Schneggenburger, Jim Steerman, Sandi Tan, Jim
Thompson, Alison Trope, and William Whittington.
A special thanks goes to Dakota Lee Snellgrove, my research assistant,
who read chapter drafts with great care and diligence.


SophiaSiddique andRaphaelRaphael

Bodies of horror have always been stitched together across disparate

nations and spaces. Despite increasingly visible seams, there has been
a dearth of scholarship addressing the transnational character of horror
and the excessive bodies that populate this global genre. Transnational
Horror Cinema: Bodies of Excess and the Global Grotesque addresses this
gap. The volume looks at the bodies of excess that haunt this genre, the
grotesque forms that stretch definitions of genre, nation, and body. This
introduction unpacks our central concerns; it addresses the ways in which
transnational horror places pressure on many of our critical assumptions
about the popular genre. In particular, it addresses: (1) ways in which
these global generic works revise conceptions of generic corpus; (2) new
ways to conceive of the global, cultural work of the horrific body (par-
ticularly cultural scripts associated with disability); and (3) ways in which
these grotesque bodies of work may offer new ways to see the intersection
between the horrific and the horrified as they negotiate transnational audi-
ences experiences with culturally-specific and historical trauma.

S. Siddique
Department of Film, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY, USA
R. Raphael (*)
University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HI, USA

The Author(s) 2016 1

S. Siddique, R. Raphael (eds.), Transnational Horror Cinema,

From its origins, what would eventually come to be called the hor-
ror genre has been deeply transnational, both in contexts of produc-
tion and reception. The first works of horror stitch together the flesh of
various national and generic texts. Almost immediately after the appear-
ance of motion pictures, the new medium is seen as a way to explore
transgressions of corporeal borders, whether that is through testing the
limits of what is proper to be seen (e.g., in Edisons The Execution of
Mary, Queen of Scots, 1895) or exploring the borders between human
and animal. In Mlis De Mansion de diabla (1896), an impossibly
large bat transforms before our eyes into a man. In addition to blur-
ring boundaries between species, Mlis fantastical creatures are also
posited in opposition to official culture. In the short motion picture,
two properly dressed menapparent members of the courtenter into
a comic battle with a host of impossible creatures that, through Mlis
box of cinematic tricks, appear to materialize out of nowhere, transform
into one another and vanish just as quickly. The success of these works
of spectacular cultural transgressionin the increasingly international
trade of cinematic textsassured the production and circulation of
more cinematic displays of grotesque bodies.
In addition to their corporeal slipperiness, these spectacles also resist
attempts by film historians and critics to consider them solely within the
context of nation. A fuller understanding is only possible with a more
complete consideration of their transnational context. While Siegfried
Kracauers investigation of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) offered
up the film as a hermetically sealed heuristic of a crisis of national psyche
as well as harbinger of things to come, Thomas Elsaessers reading of the
film complicates this (2000). Elsaesser suggests this is far too narrow a
view of the film. He posits that the production of Dr. Caligari was deeply
influenced by the cinematic output of the United States and was indeed
a pragmatic attempt to differentiate product to compete with Americas
prodigious output. Its expressionist aesthetics, he suggests, were not sim-
ply attacks at bourgeois realism, but instead value-added content to distin-
guish product and ensure greater circulation. These films, of course, also
had a symbiotic relationship with the industry within the United States,
and their role in shaping the aesthetics of early sound horror films cannot
be overstated (along with their influence on the subsequent revitalization
of the American film industry in the Depression). The point we wish to
make here in mentioning these texts is simply that the various bodies of
horrorcorporeal and generichave, from their origins, been vitalized

by transnational blood. It is essential that our scholarship reflects this. So

this genre, uniquely born of the transgressions of national, corporeal and
generic borders, makes up the tripartite body of this investigation.

Theoretical Intervention: Mikhail Bakhtin

andtheGrotesque Body

In many ways, this volume broadens the frameworks by which horror is

generally addressed. It moves beyond the cognitive philosophical orienta-
tions of Nol Carroll (The Philosophy of Horror: Or, Paradoxes of the Heart,
1990) and the myriad psychoanalytical models of repression, castration,
and abjection, (Freud et al. 2003; Kristeva and Roudiez 1982; Creed
1993). It joins scholarly engagement with the transnational dimension of
the genre. While Transnational Horror Across Visual Media: Fragmented
Bodies (2013) examined the transnational dimension across various
forms of media (including video games and cinema), Transnational
Horror Cinema focuses exclusively on film and joins a field of critical
scholarship concerned with embodiment, the senses, and the horrific.
Julian Hanich in Cinematic Emotion in Horror Films and Thrillers: The
Aesthetic Paradox of Pleasurable Fear (2010) offers a phenomenologi-
cal description of cinematic emotions that are produced between screen,
film, and the spectators lived-body. The Horror Sensorium: Media and
the Senses by Angela Ndalianis(2012)draws upon various horror media
(film, video games, theme park rides, and paranormal romance novels)
to examine their interplay in the production, reception, and perception
of the spectators sensorium. Rather than a return to the repressed form
of horror spectatorship, both authors argue for a return to an embodied
form, as well as to the primacy of perception through the senses.
This volume complements this exciting sensorial and embodied trend
in horror scholarship by engaging with Bakhtins theory of the grotesque
body. For Bakhtin, the grotesque body is always a political body: one
that exceeds the boundaries and borders that seek to contain it, that seek
to make it behave and conform. This important theoretical interven-
tion allows this volume to widen its scope to encompass the social and
cultural work of these global bodies of excess and the intimate economy
of their exchanges. Bakhtins concept of the grotesque body therefore
serves here as an informing ghost for all of the works in this volume,
even when not explicit. For Bakhtin, the grotesque body is a body that

has been used throughout literature and in visual media as a challenge

to power, as a way of debasing and bringing to earth those powers that
would seek to rule. This oppositional dimension to these bodies of excess
serves as a powerful invitation to readers (and viewers) to explore and
perhaps to explode rigid cultural scripts of embodiment (gender, race,
ability). This volume examines the charged and unstable power residing
within the equally liminal spaces between the blurred lines of body (both
corporeal and generic/formal) and the (trans)national.
For Bakhtin, the grotesque body is a body of excess, oozing over and
violating the most sacred of borders. In the aesthetics of the grotesque,
the insides of the body and its functioningall that proper decorum
normally dictates remain hiddenare laid bare. That which is normally
elevated and revered is laid low, and that which the classical body would
debase is crowned king. For Bakhtin, this topsy-turvy body of fleshy
inversions is political allegory. Its reversals and celebrations of the lower
strata of the political/physical body offer the populous a spectacular
way to imagine different and alternative political bodies. Bakhtin sug-
gests that the grotesque and related ritual spectacles have long served
this political purpose in popular art. He suggests that the grotesque
body is somehow always in opposition to the power of the state. If
representations of Hitlers perfectly proportionate Superman was an
embodied icon of complete state control over the body, the grotesque
body is an icon of its opposite. Its messy and uneven form serves as
testament to the irrepressible and democratizing forces of the human
body, and to the collective power of the collective body to resist and
overcome state powers that would claim sovereignty over individuals.
This spectacle of inversion and resistance becomes especially crucial for
populaces without a clearly articulated vocabulary of resistance. This
potential political dimension of the grotesque body is integral to this
volumes consideration of the transnational cultural work of the genre
of horror. These excessive bodies exceed the boundaries of all that
seeks to contain them. For Bakhtin, they are the poetic expression of
the irrepressible human spirit and its ever-present desire for (and right
to) freedom. It is only natural that such bodies of excess should like-
wise obliterate generic boundaries. They serve to push, to transform,
and to reinvent generic lines, as the reader will note in the volumes
exploration of transnational uses of the genre.

Theoretical Intervention: Dis/Ability:

Destabilizing Cultural Scripts ofEmbodiment
With this in mind, we consider these bodies potentials to explore and
perhaps explode rigid cultural scripts of embodiment, including gender,
race, and ability. The reader is enriched here by fresh insights from the
emerging field of disability studies. Placing the inquiry into a transna-
tional context allows us to consider the ways in which the excessive bod-
ies that populate the genre may destabilize the generic corpus, stretching
our very definition of horror as these global bodies bleed between
nations. The inquiry also makes a valuable contribution to the field as
it examines generic output from countries and territories that could be
better addressed in scholarship, particularly Hong Kong and Thailand.
Bakhtins concept of the grotesque body, which articulates this mapping
of the body to the political and the social, haunts each chapter in this
volume, even when not directly seen.
These reinventions, or rearticulations of generic expression, spill across
national borders in an unruly dialog between nations, taking up in its con-
versation those nations unique culturally-located historical traumas, dra-
mas and artistic forms. Their specificity becomes wedded in a sometimes
bloody, and always messy, union. As we will see, it is a union that has given
birth to a great deal of hideous progeny that are reflected in this vol-
ume: vampires, zombies, and ghosts(Smith 2012). Through these various
iterations and couplings, these excessive bodies remain ever unruly, ever
resistant to being assigned static meaning. They instead jostle between
forms, ever unstable, ever evading fixed and stable meanings.
Ultimately, it is this very instability, this very ambiguity, that is their power.
It is the liminality of these bodies of excess that allows them to resonate
across generic and national borders. In their fluctuations and (trans)national
exchanges, they challenge our existing conceptions of industrial practice and
generic form. These transgressive forms invite global audiences to imagine
new ways to envision both the body and the relations of power that form our
conceptions of the body. It is within this charged ambiguity that this work
seeks to explore the blurred lines of body (corporeal and generic/formal)
and the (trans)national. It is here that we seek to better understand the com-
pelling power this genre continues to have and the ways this power continues
to bleed between borders (generic, corporeal as well as national), challenging
and resisting all that would seek to contain it.

Contributors: Dillon, Wynter, Lee, Gruson-Wood, Honisch, Fink,

Marchbanks, Ainslie, Raphael, and Siddique
This volume is organized along these principal lines of inquiry:

Part I: Questions of Genre

Part II: The Horrific Body (Disability and Horror)
Part III: Responses to Trauma

Part I: Questions ofGenre

Mike Dillon
In Butchered in Translation: A Transnational Grotesuqe, Dillon con-
textualizes marketing strategies for horror films within national and trans-
national settings. More specifically, Dillon argues that deceptive marketing
strategies produce a transnational mode of horror spectatorship that moves
beyond one shaped by genre auteurs and the concerns of allegory.
During the peak popularity of American horror and its short-lived tor-
ture porn subset, there was a boom in other markets seeking to capitalize
on the name recognition of these trend-setting American horror narra-
tives. The French thriller Saint Martyrs de Damnes (2005) was released in
Japanese outlets as Saw Zero, explicitly marketed as a sort of prequel to the
American horror franchise despite bearing no connection or resemblance
to it; the cover art for the Saw Zero DVD features decidedly gruesome
images of mutilation and suggested violence that do not accurately reflect
Saints actual content. In a similar case, the low-budget, ultraviolent
Japanese torture film Grotesque (2009) uses a marketing strategy explicitly
linking the film to American horror by featuring a tagline on its DVD box
cover promising Saw and Hostel were only appetizers.
Such marketing tactics are wholly common and can be seen across a
variety of genres in multiple overseas markets, as distributors attempt to
boost their sales by misleading audiences with deceptive titles and cover
designs that associate their film with biggerand often betterproducts.
However, when considering the politically loaded discourses that have
come to coalesce around the American torture porn subgenreboth
publicly and academicallythis awkward referencing of such iconography
is socially significant. Using the above examples (among others) as case
studies, Dillons chapter examines what is at stake in the blind appropria-
tion of the horror brand by national cinemas, such as Japans, which are
not directly connected to recent imaginings of violence linked allegorically

to American foreign policy. By tracing the marketing strategies of various

horror films across a variety of national boundaries, Dillon looks at hor-
ror as a trope that elicits different marketing responses at the national and
transnational levels. In turn, he uses this analysis to argue that such market-
ing tactics result in a splintering of the audience blocs that most typically
constitute the horror audience. In particular, these deceptive marketing
tricks remove the films from the political contexts that inform their origi-
nal narratives and grant the legitimacy of authorship to the filmmakers;
this compels a transnational mode of horror spectatorship in which the
role of genre auteurs and the importance of allegory is overwhelmed by a
different set of prioritiesa hegemony of recognizable brands and images.

Kevin Wynter
From Dillons consideration of these consequences of deceptive market-
ing practice, Wynters An Introduction to the Continental Horror Film
suggests that current theoretical frameworks need to be expanded to more
fully account for spectators pleasure with the genre. Looking at contem-
porary European horror, he invites us to see the limits of the validity of
horror as genre. This introduction to the continental horror film pro-
vides a brief overview of the deterioration of the American horror films
self-reflexivity (a powerful mode of cultural critique in the 1970s) with the
rise of the slasher film and its dominance as the blueprint of American
horror films of the last three decades. Wynter argues that a resurgence in
the use of horror as a tool for cultural critique can be located in contem-
porary European cinema most notably, but not limited to, the films of
Michael Haneke, Bruno Dumont and Catherine Breillat. Advancing the
political dimension of Robin Woods work on the American horror film,
this chapter conceptualizes horror in a European context while question-
ing the validity of the horror genre as an organizing principle due to
its insistence upon aligning violence with meaning. Through a compara-
tive reading of two films that bridge the divide between the horror films
second and third phasesJohn McNaughtons Henry: Portrait of a Serial
Killer (1986) and George Sluizers Spoorloos (1988)Wynter suggests
that this shift from the modern horror film to the continental horror film
can be located in the rise of the serial killer as a transnational figure of fas-
cination in Western popular culture and contemporary life. Through this
investigation of the serial killer, Wynter outlines four main characteristics
that will come to define the continental horror film: negative curiosity; the
stranger; contingency; and the banality of evil.

Sangjoon Lee
While Wynters work questions the validity of the genre, in Dracula,
Vampires, and Kung Fu Fighters: The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires
and Transnational Horror Co-production in 1970s Hong Kong, Lee
places pressure on the frameworks of the critical valuations used to assess
transnational trash horror (panned hybrids and remakes of culturally
valued horror texts), suggesting that these rigid frameworks are incapable
of encompassing the wide variety of pleasure that these messy works invite
as they bleed across borders.
The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires is a hybrid genre film, which
is incorporated with the conventions of Shaw Brothers Wuxia films and
Hammer Pictures Dracula cycles. It was made in 1973 and distributed in
the UK and Hong Kong (as well as in the Shaw Brothers Southeast Asian
theatre chains) in July and October 1974, respectively. In this bizarre
transnational horror film, Count Dracula goes to early twentieth-century
China, and Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) teams up with Chinese martial
arts brothers to fight against the seven golden vampires, and ultimately,
Dracula, who took over the body of the Chinese villain, Kahn.
Reading The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires entails deciding
how we situate the film in terms of its geopolitical and generic positions
in Hong Kong and British film history. Most scholars and historians of
British horror traditions and, particularly, Dracula films, which had been
produced at Hammer Pictures, despise the film as a sad way to end one of
the great horror series (Tom Johns and Deborah Del Vecchio, 1996), or
an unmitigated mish-mash on the level of Tohos Godzilla series (Denis
Meikle, 2008), and criticize that the film has its admirers but it is only a
bizarre footnote in the career of Roy Ward Baker (Geoff Mayer, 2004).
For historians who had sympathized with the fall of the Hammer Studio
during the early 1970s, The Legend is nothing more than a cheap hybrid
genre (produced by Michael Carreras, who took over the studio in 1972)
shamelessly attempting to make easy money using the emerging popular-
ity of Hong Kong-imported martial arts films such as Five Fingers of Death
(1973) and Bruce Lees Fists of Fury (1973) in Britain and America. In
criticizing The Legend as mish-mash, bizarre, and a sad way to end,
these film historians condemn the film both for its lack of logic and failure
to be faithful to the celebrated legacy of Hammer Studios horror tradition.
The author argues that The Legend needs to be examined by theo-
retical frames that more fully account for its transnational cultural work.
The chapter locates The Legend in an imperative position where popular

cinema, trash genre, colonial/post-colonial, and vernacular modernism

are contested and hybridized. As a case study, The Legend is positioned
as the first momentous east meets west transnational horror film in the
region, and is analyzed through a discussion of how the film has negoti-
ated and decoded the very different legacies from both film cultures. Lee
particularly questions what happens to the positionality of address when
this Hong Kong-British co-production film was produced, circulated and
consumed within (and without) its transnational boundaries.

Part II: TheHorrific Body (Disability andHorror)

Julia Gruson-Wood
In Dead Meat: Horror, Disability and Eating Rituals, we move from
consideration of generic boundaries to bodily ones. In many ways, one
of the most guarded imaginary cultural borders is that between the abled
body and the disabled one. Gruson-Wood suggests we need to pay closer
attention to the importance of this obsession with disability in horror. She
illustrates how, in particular, representations of eating are a central place
where disability and horror are jointly created. Bringing together a critical
disability framework and cultural studies inquiries into the politics of food,
Gruson-Wood invites us to examine the ways in which representations of
eating are used in horror to construct the disabled subject.
By deploying Bakhtins allegory of human life and death as located
within the functions of the mouth (1968), Gruson-Wood argues that this
genre of horror, by featuring villains who have non-normative eating
rituals, is tacitly and strategically setting about to rouse terrifying repre-
sentations of disability. The first section of this piece engages with horror
in terms of how the meal makes the monster, how gastronomy makes the
grotesque. Following this, the prime role disability plays in horror texts
is addressed by examining how the genre tends to circulate around the
tensions of the threat of its victims being struck by disability and death, as
juxtaposed with its villains who are predominantly presented as disabled.
It is then suggested that the often-disabled representation of horror vil-
lains are characterized and expressed through their abject ways of eating.
This link invites an exploration of the interconnection between
culturally-specific eating rituals, disability and evil in horror texts as they
elucidate the real-life associations made between non-normative relation-
ships to food and the characterization, and even identification, of people

with disabilities. Bringing together historical and legal critical disabil-

ity frameworks, along with a cultural studies take on embodiment and
food politics, the chapter draws on textual analysis of progenitor texts
Frankenstein (1818) and Freaks (1932).

S tefan Sunandan Honisch

Honischs Music, Sound, and Noise as Bodily Disorders: Disabling the
Filmic Diegesis in Hideo Nakatas Ringu and Gore Verbinskis The Ring
also continues to illustrate the importance of disability in the construction
of transnational horror. Honisch suggests we pay attention to the ways in
which transgressions in sound and body are intertwined in Ringus move-
ment across national borders.
The chapter argues that the erasure of the boundaries between music
and noise in the soundtrack for both Ringu (1998), and the 2002
American remake The Ring is crucial to representing the physical alter-
ity (disability) of the murderous antagonist Sadako Yamamura/Samara
Morgan. Honisch focuses especially on how Sadako/Samaras transgres-
sion of the border between the physical and spectral worlds in the films
climax is reinforced musically through a disorienting collage of diegetic
and non-diegetic sound. The analysis of the ways in which the films music
represents physical otherness brings together several theoretical strands:
Michael Parris assertion that horror films pit mutated alternative bodies
against the intact, normative body cherished by audiences, disability stud-
ies theorists David Mitchell; Sharon Snyders (2000) discussion of the
pervasiveness of disability as a device of characterization in narrative art;
and Joseph N.Straus exploration of the representation and construction
of disability through musical dissonance. The essay foregrounds musics
pivotal and often neglected role in cultural representations of bodily

Moritz Fink
The next chapter invites us to consider the ambivalence of this obsession
with bodily difference in the genre, particularly as it intersects with gen-
der. Re-examining the heroines in the films of Robert Rodriguez through
a transnational disability studies lens, in An Eyepatch of Courage: Battle-
Scarred Amazon Warriors in the Movies of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin
Tarantino, Fink suggests these womens disfigurement may interrupt
objectifying scripts of gender and perhaps create empowered imaginary

This chapter focuses on two of Robert Rodriguezs filmsPlanet Terror

(2007) and Machete (2010)and reads them from a disability studies per-
spective. The investigation is especially concerned with the depiction of
two female protagonists in the films as disabled: Planet Terrors Cherry
Darling, whose leg is cut off after a zombie attack and gets replaced by an
automatic rifle functioning as prosthesis; and Machetes Luz (also known
as She), who wears an eye patch in the fashion of One Eye from the
1973 Swedish exploitation film Thriller: A Cruel Picture. The authors
hypothesis is that these representations of disability deconstruct the wom-
ens signification as sexual objects and substantially contribute to their
reconstruction as Amazon warriors.
Although the womens images are clearly shaped by dominant hege-
monic (i.e., male) fantasies in that we encounter two sexy young girls fight-
ing in tank tops and hot pants, their disabilities mark them as somewhat
other, that is, as tough, battle-tested, and emancipated allies of the male
protagonists. As in Stephen Cranes novella Red Badge of Courage, Cherry
Darling and Shes bodily defiances are thus symbolic of comradeship.
Moreover, as incongruous attributes, these disabilities are narrative pros-
thesis in the sense David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder have used the term:
they function as signifiers of the female revenge trope in splatter films as
it has become established by Thriller or Tarantinos Kill Bill films (with Elle
Driver echoing the motive of the cute girl as bare-knuckle killing machine
displayed by an eye patch as fashionable accessory). Paradoxically, then, by
losing parts of their perfect bodies, all of these women gain in dimension
as film character types: their representations as disabled offer a specific kind
of sovereignty; as Amazons, they fight for their cause, for a utopian sister-
hood that subverts conservative understandings of nation-based societies.

 aul Rae Marchbanks

In Marchbanks' Scary Truths: Morality and the Differently Abled Mind
in Lars von Triers The Kingdom, we see a similar ambivalence as we track
the movement of representations of disability in the genre across national
boundaries. Re-examining the transnational work and influence of Lars
von Trier and the Dogme 95 movement through a disability studies lens,
Marchbanks focusses on generic preoccupation with disability, something
he suggests is evident both within its narrative as well as its formal strategies.
Tracking the uneven moves of the movements strategies across national
borders, the author suggests disability is used both to interrogate and hor-
rify innocence as well as question the pervasive medical model of the body.

Whereas Lars von Trier works to dismantle that pervasive medical model
of disability which categorizes difference as deficit, this chapter suggests his
American imitators reify delimiting prejudices concerning the intellectually
disabled. This claim is underscored by comparisons between von Triers The
Kingdom (1994, 1997) and Stephen Kings adaptation of Kingdom Hospital
Years before Lars von Triers distinctive interrogation of intellectual hauteur
and statistic-driven medicine had shaped his representation of mental illness in
the films Antichrist (2009) and Melancholia (2011), he turned his attention to
intellectual disability in the television serial The Kingdom (1994, 1997). Von
Trier arranged his films of the late 1980s and 1990s into a series of trilogies
preoccupied with threats to innocence: the Eurocentric films The Element of
Crime, Epidemic, and Europa explore the tragic indoctrination of a neophyte
into corrupted modernity; and the Golden Heart trilogy of Breaking the
Waves, The Idiots, and Dancer in the Dark tracks the nafs progress through
an unjust world. He devised a second-order grouping that associates each
season of The Kingdom with the two films they immediately precede which
highlights von Triers sustained interest in a different kind of innocent.
The melodramatic Breaking the Waves (1996) explores both the social
potentialities and fantastic myths associated with mental retardation,
enabling its cognitively disabled hero to defy convention by marrying and
reveling in sexual fulfillment, then achieve apparent transcendence by way
of martyrdom. The topically similar but much more ebullient The Idiots
(1998) investigates the emotional and spiritual benefits that may accrue
when an ordinary personwhat Rosemarie Garland-Thomson has labeled
the normateintentionally adopts an imbecilic behavioral mode char-
acterized by broken speech, fumbling movements, and socially inappro-
priate spazzing. The Kingdom, which shares these films preoccupation
with intellectual difference and prefigures their harried camera movements
and frenetic editing style, employs a radically different, comi-tragic tone
which enables a class of horror that deftly unites the politics of Breaking
with the radical possibilities of Idiots.

Part III: Responses toTrauma

 ary J. Ainslie
Froma concern with the construction and dissemination of the disabled
body, Ainslies chapter, Towards a Southeast Asian Model of Horror:
Thai Horror Cinema in Malaysia, Urbanization, and Cultural Proximity,

turns to the flow of Thai horror into Malaysia, where Thai horror films
are the most frequent and evident representation of Thai cultural products
in that country. First outlining the rise of Thai horror cinema internation-
ally, Ainslie proposes that the cultivation of a pan-Asian horrific image of
urbanization has allowed Thai horror to travel well. Through a close com-
parison with Malaysian horror, the chapter then suggests a degree of cul-
tural proximity between the horrific depictions of these two Southeast
Asian countries which point to a particularly Southeast Asian brand of the
horror film: a model that is best understood through attention to struc-
ture and genre. Despite these similarities however, the chapter also indi-
cates that in the changing and complex context of contemporary Malaysia,
the trauma that is given voice in Thai horror may offer the new urban
consumer an alternative depiction of, and engagement with, Southeast
Asian modernity not addressed by Malaysian horror.

Raphael Raphael
Raphael shifts the geographical lens from the complexities of Thai
nationhood and Southeast Asia to East Asia. His chapter, Planet Kong:
Transnational Flows of King Kong (1933) in Japan and East Asia, sug-
gests that popular American criticism that dismissed unofficial remakes of
King Kong (1933) in East Asia in 1976 and 1977 overlooked the films cri-
tiques of American military power and the subsequent pleasures the films
offered transnational audiences as imagined responses to national trauma.
Raphael examines popular American critical responses to unofficial East
Asian remakes of King Kong (1933) released in 1976 and 1977. These
so-called Bad Kongs attempted to capitalize on international aware-
ness of Dino De Laurentiis widely panned New Hollywood remake King
Kong (1976). Criticism frequently dismissed the films on the basis of their
lack of authenticity and technical prowess. These critical dismissals dis-
avowed the Bad Kongs strident critiques of (American) military power
and their dialog with local/national memories of trauma.
To better understand these ignored aspects of the films, Raphael uses
M.M.Bakhtins theory of the chronotope as a useful frame to consider
King Kong (1933) both as historically-situated production and imagined
space closely associated with crisis (social and economic) and (at least
imagined) resistance to American power. Placing these Bad Kongs in
dialogue with these originary voices helps better explain the transgressive
pleasures these knock-off Kongs offered transnational audiences. A read-
ing of the 1977 Hong Kong release of the Shaw Brothers transnational

production Xing xing wang (Mighty Peking Man) helps illustrate how the
chronotope of Kong is reanimated for local needs and in response to local
social and industrial crises.

Sophia Siddique
Siddique infuses the discussion of transnational horror with a pan-Asian
gaze, and in Embodying Spectral Vision in The Eye argues that The
Eyewith its pan-Asian gazeexplores a series of historical traumas
through spectral visions and forms of embodied knowledge.
It is a fractured vision that yearns for a collective Chinese identity,
one that moves to transcend time (history) and space (national boundar-
ies). The chapter locates this fractured vision within the grotesque bodies
of Mun, a blind Chinese musician from Hong Kong, and her spectral
Chinese-Thai counterpart, Ying. The analysis delves into the implications
of this pan-Asian gaze, touching on both Hong Kongs cultural identity
post-handover and the violent history and social trauma experienced by
minority ethnic Chinese in rural Thailand.
Together, we see in Transnational Horror Cinema: Bodies of Excess and
the Global Grotesque, the troubled movements of these excessive bod-
ies across borders, their uneasy stitching across nations and bodies. This
present volume illustrates ways in which these flows and exchanges invite
us to revise conceptions of generic corpus. Moreover, its authors pro-
vide us with new ways of conceiving of the global, cultural work of the
horrific bodyparticularly cultural scripts associated with disability. The
work also offers new ways to see the intersection between the horrific and
the horrified as these global exchanges negotiate transnational audiences
experiences with culturally-specific and historical trauma. We hope that
this collection will contribute to emerging discourse and discussions of
transnational horror and become a template for further work and new
studies on the topic.

Bakhtin, M.M. Rabelais and His World. Cambridge, MA: M.I.T., 1968.
Bakhtin, M.M. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M., translated by Caryl
Emerson & Michael Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981.
Carroll, Nol. The Philosophy of Horror, Or, Paradoxes of the Heart. New York:
Routledge, 1990.
Creed, Barbara. The Monstrous-feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis. London:
Routledge, 1993.

Elsaesser, Thomas. Weimar Cinema and After: Germanys Historical Imaginary.

London: Routledge, 2000.
Freud, Sigmund, David McLintock, and Hugh Haughton. The Uncanny.
NewYork: Penguin, 2003.
Hanich, Julian. Cinematic Emotion in Horror Films and Thrillers: The Aesthetic
Paradox of Pleasurable Fear. NewYork: Routledge, 2010.
Kracauer, Siegfried. From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German
Film. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1974.
Kristeva, Julia, and Leon S. Roudiez. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection.
NewYork: Columbia UP, 1982.
Johnson, Tom, and Del Vecchio, Deborah. Hammer Films: An Exhaustive
Filmography. London: McFarland and Company, Inc., 1996.
Ndalianis, Angela. The Horror Sensorium: Media and the Senses. Jefferson, NC:
McFarland, 2012.
Mayer, Geoff. Roy Ward Baker. Manchester and NewYork: Manchester University
Press, 2004.
Mitchell, David & Snyder, Sharon. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the
Dependencies of Discourse. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2000.

Questions of Genre

Butchered inTranslation: ATransnational



The American comedian Patton Oswalt is a devoted cinephile who rou-

tinely peppers his stand-up performances with film references. He has a bit
in which he expresses his frustrations with wishy-washy movie titles that
fail to shape an audiences expectations.

Im so sick of the non-committal Hollywood movie title. You know, like

Along Came Polly, or Somethings Gotta Give, or Feelin Sorta Kinda.
Thats the titles way of going I aint got nothin to do with this. Dont
even drag me into this bullshit. You know what the greatest movie title ever
was? Texas. Chainsaw. Massacre. You know why? Because when you hear
that title, even if you havent seen that movie, you just saw it.1 (YouTube,
Patton OswaltYo La Tengo Hanukkah)

Oswalts appreciation for lean, high-concept titlesand his contention

that descriptors like Texas, chainsaw, and massacre do all that is
necessary to convey the films setting, content, and tonedraws atten-
tion to the importance of titling. A strong title supplies the films first
unit of meaning and is a crucial factor in spurring audience excitement;

M. Dillon (*)
Department of Cinema and Television Arts, California State University,
Fullerton, CA, USA

The Author(s) 2016 19

S. Siddique, R. Raphael (eds.), Transnational Horror Cinema,

a lackluster title, by contrast, risks our apathy and derision. As Oswalt

further implies, titles given to genre films, particularly in horror, are argu-
ably more effective at evoking unambiguous and marketable imagery.
If the kind of no-nonsense clarity of a Texas chainsaw massacre is
to be applauded, one appreciates a title like Ko ji Shiraishis Grotesque
(Gurotesuku, 2009), which also leaves little room for confusion about
genre, proclivity for gore, and reasonable expectations of discomfort
assumed by viewers. (If you elect to watch this title, you rescind the right
to cry foul, no?). Grotesque acts as its own self-reflexive descriptor and
promotes its own brand, even supplying a readyif obviousheadline for
critics and reviewers. And this film, a low-budget work of shock/schlock
from Japan, certainly delivers on its promise of graphic violence. As film
reviewer Zev Toledano (2016) notes: This is the torture movie to end all
torture movies as far as extreme sadistic violence is concerned, and I cant
imagine a movie ever topping it.
A key premise for this chapter is that any contemporary evaluation of
torture movies, like Toledanos above, implies the specific terrain of
torture porn, the subset of horror cinema that rose to prominence in the
2000s and is most exemplified by commercially successful American films
like Saw (Wan 2004) and Hostel (Roth 2006). Grotesques depictions of
tortureinsofar as they are presumed to be extreme, tasteless, and narra-
tively gratuitousare iconographically linked to this spate of horror films
(or the glut of such films, depending on your allegiances). This presump-
tion of derivativeness is an important aspect of how the film has been mar-
keted, both for domestic and transnational audiences. As Ramon Lobato
notes, films produced at the lower end of the industrial scale are hard-
pressed to attain any visibility in the marketplace if they do not align them-
selves with recognizable genres (25). In a similar vein, the promotion of
such films, as demonstrated below, also draws upon certain niche practices
in film marketing, namely the championing of auteurism to legitimize the
artistic qualities and radical politics of a horror text. However, Grotesques
filmic identitynow synonymous with its accompanying controversy (see
below)represents a curious case in which this mode of transnational hor-
ror marketing is all but discarded in favor of perpetuating generic brand
associations with American horror franchises.
I ask a specific question: if, as Lobato states, derivativeness is a pivotal
characteristic of low-budget cinema, to what extent can derivativeness be
imposed upon a film by prevailing trends in low-budget marketing? In
what follows, I explore the ways in which Grotesques original titling and

DVD cover art in Japan engage in the fairly typical practice of validating
horror through the legitimizing lens of auteurism, and how those practices
are then nullified in the films DVD presentation in the United Kingdom.
From this case study, I look to a broader pattern of disingenuous market-
ing between Europe and Japan that reveals a tendency to disunite auteur
from genre, obfuscating the renegade horror auteur and emphasizing
artificial connections to American torture porn. These dual strategies can
be seen in several peculiar details of Grotesques DVD cover designs in
Japan and the UK.
In brief, Grotesque is about a demented surgeon who abducts a yup-
pie couple and subjects them to various forms of sexual humiliation
and mutilation. There is little to the plot outside of its varying torture
episodes; there is a brief respite in the second-act, during which the
surgeon claims to have gratified his urges and promises to release the
couple; but he goes back on his word and elects to finish them off.
Otherwise a fairly unremarkable and low budget genre film, Grotesque
is perhaps best known internationally for the reaction it stirred up in
the UK.The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) made the rare
decision to refuse Grotesque a rating certification, effectively banning it
from distribution. The BBFCs then-Director David Cooke justified the
decision thusly:

Unlike other recent torture themed horror works, such as the Saw and
Hostel series, Grotesque features minimal narrative or character development
and presents the audience with little more than an unrelenting and esca-
lating scenario of humiliation, brutality, and sadism. In spite of a vestigial
attempt to explain the killers motivations at the very end of the film, the
chief pleasure on offer is not related to understanding the motivations of
any of the central characters. Rather, the chief pleasure on offer seems to be
wallowing in the spectacle of sadism (including sexual sadism) for its own
sake. (Quoted in Businesswire)

The BBFC ban and its aftermathbest chronicled in a Japan Today arti-
cle by Sarah Cortina (2009)gave the film instant notoriety, prompting
the retail website Amazon Japan to remove Grotesque from its DVD selec-
tion (it has since become available again).2 The controversy, ironically,
proved invaluable in generating worldwide buzz for Grotesque, especially
among its target audience of horror aficionados. Harsh condemnation

from official and institutional channels only increased viewer interest in

wallowing in the spectacle of such a purportedly dangerous film.
This should have come as no surprise. The move to ban Grotesque
recalled a relatively recent history of film censorship in the UK, spe-
cifically the video nasties era of the 1980s, which included bans on
Japanese horror films like the ultraviolent Guinea Pig series (Gin Piggu,
19851988). It also reinforced, however inadvertently, a common mar-
keting trajectory for films whose controversial standings cause them to
appreciate in subcultural capital among cult audiences. Upon their rere-
lease in the 1990s, numerous nasties titles marketed their own history
of marginalization as a commercial selling pointenabling the films []
to be associated with a category instigated by censorship (Egan 11) and
bolstering their reputations for defiance against the respectable cinemas
of the mainstream.
Following the bad (good) press surrounding the BBFC ban, Grotesque
followed in kind. Doubtlessly in a shrewd attempt to attract horror fans
who were curious to know what the fuss was all about, the films distribu-
tion company JollyRoger released an unrated version on DVD in Japan.
Shiraishi, the films director, was also thrifty in seizing upon the extra

Having been extremely conscientious about making a film that would rub
supposedly decent people the wrong way, Im very delighted and honored
that a faraway country is giving us exactly the reaction we were aiming for.
People in Japan may now view the unrated version on DVD.Its the perfect
film for couples, so please pick up a copy and enjoy it. (Quoted in Gigazine;
translation by the author)

Shiraishis hucksterism here, while cheeky, does not hesitate to frame

Grotesques now-international infamy as evidence of artistic validation:
the BBFC banwhich, in reality, could have been commercially deleteri-
ouswas, in actuality, a most flattering outgrowth of his original vision as
filmmaker and provocateur. This is not to accuse him of opportunistically
misrepresenting his relationship to his film. However, his statements echo
the manners in which the presentation of the unrated DVD further rein-
forces his auteurism, a topic explored below.

Unrated andUnauthorized
At the risk of generalization, promotional materials for extreme horror
often consist of a reliable set of protocols. In her analysis of how the video
nasties were marketed in the UK, Kate Egan notes

how the title of the film, the image on the cover, and the accompanying
cover tagline all work together to achieve [the] highlighting and fore-
grounding of a particular idea and theme, with the image and the tagline
visually and textually literalizing the films title. (52)

She goes on to argue that such bold and lurid poster/cover art is a valuable
area in which to identify several important contradictions in the culture at
large. In the context of Thatcher-era Britain, exploitation film distribu-
tors had struggled against the reactionary politics seeking to censor their
product, and yet their practices were akin to those of ballyhoo mer-
chants enabled by the values of entrepreneurship and profit-making
that informed the marketplace (49).
The following section presumes these huckster-ish impulses in taking a
close look at Figs. 2.1 and 2.2, the DVD cover art for Grotesques unrated
version in Japan, and the cover art designed for the films (unauthorized)
circulation in the UK, respectively. In so doing, I orient Egans argumen-
tation toward a different set of parameters pertinent to this volumes study
of the transnational grotesque. Namely, I look at how bad translations
and a secondary concept: translations in bad faithproduced inconsistent
ways in which auteurism and generic variation were mobilized in the dis-
tribution of horror in the 2000s. With Grotesque we are presented with a
strange example of a film that was marketed for its exceptionalism in Japan,
but was refashioned to highlight its generic proximity to American horror
when adopted by the underground DVD market in the UK.I follow this
with examples of similar cases in which lesser-known European horror cin-
ema has been repackaged as sequels to or spinoffs of successful American
films. To clarify, the subject of this analysis is not Mockbusters, the nick-
name given to low-budget productions that ape mainstream Hollywood
fare and attempt to lure undiscerning viewers with premises and titles
that resemble blockbuster films. Instead, I look at films that, whatever the
intent of their original productions, undergo a significant generic make-
over when marketed overseas.

Fig. 2.1 Grotesques unrated DVD cover

I begin by examining Grotesques unrated Japanese DVD.Citing the

so-called neo-nasty filmmakers (Jones 2006; Bernard 14) of contem-
porary American horror (Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, and the like), Mark
Bernard argues that the unrated DVD market helps to promote notions
of independence, outsider status, and claims of subversion tied to indi-
vidual horror films and directors (21). The unrated version of Hostel
(an example cited by Bernard) is orchestrated purposefully to reinforce

Fig. 2.2 Grotesques unauthorized UK DVD cover

the renegade reputation of its director, Eli Roth. It also bolsters Roths
subcultural capital among fans and among collectors of taboo cinema;
in purchasing the unrated DVD, people are invited to participate in an
unauthorized viewing experience that incorporates footage deemed too
extreme for the films theatrical release. This, in turn, ties that unauthor-
ized experience to Roths definitive authorship of the work. Furthermore,
the DVD formats myriad bonus features allow Roth to preempt other

Fig. 2.3 Hostel sample poster art

peoples textual interpretations of his films by foregrounding his own

explanations through interviews and commentary tracks. In so doing,
Roth is able to reinforce his desired identity as a political filmmaker who
is writing and directing in response to post-9/11 American foreign poli-
cies pertaining to torture and the War on Terroran association between
genre and politics that will be important later in this chapter.
As Robin Wood (2002) has argued, since the 1970s marked a high point
in the political and artistic legitimacy of horror cinema, that legitimacy has
been bound up in the genres affiliations with ideas of authorship. While

Bernards focus is more on the bonus content of DVDs than on their

cover art, he and others nevertheless propose a useful rubric for building
upon Woods scholarship and for understanding the unrated DVD as a
site for the active auteur to fashion an identity for himself (Bernard 98).
For the purposes of my analysis, it is important to note that the unrated
presentation of Grotesque coheres visually to the prevailing conventions of
marketing torture porn. The cover art for Grotesques unrated DVD from
Japan bears traces of the advertising for Hostel (Fig. 2.3 is one example),
likewise featuring the dank, brownish palate that comprises the look of
Hostels torture dungeons. Hostels menacing imagery of an apron-clad
murderer wielding a chainsaw is replaced by a gaggle of customary horror
images, including a disembodied arm bound to a blood-drenched table as
well as a row of knives and torture instruments resting in the background.
Although the Grotesque DVD jacket (Fig. 2.1) recycles the overall
sensibilities of Hostels ad campaign, its written text makes the case for
Shiraishis iconoclasm and taboo busting. At the top, English-language
print reads King of Japanese Grotesuqe Moviea bold proclamation
whose syntactical ambiguity (it is unclear whether king refers to the
film or the filmmaker) melds the correlations between the films unrated/
unsanctioned levels of violence and the singular authorship of its direc-
tor. This is likely accidental, but fortuitous. The statement is also marred
by an unfortunate spelling errorGrotesuqea mishap all the more
bizarre because Grotesque is spelled correctly elsewhere on the same
image! (This is corrected on the non-unrated DVD cover, which other-
wise retains the same design). The Japanese text underneath is a brief note
from the director: The challenge to be the most insane splatter movie in
Japanese film history! Film whatever you like. After they told me that, I
made this film (translation by the author). The unrated DVD experience
is thereby legitimized by Shiraishis credentials as a director who, as he
tells it, was granted total artistic freedom (presumably by his producers)
to dream up whatever scenarios of violence he wished.
Meanwhile, owing to its official ban by the BBFC, Grotesque was, for
a time, most widely available in the UK as an unauthorized DVD put out
by the independent distribution company 4Digital Asia. Figure 2.2 shows
their DVD jacket, a kitschier cover design that focuses on the films female
victim in the same dungeon spaceimmobilized, bloodied, with her mouth
agape in pantomimic dread. The instruments of violence are kept the same,
with the notable addition of a bloody chainsaw bisecting the foreground
and hovering over a chunk of spilled flesh. Here, there are two original
taglines unseen on the Japanese DVD: directly underneath the films title

(which, like the domestic DVD, is rewritten in Japanese katakana charac-

ters) is the promise that Saw and Hostel were just appetizers. The second
tagline, Welcome to a Japanese Nightmare, is written over the chainsaw
blade. Any mention of the director is eschewed entirely. (Also visible is a
BBFC certification, signified by the 18 logo at the bottom-right; because
Grotesque was denied certification, the inclusion of this logo on an already
doctored cover is an odd design consideration. 4Digital did not respond to
my inquiries about this detail).
Unlike the imagery of the Japanese DVD, which is evocative, but also
quite bare, the counterfeit UK DVD appears to be more in line with video
nasties covers. These were typically comprised of an exemplary image of
violence from the filmwhat Egan calls a frozen moment of violent
spectacle (52)accompanied by necessary titles and credit information.
Here, the images of horror seen in the original DVD design are punctu-
ated: gore is made explicit instead of alluded to, and the previously unseen
victim is identified as female, invoking unsettling connotations of sexual
violation. Furthermore, this cover does more to cement the link between
Grotesque and the larger canon of torture porn. The viscerally discom-
forting juxtaposition of a chainsaw with added gore recalls the industrial
machinery and raw fleshiness that, combined, constitute a major trope of
the Saw films. And of course, the declaration that Saw and Hostel are mere
appetizers when compared to Grotesque drafts this film into a game of
one-upmanship within the genre.
What is especially puzzling about the 4Digital DVD is how it both is
and is not in line with commonplace DVD marketing strategies for Asian
horror. The promotional phrase Welcome to a Japanese Nightmare
draws overtly on the cultural essentialisms of Japanese horror in a man-
ner that evokes the DVD distribution strategies of Tartan, the British/
American company known for the Asia Extreme label that proliferated in
the late 1990s and into the 2000s. Asia Extreme repackaged violent films
from that regionmost famously the works of Japanese director Takashi
Miike and Korean director Chan-wook Parkfor Western audiences.
In studying Asia Extreme, Oliver Dew identifies a set of marketing pro-
tocols attributable to the popularity of these DVDs. Specifically, he notes
how independent distributors like Tartan purposefully segment audi-
ence subcultures and target viewers at the intersection between foreign-
language film and cult genre film (Dew 54). Tartans DVD marketing
for Kinji Fukasakus highly controversial Battle Royale (Batoru Rowaiaru,
2000), for instance, solicited audience interest in the o verlapping zone

between gruesome shock cinema and legitimate art cinema coming

from an auteur with international credibility (Dew 59). For Dew, the spec-
tatorship around these extreme Japanese films is not merely a passive
expression of Japanese cinematic culture, but [is] in part constructed by
traditions of marketing and watching foreign language film in Anglophone
territories (56) that cultivate brand identification along the art cinema-
cult cinema axis. Despite its domestic distribution, the unrated DVD of
Grotesque appears to follow a similar agenda in light of its internation-
alized notorietyand hence its now-international audience, for whom
Dews formulation would presumably apply. Together, the English- and
Japanese-language texts on the unrated DVD mutually reinforce both art
and cult cinema registers by presenting Shiraishi as a Japanese auteur as
well as an unrestrained button-pusher.
Noting the increasing commodification of auteurs in the manufac-
turing of film brands, Joe Tompkins similarly argues that auteurs serve
a critical industrial function in legitimizing horror films as politically
and aesthetically radical, and available to oppositional reading strategies.
According to Tompkins, the horror auteur thrives as a brand name and
a mode of performance (209), resulting in commercially advantageous
marketing strategies that emphasize the creative personalities behind
horror films. This, in turn, generates discourses about artistic intent and
authorial vision whilst drawing attention away from the very industrial
mechanisms that generate the generating. It is apparent that JollyRogers
design for the unrated DVD encourages a like-minded cult of fascination
around Shiraishi by tying Grotesque and its accompanying controversy to
the unique vision of a rebel director. But these advertisements make no
gestures toward the films production history or even to a detailed back-
story about its conflict with the BBFC.
This effect is, in part, produced ironically by a flub in translation:
as noted above, the phrase King of Grotesuqe Movie fails to dis-
tinguish film from director. While both Dew and Tompkins identify
salient ways in which extreme horror is legitimized through the cal-
culated manufacturing of brands, neither accounts for cases in which
the subcultural credibility of such films is reinforced through errors and
mistranslations like this one. Nor do they consider the ways in which
transnational horror spectatorship may be managed through blatant
misrepresentations in advertising. The 4Digital DVD may travel along
questionable distribution networks, but I am more interested here
in the questionable practices in the titling and advertising of horror.

Despite capitalizing on the exoticism of a foreign cinema by positioning

the film as a Japanese nightmare, 4Digital simultaneously negates itself
by staging Grotesque as some sort of rejoinder to the Saw and Hostel
franchises. Their most intriguing tacticI argueis the attempt to
legitimize Grotesque by contriving an association with trend-setting
Hollywood product.

This chapter begins with the contention that titles bring a lot to bear on a
films identity. We may shrug and accept that the nuances of language are
often lost in translation, but as Ab Mark Nornes reminds us, translations
play an enormous role in the formation of film canons (4) and project a
great deal of power in shaping a films reception in foreign cultures. In this
section, I shift gears from errors in translation to deliberate untruths in
translation, showing cases in which the marketing of horror in the 2000s,
rather than cultivate transnational cinema, instead routed diverse, unre-
lated films into brand hierarchies dominated by the United States. Another
advantage of a title like Grotesque is that it does not really warrant transla-
tion because it so viscerally captures the essence of the film in multiple
linguistic contexts. 4Digitals DVD reflects this by retaining the original
title. As I show, this does not hold true for other, contemporaneous films.
Grotesque bears no direct connection to Saw or to Hostel, and yet
4Digitalcompelled to market the film independently in the wake of the
BBFC baninvites us to measure our interest in the film in specific relation
to those American titles. And this advertising methodology is visible in the
reverse direction: Japanese distribution companies, too, are wholly com-
plicit in similar strategies when promoting high-concept horror. Figure
2.4 compiles two sets of examples of explicitand monumentally dishon-
estattempts to affiliate low-budget horror films with the Saw series. The
French-Canadian thriller Saint Martyrs of the Damned (Saints Martyrs des
Damns; Aubert 2005) is about a reporter investigating a series of disap-
pearances in a mysterious village. In Japan, Geneon Entertainment retitled
and distributed this film as Saw Zero (Sou Zero). The French-language
DVD is shown here alongside the reimagined Japanese version, demon-
strating how the latter features several visual cues from Saws ad campaigns.
Figure 2.5 shows one example of a typical Saw poster, characterized by a
non-descript background, images of body parts that suggest unexplained
mutilation, and possibly an instrument of torture.

Fig. 2.4 Samples of European films falsely translated intoSaw-like DVD covers

Fig. 2.5 Saw sample poster art

Similarly, the Italian detective thriller Eyes of Crystal (Occhi di Cristallo;

Puglielli 2004) was rebranded in Japan as Jigsaw (Jigusou) by Albatros
Film; once again, they mimic Saw, this time by referencing its chief
antagonist, the evil mastermind nicknamed Jigsaw. Here, several other
images central to Saws mythology are seen: the puzzle pattern (part of
Jigsaws signature is to leave puzzle piece-shaped wounds on his victims),
the creepy doll (Jigsaw often announces his presence through Billy, a

mechanical jester puppet), and, of course, the disembodied limb strewn

before a blank background. The success of Saw has, evidently, anointed it
the master template for referencing torture porn, and the above are but
two examples of a seemingly habitual practice among Japanese distribu-
tors. One entertainment blogger in Japan chronicles numerous additional
Saw-ifications of foreign titles; the blog entry is sarcastically titled Nope,
Thats Not Saw (Shinobi-Enmacho ; translation by the author).
To be clear, there is absolutely nothing about weirdly-translated titles
that is unique to the niche realm of extreme horror. Speaking broadly, a
pleasure for film lovers, particularly multilingual ones, is seeing the bizarre
translations that film titles undergo across cultures. Some translations,
while jarring, have an undeniable logic that pertains to the film narrative.
The French title for Jaws (Spielberg 1975), for instance, is Les Dents de
la Mer (or, The Teeth of the Sea), a fitting description to accompany
the films signature promotional image of the great white sharkrows of
teeth at the readyascending toward the unsuspecting swimmer. Other
translations simply adapt a title to local customs and cultural codes, as is
the case with Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs (Lord and Miller 2009),
an animation about a botched scientific experiment that causes food prod-
ucts to fall from the sky; it was retitled Its Raining Falafel in Israel.3
Examples are legion, and exist across any number of cultural and linguistic
boundaries, serving as amusing reminders of how the international dis-
tribution of cinema produces unpredictable journeys for individual films.
Nornes, discussing what he deems to be abusive practices in subtitling,
references a practice of translation that smoothes over [and] domesticates
all otherness while it pretends to bring the audience to an experience of the
foreign (155). One might allege a similar offense in this strange pattern
of European horror films made consciously derivative of American torture
porn through their transnational rebranding; variety and difference are
smoothed over as the films are rechristened for Japanese audiences. The
result is a confounding, pretzel-like relationship between each films coun-
try of origin, its localization in overseas DVD markets, and the hegemonic
American cinema that provided the boilerplate iconography for horror
throughout the 2000s. The films may be European horror, but their DVD
covers suggest American torture porn but only in Japan. Rather than cap-
italize on the films original narratives and/or legitimize their authors,
these distributors have essentially done the oppositethey have effaced
national origin, obscured authorial intent, and hoodwinked audiences
about each film's assumed content. Dew p ersuasively outlines the m

by which companies like Tartan generate hype by differentiating their

films by nations and directors. But elsewhere, we see very different mar-
keting priorities being employed, in which those branding concepts are
subsumed by disingenuous genre-baiting.
Each of these instances shows international horrorif only on DVD
covers at the marginal ends of the horror marketbeing absorbed into a
preexisting corpus of torture porn, which many presume to be an artistic
response to the real-life political stakes of torture. That marketing tactics
can be misleading is hardy a revelation, and this manner of international
rebranding can be seen happening across a variety of genres, as distribu-
tors attempt to boost their sales by devising connections to products with
better name recognition. Saw Zero, in particular, dupes people into assum-
ing it is a direct prequel to the American series. However, the mobilization
of such iconography to such cynical ends is politically significant when
considering the full scope of conversations, both popular and academic,
that have coalesced over the years around American policies on torture.
What, precisely, do those conversations consist of? As has been widely
cited, New York magazine film critic David Edelstein (2006) was first to
coin the phrase torture porn in his review of Hostel in 2006. Since the
popular adoption of the phrase, critical and academic responses to torture
porn have presumed thematic links to sociopolitical anxieties surrounding
the September 11, 2001 terror attacks and the subsequent invasion of Iraq
by coalition forces in 2003. In particular, accounts of prisoner abuse at US
detention sites like Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison provided the
grounds by which shocking and viscerally appalling images of torture in
horror films were given political credibility. In Bernards analysis, this con-
text has allowed horror directors like Eli Roth to position themselves as
political filmmakers by putting out films that seemingly allegorize topical
debates about torture as an instrument of US wartime policy. Put another
way, discussions of torture porn are overdetermined by some of the most
controversial aspects of Americas War on Terror.

The Generic Image ofTorture (Porn)

Is there something problematic, even a little grotesque, about the appro-
priation of the torture porn label as a strategy for promoting films that
are wholly unrelated to the loaded topics of torture and terrorism? Part of
the difficulty in evaluating this marketing designation across cultural con-
texts (as opposed to merely hurling torture porn as a dismissive moni-

ker for all violent, ugly movies) is that torture porn itself is ill-defined as
a coherent subgenre. In the most concrete terms possible, we might call
genre a set of textual and aesthetic conventions in storytelling; audi-
ences and filmmakers alike are assumed to be aware of these conventions,
which are employed by a business regime that benefits from the regulation
and categorization of their product. In his seminal study Film/Genre, Rick
Altman outlines the multiple functions of genres: as a blueprint for a films
production, as a structure for its narrative, as a device to help communi-
cate its content to prospective audiences, and as a contract of expectations
with those audiences (1415). In doing so, he argues that the formation
of genres is subject to multiple analytical approaches informed by each
genres contexts of production and reception.
Much of genre studies is premised on the ability of genres to pick up
on shifting contemporaneous attitudes about social conflicts (Grant 1986;
Braudy 109, 179; Schatz 38), making them productive places for access-
ing and assessing tumultuous social anxieties. The conventions of a given
genre are historically and conceptually malleable (Altman 50; Gledhill 64;
Jancovich 2000: 470), as evidenced by their splintering into subgenres
(Neale 9), their formations into hybrids (Altman 43), and other mutations
seen across time periods and across different industries. As Brigid Cherry
notes, the expansion of horror into new categories and its hybridizations
with other genre traditions account for how horror has remained relevant
over many generations (8).
Multiple analytical approaches to a genre must necessarily include no
approach at all, and I must concede that my line of argument presumes
a hypothetical horror audience that subscribes to allegorical, post-9/11
interpretations of torture films. Some may very well dismiss these interpre-
tive frameworks or simply be unaware of them, particularly in Japan, where
viewers maintain a greater distance from American political controver-
sies. American scholars like Catherine Zimmer (2015) and Aaron Michael
Kerner (2015) have shown that torture porn is not reducible to singular
reading strategies (any more than the descriptive phrase post-9/11 can
account for the full complexities of modern American politics). Those basic
notions of conceptual malleability and inconsistent degrees of engagement
are critical when considering the variations within horror that frustrate
efforts to determine a coherent set of parameters. Torture porn is a label
that has been designated very loosely to narratives containing graphic depic-
tions of violenceGrotesque is but one example. Among American films,
these include serial killer movies like The Devils Rejects (Zombie 2005),

The Collector (Dunstan 2009), Vacancy (Antal 2007), I Know Who Killed Me
(Sivertson 2007), The Killing Gene (also known as WZ; Shankland 2007),
and Untraceable (Hoblit 2008). Remakes of the controversial 1970s rape-
revenge films The Last House on the Left (Craven 1972 [original]; Iliadis
2009[remake]) and I Spit on Your Grave (also known as Day of the Woman;
Zarchi 1978 [original]; Monroe 2010 [remake]) were dismissed as torture
porn for their alleged fixation on brutality and sadism that bore none of the
political critiques evident in the originals. Even Mel Gibsons The Passion
of the Christ (2004), despite its obvious theological earnestness, has been
compared to torture porn for its prolonged, voyeuristic sequences of public
bloodletting (von Tunzelmann 2010).
More germane to the discussion here, torture-as-genre has partially or
wholly framed the critical and popular reception of films emerging from
a range of international cinemas. These include French Extreme films
like High Tension (Haute Tension; Aja 2003), Frontier(s) (Frontire(s);
Gens 2007), and Martyrs (Laugier 2008); and films from Tartans Asia
Extreme, including Miikes yakuza dark comedy Ichi the Killer (Koroshiya
Ichi; Miike 2001), and the South Korean revenge thriller I Saw the Devil
(Akmareul Boatda; Kim 2010). Grotesque, too, might be more accurately
described as a splatter film, especially given its obvious lineage to the
Guinea Pig films (Shiraishi himself elects to describe his film as an insane
splatter movie on the unrated DVD jacket).
Do the advertising practices examined in this chapter point to a uni-
fying template with which we can proceed, perhaps by allowing us to
identify what Stephen Neale calls the generic imagethat is, labels,
terms and expectations which will come to characterize the genre as a
whole (49)? It would be inaccurate to reduce torture porns generic
image simply to elaborate sequences of torture; after all, diabolical tor-
ture contraptions are visible in non-horror cinema (James Bond, say,
has escaped his share). Instead, Zimmer (2010) notes that, unlike in
previous cycles of violent films, in the horror genre or otherwise, tor-
ture porn relies on the visibility of bodies in excruciating pain. What
Zimmer calls the production of visibility integral to torture as trope
necessarily impacts the films narrative constructions around scenarios
of torture and the specific mise-en-scne of key sequences. In effect,
these films maximize the visceral impact of seeing bodies suffer, punctu-
ating the sequences with special effects whose simulated destruction of
the human body seem to be the raison dtre of contemporary horror
(Crane 910).

To borrow from Nornes, I would designate these deceptive market-

ing practices an abusive use of generic imagery that elects to smooth
over difference instead of celebrating or attempting to understand it.
Where representations of torture are absent from several films in Japans
Not Saw catalogue, that imagery is still central to how those films
are presented as commercial DVDs. Eliding cultural difference, these
distribution firms promise a horror experience akin to viewing Saw by
designing provocative cover art in the tradition of video nasties and con-
verting foreign titles into simple, homespun translations that would give
comedian Patton Oswalt a sense of narrative and tonal assurance. But
these DVDs are merely manufacturing a sense of conformity and coher-
ence, and once we know the advertising to be false, the films scatter
once again into their heterogeneous subgenres and industrial origins.
Ultimately, Grotesque, while featuring the relevant narrative ingredients
of a torture film, is arguably not a work of torture porn in the politi-
cally overdetermined ways that Saw and Hostel are thought to be (rather,
if Saw and Hostel are appetizers for addressing the political stakes of on-
screen torture, Grotesques disingenuously refashioning as torture porn
offers up some empty calories). Instead, Grotesque seems to exemplify
more saliently a case in which venturing into the transnational market
sometimes means that the prevailing a dvertising gimmicks dictate the
political affiliations of your film.

In his study of informal distribution networks, Lobato likens the
straight-to-video market to a slaughterhouse of cinema, lamenting
the tendency for films in this marginal, overcrowded category to be
dismissed as trite and unworthy of study (33). Although my explora-
tions here of obscure horror films do not delineate between straight-
to-video and low-budget (Grotesque, after all, did have a brief theatrical
release), a slaughterhouse seems an apt metaphor for a consumer arena
in which film titles are so routinely butchered in translation. The capac-
ity for bad-faith advertising to (re)produce hierarchies in film culture
suppressing what is potentially radical about foreign horror texts by
Americanizing their appearancespeaks to Lobatos wider examina-
tions into how distribution methods impact media industries and engi-
neer taste. In the case study presented here, Grotesque, while narrow in
its scope, illustrates the ways in which these processes can be facilitated
through error and deceptionthat is, through mistranslation, both

accidental and deliberate. Rather than come away with a clearer under-
standing of what does, or does not, fall within the generic or cultural
parameters of torture porn, we contend with a symbolic error in titling:
Grotesuqefamiliar, but askew.

1. The films Oswalt identifies by name are: Along Came Polly (Hamburg
2004); Somethings Gotta Give (Meyers 2003); The Texas Chain Saw
Massacre (Hooper 1974).
2. Despite Grotesque never being officially available for sale in the UK,
Amazons UK division does sell region-free versions of the DVD,
imported from Asian markets. As of this writing, a French-language
Blu-ray is also available on the site.
3. I learned of this translation from an article in Sundays Zaman,
which compiles a variety of Hollywood film titles that have under-
gone strange translations in overseas markets.

4Digital Asia Expresses Surprise at the BBFCs Decision to Ban Japanese Horror
Film Grotesque. Businesswire, 20 August, 2009. Web. 30 January, 2016.
Altman, Rick. Film/Genre. London: British Film Institute, 1999. Print.
Bernard, Mark. Selling the Splat Pack: The DVD Revolution and the American
Horror Film. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015.
Braudy, Leo. The World in a Frame: What We See in Films. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 1976. Print.
Cherry, Brigid. Horror. London and NewYork: Routledge, 2009. Print.
Chigau, SAW janai (Nope, Thats Not Saw; translation by Mike Dillon).
Shinobi-Enmacho , 6 March, 2017. Web. 30 January, 2016. <http://ameblo.
jp/sinobi/entry 10024235817.html>.
Cortina, Sarah. Bathed in blood. Japan Today, 30 September, 2009. Web. 30
January, 2016.
Crane, Jonathan Lake. Terror and Everyday Life: Singular Moments in the History
of the Horror Film. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 1994. Print.
Dew, Oliver. Asia Extreme: Japanese Cinema and British Hype. New Cinemas:
Journal of Contemporary Film 5.1 (2007): 5373. Print.
Edelstein, David. Now Playing at Your Local Multiplex: Torture Porn. New
York, 6 February, 2006. Web. 30 January, 2016.

Egan, Kate. Trash or Treasure? Censorship and the Changing Meanings of the Video
Nasties. Manchester and NewYork: Manchester University Press, 2007. Print.
Gledhill, Christine. Genre. The Cinema Book, 3rd ed. Ed. Pam Cook. London:
BFI, 2008. Print.
Grant, Barry Keith. Experience and Meaning in Genre Films. Film Genre
Reader. Ed. Barry Keith Grant. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986. Print.
Its raining falafel: Hollywood movie titles lost in translation. Sundays Zaman,
2 March, 2014. Web. 30 January, 2016.
Jancovich, Mark. A Real Shocker: Authenticity, Genre, and the Struggle for
Distinction. The Film Cultures Reader. Ed. Graeme Turner. London:
Routledge, 2000. Print.
Jones, Alan. The new blood. Total Film, 113 (2006): 100106.
Kerner, Aaron Michael. Torture Porn in the Wake of 9/11: Horror, Exploitation,
and the Cinema of Sensation. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2015.
Lobato, Ramon. Shadow Economies of Cinema: Mapping Informal Film
Distribution. London: Palgrave Macillan, 2012. Print.
Neale, Stephen. Genre. London: BFI, 1980.
Nihon no eiga Gurotesuku ga Igirisu de ko kai-kinshi niittai donoyo na naiyo
datta no ka? (The Japanese film Grotesque has been banned from release in
Englandwhat exactly happened?; translation by Mike Dillon). Gigazine, 20
August, 2009. Web. 30 January, 2016.
Nornes, Ab Mark. Cinema Babel: Translating Global Cinema. Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 2007. Print.
Schatz, Thomas. Hollywood Genres: Formulas, Filmmaking, and the Studio System.
New York: Random House, 1981. Print.
Toledano, Zev. Extreme Sadism & Violence. The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre.
Web. 30 January, 2016.
Tompkins, Joe. Bids for Distinction: The Critical-Industrial Function of the
Horror Auteur. Merchants of Menace: The Business of Horror Cinema. Ed.
Richard Newell. NewYork & London: Bloomsbury, 2014. Print.
vaderbomb93. Patton OswaltYo La Tengo Hanukkah Show (Part 2). Online
video clip. YouTube, 8 February, 2012. Web. Accessed 30 January, 2016.
von Tunzelmann, Alex. The Passion of the Christ: Not the gospel truth. The
Guardian, 1 April, 2010. Web. 30 January, 2016.
Wood, Robin. The American Nightmare: Horror in the 70s. Horror, the Film
Reader. Ed. Mark Jancovich. London & NewYork: Routledge, 2002. Print.
Zimmer, Catherine. Surveillance and/as Torture in Contemporary Horror.
Conference Presentation. Society for Cinema and Media Studies. Los Angeles,
18 March, 2010.
Zimmer. Surveillance Cinema. NewYork: NYU Press, 2015. Print.

Along Came Polly. Dir. John Hamburg. Perf. Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston.
Universal Pictures, 2004.
Battle Royale (Batoru Rowaiaru). Kinji Fukasaku. Perf. Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki
Maeda, and Takeshi Kitano. Tei Company, 2000.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Dir. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Perf.
Anna Faris and Bill Hader. Columbia Pictures, 2009.
Collector, The. Dir. Marcus Dunstan. Perf. Josh Stewart and Andrea Roth. LD
Entertainment, 2009.
Devils Rejects, The. Dir. Rob Zombie. Perf. Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie,
and Sig Haig. Lions Gate Films, 2005.
Frontier(s) (Frontire(s)). Dir. Xavier Gens. Perf. Karina Testa, Aurlien Wiik, and
Patrick Ligardes. EuropaCorp. Distribution, 2007.
Grotesque (Gurotesuku). Dir. Kji Shiraishi. Perf. Kotoha Hiroyama, Hiroaki
Kawatsure, and Shigeo sako. JollyRoger, 2009.
Guinea Pig (Gin Piggu) series: Devils Experiment (Akuma no Jikken). Dir. Satoru
Ogura. Sai Enterprise, 1985; Flower of Flesh and Blood (Chiniku no Hana). Dir.
Hideshi Hino. 1985; Shudder! The Man Who Doesnt Die (Senritsu! Shinanai
Otoko). Dir. Masayuki Kusumi. 1986; Devil Woman Doctor (Pt no Akuma no
Joi-san). Dir. Hajime Tabe. 1986; Mermaid in a Manhole (Manhru no naka no
Ningyo). Dir. Hideshi Hino. Japan Home Video, 1988; Android of Notre Dame
(Ntorudamu no Andoroido). Dir. Kazuhito Kuramoto. Japan Home Video,
1989; Slaughter Special (Zansatsu Supessharu). V&R Planning, 1988.
High Tension (Haute Tension). Dir. Alexandre Aja. Perf. Ccile De France,
Mawenn, and Philippe Nahon. EuropaCorp. Distribution, 2003.
Hostel. Dir. Eli Roth. Perf. Jay Hernandez and Derek Richardson. 2006. Lions
Gate Films, 2006 (theatrical); Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, 2006
I Know Who Killed Me. Dir. Chris Sivertson. Perf. Lindsay Lohan, Julia Ormond,
and Neal McDonough. Sony Pictures Releasing, 2007.
I Saw the Devil (Angmareul Boatda). Dir. Jee-woon Kim. Perf. Byung-hun Lee
and Minsik Choi. Shadowbox/Mediaplex, 2010.
I Spit on Your Grave. Dir. Meir Zarchi. Perf. Camille Keaton, Eron Tabor, Richard
Pace. Cinemagic, 1978.
I Spit on Your Grave. Dir. Steven R. Monroe. Perf. Sarah Butler, Jeff Branson, and
Andrew Howard. Anchor Bay Films, 2010.
Ichi the Killer (Koroshiya 1). Dir. Takashi Miike. Perf. Tadanobu Asano and Nao
Ohmori. Prnom H Co., 2001.
Jaws. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Perf. Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert
Shaw. Universal Pictures, 1975.

The Killing Gene. Dir. Tom Shankland. Perf. Stellan Skarsgrd and Melissa George.
Vertigo Films, 2007.
Last House on the Left, The. Dir. Wes Craven. Perf. Sandra Peabody, Lucy Grantham,
and David Hess. Hallmark Releasing, 1972.
Last House on the Left, The. Dir. Dennis Iliadis. Perf. Garret Dillahunt, Monica
Potter, and Tony Goldwyn. Rogue Pictures, 2009.
Martyrs. Dir. Pascal Laugier. Perf. Morjana Alaoui, Mylne Jampano, and
Catherine Bgin. Wild Bunch Distribution, 2008.
Eyes of Crystal (Occhi di Cristallo). Dir. Eros Puglielli. Perf. Luigi Lo Cascio, Luca
Jimnez, and Jos ngel Egido. 01 Distribution, 2004.
Passion of the Christ, The. Dir. Mel Gibson. Perf. Jim Caviezel, Monica Bellucci,
and Maia Morgenstern. Newmarket Films, 2004.
Saint Martyrs of the Damned (Saints Martyrs des Damns). Dir. Robin Aubert.
Perf. Franois Chnier, Guy Vaillancourt, and France Labont. Christal Films,
2005 (Canadian theatrical release).
Saw. Dir. James Wan. Perf. Cary Elwes, Leigh Whannell, and Danny Glover. Lions
Gate Films, 2004.
Somethings Gotta Give. Dir. Nancy Myers. Perf. Diane Keaton, Jack Nicholson,
and Keanu Reeves. Columbia Pictures, 2003.
Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The. Dir. Tobe Hooper. Perf. Marilyn Burns, Edwin
Neal, and Allen Danzinger. Bryanston Distributing, 1974.
Untraceable. Dir. Gregory Hoblit. Perf. Diane Lane, Colin Hanks, and Joseph
Cross. Screen Gems, 2008.
Vacancy. Dir. Nimrd Antal. Perf. Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson. Screen Gems,

An Introduction totheContinental Horror



Over the past 25 years European art cinema has been increasingly
preoccupied with images of intense graphic violence and explicit sexual-
ity. Unsimulated sex scenes, brutal rapes of men and women, whole cata-
logues of corporeal undoing and bodily pain (flaying, dismemberment,
dissection, immolation, evisceration, debridement), along with seemingly
random, unprovoked, and unmotivated acts of violence have defined the
visual and thematic contours of European art cinema in the years follow-
ing the Soviet Unions collapse and the reunification of Germany after
the fall of the Berlin Wall. The critical response to this divisive period of
filmmaking in post-Wall Europe has been marked twofold by polarized
discussions of these tendentious films and their filmmakers. Terms like
cinma brut, cinema of sensation, cinma du corps, and extreme
realism have variously named this phenomenon, but the term most fre-
quently applied to the films of Bruno Dumont (Twentynine Palms, Hors
Satan), Claire Denis (Trouble Everyday), Philippe Grandrieux (Sombre and
La Vie Nouvelle), and other influential European filmmakers like Michael
Haneke, Gaspar No, and Lars von Trier has been new French extrem-
ity, or its broader, more inclusive variant, the new extremism.1

K. Wynter (*)
Visiting Scholar in Film and Critical Studies, California Institute of the Arts,
Valencia, CA, USA

The Author(s) 2016 43

S. Siddique, R. Raphael (eds.), Transnational Horror Cinema,

In his seminal book, Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan, Robin Wood

examines how traumatic ruptures in American life through the 1960s and
1970s precipitated tectonic shifts in the codes of Hollywood production.
His critical observations traverse a number of filmmakers and genres, but
for Wood it is the horror film that best serves as a barometer of the anxi-
ety, political disillusionment, and social crisis in American cinema after
the Vietnam War and Watergate.2 Wood reads the modern period of the
American horror film as a turning point in the genre when its primary
concerns are reoriented, moving away from external threats and alien
forces, toward internal threats and familiar/familial monsters. Just as the
modern period of the American horror film runs parallel to the assassina-
tions of John F.Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the violent clashes of
the civil rights movement, and a protracted and unpopular foreign war,
so too does the fall of the Berlin Wall, the disintegration of the Soviet
Union, and the violent conflicts that destabilized Europe in the years pre-
ceding the new millennium mark a homologous traumatic rupture in the
cinematic imaginary of the continent that inaugurates a series of dramatic
modifications to the horror film.
This chapter argues that the forms of violence typical of the new extrem-
ism, said to appear in European art cinemas of the post-Wall period, are
neither new nor extreme, but rather signal a transnational shift in the gene-
alogy of the American horror film that sees the genres dominant themes
and paradigms moving across categorical and epistemological boundaries.
Histories of the horror film are often split into two phases comprising a clas-
sical period and a modern period, and all invariably mark Alfred Hitchcocks
Psycho (1960) as the watershed between them. Drawing upon these two-
phase historical frameworks, I propose a third phase that I call continental
horror in order to interpret the absence of meaning, arbitrariness, and banality
characterizing violence in European art cinema of the post-Wall period not
as an ahistorical rupture of extremity, but rather as a phenomenon linked
to, and expanding upon, the paradigms of the modern American horror film.
Around the time when Psycho was released to unsuspecting audiences in
America, European horror films were also beginning a gradual process of
transformation. In his introduction to 100 European Horror Films, Steven
Jay Schneider points out that the year 1960 marks an important shift in
the European horror film as they became increasingly transgressive, sen-
sational, and violent.3 Generally referred to as Euro horror, these films
took advantage of a loosening of restraints on what could be represented
on screen, but they were also very much influenced by the radical changes

in the post-1960s American horror film.4 By drawing a link between the

violence of post-Wall European art cinema and the modern American hor-
ror film, I do not mean to discount any potential influence Euro horror
may have had on the so-called new extremism. It is important to bear in
mind though that the modern American horror film did exert significant
influence over Euro horror productions that can be seen from the giallo
films of Mario Bava and Dario Argento to the fantastique works of Jean
Rollin and others. Thus, I am not arguing against the influence of Euro
horror on the new extremism; rather, I am arguing that the violence in
post-Wall European art cinema has stronger ties, in terms of its themes
and motifs, to the modern American horror film.
Through a comparative reading of two films that bridge the divide
between the horror films second and third phasesJohn McNaughtons
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) and George Sluizers Spoorloos
(1988)I will show that this shift from the modern American horror film
to the continental horror film can be located in the rise of the serial killer
as a transnational figure of fascination in Western popular culture and con-
temporary life. The figure of the serial killer as a quotidian cipher of mur-
derous potential brings to the foreground the four main characteristics
that will come to define the continental horror film: morbid curiosity, the
stranger, contingency, and the banality of evil. In order to better draw out
these attributes and to illustrate how this transnational fascination with
the serial killer, and the conditions that produce him, inaugurate the hor-
ror genres third phase, it is necessary to briefly revisit the history of the
American horror film.

Phases oftheHorror Film

The most influential and persuasive historical accounts of the horror genre
tend to divide the genres development into two phases. For the critic Paul
Wells, the first phase of the horror film spans 1919 to 1960, encompassing
what he calls the period of consensus and constraint. Wells calls the second
phase of the horror film the period of chaos and collapse, spanning 1960
to 2000.5 Similarly, genre historian Andrew Tudor argues that the first phase
of the horror film spans from 1931 to 1960in a period he refers to as Secure
Horror, and its second phase spans from 1961 to 1984in a period Tudor
calls Paranoid Horror.6 In both Tudors and Wells historical frameworks
the elements that define a particular phase correspond closely with historically
specific social and cultural changes. As the horror genre has developed,

Wells writes, it has inevitably changed, but remains highly correspondent

to the social and cultural upheavals to which it runs parallel.7 Though
these periods are differently namedconsensus and constraint versus Secure
Horror, chaos and collapse versus Paranoid Horrorthey describe similar
phenomena. What is important to note is that both Wells and Tudor, as well
as nearly every historian of the American horror film, mark the year 1960 and
the release of Alfred Hitchcocks Psycho as the definitive transitional moment
between thefirst and second phases of the horror genre. Film scholar Brigid
Cherry also sees the horror genre as split into two broad phases: traditional
horror and contemporary horror. Cherry describes the characteristics of
the genres second phase in much the same way as Wells and Tudor:

Loss of control has also led to representations of chaos or social breakdown

in the contemporary American horror film. Traditional horror presented the
problem as an opposition between order and disorder, normality and abnor-
mality, the conscious and the unconscious self. In contemporary horror it
has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between these oppositions.
As a result narrative closure is much less likely, contemporary horror narra-
tives frequently have open or provisional endings.8

It was Wood who first noted that, Since Psycho, the Hollywood cinema
has implicitly recognized Horror as both American and familial.9 He sug-
gests that Psycho begins a trend that links monstrosity to the fundamental
institutions of American society, which were seen as the safeguard against
the threat of aliens, invaders, and foreigners in horror films prior to 1960.
Psycho is said to redirect the focus of American fears away from external,
unknown forces, instead relocating the collective anxiety and paranoia of
the nation in familiar sources already within our proximity. Horror films
before Psycho, as Wells explains,

whatever their intensity or effect, were essentially narratives that oper-

ated within the necessary limits that offered closure and securityPsycho
sought to challenge this perspective by directly implicating the viewer in
an amoral universe grounded in the psychic imperatives of its protago-
nists[It] essentially defines the parameters of the text and sub-text of
the genre as a whole. It is the moment when the monster, as a metaphor
or myth, is conflated with the reality of a modern world in which human-
kind is increasingly self-conscious and alienated from its pre-determined
social structures.10

While Psycho marks a turning point in the development of the horror

genre, it is important to note that its release cannot fully account for the
structural and thematic changes that occur within the genre in the decades
that follow. For the horror scholar Marc Jancovich, this concern with the
family and with the instability of identitywas to become one of the cen-
tral problems within contemporary horror. It cannot simply be explained
as the innovation of Psycho, or its director Alfred Hitchcock. It was part
of a more general cultural process.11 While it can be certain that a more
general process was tilling the cultural soil from which the serial killer and
his logic would flower, Psychos Norman Bates undoubtedly remains the
archetype of monstrosity in the American horror films modern period.

The Rise oftheSerial Killer

As Wood sees it, the threats represented in the modern period of the
American horror film can be summarized through five recurring motifs
that have dominated the genres second phase since the 1960s: (1) the
monster as human psychotic or schizophrenic; (2) the revenge of nature;
(3) Satanism, diabolic possession, the Antichrist; (4) the terrible child;
and(5) cannibalism.
While these motifs frequently recur in the post-1960s horror film, the
Monster as human psychotic or schizophrenic has been most promi-
nent.12 It is chiefly this motif that Psycho initiates, that The Texas Chainsaw
Massacre (1973) advances in terms of violence and brutality, and that John
Carpenters Halloween (1980) definitively establishes in the seemingly
invincible serial killer, Michael Myers.
Indeed, the serial killer, Wells notes, has become the staple villain
of the post-Psycho horror film, either in the guise of the machete-wielding
automaton or the seemingly unmotivated boy-next-door.13 The rise
of the serial killer as the modern American horror films new figuration of
monstrosity designates not only an important shift in Hollywood genre
cinema, but also some broader cultural and political realignment during
and after the Vietnam War.
The serial killer serves as the calling card for a new generation of film-
makers as the quintessential expression of fear and anxiety in the 1970s.
As the serial killer filmor slasher filmassumes increasing prominence
throughout the 1980s with the avenging son Jason Voorhees in the Friday
the 13th series, Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street series, or
the Childs Play franchise (featuring the metempsychosis of a serial killer

into the body of a childs doll), the figure of the juggernaut killer in the
horror genre eventually distills the prototype of the serial killers psycho-
logical profile down to its basic features while profoundly amplifying the
serial killers violence. If Psycho begins the modern phase of the horror
film in 1960 with the schizophrenic serial killer Norman Bates, then John
McNaughtons 1986 film, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, ends the
modern phase of the horror genre and marks the apotheosis of the genres
slasher/serial killer motif in the 1980s as it pushes the serial killers vio-
lence to its logical conclusion. Doubling, in a broad sense, as a bookend to
the horror genres modern period and as a transfer point to the continen-
tal horror film, a close examination of McNaughtons film is essential to
understanding this transitional moment in the history of the horror film.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a fictional account of the life and
crimes of convicted serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. The film is centered
upon ex-cons Henry and his roommate Otis who share an apartment in
the slums of Chicago, until Otis sister, Becky, comes to stay with them
temporarily as she settles into living in the big city. One night Henry
and Otis go out for a beer; by the end of the night they are in Henrys
car with two prostitutes. Unexpectedly and without provocation, Henry
strangles one of the women and breaks the neck of the other. Later that
night Henry explains to a troubled Otis that there are people in the world
who just have it coming to them. Satisfied with Henrys explanation,
Otis becomes increasingly comfortable with random acts of violence and
murder, culminating in a home invasion where he and Henry murder a
family while recording it on videotape. Driven to near-frenzy from the
pleasures derived from acts of violence, Otis rapes and attempts to kill his
sister. When Henry intervenes, Otis tries to kill Henry as well, but Becky
stabs her brother in the eye with the handle of a comb and Henry follows
by taking the comb from her and killing Otis with it. Subsequently, Henry
dismembers Otis body in a hotel bathroom. That night, Henry and Becky
check into a motel, but the next morning Henry leaves alone. In the films
final shot, Henrys car briefly stops along the side of the road. As his car
pulls away, in center frame, a suitcase appears to have been left on the
shoulder of the road. We can assume the suitcase contains Beckys body.
At the time of its release, the film was deemed controversial for sev-
eral reasons: the verisimilitude of its aesthetic; its departure from the con-
ventions of traditional horror genre filmmaking; and the Motion Picture
Association of Americas decision to give the film an X rating, making
the film virtually impossible to distribute. In an interview accompanying
the rerelease of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, the films director recalls

that the moment he became aware of the story of Henry Lee Lucas it was
the first time he had heard the term serial killer, adding, This was some
sort of new sickness for our time that people just went around randomly
picked victims and killed them. It was tremendously creepy and tremen-
dously horrifying. McNaughtons instincts (and financial circumstances)
compelled him to take his horror film project in an unusual direction. He
notes, We tried to do something entirely newWhen making a hor-
ror film they usually involve monsters, but we didnt have the money or
inclination to do some sort of outer space movieIndeed this character
(Henry Lee Lucas) is a monster, but a human being.
This recognition of the monstrosity of the human beingor equat-
ing monstrosity with being itselfin the context of the horror film was
not McNaughtons discovery alone. The idea that monstrosity is rooted
in the human being was a theme the modern horror film began explor-
ing in earnest in the 1970s. It is a theme that, in fact, marks the very
modernity of the horror film itself. Though films like The Texas Chainsaw
Massacre and John Carpenters Halloween are exemplary of this impulse,
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer separated itself by dispensing with the
genres conventional reliance on the categories of pathology, revenge, and
the supernatural to lend meaning to the violence of the monster, while
emphasizing the act of killing and the very conditions of violence itself.14
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer accomplishes what few horror films prior
to its release were able to achieve by successfully capturing the enigma of
the serial killers logic and transposing it into the horror genre. By trying
to go to the root of the idea of horror, the film calls attention to the
very idea of horror itself and what it means to horrify. What separates a
serial killer film like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer from a serial killer
film like Halloween, Friday the 13th, or any number of slasher film copy-
cats, is the banality of Henrys and Otis behavior, and the events sur-
rounding their acts of violence.
What is it about focusing upon the banality of the serial killers life
and his approach to his crimes that serves as the conditions of possibil-
ity in cinema for horrifying in the extreme? Not only does Henry:
Portrait of a Serial Killer call attention to the enigmatic aura surround-
ing the violence of real-world serial killers, it also calls attention to hor-
ror as a category of experience. The idea of horrifying in the extreme
or going to the root of the idea of horror is compelling because
McNaughton does not achieve this by amplifying the ferocity of the
violent fantasies in the unknowable, unstoppable killer that typified the
genre throughout the 1970s and early-1980s. Instead, McNaughton

surprisingly manufactures a new intensity of horror not by accelerat-

ing the violence, but by decelerating the action and exposing viewers
to the mundane activities of its killers and the very banality of the serial
killers approach to his crimes. Take as an example the moment after
Henry and Otis record themselves on a camcorder killing a family in
a violent home invasion. We find them back at their home sitting on
a couch drinking beer. These monsters are not the masked jugger-
naut killers common to the slasher film. As we encounter them they are
simply two working class men enjoying a beer and watching television
together; it just so happens that what they are watching, with little or no
visible reaction, is a recording of their crimes. This version of the serial
killer, and the violence of serial killing, brings into view an important
disjunction between the types of violence traditionally linked to hor-
ror films, and the violence found in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.
The latter roots horror in the prosaicness of everyday life as opposed
to the formers adrenalized fantasies of murder and mutilation that had
become paradigmatic of the genre at the end of its modern period.
Critic Kim Newmans remarks on Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
seem to support the position that the films feeling of horror differs
from other horror films of the period. Newman writes, This narrowing
of focus to the unbearable renders the film too disturbing, threatening and
emotionally confusing for many. Its conscious incorporation of a view-
ers inevitable reaction against what is shown proves a more challenging,
uncomfortable and honorable approach to real-life horror than successors
attempts to dress up in the generic guise of thriller or horror movie.15
What Newman describes as the emergence of a new kind of serial killer
filmone that does the difficult job of, as John Carpenter has observed,
representing evil as the enemy within is clearly a harbinger of the
elements that are said to constitute the new extremism.16 Yet, no seri-
ous effort to this point has been made to forge a thematic link between
the violence of the modern American horror film and the violence of
post-Wall art cinema. Where the disconnect between these two cinematic
modes may lie, and why they may not immediately seem to be part of the
same genealogy, is in the fact that the films of post-Wall Europehowever
violent they may beappear to share no resemblance whatsoever with the
form, structure or mood of generic Hollywood horror films. However,
this perceived disjunction between the violence in post-Wall European art
cinema and the horror genre in fact articulates a pivotal moment for the
representation of horror in cinema.

By refusing to situate its violence within meaningful or rational coor-

dinates, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer breaks from the generic para-
digm of the American horror film in its evasion of pathologizing the killers
through the discourses of psychology or psychiatry, or by postulating them
as agents of vengeance. The motives provided by the film for why Henry
and Otis go on a killing spree are not explicitly made part of the narrative;
they are instead coded within signifiers of class representation (perpetual
unemployment, poor grammar, poor living conditions, and reference to
time spent in prison). In other words, they are merely supplementary to
the narrative, as opposed to structuring the typical motivations for vio-
lencerevenge, madness, return of the repressedthat we see in all but
a handful of horror films produced during its second phase. This would
seem to evince a disconnect between a sense of real-life horror and what
we implicitly understand to be aesthetic horror. What can be gleaned
here is that the horror genre shows little interest in offering experiences of
horror proper, and that the waning moments of the horror films modern
period call attention to this paradox.

Without aTrace
The horror genre is reordered by the rise of the serial killer in the mid-
1980s. Two years after Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer shocked audi-
ences, another astonishing film about a serial killer and his banal acts of
violence was released as a co-production between the Netherlands and
France: George Sluizers Spoorloos. A close reading of this film offers a
deeper look into the nature of the serial killers violence, and introduces a
film that, like Hitchcocks Psycho, anticipates many of the motifs that will
come to define the continental horror film.
In his essay A Philosophy of Serial Killing, David Schmid examines
serial killer Ian Bradys 2001 book, The Gates of Janus: Serial Killing and
its Analysis, and Bradys use of Nietzsche and Sade to help organize his
views on living and killing. Schmid notes that, what disturbed commen-
tators about this apparent relation between text and action in Bradys
murders is that it suggests that Brady had developed philosophical justifi-
cation for his crimes.17 In the aftermath of Nazi Germanys collapse and
the fall of Hitler, commentators were all too quick to associate Nietzsches
notion of the bermensche and his ideas behind the will to power with the
objectives of Hitlers Final Solution. As these commentators saw it, the

literature that Brady had used to construct his worldview was based in a
form of nihilism that lent itself too easily to the atmosphere of violence
that defined the traumatic midpoint of the twentieth century. Schmid
draws attention to a crucial detail in the response to Bradys killings that
seemed to reach beyond the crimes as such, locating them instead within
a tradition of philosophical reasoning. As Schmid notes, quite apart from
the crimes themselves, it was these justificationspredicated on Bradys
readings of Nietzsche and Sadethat made the case so controversial and
so troubling.18 Ultimately, Brady hoped that his actions would be gauged
from a philosophical perspective that was weighted toward the types of
moral relativism and individuality both Nietzsche and Sade championed.
In his book Serial Killers: Life and Death in Americas Wound Culture,
Mark Seltzer argues that public interest in violent crimes in the late nine-
teenth century is marked by a declining interest in criminal acts and a
rising interest in the criminal actor. As focus shifts away from crimes to
criminals, Seltzer believes a type of act (killing) eventually becomes a spe-
cies of person (a killer). The serial killer emerges at this moment in history.
As Seltzer writes:

By the turn of the century, serial killing has become something to do (a

lifestyle, a career, or calling) and the serial killer has become something to
be (a species of person). The serial killer becomes a type of person, a body,
a case history, a childhood, an alien life form Murder by numbers is the
work of the individual who, in the most radical form, experiences identity,
his own and others, as a matter of numbers, kinds, types, and as a matter of
simulation and likeness (just like me).19

It is against the background of these ideas related to the serial killer as a

type of person and the serial killers moral relativisms and self-justifications
for violence that I would like to offer a reading of a pivotal scene from
Rex is three years removed from the kidnapping of his girlfriend, Saskia.
Over the course of those three years his obsession with discovering the
truth of her disappearance has not diminished. During this time, Saskias
kidnapper, Raymond Lemuera science teacher, husband, and father of
two daughtershas been tracking Rex and his efforts to learn of Saskias
whereabouts through the media. Emboldened by a television interview in
which Rex demands that Saskias kidnapper find the courage to contact
him and tell him the truth of Saskias disappearance, Raymond sends a

postcard to Rex and proposes that they meet. Now face to face, Raymond
offers Rex a simple proposition: if Rex wishes to know what happened to
Saskia, then Rex must go through exactly what Saskia went through, after
which all will be revealed. Rex at first refuses the proposition of placing
himself at Raymonds mercy in order to discover the facts of Saskias disap-
pearance. Rex begins beating Raymond and threatens to bring him to the
authorities, but as Raymond tells Rex: You can kill me. I acknowledge
your right to do so. Ill take the risk. But youll never know what happened
to Saskia. Im banking on your curiosity. The idea of curiosity is crucial
here because Raymond does not take this chance blindly or arbitrarily; it is
very much a strategic wager. Raymond is able to bank upon Rexs curios-
ity for one very obvious and immediate reason: Raymond knows Rex has
been actively pursuing the facts of Saskias disappearance for three years.
The mystery behind Saskias disappearance has been an obsession for Rex
to the point that he explains to his new girlfriend that after Saskias disap-
pearance he gave himself two choices: to believe that Saskia is still alive
and to let her live without ever contacting her again, or to let her die and
discover what happened to her. This characteristic of Rexs personality was
clear to Raymond, but this alone would not be enough for Raymond to
risk the repercussions of discovery and its consequences. Raymond was
able to bank on Rexs curiosity because he too is intimately aware of the
power of wanting to know.
The two men drive across the French countryside as Rex considers
the almost assuredly fatal proposal Raymond has made. As Rex contem-
plates the offer, Raymond tells him the following story: When I was
16, I discovered something. Through a flashback we are taken back to
Raymonds childhood where we find young Raymond standing on the
ledge of a second floor balcony as he contemplates jumping. Everyone
has those thoughts, but no one ever jumps. I told myself: imagine youre
jumping. Is it predestined that I wont? So, to go against what is predes-
tined, one must jump. I jumped. We cut back to the cabin of the car as
Raymond tells Rex, The fall was a holy event. I broke my left arm and
lost two fingers. Why did I jump? As Rex is left to ponder Raymonds
question, Raymond begins recounting another jumping episode that took
place 26 years later when he jumped off a bridge into a river to save a little
girl struggling to keep her head above water. He explains to Rex that, at
that moment, he was considered to be a hero to his daughters: But I
thought that their admiration wasnt worth anything unless I could prove
myself absolutely incapable of doing anything evil. And as black cannot

exist without white, I logically conceived the most horrible deed that I
could envision right at that moment. But I want you to know, for me kill-
ing is not the worst thing.
Rexs need to know compels him finally to ingest a sleeping agent
prepared by Raymond as a condition of learning the truth of Saskias dis-
appearance. In the following scene it is revealed to us what Raymond
meant when he told Rex that for him killing is not the worst thing.
When the sedative wears off, Rex awakens to find that he has been sealed
in a wooden coffin and buried alive. Rex begins screaming at the realiza-
tion of his predicament, then he screams Saskias name as it becomes clear
to him in both body and knowledge precisely how she met her demise.
After a dissolve into a slow tracking shot across a patch of dirt and
grass, we find Raymond outside of his country home sitting on a wooden
bench several yards from his doorstep reading a book and watching his
wife water the garden. Raymonds children are off in the distance playing
and laughing together. The transition from Rex screaming in his final rest-
ing place into the mobile shot of Raymond enjoying a pleasant afternoon
with his family signals that both men are within each others proximity;
in other words, it is clear that Raymond is sitting on top of the very soil
beneath which Rexand presumably Saskiaare buried. It is important
to note that Raymond does not bury Rex and Saskia in a vacant lot or in
some distant woods far from the comings and goings of his everyday life.
He instead buries them beneath his vacation home, where he can remain
in proximity to the bodies of his victims and the achievement of his crime,
which finalizes his mastery over the prohibitory injunction that compelled
him to leap from his balcony when he was a boy.
In an observation that accords perfectly with the meeting between
Raymond and Rex, Schmid writes, For, apart from their egoism, the other
principle distinguishing characteristic of Sadean heroes is their addiction
to self-justification. At the slightest provocation, they will pause in the
midst of their debauches and undertake the most exhaustive (and repeti-
tive) explanation of why they are entirely justified in their chosen course
of action by speaking of the relativity of moral concepts.20 Raymonds
statement to Rex (You can kill me, I acknowledge your right to do so)
works to the benefit of the Sadean hero in a number of ways. In one sense,
the phrase diminishes the punitive content of death by clarifying for Rex
that Raymond understands the possibility of his being killed or punished
is an anticipated consequence in arranging to meet him. In another sense,
by virtue of Raymond expressing his acknowledgement of Rexs right to

kill him, rather than according Rex power it instead strips him of agency
and transforms Rexs right to kill into part of the logic of Raymonds
coming forward, and the logic of the crime itself. This is how the Sadean
hero and the serial killer transform death into a positive phenomenon. As
Schmid finally observes, The Sadean hero is not exempt from punish-
ment and death, it is true, but he or she is exempt from feeling victimized
by that punishment.21
Raymonds obsessive calculation of time and body, the choreography of
his movements as he escorts an imaginary victim into his car, the rehearsal
of gestures needed to chloroform his imaginary victim (on his daugh-
ter after picking her up from school, no less), Raymond chloroforming
himself and measuring the time of his unconsciousness, the calculation of
travel time and distance from the point he has chosen to apprehend his
victims (a truck stop) to his vacation home, the calculation of his heart rate
and the successive decrease in its rapidity recorded in a notebook after a
series of practice runs: all of these precursors to a crime, these simula-
tions of the conditions of the transgressive act that remain a mystery to us
until the films penultimate scene, in which we find Rex buried in a box,
exemplifySeltzers statistical person. Raymond, the science teacher, is
a man who has collapsed the categories of work and leisure, of morality
and desire; he is a man of science gone rogue who has transposed the
logic of the experiment from the laboratory to the streets of France. Here
the force of Seltzers point becomes clear: the ground of serial killing is
not located in the displacement of the self across a field of indeterminate
multiplicity, it is instead the concretization of an identity that has reduced
the world around him to a testing ground for the limits of personal desire.
To this end, Raymond diminishes the alterity of the other in two ways: (1)
outright objectification divesting the other of that which makes the other
human; and (2) the reduction of the others identity and subjectivity to
an object of curiosity. Put another way, serial killing is the most profound
expression of individuality in he who most radically experiences his indi-
viduality as totalizing and encompassing of all others.
What distinguishes Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer from Spoorloos? Or,
more pointedly, what distinguishes Henrys violence from Raymonds vio-
lence? In the context of the horror film it would be reasonable to classify
Henry and Raymond as monsters. If we consider the fact that all monsters
are by definition destructive and that their destructiveness is capable of
being variously explained, excused, and justified, then the context in which
the violence occurs gives shape to its experience. For example, though an

explicit motive is never given for the murderous impulses of Henry aside
from his quip to Otis, some people just have it coming to them, the film
dichotomizes the violence of its characters within an Us/Them represen-
tational schema. The backdrop of socioeconomic depression establishes
moral distance between the spectacle of Henrys crimes and the privileged
position of a presumably middle class audience, emphasizing observation
over identification.
On the other hand, Raymond is an upper-middle class professional and
parent with enough disposable income to purchase a summer home in the
country. His crimes are framed within the context of bourgeois privilege.
Inversely, the representational schema here strongly suggests audience rec-
ognition and identification over observational distance. Thus, the differ-
ence lies in motivation and justification. There are no such motivations and
justifications given for Raymonds crimes, aside from his own skewed sense
of reason. It is this sense of ambivalence around his crimes and the foreclo-
sure of motivations or justifications that might provide enough distance to
move the audience away from an identificatory position into an observa-
tional position that gives the violence in Spoorloos its unsettling character.
Here we see another key point of departure between Henry: Portrait
of a Serial Killer and Spoorloos as a contrast between the cause-effect-
resolution narratives of Hollywood cinema and the tendency toward
realist aesthetics and open-ended narrative structures of European art
cinema. The Hollywood horror film is bound to a paradigmatic struc-
ture and this is why the modern period of the American horror film runs
aground at the moment when the serial killer as type of person emerges as
a new figuration of monstrosity. Within the cause-effect-resolution struc-
tures that Hollywood narrative cinema is predicated upon, the ambiva-
lence and banality of the serial killers motives cannot be fully expressed.
Alternatively, European art cinemas diminished reliance on cause-effect-
resolution paradigms, particularly in its realist modes, affords condi-
tions of possibility for narratively representing the psychic imperatives of
the serial killer and the social conditions that produce him.

Continental Horror
There are four motifs in Spoorloos that are not only crucial to the logic
of the films portrayal of its serial killer, Raymond, and the methodol-
ogy behind his murderous impulses, but also portend the radical shifts
to come in the continental horror films representations of violence.

In this introductory context, the examples I offer are not meant to be

exhaustive, but rather cursory and provisional. However, they will serve to
provide a preliminary definition of the continental horror film and to set
forth its principle characteristics in order to begin moving away from the
limitations of mere extremism.

Morbid Curiosity
When asked to explain the impulse behind his crimes, serial killer Jeffrey
Dahmer replied, I want to see what it looks like insideI like to see how
things work.22 Spoorloos is marked by similar forms of negative curiosity
in two ways: Raymonds curiosity around prohibitory injunctions which
are universal (predestination and the nature of evil), and Rexs curiosity
which comes at the expense of everything in his life, and finally, life itself.
Morbid curiosity renders all moral and ethical considerations secondary.
It is a form of curiosity that willingly sacrifices the other, and more radi-
cally the self, to gain a fleeting moment of elusive knowledge. The impulse
that led the young Raymond to jump from his balcony and, many years
later, Raymonds plot to kidnap a woman in order to see if he was capable
of true evil are both examples of morbid curiosity. The power of morbid
curiosity leads Rex to embrace the symbolic death of Saskiathat is, the
notion that Saskias disappearance is an assurance of her deathso that he
may attend to its consuming pangs, and to satiate his desire for knowledge
unencumbered by the distractions of her living body. As Rex puts it suc-
cinctly to his live-in girlfriend as she is collecting the last of her things from
their flat: I need to know, a line that echoes on the soundtrack as the
image fades to black.
The English translation of spoorloos is traceless, and the English
release of the film maintains this sense of immateriality in the title, The
Vanishing. But in France the film was released under the title Lhomme
qui voulait savoir (The Man Who Wanted to Know), though it might
have been more appropriate to title the film, Les hommes qui voulait savoir
(The Men Who Wanted to Know). It is the desire to know for both
Raymond and Rex that compels their actions and the films narrative along
with it. In each case the desire for knowledge outstrips all other consider-
ations, particularly consideration for the individuality of the other and the
valuation of the others being. In Michael Hanekes Bennys Video (1992),
a teenage boy murders a young girl in the family apartment, and his father
elects to cover up the crime. After destroying the girls corpse and flushing

her down the toilet, the father asks Benny why he killed the girl, to which
Benny replies, I dont know. I wanted to see what its like. Morbid
curiosity is also a dominant motif in Philippe Grandrieuxs serial killer
film Sombre (1998), Marina de Vans In My Skin (2002), and Catherine
Breillats Fat Girl (2001).

The Stranger
A common observation among scholars of the horror genre concerns an
emerging collective fear in the post-1960s horror film: our fear of other
people. This anxiety concerning the threatening other in the horror
films second phase is typically embodied in a figure whom we come to
know through a family member, psychologist, or a law official narrating
his or her identity for explanatory purposes. With Henry: Portrait of a
Serial Killer, Henry and Otis are essentially strangers to their victims
and to the audience, and there are no explanations given to justify their
crimes. Spoorloos pushes this logic further in two ways: (1) The film
eschews any possibility of economic scapegoatism by identifying the
killer as an upper-middle class professional; and (2) The explanatory
process shifts away from the prognoses offered by an objective, sci-
entific perspective, and positions Raymond as the expert professional
who explains his crimes.
Critical thinking related to the category of the stranger as a class of
person in modern urban society notably appears in the work of sociologist
Georg Simmel and his essay The Stranger.23 For Simmel, the strange-
ness of the stranger is not his otherness, but rather his close spatial rela-
tions that are also paradoxically marked by remoteness. It is an uncanny
spatial relation in which the feeling of uniqueness vanishes from the rela-
tionship and is integrated as part of an estranging similarity or generaliza-
tion.24 Following Simmels work, Seltzer points out that, The stranger,
if not quite yet the statistical person, begins to make visible the uncanny
stranger-intimacy that defines the serial killer: the deliberate stranger or
the stranger beside me.
Citing a criminological study of serial murder, Seltzer notes, One of
the most brutal facts of serial murder is that it usually involves the killing
of one person by another who is a stranger. There need be no motives of
hatred, rage, fear, jealousy, or greed at work.25 Finally, Seltzer summarizes
the notion of stranger-intimacy while making a crucial observation that is
relevant to Spoorloos and will later be most relevant in the horror films

third phase when he writes, Stranger-killing depends on an intimacy with

others that depends in turn on the proximities of statistical persons in sta-
tistical communities.26 The figure of the stranger is a key triggering force
of violence in the continental horror film. In Hanekes Bennys Video, 71
Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994), Funny Games (1997), Code
Unknown (2000), and Time of the Wolf (2003), encounters with strang-
ers precipitate eruptions of violence. The couple in Bruno Dumonts
Twentynine Palms (2003) are beaten and violated by random men they
encounter, just as Monica Belluccis character in Gaspar Nos Irreversible
(2002) is brutally raped in a chance encounter with a stranger in an under-
ground passage. In Fat Girl, the murders at the end of the film are also the
result of an encounter with a violent stranger, and in all cases the encoun-
ter with the stranger is marked by contingency.

In the opening scenes of Spoorloos, Rex and Saskia are driving along the
French countryside. Low on gas, Saskia suggests they stop at an approach-
ing gas station, but Rex elects to keep going and to wait until the next ser-
vice station. Upon reaching the next service station, Saskia is kidnapped.
The plot point of passing up the first gas station makes clear the role con-
tingency plays in the event of Saskias disappearance. Rexs obsession with
learning the truth of Saskias disappearance and his decision to let Saskia
die in order to gain that knowledge is an example of Rexs attempt to
master the contingencies of a world in which the most heinous acts occur
seemingly without reason or purpose. But the violent contingencies of the
modern world cannot be mastered, nor can the meaning for crimes be
acquired in the same way the psychologist in the epilogue of Hitchcocks
Psycho pathologizes Normans actions. Now, the attempt to gain mean-
ing for a crime leaves Rex buried alive in a coffin, in the very abyss of the
curiosity that once possessed him.
In an interview occasioning the DVD release of Bruno Dumonts
Twentynine Palms, the director also expresses the role contingency plays
leading up to the violent conclusion of his film. In response to the ques-
tion, Is man good or evil? (a question I believe lies at the heart of the
continental horror film) Dumont replies: Man is simply the way he is;
its a question of potential. Education and culture will determine whether
he leans one way or the other. I dont believe in the fatality of evil; thats
what Twentynine Palms says as well. There is no reason for the ending of
the film; its purely a question of coincidence, of chance.

The Banality ofEvil

This term can be attributed to Hannah Arendt, who famously introduced
the concept while reporting on the Eichmann trial for The NewYorker in
the early 1960s. In her observations of Eichmanns comportment dur-
ing his trial, Arendt insists that the ordinariness of his demeanor offers a
very different view of the Final Solutions architects than the psychopathic
madmen they were portrayed to be. Arendt claims that under certain con-
ditions the moral center of an individuals actions can be displaced within
hierarchical structures of power. In such cases, the individual is able to
rationalize even the most heinous deeds by deferring responsibility for
their actions upon the orders of a superior, or diffusing their actions within
a societal mass in which they are merely one of many. What Arendt calls
attention to is the protean nature of evil: evil is not only the domain
of the sociopath or the psychotic, but, in fact, the greatest atrocities are
often committed by ordinary people involved in mundane activities.
Prior to his apprehension, the serial killer Thomas Dillon (also known
as the Ohio Killer) sent an anonymous letter to the media stating: I
knew when I left my house that day that someone would dieThis com-
pulsion started with just thoughts about murder and progressed from
thoughts to action. Ive thought about getting professional help but how
can I ever approach a mental-health professional? I cant just blurt out in
an interview that Ive killed people. Reflecting on these remarks, Mark
Seltzer incisively identifies one of the deepest facets of the serial kill-
ers personality: The sheer banality these statements contain is perhaps
their point. And this is not merely because, as everyone knows, modern,
repetitive, systematic, anonymous, machine-like, psycho-dispassionate
evil can scarcely be separated from banality.27 As Dillon described the
attraction of serial killing to a friend, There is no motive. If the serial
killer emerges at the end of the millennium as a type of person, then
the banality that characterizes the serial killers evil actions must also
be regarded as a quality inherent to the society that has produced him.
Naturally, these remarks encapsulate the crimes of Henry and Raymond,
but can also be extended to the films of Haneke, Dumont, Catherine
Breillats Perfect Love (1996), or Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trinh
This Baise-moi (2000).
This offers no more than a starting point from which a broader and
more detailed analysis of the continental horror film and its points of con-
tact and departure from the modern American horror film can be perceived.

However, it does lay the groundwork for a revaluation of the films associ-
ated with the new extremism by eschewing the categorical limitations of
extremity and, instead, linking their shared motifs to the extant genealogy
of modern American horror. Any discussions expanding on this framework
will have to account for the phenomenological contrasts between phase two
and phase three horror films. In the present work, I have shown how the
figure of the serial killer (and the logic underwriting his worldview) pro-
vides the transfer point between the horror films distinctly American second
phase and its transnational, continental third phase.
When asked to describe his intentions in making Twentynine Palms,
Bruno Dumont has said, To me, Twentynine Palms is an experimental
project, an artistic projectI see Twentynine Palms as an experiment using
as its basic element, the American horror film. I wager that Dumont
is not the only post-Wall European art filmmaker whose work has been
immediately influenced by the American horror film. The continental hor-
ror film marks the continuation of the modern horror films conceptual
concerns with otherness, monstrosity, and the family, while reconceiving
unimaginable violence as a condition of possibility in everyday life. Robin
Wood has eloquently pointed out that the modern American horror film
would make no sense in a society that was not prepared to enjoy and
surreptitiously endorse the working out of its own destruction.28 On this
account, all phases of the horror film are one.

1. Horeck, Tanya and Tina Kendall. Introduction, The New Extremism in
Cinema: From France to Europe. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press,
2011: 3.
2. Wood, Robin. Hollywood From Vietnam to Reaganand Beyond.
NewYork: Columbia University Press, 2003.
3. Schneider, Steven Jay. Ed. 100 European Horror Films. London: British
Film Institute, 2007: 20.
4. Schneider, 100 European Horror.
5. Wells, Paul. The Horror Genre: From Beelzebub to Blair Witch. NewYork:
Wallflower Press, 2000.
6. Tudor, Andrew. Monsters and Mad Scientists: A Cultural History of the
Horror Movie. NewYork: Blackwell Publishers, 1989.
7. Wells, 25.
8. Cherry, Brigid. Horror. NewYork: Routledge, 2009: 174.

9. Wood, 78.
10. Wells, 75.
11. Jancovich, Marc. American Horror From 1951 to the Present. London: Keel
University Press, 1994: 19.
12. Wood, 75.
13. In his book Nightmare Movies, Kim Newman reiterates this point when he
writes, Technically, many supernatural horror film monsters are serial kill-
ers. For Newman, like Wells, the serial killer has emerged as the domi-
nant fictional monster of the late twentieth and early twenty-first
14. In his DVD commentary, McNaughton goes on to offer these important
remarks about his film: We also thought that we would redefine the hor-
ror genre. Yes, we were trying to make a horror film, but [we thought]
were going to try to make one unlike any other. And indeed go to the root
of the idea. If the horror films intent is to horrify, then lets horrify to the
best of our abilities, in the extreme. This sense of horrifying in the
extreme, or going to the root of the idea and redefining the horror
genre through the violence of the serial killer is crucial to the twilight of
the genres modern period.
15. Newman, Kim. Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen Since the 1960s.
London: Bloomsbury, 2011: 317.
16. See Andrew Monuments 2009 documentary Nightmares in Red, White,
and Blue.
17. Schmid, David. A Philosophy of Serial Killing: Sade, Nietzsche, and

Brady at the Gates of Janus. Serial Killers. Ed. S.Waller. London: Wiley-
Blackwell, 2010.
18. Schmid, 36.
19. Seltzer, Mark. Serial Killers: Life and Death in Americas Wound Culture.
NewYork: Routledge, 1998: 4.
20. Schmid, 65.
21. Schmid, 36.
22. Seltzer, 141.
23. Simmel, Georg. The Stranger. The Sociology of Georg Simmel. NewYork:
Free Press, 1976.
24. Simmel, 405.
25. Seltzer, 42.
26. Seltzer, 43.
27. Seltzer, 107.
28. Wood, 80.

Cherry, Brigid. Horror. NewYork: Routledge, 2009.
Horeck, Tanya and Tina Kendall. The New Extremism in Cinema: From France to
Europe. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2011.
Jancovich, Marc. American Horror From 1951 to the Present. London: Keel
University Press, 1994.
Newman, Kim. Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen Since the 1960s. London:
Bloomsbury Publishing, 2011.
Schmid, David. A Philosophy of Serial Killing: Sade, Nietzsche, and Brady at the
Gates of Janus. Serial Killers. Ed. S.Waller. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.
Schneider, Steven Jay. Ed. 100 European Horror Films. London: British Film
Institute, 2007.
Seltzer, Mark. Serial Killers: Life and Death in Americas Wound Culture,
NewYork: Routledge, 1998.
Simmel, Georg. The Stranger. The Sociology of Georg Simmel. NewYork: Free
Press, 1976.
Tudor, Andrew. Monsters and Mad Scientists: A Cultural History of the Horror
Movie. NewYork: Blackwell Publishers, 1989.
Wells, Paul. The Horror Genre: From Beelzebub to Blair Witch. NewYork: Wallflower
Press, 2000.
Wood, Robin. Hollywood From Vietnam to Reaganand Beyond. New York:
Columbia University Press, 2003.

Dracula, Vampires, andKung Fu Fighters:

The Legend oftheSeven Golden Vampires
andTransnational Horror Co-production
in1970s Hong Kong


In 1973, Hammer Pictures signed a multi-production contract with the

Hong Kong-based Shaw Brothers studio. The deal was to co-produce
two kung fu-themed genre films in Hong Kong by using the Shaw
Brothers state-of-the-art sound stages and filming facilities. The results
of this collaboration were the kung fu horror The Legend of the Seven
Golden Vampires (1974), directed by Roy Ward Baker, and the kung fu
thriller Shatter (also known as Call Him Mr. Shatter, 1974), directed by
Monte Hellman (completed by Michael Carreras), both starring Hammer
Pictures valuable asset Peter Cushing (The Legend of the Seven Golden
Vampires 1314). The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, came first
and was produced entirely in Shaws sound stages at the Clearwater Bay
Movie Town studio. Shaw Brothers provided its A-list assets David
Chiang and Shih Szu. The official poster for the British market proclaimed
that the film was the First Kung Fu Horror Spectacular combining

S. Lee (*)
Asian Cinema at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information,
Nanyang Technological University, Nanyang Ave, Singapore

The Author(s) 2016 65

S. Siddique, R. Raphael (eds.), Transnational Horror Cinema,
66 S. LEE

Hammer Horror with Dragon Thrills. Reading The Legend entails

that we should situate the film in terms of its geopolitical and generic
positions in Hong Kong and UK film history. This chapter will trace the
films production history and the co-productions of Shaw and Hammer
to reveal the complex web of the films textual/contextual uniqueness.
The Legend is a hybrid genre film incorporating the conventions of kung
fu and those associated with Dracula. In this rather bizarre mixed genre
film, Count Dracula (John Forbes-Robertson) takes over the body of
Chinese Taoist Monk Kah (Shen Chan), who had traveled to Transylvania
to ask Draculas help, and goes to early nineteenth-century China. In a fic-
tional town Ping Kwei, in Guangxi province, Kah/Dracula resuscitates the
Seven Golden Vampires and reigns over the land for one hundred years
until Professor Laurence Van Helsing, Draculas ultimate nemesis, arrives
in China and delivers a lecture on vampires at Chungking University in
1904. During the lecture, Van Helsing describes the legend of a small
Chinese town and requests the aid of local scholars in researching Chinese
vampirism. No one seems interested in his talk save for one student, Hsi
Ching (David Chiang). Hsi Ching believes Van Helsing because he is a
native of Ping Kwei and approaches him in the hope of enlisting his aid
to free Ping Kwei from the power of the Seven Golden Vampires and the
Undead. Taking along his son and a wealthy Russian countess (Julia Ege)
who finances the expedition, Van Helsing joins up with Hsi and his six
brothers and a sister, who are all kung fu masters. Their aim is to protect
the village from Kah/Dracula and the Seven Golden Vampires together
with their army of zombies. On the other hand, Van Helsing wants to kill
Dracula before Dracula kills everyone. Van Helsing, his son, the Russian
countess, and the kung fu family make one final stand to defend Ping
Kwei. After a lengthy battle between humans, vampires, and the zombies,
Van Helsing stakes Dracula with a spear and brings peace to the village.
The tale of the films co-production history is equally compelling.
Founded in 1934, Hammer Pictures is best known for a series of gothic
horror films produced during the 1950s and 1960s. Sir James Carreras, who
had joined the company in 1938, led the company from a quota quickies
supplier to prestigious horror film production house (Meikle and Koetting
2009, 124). As one of the runaway production partners for American
companies, Hammers breakthrough moment came with Universal Pictures
two gothic horror icons: Frankenstein and Dracula. James Carreras aimed to
reanimate those two largely forgotten horror figures. After a long negotia-
tion with Universal, Hammer finally released its own Dracula (also known

as Horror of Dracula) in 1958 (4982). It was an instant success that yielded

eight subsequent made in Hammer Dracula films during the 1960s and
1970s including The Legend. Hammers glory days, however, were almost
gone as the horror film market around the globe rapidly transformed in the
1970s. Hammer Pictures artificial horror was replaced by a new kind
of real horror ignited by George A.Romeros Night of the Living Dead
(1968) (Sanjek 1994,196). And Hammer Pictures had largely dried up on
the stock of stories and scripts (Baker 2000,138139). Audiences became
bored with Hammers subliminal gothic visual styles, subtle expressions, and
slow pace. Their desperate attempts to repackage the studios Dracula films
with lesbian sex (The Vampire Lovers, 1971) and a modern-era London setting
(Dracula A.D. 1972, 1972), failed to alleviate the companys deep financial
troubles. Hammers last Dracula franchise The Legendwhat I.Q.Hunter
calls the studios last and most outlandish attempt to update its Dracula
franchise (Hunter 2000,82)began shooting in September 1973.
Hammer desperately needed to find a new source of finance. Indeed
the British film industry in the 1970s was in crisis and the lowest point
in British film-making (Hunt 1998, 2930). The whole industry was
overly reliant on Hollywood. Over 90 percent of production money [in
UK] came from the United States by the late 1960s (Sanjek 1994,197).
Co-producing films with Shaw Brothers meant that the company could
obtain access to the most prolific producer of kung fu films and have an
opportunity to sell its films to American companies. A veteran British tele-
vision screenwriter, Don Houghton, wrote a script, and it was directed by
Roy Ward Baker who had initially thought that the idea of combining two
exploitation film genres was a good one (Mayer 2004,5859). However,
Baker faced a problem: Run Run Shaw, President of Shaw Brothers, wanted
to hire a Chinese filmmaker for the martial arts sequences. This posed
a dilemma: Hammer Pictures obviously wanted to emphasize Dracula,
while Shaw Brothers wanted to highlight kung fu. After viewing a rough
cut of kung fu scenes directed by Baker, Shaw strongly expressed his dis-
satisfaction, and demanded hiring Chinese choreographersLiu Chia-
liang and Tang Chiaand a second unit director (Mayer 60). Hence,
Shaw Brothers top-billed director Chang Cheh (also known as Zhang
Che) took over the martial arts sequences. Baker lost control over the
production and was reduced to directing only the drama in the film.
Chang filmed additional martial arts scenes for a 110-minute Asian
version compared to the 89-minute European cut with fewer fighting
sequences. Much later, in his autobiography, Baker lamented:
68 S. LEE

The sad part of this adventure was that we were unable to take advantage
of the opportunities that were at hand, which were considerable. The writer
and the director should have been sent out there at least two months ahead
of production, to tailor the script to the local capabilities. (Baker 2000,139)

Most scholars and historians on British horror traditions and, particularly,

Hammer Pictures Dracula cycles, dismiss this mixed-genre kung fu hor-
ror film completely as a sad way to end one of the great horror series
(Johnson and Del Vecchio 1996, 367), an unmitigated mish-mash on
the level of Tohos Godzilla series (Meikle and Koetting 2009, 212),
or only a bizarre footnote in the career of Roy Ward Baker (Mayer
2004,60). For historians who had sympathized with the dramatic fall of
the Hammer studio during the early 1970s, The Legend is nothing more
than a hollow hybrid genre product which Michael Carreras (who took
over the company after his father, Sir James Carreras, resigned in 1972)
used in a shameless attempt to make easy money using the emerging
popularity of Hong Kong-imported kung fu films.
These critiques in many ways parallel the binary perspectives that film
scholarship often presents when considering transnational genre co-
productions. There are two types of genre coproductions: the popular/
commercial co-production and the auteur co-production, representing
what Carol J.Clover calls the high end and low end of the horror genre
(1996). Paradoxically, these two types of subcinematic co-productions are
all commercially-oriented but address different markets respectively: the
international mainstream film market which aims at non-specified general
audiences; and the international art film market, in which films are usually
premiered at international film festivals and then distributed to art-houses
around the world, aiming at fairly sophisticated audiences. Peter Levs
Euro-American cinema, a particular type of post-war cinema which can
be characterized as a big-budget English-language film (or dubbed into
English for American release) made by a European art-house film direc-
tor, is an appropriate example of the high end category (1993). Such
acclaimed authors as Jean Luc Godard (Contempt, 1963), Michelangelo
Antonioni (Blow Up, 1966), and Pier Paolo Pasolini (The Canterbury Tale,
1972) fit in this grouping. The Legend, on the other hand, belongs to
the low end co-production genrefilms which were cheaply produced,
badly dubbed, and sometimes heavily edited to meet the distributors
needs. These films drew much of their audience from large working class
sections mostly in Europe and North America spectators who prefer

Hollywood films over highly refined European art films. These low end
films have been characterized as lacking national identity and failing to
represent nationally-specific culture.
The Legend is, this chapter argues, a by-product of these low end
genres and semantic kung fu elements. Interestingly enough, what had
been considered inferior genre films by the European critics were in fact
a source of pride for Hong Kong producers in the 1970s. In the Hong
Kong film industry, the first co-production with a western film studio
dated back to 1966 when legendary British B-movie producer Harry Alan
Tower produced Five Golden Dragons, helmed by Jeremy Summers, with
the help of Shaw Brothers (The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires
1314). But, unlike Five Golden Dragons in which Shaw Brothers had
functioned as a mere location partner, The Legend and the subsequent co-
produced film Shatter made Hammer Pictures and Shaw Brothers equal
partners. For the Hong Kong film industry, at a time when the territory
was still a British colony, this was considered a major triumph.

Runaway Production: FromEurope toHong Kong

During the late 1960s, the American film industry entered the age of con-
glomerates. Film attendance in the United States fell to an all-time low
at the start of the decade (15. 8 million in 1971) while production costs
were rising (from 1.9 million in 1972 to 8.9 million in 1979) (Friedman
2007, 2). The studio system that had dominated Hollywood filmmaking
had transformed in the 1960s and this profoundly affected the output of the
1970s. By the late 1960s, motion picture companies were either taken over
by huge multifaceted corporations, absorbed into burgeoning entertainment
conglomerates, or became conglomerates through diversification (Balio
1987,303). For example, Gulf & Western took over Paramount in 1966
and Transamerica merged with United Artists in 1967. The long-standing
studio system of Hollywood was disassembled and filmmaking became a
part of the media conglomerates that now dominate the globe (Friedman
2007, 3). Foreign markets, controlling budgets, and restructuring meant
that the previous studio system-mode of production was transformed drasti-
cally, and, accordingly, runaway production became increasingly essential.
Runaway production has a long history dating back to the immediate
post-war period in Europe. It became an important tactic to reduce risk
and manage the growing American film industrys global market during
the 1960s by subcontracting and co-producing low-budget exploitation
70 S. LEE

films with European film productions, particularly Italian, Spanish, and

German companies. Italy and Spain proved to have the right combina-
tion of studio facilities, scenic-locales, and cheap, sometimes nonunion
labor to attract numerous large-scale epics (Hall and Neale 2010,178),
as well as modest-budget Western genres that were termed Spaghetti
Westerns in the 1960s. Ben Goldsmith and Tom ORegan point out
that motion picture studios in Europe, particularly Cinecitta in Italy, were
capable of such massive scale genre films and were effectively managed
(Goldsmith and ORegan 2005,1113). American co-productions with
the European studios started after World War II due to the efforts of war-
ravaged countries, including Italy and England, to block theatre receipts
from the major U.S. studios in an effort to prevent large amounts of cur-
rency from leaving their decimated economies (Heffernan 2004, 136).
As a business strategy, the co-production was the most logical way to take
greenbacks out of these countries since American studios were blocked from
spending overseas earnings back home. Therefore, relatively small companies,
most representatively AIP (American International Pictures), invested capital
they had earned in foreign markets into the local production in the form
of co-productions. This gave AIP and other companies multiple advantages
including keeping costs down, particularly for labor, while allowing more to
be spent for production quality. As a matter of fact, those runaway produc-
tions were very successful in both American and European markets during
the 1960s (Heffernan 135136). Italian producers aimed to market products
concealing their cultural origins by taking up the guise of Americanness
or Britishness and redubbing all actors dialogue into an importing coun-
trys native language (Church 2014, 4). As such, Italian sword and sandal
genres were for the most part successful at the US box office during the
first half of the 1960s. Hercules (1958), Sign of the Gladiator (1959), and
Goliath and the Barbarians (1960) outperformed other European imports,
including French and Italian art-house films. Nevertheless, by the late 1960s,
Italy, Germany, and Spain were no longer supplying cheap enough labor.
Language barriers and government red tape led to much longer shoot-
ing schedules and, thus, overseas productions were significantly decreased
(Monaco 2001, 15). Instead, Hong Kong emerged as one of the alternative
destinations. American producers were rushing to Hong Kong as kung fu
films, by the early 1970s, were the most rewarding money makers.
It should be noted that Hong Kong, nonetheless, was not just a mere
scapegoat of the inevitable movements of capital. Rather, it was an active
participant that aspired to penetrate the western market by using the

city-states already established regional film industry hierarchies during

the latter half of the 1960s. Compared to Hammers dire situation, Shaw
Brothers studio was soaring, in large part due to the popularity of kung
fu films after the astonishing successes of Five Fingers of Death (1972)
and Bruce Lees Fists of Fury (1972). The popularity of kung fu films
around the world consequently globalized the Hong Kong film industry.
The Kung Fu Craze (Desser 1999) in the American cultural sphere
reached its peak on May 16, 1973 when the domestic box office was liter-
ally dominated by the Hong Kong-imported Chop Suey films Fist of
Fury (1972), Deep Thrust-The Hand of Death (1972), and Five Fingers of
Death. These films ranked first, second, and the third on Varietys weekly
50 Top Grossing Films (Desser). Anything related to kung fu, including
fashion, pop music, comics, and TV series, made profits. The overseas
market for Hong Kong cinema grew rapidly from 20 countries in 1971
to over 80 countries within a few years (Kung and Zhang 1984, 14).
Run Run Shaw, President of Shaw Brothers, boasted, during an interview
with the Times, that its like Chinese food. When Americans taste it, they
like it (Show Business 1973). Likewise, Raymond Chow, president
of Golden Harvest studio, proudly proclaimed that the dream of every
Chinese producer that his picture be shown in Europe and America has
been translated into reality (Chinese Pictures in World Market 23).
For Shaw Brothers and the newly launched Golden Harvest studio, the
period presented great opportunities to leap forward. To meet the demand
for kung fu films in the global market and maximize profits, Hong Kong
productions recruited regional talents from Japan, Taiwan, and South
Korea to produce more kung fu films during the 1970s. Between 1973
and 1976, over 300 kung fu films were produced in Hong Kong alone,
and one third of them were never released in Hong Kong (Leung and
Chan 1997, 147). For the Hong Kong film industry, kung fu, a newly
invented genre, was an unexpected gift from God.

Before theLegend: TheBirth ofKung Fu Cinema

Kung fu was first produced as a subgenre, or a cycle, of mega-genre
martial arts film which had dominated the Chinese-language film indus-
try since the 1920s. The heritage of martial arts cinema in China should
be, however, divided into two periods and spaces: jiupai (Old School) in
1920s Shanghai; and xinpai (New School) in post-1950s Hong Kong and
Taiwan (Lee 2012, 182). First, due to the spread of vernacular literacy
72 S. LEE

and modern print technology, film historian Zhang Zhen claims, as a

response to a huge boom of jiupai martial arts literature in China, the
Shanghai film industry actively adopted the popular serialized martial arts
novels in the late 1920s (2005). During the early 1920s, the Tianyi studio
(Shaw Brothers predecessor), noticing the audiences consuming desire for
Hollywood costume pictures and the swashbucklers of Douglas Fairbanks,
began producing Chinese equivalents of these genres (Lee 182). The deci-
sive moment came with The Burning of the Red Lotus Temple (1928), a
Minxing company film that ran for 18 installments between 1928 and
1931. A martial arts-magic spirit film (Zhang 2005), The Burning of the
Red Lotus Temple, together with its sequels and copycats, served to bring
this incomprehensible craze to market. Producers, distributors, critics,
and spectators alike became, as Zhang wrote, mesmerized and confused
by the commercial power and social energy generated by the genre (54).
However, the proliferation of the genre came to an abrupt halt in the early
1930s as the nationalist government banned the showing of numerous
films, including the martial arts-magic spirit films that followed the suc-
cess of The Burning of the Red Lotus Temple. It was revived in Hong Kong
after two decades.
Xinpai martial arts fiction experienced a revival in Hong Kong, Taiwan,
and overseas communities beginning in the latter half of the 1950s after
being banned on the Mainland following the founding of the Peoples
Republic of China (Hamm 2005). Jin Yong and Liang Yusheng of Hong
Kong, and Wolong Sheng and Sima Ling of Taiwan are the most represen-
tative writers of this genre and the Shaw Brothers studio noticed the pop-
ularity of xinpai martial arts novels in Chinese diasporas. In 1966, when
King Hus martial arts film Come Drink With Me broke the box office
record in Hong Kong, Shaw Brothers quickly began to produce Wuxia
pian, or new-style martial arts films. Literally speaking, Wuxia means
chivalrous combat, and pian means film, and the genre was ignited
by a group of Mandarin-speaking Shanghai diaspora filmmakers. Chang
Cheh (Zhang Che) represents this new trend. His One-Armed Swordsman
(1967) was influenced by the Japanese Jidaigeki (period film) and its
Chanbara (sword-fighting) element, particularly from the Zatoichi series
(19621989; 26 titles). Golden Swallow (1968), The Assassin (1967), and
Vengeance (1970), all directed by Chang Cheh, were the most well-known
examples (Lee 2012). However, by the end of the decade, Wuxia pians
popularity weakened with the rapid change of Hong Kong society and the
presence of pan-Chinese communities in Southeast Asia where most of

Shaw Brothers theatre chains were located. Thus, a new trend emerged,
and became internationalized as a synonym for Hong Kong action cin-
ema, that is, the kung fu film.
In lieu of the Mandarin-language term Wuxia pian, a Cantonese ver-
nacular kung fu denotes the uniqueness of Hong Kong cinemawith
the term itself in the local dialect, the genre was named as the territorys
very own. Therefore, with the success of Bruce Lees The Big Boss in 1971,
kung fu films gaining of an international currency should be examined as
a small British colonys departure from its Mainland cultural influence and
filmmaking heritage. With their settings in contemporary Southeast Asian
cities and their foregrounding working class characters and values, Lees
unarmed combat films became a most lucrative cycle for Golden Harvest.
According to Rick Altman, new cycles are usually produced by associat-
ing a new type of materials or approach with already existing genres, and
usually associated with a single studio. Soon, single-studio-cycle kung
fu became the industry-wide genre (Altman 1999, 6061).
Kung fu as a cycle, consequently, became the norm of Hong Kong stu-
dios mass-produced genre films, and was regarded and marketed as if it
had been a decade-old tradition, although it was actually a new genre per
se even in Hong Kong. In one sense, therefore, as James Naremore argues
for film noir, critics and studios invented kung fu films in their own
ways, and they did so because local conditions predisposed them to view
America (Hong Kong) in certain ways (Naremore, quoted in Biesen 2005,
9). Furthermore, King Hus statement is worth mentioning here. He said,
Kung fu doesnt mean anythingwu shu is the traditional Chinese martial
art. Kung Fu is like Fu Manchuit doesnt exist anywhere except maybe
in San Franciscos Chinatown (quoted in Teo 2009, 80). With the finan-
cial success of made in Hong Kong kung fu films in the global market-
place, Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest went global. The European and
American film industries were actively linked with Hong Kong, and kung fu
cinema emerged as a global player.

The Legend Begins: Between Kung Fu andHorror

In the early 1970s, Shaw Brothers wanted to diversify its genres since the
market for martial arts cinema had reached its limit and audience atten-
dance showed signs of decline. The Hong Kong film industry had not yet
been discovered in the western market and Bruce Lees The Big Boss was
still in production and had not yet been distributed in the local m arket.
74 S. LEE

Run Run Shaw imported and distributed a Danish adult film, Swedish
Fly Girls (1971), in the Hong Kong market. Since Singapore, Malaysia,
and Taiwan had more strict censorship policies, Hong Kong was the only
legitimate market for distributing soft-core porn films. The film was very
successful, and, as a savvy businessman, Shaw instantly recognized the
market potential of such films. The Shaw Brothers cast the films heroine
Brite Tove, a Danish actress, in the studios new production Sexy Girls of
Denmark (1973) shot almost entirely in Copenhagen. Tove then came to
Hong Kong to appear in Kuei Chih-hungs concentration camp film
Bamboo House of Dolls in April 1973 (Bamboo House of Dolls 5262).
Only a month after Bamboo House of Dolls began shooting, the minor
Italian production company INDIEF began shooting a Shaw-INDIEF co-
production, Supermen against the Orient (1973), in Shaw Brothers studio
lots. Supermen against the Orient is another addition to a very success-
ful European B-movie series, Fantastic Supermen, which began in 1967
with Three Supermen against the Goldface. Italian director Bitto Albertini
began his career as a cinematographer, and made his name with these
silly and absurd action-comedies. The series, after its initial success, made
its way into foreign locales such as Three Supermen in Tokyo (1967) and
Three Supermen in the Jungle (1970), then finally arrived in Hong Kong.
Albertini and his crew arrived in Hong Kong in May 1973 (The Legend
of the Seven Golden Vampires 1314). American actor Robert Malcolm
and two Italians, Antonio Cantafora and Salvatore Borghese, teamed up
with Lo Lieh and Shih Szu, two hot properties of Shaw studio. In addi-
tion, in 1973, Warner Bros. co-produced a big-budget project Enter the
Dragon with Raymond Chows Golden Harvest and Bruce Lees Concord
Pictures (Five Fingers of Death 17) and, a year later, Cleopatra Jones
and the Casino of Gold (1975) was shot at the facilities of Shaw Brothers.
In this relatively short span of time, this transnational mode of produc-
tion incorporated semantic kung fu elements: common topics (the theme
of asserting personal respect, dignity, and identity); historical settings (Qing
dynasty China or the British colony, Hong Kong); key scenes (unarmed com-
bat and quick fist and leg movements); character types (working class heroes
with martial arts skills); and familiar objects or recognizable shots (spectacu-
lar ones or sometimes a grotesque body and Martial arts weapons). The
mode also incorporated other existing low end genres such as Horror
(The Legend), Spaghetti Western (The Stranger and the Gunfighter, 1975),
Blaxploitation (Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold), Espionage (Enter the
Dragon, Shatter), Jidaigeki (Zatoichi meets One-Armed Swordsman, 1972),

Sci-Fi (Supermen Against the Orient), and Sexploitation (Bamboo House of

Dolls). Clearly, those transnational productions, as hybrid genre films, are
explicit instances of genre-mixing (Altman 142). Teo states, the Hong
Kong cinema is a jungle of compounded genres (Teo 1989a: 41), and kung
fu horror is another mixed-genre in the history of Hong Kong cinema.
If we define the genre as what we collectively believe it to be, fol-
lowing Andrew Tudors suggestion (Tudor 1989, 6), and consider the
horror film as a group of films that deal with viewers nightmares, fears,
repulsions and terror of the unknown, then certainly Hong Kong has not
been known for the horror film. But as many scholars have continuously
argued, defining the horror film is extremely difficult and the term should
be rather inclusive than exclusive. Peter Hutchings wrote:

If defining the western was not as straightforward as might have been sup-
posed, it was as childs play compared to defining the horror film. Unlike
the western, horror films have no distinctive iconography to bind them all
together. They are not limited to any particular historical or geographical
setting: a horror film can take place anywhere (any town, country, planet) in
any historical period (past, present, future). (Hutchings 2004, 5)

The Chinese-language film industry has produced many genre films

with ghosts, snake ladies, and supernatural entities. As many historians
have noted, Pu Songling (16401715) and his well-known collection
of stories Liaozhai Zhiyi (Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio) deal with
ghosts, demons, the supernatural, and superstition, and many of his
stories have been translated onto the silver screen. The 1980s hugely
successful A Chinese Ghost Story (1987) and its two sequels, and Stanley
Kwans art-house ghost tale Rouge (1988) are some of the most rep-
resentative examples (Teo 1989b: 6367). However, it was Lau Koon-
wais Mr. Vampire (1985) that ignited a successful cycle of goeng si (stiff
corpse) films. Having combined c onventions from martial arts, com-
edy, and horror, Mr. Vampire, its subsequent sequels and endless imita-
tors led the particular hybrid genre cycle industry-wide. Interestingly,
before the boom of goeng si films, co-production ignited the studios
concentration on the genre. In 1955, for example, Sarawak, a tale
of a snake lady, was produced in the Philippines, featuring all-Fili-
pino casts and crews (Kar and Bren 2004, 204206). In a few years,
renowned Shanghai director Ma-Xu Weibang, who had made Song at
Midnight (1936) in Shanghai, directed a Hong Kong-Japan-Thailand
76 S. LEE

co-production horror, The Lovers and the Python (1961). Ma-xus

obsession with the face and the theme of disfigurement was as strong as
it had ever been in the Shanghai horror pictures.
Shaw Brothers was not particularly interested in producing horror films
during the 1960s. However, as the studio embraced the 1970s, and the
unexpected success of The Exorcist (1973) in Hong Kong, Shaw Brothers
suddenly made contracts with Asian and European countries to pro-
duce kung fu horror films. Shaw Brothers-Shin Films (South Korea) co-
produced two kung fu horror films: The Dark Hair (1973) and The Ghost
Lover (1973). These films had elements in common: borrowing the other
nations traditional ghost stories (or characters) and incorporating them
with Shaw Brothers martial arts expertise and reifying the Chinese values
throughout the films to reconcile the seemingly disparate communities of
Chinese diasporas.

Reading theLegend

As discussed above, The Legend does not possess any genre convention
of Hammer Pictures Dracula films. Instead, it added more sequences of
kinetic fighting which were stylishly choreographed by Shaw Brothers
martial arts experts under the helm of Chang Cheh. From a genre stud-
ies point of view, The Legends hybridity can be explained in three distinct
subgenres of the Horror film: Dracula, zombie, and goeng-si, or traditional
Chinese ghost tales. Robin Wood (1996)s influential study of American
horror films of the 1970s and the Dracula films of Murnau and John
Badham highlights the films reflection of sexual repression along with the
human fear of death, compensated for in the vampires immortality. Yet,
The Legend should not be read solely through this lens since the film bor-
rows only the characters (Dracula and Van Helsing) from its genre heritage.
Rather, The Legend can be more productively read as a return of the
repressed people of colonial Hong Kong. In the film, Dracula, taking
over a Chinese villains body (Kah) signifies what Frantz Fanon termed
the colonial elite who replace the previous colonial authorities. Dracula
proclaims, I will return to your temple in your image, Kah. I will recall the
7 golden vampiresI will take on your mental [sic], your appearance, your
image! Dracula, who comes from Transylvania, a land of the unconscious
(Wood 1996), represents the others of western civilization. However,
Dracula in The Legend is British, speaks with a British accent, and is played
by a British actor (John Forbes-Robertson). Therefore, what has been

repressed becomes the oppressor, a colonial power. Although the film

was set in China in 1904 when European imperialism had finally reached
the country (along with Japanese imperial power), the film, interestingly,
conveys the story of contemporary Hong Kong. Throughout the 1960s,
Hong Kongs industrial economy boomed, but this extreme economic
prosperity created social inequality which gave rise to major problems in the
city. In addition, the lack of representative democracy, corruption, colonial
law enforcement, lack of public services, and social problems (gambling,
opium, prostitution, organized crime) spiraled out of control (Fu 1999,
7475). Under the influences of the global movement of youthful upris-
ings, particularly student movements in South Korea and Japan, the post-
war generation, better educated than older generations and also influenced
by western culture, united and organized the decolonization movement.
The Legend was produced under these political and social conditions and
embeds anti-colonial sentiment in the deep narrative structurealthough
the film was written by a British screenwriter.
As such, The Legend was a result of this uneven collaboration. The clash
of two cultures seems to destabilize each cinematic heritage. They soon
merge, though, into a heterogenic hybrid genre in this rather bizarre but
fascinating popular low end product. However, the films seemingly
heterogeneous narrative structure was confusing to most contemporary
viewers of the film. Mayer stresses that a noticeable inconsistency in
the realist presentation with the anti-classical, anti-realist martial arts
techniques favored by Shaw Brothers produced a jarring effect (Mayer
2004, 59). On the other hand, Teo argues that Roy Ward Baker man-
aged to balance both sides. Some would even say that there is more of
Shaw [B]rothers in it than of Hammer. However, the results are quite
ambiguous (Teo 2004, 106).
Data on both the commercial and critical reception of the film is lim-
ited. The Legend premiered at Londons Warner Rendezvous on August
29, 1974. It went into general release on October 6, doing fantastic
business in both the U.K. and the Far East (Johnson and Del Vecchio
1996, 372). This account is one of the rare existing documents on the
films reception. It was not released in the USA until June 1979, in a heav-
ily cut version (83 minutes) titled The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula. Linda
Gross, in the Los Angeles Times, reviewed the film and wrote: vampires
and hapkido kicks are an unholy mixture at best, but the movie could have
been a lot better if it didnt advance at a sleepwalkers pace with stilted
dialogue obfuscating necessary exposition (Gross 1979, 2).
78 S. LEE

In the opening sequence, international assassin Shatter (Stuart Whitman)
arrives in Hong Kong to collect his payment. Yet, he soon finds he is
marked for death by his client, a greedy British drug dealer. In the unfamil-
iar city underworld, Shatter has a chance encounter with martial arts expert
Tai Pah (Ti Lung), who is willing to help him. After spending a night at
Tai Pahs place, Shatter sees him practicing martial arts with his pupils. A
lady next to him says proudly, I want to show you kung fu. Tai Pah, he
is a master. Shatter promises to share half of his fee in exchange for Tai
Pahs protection. They fight back and successfully kill a cold-blooded vil-
lain (Peter Cushing) who used Shatter as a scapegoat for a larger political
agenda. Shatter was released both in the U.K. and in Hong Kong in 1974.
Shatter, surprisingly, did not contain any elements of the horror film
traditions that Hammer had built since the 1940s. Michael Carreras, tak-
ing over the directors chair after firing Monte Hellman, wanted to find a
niche in the global market and TV industry. Producing this hybrid action
film, however, Hammer came to the martial arts after the craze was over
(Johnson, 374). Shatter was released in the U.S. in January 1976, and
quickly disappeared. Hammer studio came back to its own mode of genre
film after these series of failures, and produced two final horror films:
Man about the House (1974) and The Lady Vanishes (1978); after which it
closed its production unit. On the other hand, the urge of the Hong Kong
film industry to expand into the international marketto find a market
beyond the traditional market of Chinese-speaking communities that
Shaw Brothers, MP&GI, and Golden Harvest had controlled since the
mid-1950slead to the possible creation of a global identity. Ultimately,
Shaw Brothers made myriad co-produced films between 1973 and 1976
with western film studios. However, none of these films achieved either
commercial success or critical acclaim. To compete with television and
maintain its Southeast Asian market, Shaw Brothers ceased its global co-
production projects. Shaws desire to extend its market to non-Asian ter-
ritories, i.e., Hollywood, was not realized.

Altman, Rick. Film/Genre. London and NewYork: BFI. 1999. Print.
Baker, Roy Ward. The Directors Cut. London: Reynolds & Hearn Ltd. 2000. Print.
Balio, Tino. United Artists: The Company That Changed the Film Industry.
Madison, WC: The University of Wisconsin Press. 1987. Print.
Bamboo House of Dolls. Southern Screen. January 1974: 5562. Print.

Biesen, Sheri Chinen. Blackout: World War 2 and the Origins of Film Noir.
Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins UP. 2005. Print.
Chinese Pictures in World Market. Golden Movie News. May 1973: 23. Print.
Church, David. One on Top of the Other: Lucio Fulci, Transnational Film
Industries, and the Retrospective Construction of the Italian Horror Canon.
Quarterly Review of Film and Video 32 (2014): 120.
Clover, Carol J.Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film. The Dread of
Difference: Gender and the Horror Film. Ed. Barry Kieth Grant. Austin, TX:
University of Texas P, 1996. 66115. Print.
Desser. David. The Kung Fu Craze: Hong Kong Cinemas First American
Reception. The Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts, Identity. Eds. Poshek Fu
and David Desser. London and NewYork: Cambridge UP. 1999. 1943. Print.
Five Fingers of Death. Variety. 19 December 1973: 17. Print.
Friedman, Lester D. American Cinema of the 1970s: Themes and Variations.
Rutgers, NJ: Rutgers UP. 2007. Print.
Fu, Poshek. The 1960s: Modernity, Youth Culture, and Hong Kong Cantonese
Cinema. The Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts, Identity. Eds Poshek Fu
and David Desser. London and NewYork: Cambridge UP, 1999: 7189. Print.
Goldsmith, Ben, and Tom O-Regan. The Film Studio: Film Production in the
Global Economy. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005. Print.
Gross, Linda. 7 Brothers Meet Dracula in China. Los Angles Times 19 September
1979: 2.
Hall, Sheldon, and Steve Neale. Epics, Spectacles, and Blockbusters: A Hollywood
History. Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State UP. 2010. Print.
Hamm, Christopher J.Paper Swordsmen: Jin Yong and the Modern Chines Martial
Arts Novel. Honolulu: University of Hawaii P, 2005. Print.
Heffernan, Kevin. Ghouls, Gimmicks, and Gold: Horror Films and the American
Movie Business, 19531968. Durham and NewYork: Duke UP, 2004. Print.
Hunt, Leon. British Low Culture: From Safari Suits to Sexploitation. London and
NewYork: Routledge. 1998. Print.
Hunter, I.Q. The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires. Postcolonial Studies
3. 1 (2000): 8187.
Hutchings, Peter. The Horror Film. London and NewYork: Routledge, 2004. Print.
Johnson, Tom, and Deborah Del Vecchio. Hammer Films: An Exhaustive
Filmography. London: McFarland, 1996. Print.
Kar, Law, and Frank Bren. Hong Kong Cinema: A Cross-Cultural View. Lanham,
Toronto, and Oxford: The Scarecrow P, 2004. Print.
Kung, James, and Yueai Zhang. Hong Kong Cinema and Television in the 1970s:
A Perspective. A Study of Hong Kong Cinema in the Seventies, the 8th Hong
Kong International Film Festival. Hong Kong: The Urban Council, 1984:
1416. Print.
Lee, Sangjoon. Martial Arts Craze in Korea: Cultural Translation of Martial Arts
Film and Literature in the 1960s. East Asian Cultural Heritage and Films. Ed.
Kinnia Yau Shuk-ting. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012: 173195. Print.
80 S. LEE

The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires. Southern Screen, November-

December 1973: 1314. Print.
Leung, Grace, and Joseph M. Chan. The Hong Kong Cinema and Overseas
Market, a Historical Review 19501995. Hong Kong Cinema Retrospective:
Fifty Years of Electric Shadows. Hong Kong: The Urban Council, 1997. Print.
Lev, Peter. The Euro-American Cinema. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993.
Mayer, Geoff. Roy Ward Baker. Manchester and NewYork: Manchester UP, 2004.
Meikle, Denis, and Christopher T.Koetting. A History of Horrors: The Rise and
Fall of the House of Hammer. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2009. Print.
Monaco, Paul. The Sixties: 19601969, History of the American Cinema vol. 8.
Berkley and Los Angeles: University of California P, 2001. Print.
Sanjek, David. Twilight of the Monsters: The English Horror Film 19681975.
Re-viewing British Cinema, 19001992. Ed. Wheeler W.Dixon. Albany, NY:
SUNY P, 1994: 195210.
A Shaw-Italian Joint Venture. Southern Screen May 1973: 1314. Print.
Show Business: The Men Behind Kung Fooey. Time 12 June 1973. Web. 12
November 2015.
Teo, Stephen. Tongue. Phantoms of the Hong Kong Cinema: The 13th Hong
Kong International Film Festival. Hong Kong: The Urban Council, 1989a:
4144. Print.
Teo, Stephen. In the Realm of Pu Songling. Phantoms of the Hong Kong Cinema:
The 13th Hong Kong International Film Festival. Hong Kong: The Urban
Council, 1989b: 6367. Print.
Teo, Stephen. Local and Global Identity: Whither Hong Kong Cinema? Between
Home and World: A Reader in Hong Kong Cinema. Eds. Esther M.K.Cheung
and Chu Yiu-wai. Hong Kong: Oxford UP, 2004: 100126. Print.
Teo, Stephen. Chinese Martial Arts Cinema: The Wuxia Tradition. Edinburgh:
Edinburgh UP, 2009. Print.
Tudor, Andrew. Monsters and Mad Scientists: A Cultural History of the Horror
Movie. Oxford: Blackwell, 1989. Print.
Wood, Robin. Burying the Undead: The Use and Obsolescence of Count
Dracula. The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film. Ed. Barry
Kieth Grant. Austin, TX: University of Texas P, 1996: 364378. Print.
Zhang, Zhen. Bodies in the Air: The Magic of Science and the Fate of the Early
Martial Arts Film in China. Chinese-Language Film: Historiography, Poetics,
Politics. Eds Sheldon. H.Lu and Emilie Yueh-yu Yeh. Honolulu: University of
Hawaii Press, 2005: 7695. Print.

The Horrific Body (Disability and


Dead Meat: Horror, Disability, andEating



Horror is a genre that primarily features disability and predominantly

articulates disability as horrifying. Often, the plot of horror texts circu-
lates around its victims trying to flee from the monster-villain, whose main
goal is to subject them to disability and death. Viewers are gridlocked in
the thrill of this able/disabled game of cat-and-mouse, transfixed in the
trauma of watching the good guys try to escape from this deadly roulette
of suffering, anguish, and deformity. Not only are the victims of hor-
ror plots engaged in the constant thrill of succumbing to or evading dis-
ability, the villains of these texts are predominantly themselves disabled.
As a thought experiment, try to think of one villain who is not repre-
sented as being physically or mentally anomalous, and whose anomalous
body or mind is not represented negatively. This may be difficult because
the essence of horror derives from butchering normative codes of ethics.
Fundamental to all sociolegal systems is the governing principle that thou
shall not senselessly scare, hurt or kill. That horror villains refuse to live
and let live, and in fact generally delight in killing, fundamentally makes
them pathologically disturbed.

J. Gruson-Wood (*)
Science and Technology Studies Program, York University,
Toronto, ON, Canada

The Author(s) 2016 83

S. Siddique, R. Raphael (eds.), Transnational Horror Cinema,

Horror is unique in that it insists on foremost representing the heady,

leaky, open, excessive, incomplete, and ambivalent qualities of the body
that mark Bakhtins (1968) contextualization of the grotesque. However,
the tendency of horror to exclusively represent those who embody the gro-
tesque as monster-villains articulates a forceful distaste for non-normative
manifestations of the self. Accordingly, as the contemporary version of
Bakhtins grotesque body is now classified as the disabled body, what hor-
ror essentially does is cast disabled subjects as evil. Hence, this chapter
argues that horror is a genre preoccupied with disability and that disabil-
ity itself is constructed as the ultimate and ubiquitous monster-villain. In
order to demonstrate this, the first section of the chapter is dedicated
to examining the particular ways in which disability and normativity are
represented in horror texts. I do this by examining inside/outside bound-
aries, Carrolls notion of art-horror (1998), and the representation of
monster-villains as supernaturally disabled.
Once I have secured the connection between horror and disability, I
move on to analyze eating rituals as an integral aspect to the formation of
(dis)ability categories in horrorand beyond. This is particularly salient
in horror texts as monstrosity is often tacitly articulated through the mon-
sters indulgence in abject or grotesque consumption rituals. In order to
explicate this, I examine the HBO series True Blood (20082014) as well
as Tod Brownings film, Freaks (1932).

Monster Slash: Severing Inside/Outside Boundaries

Nol Carroll explains that the word horror is derived from the root: to
shudder or stand on end (278). Carroll claims that the original notion
of horror is connected with an abnormal (from the subjects point
of view) physiological state of felt agitation (278). Accordingly, Carroll
proposes the idea that horror texts generate a distinct emotional state
defined through sensations such as: physical agitation, muscular contrac-
tions, tension, cringing, shrinking, shuddering, recoiling, tingling, fro-
zenness, momentary arrests, chilling, paralysis, trembling, nausea, a reflex
of apprehension or physically heightened alertness involuntary scream-
ing, and so on (278).
This specific emotional state is brought on, not only by bloodcurdling
plot lines, but through the appearance and capabilities of the embodiment
of the monster-villain. Monsters, as Cantor & Oliver state, are unreal
creatures that are similar to natural beings in many ways, but deviant

from them in other ways, such as through distortions in size, shape, skin
colour, or facial configuration (227). In addition, they can be hunch-
backed, of small stature, burnt or scarred, or missing limbs. Moreover, in
slasher films, as Cantor & Oliver further explicate, killers generally evi-
dence some physical abnormality or distortion that sets them apart from
the characters they victimize (227).1 Hence, the monster-villain can take
on many different shapes, all of them being in some way mentally and/or
physically anomalous. This anomalous nature is explicitly linked to bodies
and selves that are often classified as disabled.
Like the emotion of art-horror, disability theorist Rosemarie Garland-
Thomson discusses how disability generally espouses feelings of fear, defiance,
disavowal, avoidance, abstraction, reverence, concealment, and reconstruc-
tion (337). Garland-Thomson further explains how the ocularcentricity of
modernity, and the tendency to capture conflicting and highly ambivalent
feelings about disability on camera, often leads to a framing of disability as
the symbol for the corruptible and suffering body, which western culture
has both fetishized and denied (337). Thus, is art-horror cultivated through
representing disabled bodies as receptacles of corruption? And if so, how?
As elucidated in his article, Cut Flesh, James Elkins notes how few
pictures of the living conscious body open the skin and reveal what is
inside (109). This is because, the inside is, by definition and by nature,
the thing that is not seen (109). Elkins goes on to explain how western
culture has long been premised on the veracity of keeping the insides of our
bodies hidden. While in horror, the body is gagged, cut, slashed, burnt,
bled, strangled, chopped, shot, decapitated, poisoned, blown up, decom-
posed, possessed, and corroded, within the trajectory of the biomedical
imaginary, wounds and excrements of all kinds are flushed, absorbed, ban-
daged, patched, dressed, stapled, knotted, clamped, and otherwise cov-
ered. Hence, it is the tacit preoccupation of everyday life to keep the inside
concealed precisely because it is perceived as a powerful sign of death
(Elkins 109). This is why, as Elkins states, a corrupted skin is enough
to show that the body is decomposing (124). Thus, as predominantly
picturing the things that dare not be seen, horror is a counter-natural
genre which thrillingly defamiliarizes images of the body by revealing the
inside. For better or for worse, horror is on the cutting edge of cut flesh.
The first A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) film articulates the corre-
lation between art-horror, corrupted bodies, and inside/outside boundar-
ies. In this film, Freddy Krueger claws his way into teenage Tinas dreams,
first only showing her his sharp metal fingerlike appendages (referred to

as finger-knives) that slash through fabric and scrape down walls. After
moments of this, Freddy shows the rest of himself to Tina, appearing
maimed with his arms growing like long balloons being blown up. He
commands of Tina: look at this. The camera zooms in on his hands
as he cuts off the tops of the fingers of one of his hands with the knives
attached to his other hand. Tina screams. Freddy laughs while lime blood
spurts out of his severed parts.
Throughout A Nightmare On Elm Street, Freddy continues to cut
flesh, and the whole world seems to hemorrhage. We watch Freddy rip his
intestines open; we watch them skirl around, bleed out and close up. We
watch Freddy slash open the bodies of his victims, and in an unadulter-
ated chronicle of total bloody deconstruction of living flesh, we watch his
victims unravel into viscera. When Freddy cuts flesh, the bodies insides
do not just bleed-out, decompose and perish; the body implodes and
subsumes its surroundings. This is most clearly represented when Freddy
kills Glen (the young Johnny Depp) by sucking him into his bed-turned-
quicksand, slashing him up beneath the cameras eye. Seconds pass before
Glenns blood spurts like an upward waterfall that never seems to dam, so
plentiful and continuous that it soaks through the floorboards and drips
into the downstairs living room. Hence, the gore and guts tucked in by
skin are colossal and forceful and messy. These insides live stirring and
prodding within their container. The horror in this belongs to the fact that
once opened, the power and chaos and violence of the inside will claim the
whole of the outside world as its victim.
Freddy makes things that should only happen in dreams bleed out into
reality, making the unbelievable true. Freddy comes to his victims in the
abstract life of sleep, succeeding in the impossible task of killing them with
his finger-knives whilst in this state. Freddy appears out of objects, seems
to be unkillable, and though he often mutilates himself, he seems to be
immune to pain. Hence, Freddys cutting breaks the laws of natural life.
His victims thrash around rooms, convulse on ceilings, and wake up with
deep knife cuts. Accordingly, Freddys cutting slashes the socio-structural
order of things, exposing what dare not be seen is a powerful, dangerous
and sadistic act. It bludgeons, mutilates, maims, and destroys dominant
perceptions of what is commonly known to be real (physical laws) and
culturally authoritative (medical experts, scientists, religious figures). Such
are the horrors of the insides of the body.

Consequently, skin works as a material and metaphorical substance

which symbolizes the victory of life over death in imperial western bio-
medical culture. And in this contemporary milieu, cut flesh works as a con-
ceptual and material phenomenon which indicates the triumph of death
over life. Hence, flesh and its cuts represent both the individual and the
social body, symbolizing both self and world. Thus, horror monstrotizes
disability and/or deformity because these bodies stereotypically embody
a damaged and deranged self while simultaneously signifying a damaged
and deranged world. This is why Freddys cutting not only destroys his
victims, it turns reality inside out. The innate horror of Freddie and his
monster-villain compadres lies in the tremendous power manifested in the
unanswerability of Elkins question: How does one kill a monster who
wears his insides on the outside? (110).
Davis (2002), Richards (2004), and Baynton (2001) each eluci-
date how the collective desire to keep the insides of the body tucked
away equates the contained body with the normative body. Thus, the
normative body is awarded as healthy, ideal, ethically venerable, and
generative. Alternately, the body of slippage, the body which fails or
refuses to keep these inside/outside boundaries intact, is considered dis-
abledthat is, the corrupted, malevolent, monstrous symbol of moral
and political mayhem. As Davis explains, for the formation of the mod-
ern nation-state not simply language but bodies and bodily practices also
had to be standardized, homogenized, and normalized (340). Hence,
the normative able body became, not only a requirement, but acted as an
icon of the nation, while the disabled body became the abject presence
of the abject Other.
In addition to Davis theory of normalization, Richards (2004) explains
how a marked shift in terms of body categories happened in the mid-
nineteenth century in the US when a huge public and scientific turn towards
labeling non-typical individuals as retarded and deformed occurred in
accompaniment to the release of Darwins works. Richard elucidates how,
around this time, parents and siblings of people with disabilities became sus-
pect to those around them. Accordingly, fiction and essays written on the
subject of disabled people in popular periodicals began to frequently depict
their parents as desperate, crazed, accursed and their children as disgusting
horrors (66). As expressed by Dr. Howe, a man who was instrumental in
funding the first state-sponsored school for idiots in the mid-nineteenth

century US, the existence of so many idiots in every generation must be

the consequence of some violation of the natural lawsthat where there
was so much suffering, there must have been sin (Richards 70). Hence,
disabled bodies and minds indeed became symbols of both the corrupted
and corruptible body, signifying substance abuse, disorder, and immorality.
It is the suggestion of this paper that horror hyperbolizes these historically
embedded ableist beliefs about disability.
Baynton (2001) explicates how normality and naturalness have become
mutually exclusive categories that represent what is universal, unques-
tionable, good and right (35). In contrast, Baynton demonstrates how
disability has been framed as an affront to nature, implicitly abject, and
abhorrent. As Baynton explains, the metaphor of the natural versus the
monstrous was a fundamental way of constructing social reality at differ-
ent points in time (35). In horror, the natural versusthe monstrous are
played out in the body of the normal and the disabled. The disabled self, in
all of its variable forms is strategically utilized in many horror texts as the
go-to symbol for corruption and the corruptible body. Considering this, it
is important to explore how this relates to real-life narratives of disability.
The monsters petrifying insistence on bringing the inside out compels
an investigation of the link between monsters and the figure of the gro-
tesque. As Bakhtin describes, the grotesque is unfinished and open
ambivalent and contradictory (26). This open, ambivalent, and contra-
dictory character is one that wholly defies the principles of the contained
normative body. The grotesque body is an expansive, swelling topography
resolute to embody the lush and treacherous paradoxes intrinsic to life
itself; holding in fraught tension, beginning and end, regeneration and
decay, agony and joy, consumption and expulsion. The grotesque body
provides an insider-scoop of the heady and horrifying mortal realisms of
the body. Accordingly, the figure of the grotesque is one that refuses to
tuck in the sickening and exhilarating truths of the body. Even so, the
grotesque response to the intensity of the body is always laughter.
A body that rebuts boundaries, that attains a sense of unity exclusively
through enacting contradiction, is, in relation to the normative body,
the definition of revolting. As Bakhtin states, grotesque bodies are ugly,
monstrous, hideous from the point of classic aesthetics of the ready-
made and completed (26). Thus, while horror texts certainly crack the
body wide open and center narratives around the bodys unfinished, messy
possibilities, the genre tends to exclusively utilize these bodies to articulate

destruction and vice. This being the case, horror does not often reflect the
positive sentiments that accompany the grotesque. As implicitly tied to the
leaky, disabled body, the grotesque is often represented in horror as ter-
rifying: it is used as a symbol for the slashing open of the contained body.

Scare Tactics: Disabling Evil andNormalizing

No mortal could support the horror of that countenance. A mummy again
endued with animation could not be so hideous as that wretch. I gazed on him
while unfinished; he was ugly then, but when those muscles and joints were ren-
dered capable of motion, it became a thing such as even Dante could not have
conceived. -Shelley, 43

These were the words and sentiments of Victor Frankenstein who, after
witnessing his creature take its first breath, recoiled in total horror. Victors
description of his creation as a hideous wretch whose appearance caused
him to plummet into an inferno of terror and despair encapsulates how we,
the viewers, are supposed to feel about the monsters in the horror texts
that we consume. As Carroll argues, art-horror requires that the viewers
emotions reflect the emotional responses of the positive human characters
to the monsters (277). Hence, art-horror is formed through the cathartic
potentialities that arise through the viewer becoming the human victim.2
However, in the case of Frankenstein, Shelley narrates the ways in
which Victor (and the rest of the so-called positive human characters of
the novel) exiles his creature, thus turning a once benevolent being into
a murderous monster. Thus, in writing this scene in which Victor abhors
and condemns his creature, Shelley demonstrates the ways in which non-
normative, or seemingly deformed individuals are shunned, perceived
as evil, just because of the way they look. Accordingly, Shelley subverts
Carrolls notion of art-horror by converting the cathartic alignment
from the positive human character to the monster thereby revealing
xenophobia as the true villain.
As defined earlier, monsters are often represented as anomalous and
non-normative. This kind of alignment of abject body with abject charac-
ter harkens back to Kelloggs pronouncement in 1897 that a sound mind
is a sound body (para 8). Thus, the body that is not considered sound is
perceived as signifying a defective soul. Hence, horror and its summoning

of the emotion of art-horror can reinforce representations in which the

typical human is cast as good, and the atypical human, a monster.
Victors description of his creature as hideous, wretched, and
ugly reverberates with the kinds of adjectives used to describe disabled
people in real life. As Garland-Thomson explicates, considering people
with disabilities as real-life monsters has been a cross-cultural legacy. As
Garland-Thomson elucidates, the earliest record of disabled people is of
their exhibition as prodigies, as monsters taken as omens from the gods
or indexes of the natural or divine worlds (348). Garland-Thomson fur-
ther explains how disabled people have endured a history, not only of seg-
regation via asylums and hospitals, but of officially being socially banished
through the implementation of ugly laws that made it unlawful for dis-
abled people to appear in public (348). Moreover, Garland-Thomson cites
a Chicago ordinance which forbade persons diseased, maimed, muti-
lated or deformed in any way as to be an unsightly or disgusting object
or improper person to be allowed in or on the public ways or other public
places (338). Hence, the ugly laws linger in many art-horror texts in
the sense that horror texts tend to identify disabled people as the literal
monster-villains that illicitly lurk behind the shadows of normalcy.
Metzler articulates how the embodied mores of modernity place the
impaired body as the antithesis to the normal body (48). Moreover,
Metzler elucidates how in any system of aesthetics where the norm is
also that which is beautiful, the impaired is profoundly ugly (48). And
as Titchkosky (2003) asserts, the impaired body is the botched, less-
than-human body. Thus, from this contemporary life to times long ago,
impairment as the antithesis to normality, and the normal body as synony-
mous with the human body, renders impairment the monstrous antith-
esis to the human. As that which represents corrupted skinthe so-called
blemished, faltering, abnormal bodydisability is often conceived as the
materialization of the human monster. As Baynton explains, Just as the
counterpart to the natural was the monstrous, so the opposite of the nor-
mal person was the defective (36). Consequently, art-horror, which sets
into opposition the human with the monster, reinscribes this tired conflict
between the normal and the disabled.
Thus, except for stories about ghosts, the environment, or extremely
justified revenge stories, all horror is premised on monster-villains that are
disabled or deformed in some way. For instance, zombies are generally

presented as mentally incapable anddue to rotting, missing or twisted

limbsare physically deformed (Gruson-Wood 2011). Vampires are
generally presented as virus carriers, diseased contagions ruled by sinful,
devil-driven passions. Monsters in realist horror and psychological thrill-
ers are portrayed in terms of extreme emotional pathology and mental
disability. Horror about demonic possession, in the style of The Exorcist
(1973),almost always involve mental institutions and the belief that the
child is insane, and plagued by mental disability far beyond the scope or
control of medical knowledge.3
Alternately, the key way that the positive human characters are con-
structed in horror texts is through being represented as part of the able-
bodied norm.4 That it is common for horror texts to have endings in
which the protagonists escape monstrosity, and momentarily or seemingly
forever secure their able-bodiedness, fulfills the viewers cathartic jour-
ney towards protecting their own normality. This voyage exacerbates the
bonds that one has to their normality and the fear that one has of losing
it. These texts also bestow viewers with the reassuring sense that a world
of insides bleeding out has been sutured shut.
The alignment of the viewer with the non-disabled character has a long
historical lineage. Duels of good against evil have often been character-
ized in terms of duels between the disabled monster and the non-disabled
heroes. For example, Edmund Burke attacked the French revolution by
stating that it was built around a contrast between ugly, murderous
sans-culottes hags (the furies of hell, in the abused share of the vilest of
women) and the soft femininity of Marie-Antoinette (cited in Baynton
35). Burkes statement not only elucidates how societal disorder is often
symbolically represented through the disabled body but also how disability
and gender/sexual norms are entangled.5 Burke further utilized disabled
bodies and selves as representative of sociopolitical grievances with state-
ments such as: public measures deformed by monsters, monstrous
democratic assemblies and this monster of a constitution (cited in
Baynton 35). Baynton notes how Burke also considered the revolutionary
leaders to be plagued by madness, imbecility and ideology (35). Hence,
horror finds its receptacle for disorder, chaos and cultural change in the
abnormality of the disabled body as symbolic of a socially deformed
cultural politic. Accordingly, the shock, revulsion, screams and bloodcur-
dling tremors that constitute art-horror could be considered as a chilling
aestheticization of ableism.

Supernaturally Disabled: Flexible, Powerful

Monstrous Bodies
Portraying disabled people as monsters and monsters as extremely power-
ful subverts the typical pity narratives often assigned to disabled people
in real life. However, in horror texts, this trope is replaced by a fearful
reconsideration of disability as a potent symbol of destruction. In order
to represent this, the body of the monster is often utilized as a flexible
spectacle that endlessly undertakes constant, momentous revelations of
deformity. Each revelation both renews and increases the monsters
strength and power over her victims. Accordingly, the body of the monster
is deployed as a weapon of terror in-and-of-itself.
Garland-Thomson argues that, disabled people have variously been
objects of awe, scorn, terror, delight, inspiration, pity, laughter, and fas-
cinationbut we have always been stared at (174). In horror, the stare
is localized to scorn, terror, fright, disgust, representing repulsion and/or
captivation. Moreover, Garland-Thomson (2006) claims that unlike the
history of staring at women, in which the starer looks up and down the
womans body, those who stare at disabled people tend to telescope the
body to gaze upon the specific site of disablement. Accordingly, horror
texts tend to deploy and magnify this way of staring at the disabled body,
paying specific attention not to the monster as a whole but to her spe-
cific monstrous features. Hence, at moments when the monster reveals her
monstrous parts, the cinematography and soundtrack synchronize into a
symphony of dread. Yet these moments are continuous and ever-increasing,
as much of the thrill of these narratives revolves around watching the body
of the monster transform to display new and terrifying sites of disablement.
Monsters are constantly coming out of their stuffed closet to emerge as
debutants of deformity. They are Russian dolls of anomaly, peeling back
layer after layer of aberration, showcasing flashier items of abnormality.
Thus, the legacy of staring at disabled people is technologized in hor-
ror by cultivating monsters that are not just disabled or deformed, but
super disabled or deformed. What this means is that the disabled
parts of the monster paradoxically become supernaturally abled, that is,
inconceivably flexible and unimaginably, often immortally, powerful. This
versatile and flamboyant monstrous striptease is strategically deployed to
compel the emotion of art-horror.
This representation of the monstrous body rearticulates
Thomsons explanation of the supercrip as constituted
through the modern secularization of historic ways of lookingwith a

c ombination of awe and terrorat disabled people as prodigies or mon-

sters.6 The supercrip articulates the contemporary stereotypical deifica-
tion of disabled people as heroic, awe-inspiring wonders for completing
everyday tasks considered banal to the normal individual. The figure of
the supercrip is also meant to embody the mythic notion that the abled
parts of a disabled person are mystically enhanced beyond normal func-
tioning.Horror texts tend to recontextualize and literalize the figure of
the supercrip by turning the disabled attributes of the monster into the
very source of his evil power.This representation of monsters as able to
function far beyond the scope of the normal body, exclusively because
of their deformity(ies), is tacitly rooted in a supreme demonization of
disability as a potent devilish force designed to wreak havoc on human
life. Thus, in horror, supercrips are creatures fashioned by the normative
imagination to be supernaturally malevolent, exclusively bent on terror-
izing and devouring the able-bodied world.
For example, Frankensteins creature (Shelley 1818), Pennywise in It
(Wallace 1990), vampires, and even zombies are represented as variously
disabled beings that are impossibly strong, physically dynamic, and vir-
tually impossible to defeat. Even in psychological horror texts, monsters
are presented as having cognitive capabilities far beyond their normative
scope (think Hannibal Lecter). This crip-strength is often implicitly, if not
explicitly, linked to demonic forces. Such is the case with Freddy Krueger
who, in the scene of his death/rebirth when his house is being burnt
down by the parents of Springwood, Ohio, is encircled by three blazing
serpents who offer him the opportunity to be one of them. Thus, Freddy
is literally articulated as a devil who is armed with the powers of any god.
The bodily transformations of the supercrip monster builds up emo-
tions of art-horror by hyperbolizing the power and the extent of her
monstrosity. That monsters are able to shape-shift into various forms of
deformity, mutilation, and revulsion cultivates viewers fascination with
the monster as an object of horror. Hence, the monsters super-disabled,
hyper-flexible, deformed body becomes an enthralling freak show act
for viewers to gawk, gape, and stare at in simultaneous wonder and terror.
Zooming in and lingering on the various sites of the monsters super-
abled sites of monstrosity are the special effects of ableism. These special
effects translate all too well to the real-life narratives surrounding disabled
people. The drama that often accompanies the monstrous unveiling of dis-
abled parts has tragic and violent consequences in respect to those living
with disabilities in fictional and real horror narratives.

For instance, consider the real-life horror text of R v. Latimer (2001), in

which twelve year old Tracy Latimer was murdered by her father, Robert,
in Saskatchewan, Canada, after the family received news from Tracys doc-
tor that she was going to need further hip surgery as a result of her severe
cerebral palsy. Enns (1999) critiques the way in which the murder of Tracy
was portrayed by the defense attorneyand interpreted by a sizable frac-
tion of the populationas a compassionate homicide exclusively because
of Tracys status as severely disabled (Walker 2008). While Tracy herself
was never cast as a monster, her disability (as the illness Other) was por-
trayed as supernaturally evil, claiming Tracy as its innocent victim.
To portray Tracy in this manner, the texts generated by the Latimer case
(over)dramatized and objectified Tracys disabled body parts, in graphic,
gruesome ways, severing her from any sense of personhood. Contrary to
evidence that Tracy was sentient and often happy, she was represented as
mentally vacant and plagued by extreme experiences of pain. Converting
Tracys body and mind into freeze-framed snapshots of deformity and
mutilation worked to enhance the image of her parents Robert and Laura
as compassionate and tortured victims forced to witness their daughters
macabre and gruesome disability slowly maim and murder her.
Hence, Tracy was engulfed by the defenses hyperbolic assessment of
her never-to-be surgery as inflicting a horrible twisting and wrenching
of her body (Enns 12). Moreover, while this surgery was intended to
decrease discomfort and enhance mobility, the defense further monstro-
tized Tracys prospective post-surgical body by describing it as in effect
sawing off the leg but cosmetically leaving it dangling there (Enns 12).
The second trial further telescoped Tracys disabled parts, stating that the
surgery would leave her leg flailing around and flopping (Enns 12).
Hence, the defense gazed upon Tracys impending body as a spectacle of
violence, at once abject and severed. Consequently, the filmic and literary
tactics of locating, fixating, and aggrandizing the abnormal parts of the
monster that typify horror texts were enacted by Robert Latimers defense,
who fastened, magnified, and monstrotized Tracys disabled features.
These shocking spectacularized descriptions of Tracys body were uti-
lized to generate a visceral and falsified account of just how doomed,
horrific, and gruesome Tracys life really was. While Robert was sen-
tenced to a minimum of ten years imprisonment, an overwhelming num-
ber of Canadians (and beyond) believed that Roberts murder of Tracy
was normal human instinctthe only reasonable course (Enns 12).

As juxtaposed with Tracy, Roberts able-bodied identity worked to cast

him, in the public eye, as the positive human character of this story.
Disablement is such a pervasive trope of monstrosity that it has the stig-
matizing power to turn perpetrator into victim. The Latimer trial is a
perfect, if not perverse, example of the venerable power of normality that
underpins Carrolls definition of art-horror.

Dishing OutaScare: Disability, Monstrosity,

andEating inHorror

Bakhtin describes human encounters as taking place inside the open, bit-
ing, rending, and chewing mouth (281). He continues to explain how
the mouth is one of the most ancient, and most important objects of
human thought and imagery. Here man [sic] tastes the world, introduces
it to his body, makes it part of himself (281). Hence, life is the eternal
movement, the perpetual process, of consumption. And in turn, consump-
tion contextualizes life.
Eating rituals and horror are intimately woven because the genre literal-
izes Bakhtins awareness that, the word to die had among its various con-
notations the meaning of being swallowed or being eaten up (301). As
Hammer claims, a monster is monstrous because of the way he eats (87).
Eating makes the monster because, as Hammer puts it, humans universally
fear and resist being consumed by others (94). From zombies to vam-
pires to cannibals to aliens to shape-shifters to your average human killer
who eats alone or has a vulgar relationship to food, horror cooks up a scare
by aestheticizing eating rituals through the sensibility of the grotesque.
To address Bakhtins metaphor of the mouth further, the way one takes
substances into the mouth does not just communicate life itself, but the pol-
itics of embodied living. As Bakhtin elucidates, consuming food and drink
is a vital way in which the grotesque body is made manifest. Hence, the
grotesque is most tangibly and holistically revealed through eating. Bakhtin
explains how, in the context of the grotesque, eating entails that the body
transgresses its limits, as it swallows, devours, rends, the world apart, is
enriched and grows at the worlds expense (281). Bakhtin considers the act
of eating as causing the body to contravene its bounds, imploding inside/
outside distinctions, and consuming the boundaries between self and other.
This notion of eating rituals as engorging, contracting, expanding, and
masticating the laws of life and the power relations between the self and
the world, is articulated in Coppolas Dracula (1992). After finding his

lover dead, Dracula, who was then still mortal, stabbed a cross and caused
blood to pour out of candles. Dracula catches this blood with his goblet
and wildly consumes it, screaming the blood is of life and it shall be mine
(Coppola 1992). And his it was. Through consuming this blood, this liq-
uid that best signifies passion, suffering, and death, Dracula instantly, and
simultaneously, died and became immortal. Hence, when Dracula swal-
lowed this blood he devoured the worlds-apart nature of life and death,
eternally living as the manifestation of death. By taking blood into his
mouth, the laws of life rend open for Dracula to devour.
Bakhtins allegory of human encounters as the opening, biting, rending,
and chewing of the mouth serves as a succulent way to examine the relation-
ship between horror, monsters, disability, and eating rituals. If the mouth
is one of the most important objects of human thought and imagery, so
much so that it can work as a symbol for the whole of human relations, how
does ones relationship to food articulate, express, and reveal who one is?
Hence, rather than being what we eat, how is eating a performative act
consumed with the evaluatory processes involved in identity formations? If
eating is a performative act, and if horror is preoccupied with representing
the horrors of disability, what can the relationships to food enacted in hor-
ror texts tell us about these representations of disability identity?
The interconnection between eating rituals, disability, and evil in hor-
ror texts elucidates the real-life association between non-normative rela-
tionships to food, disability identity, vice, and monstrosity. While Bakhtin
discusses life as taking place within the mouth, consumption exists within
a regulated and disciplined discursive politico-aesthetic realm which initi-
ates certain subjects as fully human and others as blemishedor as fiend.
As Curtin states, food structures what counts as a person in our culture
(4). Hence, it is not just that one chews, but how one chews and, perhaps
more importantly, what one chews that is of prime importance to what
constitutes person. Accordingly, this section of the chapter will examine
how, through eating, the disabled person is turned into a monster.

Monsters Feeding Off Death

In horror texts, monsters showcase their insides, and in doing so, become
agents and representatives of death. Monsters are creatures that do not
cease animation or recoil in the face of death but rather feed off the power
of death and the unappetizing adjectives related to its effects. To express this
notion, monsters often eat in ways that signify human death. For instance,
there is The Blob (1958), in which the monster resembles a large and rapidly

growing intestinal tract that lacks the encasement of skin and appears as
sinew. The Blob mutates its blob-like structure in order to consume every-
thing it touches, forever expanding into a mammoth moving appetite, its
consciousness comprising of a singular motivation: to consume.
This seemingly endless hunger is also seen in Night of The Living Dead
(NOTLD) (1968). In NOTLD, the dead come back to unlife as zombies
with the sole motivation of feeding off of humans, gnawing on body parts
like fried chicken wings, drooling over intestines, moaning as they slurp
up vital organs, their bodies splattered like a Jackson Pollock with human
entrails as they fight over who gets to eat corpse for dinner (Gruson-Wood
2011). In this film, zombies are represented as brain-dead, except for
the presence of one gnawing, solitary thought: musteathuman
flesh. These zombies have no regard for table manners and they do not
carry napkins to wipe their dirty, decomposing, bloody mouths. These
zombies are highly contagious biting machines, leaving the bitten with
no chance of remaining human. Thus, in NOTLD, zombies are primarily
articulated as monster-villains by their rude and uncivilized urge to devour
human life. This gruesome gastronomic desire in turn works to enhance
the construction of zombies as severely cognitively impaired.
As agents that feed off the power of death, monsters often engage in
eating rituals that involve either gruesome animal death, human death, or
include forcing their human victims to eat abject substances such as their
own flesh or the flesh of other humans. Some monsters are solely able
to survive through acquiring sustenance through consuming parts of the
human body, thus making their relationships to humans essentially antago-
nistic. Other monsters prefer to eat humans as meat, likening abstinence
with vegetarianism. And human monsters, such as serial killers, engage in
cannibalism for purely cruel and sadistic reasons divorced from sustenance.
All of these abject eating rituals in which villains feed off death, or kill
through feeding work to represent her as abnormal, disabled, or mad.

Developing aTaste forLife andDeath:

Consumption Rituals inTrue Blood
A prime example of a horror text that explicitly highlights the connections
between eating rituals, identity, monstrosity, and normalcy is represented
in the HBO series, True Blood (20082014). True Blood primarily portrays
the interactions between vampires and humans but also features Maenads,
shape-shifters, werewolves, witches, and fairies. True Blood takes place in a

world in whichafter a Japanese company invented a synthetic substitute

of human blood called True Bloodvampires co-exist with humans
and are fighting to acquire equal rights. The plot of True Blood centers on
Merlottes, a restaurant in the town of Bon Temps, owned by the human-
animal shape-shifter, Sam Merlotte. The protagonist, Sookie Stackhouse,
is a waitress-slash-mind-reader who works there. It is no coincidence that
the series protagonist is a waitress, as waitresses are the symbolic mediators
of appetites responsible for both dishing them out and clearing them away.
The first scene of the series features the hustle and bustle of Merlottes,
showing Sookie holding plates with her customers thoughts flowing
through her head. As the episode goes on, a vampire named Bill enters
the room and the whole restaurant stops talking. Sookie takes Bills order
of True Blood, but since Bill is the first vampire-patron at the restaurant,
all the stock at Merlottes has expired. Bill orders red wine just so he looks
like he has a reason to be here (Ball 20082014). The red wine not only
gives him a reason to be at the restaurant, it is also meant to enable him to
pass as humana performance at which he nevertheless fails. In any case,
this is the last time Merlottes stock of True Blood would ever be around
long enough to expire.
Bill is soon joined at his table by two humans. Sookie reads these humans
thoughts and learns that they are addicted to V, that is, vampire blood.
Addiction to V is a recurrent theme within the show, as humans and were-
wolves can be users and dealers. This is because V makes humans bodies
stronger, quicker, faster, and more able, while also having the sublime,
sexual, and hallucinogenic effects of a drug like ecstasy. Though doing and
dealing V is the ultimate offence to vampires, some vampires participate
in commodifying their own bodies as sites of consumption7 by dealing V
for economic reasons. At any rate, V is a highly addictive substance and
the humans at Merlottes are shown to be in a state of profound agitation
in going through V withdrawal. Sookie can hear that they intend to kill
Bill by draining him completely of his blood in order to both keep it for
themselves and to sell on the market.
As articulated famously in da Vincis The Last Supper (14951498),
the dinner table is the apex cultural site in which life and death, convivial-
ity and violence, intrigue and revelation, and the fraught complexities of
human relations are served and consumed. By choosing to situate the first
scene of the series at the dinner table, True Blood also articulates social
relations as taking place through rituals of consumption. As vampire and
human dine together, both longing for a taste of the others blood, the

drama and horror of True Blood is centered on consumption rituals which

are evoked to symbolize the tense interdependencies that occur when Self
meets Other. Accordingly, this table sets the scene for the series, telling
viewers that eating at Merlottes, the representative place of community in
Bon Temps, is never going to be the same. Through this, True Blood is
able to communicate to viewers that human life is never going to be sati-
ated, that is, constituted, as it was before.
Following this scene, Sookie notices that Bill has left with the humans
and immediately runs out of the restaurant to save him. Sookie succeeds,
but the humans return to beat Sookie up and leave her to bleed to death
after her next shift. Bill comes to Sookies rescue too late and can only save
her if she drinks from his blood as it holds the power to heal her. After
drinking Bills blood, Sookie learns that this act will forever tie her to Bill
sexually and emotionally while also working as a virtual GPS that will indi-
cate to Bill not only her location but emotions.
As the show goes on, Sookie does indeed become fixated on Bill,
and the two end up in a relationship. The lines are intentionally blurred
between whether Sookies love for Bill is authentic, or whether it is a
product of the mind-control that flows from his blood in her veins.
Moreover, Sookie, who is later revealed to be a fairy, has impossibly sweet
blood that has the effect of making vampires feel sublime.It is revealed
that Bill knew about Sookies identity all along and indeed orchestrated
the opportunity for her to drink his blood so that he could secure the
possibility to forever get drunk off of hers. Even though this is revealed,
Bill is still presented as loving Sookie, thus uncomfortably contaminating
the purity of his desire for her.
At this point of the series, the viewer is compelled to wonder whether
Bill or Sookie love each other out of free will, or whether they are drawn
together by force, dominated by the desirous implications born from their
consumption of one another.8 Sookie and Bill epitomize the way in which
love is constituted through yearning to taste the Other, and by doing so,
drawing that Other into the Self. Bill and Sookie also represent how vam-
pires and humans are consumed by one another, a relationship that causes
them to be both compelled and repelled by the other. These consumption
dynamics cultivate a sense of mutual impurity, rendering fraught not only
their relationships to each other, but to monstrosity and humanity. This
insatiable desire to feed off of each other complicates the constitution of
both the positive human character and the monster.

These consumption rituals also complicate the constitution of either

species as healthy, ill, normative, or disabled. Since these eating practices
are considered abject, those who engage in them immediately lose their
status as normative. Moreover, the consumptive connection vampires
and humans have to each other renders both extremely weak and incred-
ibly strong. In requiring human blood to live, and feel strong, vampires
become weak and incapable without consuming it. Yet, through drinking
human blood, vampires can fly, unlive forever, run faster than any transport
vehicle, and kill humans like bugs. Thus, vampires hyper-able-bodiedness
casts humans as considerably disabled in comparison. However, humans
who consume V instantaneously become more abled. Then again, as this
act is deemed explicitly abject, humans that use V simultaneously lose their
normative status, and are rendered criminal and pathological. Accordingly,
True Blood exemplifies how the various activities of the mouth are respon-
sible for articulating the diverse categories of (dis)ability.

Manners andMad Gods: Meat, Mental Disability,

andMonstrosity inTrue Blood

The second season of True Blood features an immortal Maenad named

Maryann Forrester who often sports a bull mask and turns into a wild
animal with giant deadly claws. A Maenad is woman who is ruled by indul-
gent, uncontrollable emotions and participates in orgiastic rites that she
devotes to her Mad God/fianc, Dionysus. Maryann looks human and
first appears in Bon Temps as a social worker who takes in people who have
nowhere to go. Tara, one of the main characters of the series, is one of
those people. When Tara stays with Maryann, she meets Carl, Maryanns
personal chef, as well as Eggs, another person who had nowhere else to go.
Eggs and Tara quickly enter into a relationship. As it turns out, Maryanns
real motivation for taking Eggs and Tara in is to possess them and make
them do the tasks necessary to bring her closer to her God. Moreover,
Maryann possesses Eggs in order to get him to complete the particularly
unsavory task of cutting out the hearts of all those who she wants to kill.
Maryanns identity is centered on consumption. And in turn, Maryanns
non-normative, excessive, grotesque relationship to consumption articu-
lates her mad identity. When Maryann is at home, a lavish abundance of food
surrounds her. Maryann gives Tara a wedding cake for her birthday, stocks
her fridge with her favorite food, and feeds her plentiful, delicious meals
as a way of metaphorically nourishing Taras hunger for love and affection.

Before Maryann kills Carl, she gets him to make obscure, extravagant
meals composed primarily of organs, liver, blood, and heart. Maryanns
appetite is not only excessive and bizarre but also limitless. For instance,
when Maryann goes to Merlottes to terrorize Sam, she orders every dish
on the menu and eats it all. Hence, Maryanns boundless hunger and end-
less stomach work to characterize her, much like Pennywise, as an eater of
worlds (King 1990).
Maryann is also often featured wearing smelly dead food items in her
hair and cooking up animals and animal parts that are not commonly
consumed in hegemonic western culture. Maryann also eats humans and
shape-shifters as meat. In one poignant scene, after Maryann attains the
heart of a shape-shifter named Daphne, she sensually makes a souffl out
of it and, unbeknownst to Tara and Eggs, feeds it to them. Tara and Eggs
immediately begin to engorge the souffl, devouring it right from the
dish with their hands, making loud grunting noises. As they are doing this
their eyes go black and they begin to laugh maniacally, beat each other up
and engage in intense violent sex. Maryann is laughing too, as she enjoys
witnessing the bedlam she is able to facilitate.
As Sophie the Vampire Queen states, Maryann believes that she can
only be reunited with her Mad God when, after centuries of altering the
ingredients, she is able to get the recipe just right for her sacrificial
offering (Frenzy). Maryann identifies Sam, the shape-shifting owner of
Merlottes, as the ingredient required to make this happen. It is no accident
that the object of Maryanns desire is the restaurant owner, the prover-
bial owner of appetites in Bon Temps. But Maryann chooses Sam, both
because he has always been able to evade her, and because the Mad God
needs an offering from a supernatural being. In order to do this, Maryann
throws giant rave-like parties with swine roaming around, possessing the
citizens of Bon Temps to become her faithful disciples. While possessed,
the citizens eyes become black, they have orgies, sex with trees, violent
brawls, obsessively make shrines out of dead animal parts, twigs and leaves,
throw their faces into food and dirt, and mindlessly hunt down their dear
friend, Sam Merlotte. Moreover, the citizens trash public property, relieve
themselves in public, spout nonsense, lose all ability to be rational, and
commit random crimes. When the parties are over, the citizens suffer
black-outs, unable to remember anything.
Hence, Maryann represents the antithesis of civilization and gauges her
power through her ability to get the citizens of Bon Temps to destroy
every aspect of civilized life. Maryanns distaste for civilization is foremost
symbolized through her abject eating rituals, in which she eats tabooed

objects without regard for manners or etiquette. This portrayal of Maryann

is meaningful because the link between civilization and manners has a long
and strong historical lineage. As Coff (2006) explicates, in certain lan-
guages course, has two meanings: the gastronomic dish as well as to
the legal sense of law or justice (16). Coff continues to explain how the
etymological origin of course has been linked to the old German word,
rexia, meaning to straighten or make even (16). Given these connec-
tions, Coff estimates that the juridical and the gastronomic are historically
interwoven in the sense that the juridical is enacted through the display of
good manners while eating.
Ashley etal. demonstrates the connection between etiquette and iden-
tity by claiming that our status as human beings is confirmed through
our display of good manners (2004: 41). Returning to the double mean-
ing of course, Ashley etal. identifies the Renaissance as the beginning
of manners, which coincided with the the rise of the court (4647).
Ashley etal. further explains how the increased clout of the legal system
compelled self-control and restraint as the penultimate signifier of class
(2004). Hence, the development and expansion of civilizing rituals raised
the threshold of shame and embarrassment in a number of ways, gener-
ating new regimes of body management in relation to natural functions,
food and other people (Ashley etal. 50). Thus, the civilized body enacted
a narrowing of the threshold of the acceptable body, implicitly demoniz-
ing variation by enforcing the normalization of the body. Accordingly, the
disabled body, the body of leakages and deviation, became the abject body.
Hence, the implications of the merger between etiquette and law meant
that humanness came to be articulated through the legal citizen, and in
turn the legal citizen was symbolized through the display of good manners.
Consequently, those who failed or refuted to act in accordance with the
mores of manners were, and often still are, perceived as not fully human.
Born out of the civilizing discourse of manners was the enforcement of
cutlery use, which worked as a sign of the regulating, socializing condi-
tions that are part of the norms of good manners, yet they simultaneously
allowed for individual liberty (Coff 77). This perhaps is why monsters
generally have bad table manners and are seldom represented eating with
a knife and fork, as the failure to do so represents the flagrant disregard for
the disciplining rituals of civilization. As Coff further explains, in contrast
to the communal eating dish of former times, the modern plate becomes
a symbol of individuality; this food is for me and is not to be shared

by others. The plate is the symbol simultaneously for individuality, the

norm and the limit (77). Thus, the subject could literally, with the proper
setting, company, and deportment, eat her way to her sense of individual
rights through the civilizing notion of the modern meal. Consequently,
the monsters refusal to display good manners demonstrates his revulsion
for, or exclusion from, individuality, the norm, and the limit.
How does Maryann, represented as eater of worlds, relate to Bakhtins
figure of the grotesque? And, how do the consumption rituals of the
grotesque relate to the civilizing discourse of etiquette? Ashley et al.
explains that the classic conception of the body was in severe opposi-
tion to the grotesque body, as this civilized body was founded on clean-
liness, completeness and closure (45). Accordingly, the grotesque
body is premised on communality, clamor, indulgence, impoliteness,
laxity, and an insistence on including all aspects of the bodies function-
ing. As Bakhtin states, bodies could not be considered for themselves;
they represented a material bodily whole and therefore transgressed the
limits of their isolation (23). Hence, the grotesque understanding of
the material body is best encapsulated as a banquet for all the world
(Bakhtin 19). Horror showcases how the grotesque body is deemed the
antithesis of the civilized body by monstrotizing grotesque aesthetics of
eating as abject and terrifying.
Thus, the scene in which Tara and Eggs not only eat the souffl made
of Daphnes heart, but do so with their hands, is significant as it denotes
no less than their degeneration from legal persons to human-animals.
Accordingly, the temporary loss of sentience that occurs when Tara,
Eggs and the citizens of Bon Temps are possessed by Maryann, is sym-
bolized by a complete disregard for manners and the lack of boundaries
regarding what is and is not edible. As Finkelstein aptly notes, manners,
are thought to signify our transformation from the human herd into
society (127). Accordingly, in this modernity in which manners make
the human, the Mad God makes the animal. As the Mad God literally
references madness, animality is stringently aligned with mental disabil-
ity.9 In other words, Maryanns penchant for heartfelt cuisine, and her
reign over the citizens-turned-animals of Bon Temps, work to portray
her as supernaturally mad.
And in the second season of True Blooda show that through the
multiple exchanges of blood demonstrates that both the monster and the
human are taintedMaryann becomes the only true monster.

The Food Critic andtheFreak: Grotesque

Banquets andDisability Identity
A notable example of a disabled persons relationship to the grotesque
body, food, manners, and law arose with the birth of the food critic in
1803 (Coff 2006). Born from a rich family in 1758, Alenandre-Balthasar-
Laurent Grimod de la Reyniere, was evicted from Paris in his childhood
by his parents due to his deformed hands. After the death of his father
in 1792, Grimod returned to his familys mansion and began hosting elite,
outlandish dinner parties that featured unusual themes. Grimod collected
a group of taste experts to judge the meals made by Parisian chefs. From
this, Grimod began the periodical, Almanach des gourmands, which was
devoted to chef and food shop reviews. Coff (2006) situates Grimods
periodical as the birthplace of all gastronomic writing (75). Though
this periodical was astonishingly popular, it angered opponents who con-
demned it for being prejudiced and partisan (Coff 75). The threat of
court action ensued which forced this periodical to its sad finish in 1812.
Grimods uproarious and excessive dinner parties must be contextual-
ized as occurring amidst this rise of the discourse of manners, and as provid-
ing a radical grotesque alternative to eating. Yet the aesthetics and ethos of
Grimods gastronomic enterprise compels an interpretation that takes into
account how his deformed hands distanced him from the classic body
and thus barred him from proper deportment involved in maneuvering
a knife and fork. Grimods disabled hands meant that he could not easily
conform to the rules of etiquette. I interpret Grimods hands as part of the
reason he preferred to curate dining experiences governed by grotesque
like excess rather than the principles of civility. However, Grimod brought
to course a coarseness which ultimately led to the legal expulsion of his
rituals. Thus, the condemnation of Grimod from the discourse of gastron-
omy cannot be separated from the condemnation of Grimod as a disabled
figureas incompatible with the fundamental ideals of the legal subject.
Freaks (Browning 1932) is a horror film which, like the story of Grimod,
articulates how the aesthetic of the grotesque might be appealing for dis-
abled subjects as, unlike etiquette, it embraces the open, unbounded,
ambiguous, and ambivalent nature of the body, welcoming bodily varia-
tion. Moreover, Freaks demonstrates how the dinner table has always been
set to dish out the tensions between normality and disability.
Freaks is set behind the scenes of an American sideshow and explores
the complexities of a space in which freaks and non-freaks cohabitate.

The plot of Freaks centers on the relationship between Cleopatra, a

non-freak trapeze artist, and Hans, a man who is of small stature. Hans
is in love with Cleopatra who, in return, infantilizes and humors him,
feigning mutual interest. Hans is engaged to Frieda, also of small stature.
When Cleopatra gets word of Hans secret fortune, she makes it her mis-
sion to marry him with the intent of murdering him and acquiring his
riches to share with her real boyfriend, Hercules. Tricked into mistaking
Cleopatras parody of affection for sincerity, Hans drops Frieda and lands
square into Cleopatras jackpot plan.
This brewing scheme comes to a boil at Hans and Cleopatras wed-
ding feast which sets the scene for the films transition into horror. This
wedding feast embodies the motif of a pre-seventeenth century Medieval
Rabelaisian banquet in which manners are of no concern, cutlery is
optional, and the common goblet is evoked as symbol for life, commu-
nity, and birth (Bakhtin 1968). The banquet is boisterous, and except for
Cleopatra and Hercules, populated entirely by the freaks who have thrown
this festivity as a gesture of welcoming and celebration. During the dinner,
people dance on the table, play instruments, eat and drink with their feet,
swallow swords, and eat fire.
This supper could also be read as an act of resistance from the regula-
tory regimes that define civilization and normalcy. That freaks use the
common goblet as a central symbol to freak inauguration and commu-
nity integration demonstrates the lack of regard for civilizing rituals and
restraint. Through the dinner table, freaks demonstrate their disobedience
to the rules and regulations of the modernist discourse of manners as it
is exclusively available to those who can embody or mimic normalcy. The
banquet, as distinct from the motifs of civilization, marries disobedience
with conviviality, and conviviality with pride.
Amidst the clamor and energy of the banquet, Cleopatra sneaks poi-
son into Hans drink. Shortly after the poison has permeated, one of the
freaks stands on the table with a goblet and pronounces that it is time to
make Cleopatra One of us. The freaks starts to chant: One of us, one
of us, gooble gobble, gooble gobble as the goblet passes from person to
person, each taking a sip. Hercules and Cleopatra are silent and horrified.
When it is time for Cleopatra to take her drink, she recoils in terror and
throws the goblet at the freaks, screaming, Dirty, slimy, freaks! All the
freaks are shamed, and sadly leave the dinner table.
Shortly after this banquet, Hans begins to feel drowsy. At this point, the
freaks begin to spy on the newlyweds as they no longer trust Cleopatra.

In so doing, they catch Cleopatra poisoning Hans. The freaks plot revenge
and in the end, Cleopatra indeed becomes One of Us. She turns into
the latest sideshow act: a baulking chicken with a womans facethe
only true freak, as she belongs to neither the able-bodied nor the disabled
Like Grimod, these disabled bodiesas unable to partake in the norma-
tive discourse of manners and etiquettehave found solace and joy in the
grotesque aesthetic of eating which, in contrast to True Blood, is not meant
to align malice with madness and madness with animality. For at this feast,
Cleopatra and Hercules are clearly articulated as the monstrous outsiders.
Their feelings of art-horror in witnessing the freaks eat works to cast them
as the villains. As representations of the classical, contained, and civilized
body, Cleopatra and Hercules symbolize the monstrosity of civilization itself,
which within this films context, is considered exclusionary and cruel. Thus,
Cleopatra and Hercules embody normative modes of staring at disabled
bodies, that is, at recoiling at the sight of those bodies that cannot be disci-
plined to enact the required regimes of etiquette. Through the rubric of the
grotesque, the disabled characters in Freaksas the positive human charac-
tersembody the convivial quality of the grotesque ritual of the banquet, and
in so doing, represent one of the first filmic instances of disability culture.10

Horror texts are guided by a particular narrative superstructure in which
the tensions between non-disabled and disabled characters are central.
Most horror texts align with Carrolls assessment of horror as creating a
dynamic in which the viewer aligns themselves with the nondisabled char-
acters fight or flight from the evil villain. I have argued that the evil villain
in horror texts is often represented as being in some way disabled.This
means that the plot and outcome of horror texts generally circulate
around the tensions between the threat of disability and death as the
impending doom of its victims, as juxtaposed with the transfixing pursuit
of its victims escape from the doom of disability and death. Moreover,
as villains are often disabled, horror texts tend to fetishize the fictional
trope of isolating disabled bodies from their able-bodied peers as well as
from each other (McCruer 9). Furthermore, one of the prime ways that
the disability identity of the villain is communicated is through her non
normative eating rituals that often (un)arrange normative e nactmentsof
personhood and reconfigure animal/human relations. Hence, just as the

monster is monstrous because of the way she eats, the human is human
because of the way she eats. Horror catalogues the processes in which,
through eating, the disabled person becomes a monster.

1. There is an endless array of horror texts in which the monster-villain wears
a mask. The mask, as Bakhtin states, is related to transition, metamorpho-
ses, the violation of natural boundaries, to mockery and familiar nick-
names (40). Thus, in horror, the mask symbolizes the monster as an agent
who enacts the transition and metamorphosis of his victims through violat-
ing their natural boundaries of health by instigating illness. In addition to
this, the monster may also sport a mask because anonymity might make his
victims more scared. Alternately, a mask may be worn to hide a profound
facial disfigurement. However, villains may also choose to wear a mask in
order to cultivate a visible identity of deformity, aberration, and wicked-
ness. This is the case, for instance, in The Texas Chain Massacre (Nispel,
2003) where Leather-face dons a mask made as a disturbing homage to
his former victims as it is fashioned as a decoupage from their rotting skin.
Whatever the reason, what mask wearing primarily reveals is that the sensa-
tion of art-horror is often cultivated through a fixation on the petrifying
nature of the monsters anomalous body.
2. Even in horror texts that tend to destabilize this dynamic between positive
human and terrifying monsteras many contemporary vampire narratives
dothis subversion is entirely dependent upon exacerbating the monsters
normative human qualitiessuch as: classical beauty; ideal human-like
bodies; the ability to love a human; the ability to appreciate art and litera-
ture; the ability to dominate their abject cravings, passions, and appetite;
the ability to choose rationality and intellect over emotional urges; the
ability to abide by manners and etiquette; the desire to be human and loath
their vampire state; and the desire to protect innocent humans above their
own kindthat work to make them sympathetic humanized characters.
Accordingly, in these subversive texts, the opposite occurs in terms of pre-
senting certain human characters as monstrous. These humans are mon-
strotized by: letting their emotions dominate their intellect; by being
driven by prejudice which compels them to ruthlessly exile individuals and
enact wild, senseless acts of violence; by being violent against humans con-
sidered weaker than them, such as children and women; by mutilating ani-
mals; by prioritizing hate or anger above love; by displaying a lack of
manners and civility; and by displaying behaviors or exhibiting bodily fea-
tures that compel them to be perceived as mentally ill or physically gro-
tesque. Hence, when the standard antagonism between human and

monster is transgressed, often this rivalry still exists within the individual.
In other words, it is within the person that this battle between human and
monster plays out. Yet the subversive appeal of these texts and their poten-
tial for a post-humanist representation of personhood is undermined by
continuing to value and align personhood with the traits and behaviors
that mark the normative liberal humanist subject. Thus, even in these texts
that seem to mix the standard horror dynamic of good human/bad mon-
ster, Carrolls argument seems to hold.
3. In fact, movies about demonic possession often characterize this possession
by having the possessed character enact a variety of behaviors that mimic
stereotypical representations of people with mental disabilities.
4. Even if the character is infected with monstrosity, this is not presented asthe
characters natural stateit is represented through as being an unnatural
unwanted foreign invasion.Thus, in order to be a character in a horror film,
one generally has to be naturally normal. Yet if the protagonist of the horror
text has been invaded by monstrosity, the focus and emotional attachment to
the text is commonly based upon the desire to view this character shed mon-
strosity and return back to normal. For example, in The Exorcist (1973), when
twelve-year-old Regan is possessed by the devil, it is not her that is the mon-
ster, it is the devil occupying her. This sharp distinction between the normal
human as separate from the evil, monstrous force invading her relates to com-
mon perceptions held about disease. As Foucault (1973) articulates, disease
towards the end of the eighteenth century was differentiated from the suf-
ferer, understood as a wicked life force that was colonizing the mind and/or
body of the healthy human subject. Hence, are the horror texts, in which the
naturally normal human character acquires monstrosity, playing out tradi-
tional narratives of illness as Other and health as Self?
5. As McCruer (2003) notes, disability and queerness are often mutually
negatively metaphorized, with each enacted through the other. Hence, the
soft femininity of Marie-Antoinnette is generally p ortrayed as the often-
targeted victims of horror movies, while the villains are often referred to as
the murderous sans-culottes hags. And accordingly, monsters are often
represented as perverse abject beings, outside of the categories of sex itself:
think Frankenstein (1818), It (1990) and Silence of the Lambs (1991).
6. As Garland-Thomson articulates, monsters and prodigies of antiquity
were either deified or demonized but were always imagined as inspiring
awe and terror (341).
7. In addition to being addicted to V, many humans are fang-bangers, that
is, addicted to having sex with vampires, displaying the trademark fang
marks on their neck or thighs. Vampires are represented as being extremely
sexual and capable of providing sexual experiences far beyond the scope of
a human in terms of pleasure, intensity, and endurance. This sexual desire
is presented with undertones of being non-consensual as vampires have the

ability to glamour, that is, to mesmerize humans in order to get them to

do whatever they wish with the ability to wipe their memories afterwards.
On the other hand, vampires desire sex with humans so that they can dom-
inate and feed on them.
8. This is clearly symbolized in the third season when, after a near death
experience, Bill almost kills Sookie when drinking her blood to revive him-
self. Sookie ends up in the hospital, moments from death, as Bill shows up
and now runs his blood through her. After moments, when Sookies health
is restored, she decides it is time to break up. Bill looks down at his arm
and disconnects his blood from her veins. This act of severing their blood-
lines symbolizes their letting go and causes Sookie to momentarily shudder
in anguish, as if a part of her body is being wrenched out of her as the
disconnected drip now drops Bills blood onto the floor.
9. There is a strong link between mental disability and animality, so much so
that sometimes disabled people came to consider other disabled people as
animals. For example, Isaac H.Hunt, former asylum patient, wrote a horrific
memoir that detailed the abuse he suffered while living confined for three
years within an institution in 1851. In reflection on his doctors decision to
not let him go on walks without other patients Hunt wrote: If I went out
only with the menagerie or caravan of wild animals, as I called it when the
patients went out to walk, I should never have gone out again alive, for I was
determined not to be driven about like a wild beast (para 23).
10. In contrast to True Blood and Freaks, one of the scariest horror villains,
Hannibal Lecter, demonstrates the horror of a monster lurking behind the
civilized eater. Hannibal is a brilliant psychiatrist who loves the opera,
works undercover as a librarian, and is notorious for outwitting and manip-
ulating anybody who attempts to imprison him. What make Hannibal
more terrifying than your average killer is not only the fact that he eats
people, but that he does so while embodying the portrait of civility and
class. Hence, Hannibal is terrifying because he has mastered the mores of
civility while simultaneously indulging in the most tabooed acts of civiliza-
tion: cannibalism. In contrast to most monsters who are characterized as
messy eaters, Hannibal eats his victims with a knife and fork, a side of fava
beans, and a nice Chianti. In fact, as articulated by one of his former
guards, Hannibal only kills those who he considers rude (Scott 2001).
In Hannibal (Scott 2001), Hannibal cuts open the top of the head of his
victim revealing his brain. Hannibal explains to detective Clarissa that he
has disabled the portion of the brain that would communicate pain, dis-
comfort, or awareness of what was happening to him. Hannibal proceeds
to carefully cut into his victims brain, throwing a small taste of it into a
sizzling pot of olives, onions, and herbs only to feed it back to his victim.
When on a plane, Hannibal takes out his own very fancy packed lunch of
figs, pate, cheese, fruit, and leftover human brain. When a little girl

approaches him to ask why he brought his own food, Hannibal proclaims
that he refuses to eat airplane food.
What these scenes demonstrate is that Hannibal is portrayed as a gour-
mand, a man of taste, a man who, as Coff points out, is supposed to
embody the legal subject. As Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, proclaimed
in 1826, tell me what you eat: I will tell you what you are while ani-
mals feed man eats, only the man of intellect knows how to eat (Ashley
161). However, Hannibal also happens to be a gourmand with a pen-
chant for human flesh. Thus, the terrifying paradox of Hannibal is that
monsters are not supposed to eat; they are supposed to feed precisely
because they represent the antithesis of the legal subject. That someone
as monstrous as Hannibal embodies the ideal of the civilized eater threat-
ens the stronghold of the notion civility. However, as a connoisseur of
able-bodiedness in both intellectual ability and physical deportment, what
the character of Hannibal communicates is that intelligence, as an unwill-
ingness to embody the norm, may be equally as monstrous and perhaps
more terrifying than disability. Hence, whether disabled or too abled,
horror seems to be centrally about cultivating a cathartic alignment with
the norm. Because it is only those that embody the norm that are articu-
lated as venerable and human.

Ashley, Bob, Hallows, Joanne, Jones, Steve, Taylor, Ben. Food and Cultural
Studies. NewYork, NY: Routledge, 2004. Print.
Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World. Trans: Iswolsky, H.Bloomington, IN:
Indiana University Press, 1968. Print.
Ball, Alan. Frenzy. True Blood. USA: Your Face Goes Here Entertainment &
Home Box Office, 20082014: Season 2, Episode 11.
Baynton, Douglas C. Disability and the Justification of Inequity in American
History. The New Disability History: American Perspectives. Ed. Longmore,
Paul. Unmansky, Lauri. NewYork: NewYork University, 2001. Print.
Browning, Tod. Freaks. Writer: Tod Robbins. USA: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
(MGM), 1932.
Cantor, Joanne. Oliver, Mary Beth. Developmental Differences in Responses to
Horror. The Horror Film. Ed. Prince, Stephen. United States of America:
Rutgers University Press. 2004: 224239.Print.
Carroll, Nol. The Philosophy of Horror. Aesthetics: The Big Questions. Australia:
Blackwell Publishing, 1998: 272283. Print.
Coppola, Francis Ford. Dracula. Writers: Stoker, Bram & Hart, James V.United
States of America: American Zeotrope, Columbia Pictures Corporation &
Osiris Films, 1992.

Craven, Wes. A Nightmare On Elm Street. Writer: Craven, Wes. United States of
America: New Line Cinema, Media Home Entertainment, Smart Egg Pictures,
Elm Street Venture The, 1984.
Coff, Christian. The Taste for Ethics: An Ethics of Food Consumption. Translator:
Broadbridge, Edward. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer, 2006. Print.
Curtin, Deane W. Food/Body/Person. Cooking, Eating, Thinking: The
Transformative Philosophies of Food. Eds. Curtin, Deane W., & Heldke, Lisa
M.United States of America: Indiana University Press, 1992: 322. Print.
Da Vinci, Leonardo. The Last Supper. Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan, 14951498.
Davis, J.Lennard. The Rule of Normalcy: Politics and Disability in the U.S.A.
[United States of Ability]. Bending Over Backwards: Disability, Dismodernism
and Other Difficult Positions. New York: New York University Press, 2002,
103112. Print.
Demme, Jonathan. Silence of the Lambs. Writers: Harris, Thomas &Tally, Ted.
USA: Orion Pictures Corporation, Strong Heart/Demme Productions, 1991.
Elkins, James. Pictures of the Body: Pain and Metamorphosis. Stanford University
Press, 1999. Print.
Enns, Ruth. A Voice Unheard: The Latimer Case and People with Disabilities.
Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 1999. Print.
Finkelstein, Joanne. Dining Out: A Sociology of Modern Manners. New York:
NewYork University Press. 1989. Print.
Foucault, Michel. The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception.
NewYork: Pantheon Books, 1973. Print.
Friedkin, William. The Exorcist. Writer: Blatty, William Peter. USA: Warner
Brothers, 1973.
Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. Seeing the Disabled. The New Disability History:
American Perspectives. Eds. Longmore, Paul & Umansky, Lauri. New York
University Press, 2001: 335374. Print.
Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. Ways of Staring. Journal of Visual Culture,
2006: 5(2): 173192. Print.
Gruson-Wood, J. Zombies, Disability and Law. Brrraaaiiinnnsss: From
Academics to Zombies. Ed. Smith?, Robert. University of Ottawa Press: 2011:
285310. Print.
Hammer, Stephanie. Watching the Forbidden Feast: Monstrous Appetites, Secret
Meals, and Spectatorial Pleasures in Cocteau, Rice and Butler. Food of the
Gods: Eating and the Eaten in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Eds. Westfahl, Gary,
Slusser, George Edgar, & Rabkin, Eric S.University Of Georgia Press, 1996:
8695. Print.
Hunt, Isaac. Astounding Disclosures! Three Years In A Mad House. Disability
History Museum: Patricia Deegan Collection.,
1851. Retrieved Online: May 2011.

Kellogg, J.H. Are We A Dying Race? Read at the Civic, Philanthropic, Hygienic
Conference, Battle Creek, Michigan, October 1217, 1897. Disability History
Museum. Retrieved
Online: May 2011.
Martin, Lynn A. Dining on Turtles: Food Feasts and Drinking in History. NewYork:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Print.
Meltzler, Irina. Medieval Theoretical Concepts of the (Impaired) Body.
Disability in Medieval Europe: Thinking About Physical Impairment During the
Middle Ages, c. 11001400. London, Routledge, 2006: 3864. Print.
McRuer, Robert. As Good As It Gets: Queer Theory and Critical Disability.
GLQ, 2003: 9(12): 79105. Print.
Myrick, Daniel & Sanchez, Eduardo. The Blair Witch Project. Writers: Myrick,
Daniel & Sanchez, Eduardo. USA: Haxan Films, 1999.
McLaughlin, C.J. & LHeureux-Dube, etal. J.J. R. v. Latimer. From Supreme
Court Reports Canada 1: 2001: 9 pgs. Print.
Nispel, Marcus. Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Writers: Henkel, Kim, Hooper, Tobe &
Kosar, Scott. USA: New Line Cinema, Focus Features, Radar Pictures, Platinum
Dunes, Next Entertainment, Chainsaw Productions LLC, 2003.
Richards, Penny L. Beside Her Sat Her Idiot Child: Families and Developmental
Disability in Mid-Nineteenth Century America. Mental Retardation in
America: A Historical Reader. Eds Steven Noll and James Trent Jr. NewYork:
NewYork University Press, 2004.
Russell, Chuck. The Blob. Writers: Simonson, Theodore, Linaker, Kay, Milgate,
Irvine, Russell, Chuck & Darabont, Frank. USA: Palisades California Inc. &
TriStar Pictures, 1988.
Scott, Ridley. Hannibal. Writers: Harris, Thomas & Marnet, David. UK & USA:
Metro-Goldwyn Mayer (MGM), Universal Pictures, Scott Free Productions,
Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. Ed. Hindle, Maurice. London, England: Penguin
Books, 1818. Print.
Titchkosky, Tanya. Disability Studies: The Old and the New. Disability Self and
Society. Toronto: University of TorontoPress, 2003. Print.
Walker, Ken. Supporters of the Disabled Should Demand Latimers Release.
Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2008: 178(4): 520. Print.
Wallace, Tommy Lee. IT. Writers: King, Stephen & Cohen, Lawrence D.USA &
Canada: Green/Epstein Production, Konigsberg/Sanitsky Company, Lorimar
Television & Warner Bros. Television, 1990.

Music, Sound, andNoise asBodily Disorders:

Disabling theFilmic Diegesis inHideo
Nakatas Ringu andGore Verbinskis The Ring


Horror Films: Monstrosity andTransnational

Fictions oftheNormal
Recent scholarship on horror films suggests a transnational lens can
render clearer analysis of the genre(Klein 2010). Contrasting the trans-
national with the comparatively fuzzier opticality of descriptors such
as global and international, as applied to film analysis, Dana Och
and Kirsten Strayer explain that Asian horror filmshave particular
regional affiliations, be they cultural, institutional, or thematic that are
more nuanced than a term such as international cinema can express
(5). Among the more immediate corrective features of the transnational
frame is that certain Eurocentric tendencies in horror scholarship can be
replaced, again, in theory, by an approach that is calibrated to differences
of geography, history, and culture (Och and Strayer 5). While both Ringu
and its transnationally situated remake The Ring scare the viewer/listener

S.S. Honisch (*)

St Johns College, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada

The Author(s) 2016 113

S. Siddique, R. Raphael (eds.), Transnational Horror Cinema,

through the dissolution of familiar, reassuring diegetic, and corporeal

borders, this is inflected in unique contextualized ways in each film,par-
ticularly theways in which sound plays a crucial role.
To better address this, this chapter intertwines the transnational with
conceptual lenses fashioned within Disability Studies (See Albrecht,
Seelman, and Bury 2001; Ellis 2014; Garland-Thomson 2004, 2005,
2008, 2016; Norden 1994, 1996; Sandahl and Auslander 2005; Wappett
and Arndt 2013). In this regard, a detailed analysis of the implications of
a transnational theoretical framework is not my main purpose. However,
the case studies discussed in this chapter, Hideo Nakatas Ringu (1998)
and Gore Verbinskis The Ring (2002) nonetheless benefit in two principal
ways from the capacious range of issues that populate the transnational
landscape. First, the assumption that horror from outside America consists
in failed imitations of what Hollywood does with greater skill is imme-
diately called into question by the juxtaposition of a Japanese original with
an American imitation. Second, my choice of these two particular films
strives to avoid merely celebrating an alternative to the global dominance
of Hollywood. Although this chapter can be located relative to critiques
that fault American remakes of Japanese horror films for the uncritical
replication of narrative elements and tropes that lose their meaning in
an American context (Och and Strayer 4; see also, Balmain), I avoid
privileging either Japanese or American horror films as authentic cultural
texts (Hills 2005). Further, this chapter suggests that our transnational
analyses may be enriched by attention to the often neglected realm of
sound. Such a view may help us better understand that the horrific bodies
of these films are formed, to a significant extent, not only through image,
but through their constructed soundscapes.
This dynamic can be more fully understood by attending to the pres-
ence of disability. In his article Ringu: Japan and the technological/
horrific body, Michael Parris cites examples of monstrous figures from
horror films such as Frankenstein and Black Lagoon to advance a larger
claim about the engendering of fear through the embodiment of oth-
erness, namely that these films turn on the opposition between our
collective conception of the body and the mutated alternative body
that they submit to the audience (3). Although Parris does not pursue
the disabled body in his analysis, such a pursuit has nonetheless been a
part of scholarly debate about the aesthetic vocabularies, and cultural
significance of horror films (Schrader 2015). David Church suggests
horror films offer an able-bodied viewer:

a temporary identification with a disabled character, before normative reality

and ableist power relations are restored at the films end. Nevertheless, the
imaginative framework of the fantastic film moves the grotesque disabled
body from the margins of representation and into the spotlight, much like
the freak show performer on stage: an exploitative spectacle for sure, but
one which might inadvertently point back toward our own cyborgian mode
of spectatorship, revealing us all as part of the new flesh so grotesquely
intertwined with the disreputable pleasures of technology. (11)

Horrific bodies, then, can be understood to take part in a kind of a con-

tradictory performance of disability, simultaneously marginalized and
invisible while also hypervisible, instantly defined by their physicality
(Kuppers 48). The disabled body scares in horror films through the dra-
matization of its becoming both visible and audible.
This chapter brings disability and music/sound/noise into sharp focus
as entangled representational limbs of the mutated alternative body
(Parris 3). My discussion focuses on the transnational cinematic space of
Hideo Nakatas Ringu and Gore Verbinskis remake The Ring. Central
to my analysis is that soundscape is used to create disability. As well as
being visible monstrosities, the vengeful Sadako Yamamura (in Ringu)
and Samara Morgan (in The Ring) are constructed as disabled through the
films music, sound, and noise. A topology of relevant Disability Studies
insights can help us navigate the landscape of transnational horror: fore-
most is how horror films mine horror from the mere thought of disabil-
ity. This fear foregrounds the disabled body, to the mingled horror and
delight of the viewer/listener.
To begin, it will be helpful to consider larger issues of sociocultural
and historical context. At the heart of Hideo Nakatas Ringu is a video
cassette that memorializes the mistreatment of those with cognitive,
sensory, and bodily differences. The protagonist, a journalist (Reiko in
Ringu, Rachel in The Ring), has seven days to discover why a videotape
is killing those who see it, a mystery made even more urgent once she
has seen it herself. Her survival becomes dependent upon not only mark-
ing the forgotten past but also retelling this history of the unremem-
bered through the infinite production of copies (Gardenour-Walter 19).
Ringu and The Ring mediate horrorand the horror of disabilityat
the levels of diegetic and non-diegetic representational systems, even as
they reveal ways in which these are intertwined. On the one hand, the

diegesis of the videotape proves to be lethally porous, that is the events

of the otherworldly images in the videotape bleed and escape into the
real world of the film. On the other hand, the spectator is invited to
wonder if, having gotten through one mediated screen, can the vengeful
ghost(s) get through anotherours? Without stretching the interpreta-
tion too thin, the transnationally-situated viewer might wonder, in turn,
whether the fatal reach of the spectral figure of Samara (no longer merely
a remake of Sadako), can reach beyond the films transnational exchange
and somehow disable the viewer.
This possible breach between worlds (visual and sonic) of the video-
tape and the film as both narrative fiction, and empirically real artefact, is
emphasized by another transgression. Sensory hierarchies that ordinarily
privilege seeing over hearing are interrupted. This is part of a larger web
of violations of texts and representational systems. Indeed, through com-
parative analysis, the original Ringu and its remake as The Ring can be
understood to constitute transnational horror as a series of mutually pen-
etrating inter-textsthat encompass a range of both print and electronic
semiotic systems (Stringer 99).
Recent scholarship provides a helpful basis in which to think even more
deeply about the role of the disabled body in these breaches that mark
transnational horror. George Ochoa suggests that the horror film has had
a long-standing preoccupation with deformed and destructive beings
(6). Through horror, audiences may satisfy their desire to see new beings
otherwise inaccessible to them (Ochoa 6). Angela Smith suggests these
breaches may make the corporeal scripts embedded in social hierarchies
more visible. [F]ictional uses of disability imagerylike those found in
classic horror filmsmay flaunt the disability fictions that underwrite
social privilege and inequality (Smith 6). Smiths concern is with the
horror films produced within the national context of the Hollywood film
industry, a topic which has received significant attention across several dis-
ciplines (See Buhler etal. 2000;Herzogenrath2008; Lerner2006; 2010;
Graham 2002). Rolling back the borders of her analysis, however, we may
consider the ways in which horrified attitudes towards the disabled body
in the real world become the creative fount for horror narratives as trans-
national spectacles of normalcy and difference.
The narration of bodily difference in horror films resembles the real
world exoticization of corporeal difference, and the marginalization of
people whose bodies violate cultural norms (Herzogenrath 2008). In each
case, strategies of containmentabsent the possibility of curemaintain the
social privilege that attends bodily ability, and the structures of inequality

that disable transgressive senses, minds, and bodies. Disability Studies

scholar Paul Longmore for example, argues that narratives of horror type-
cast disabled bodies in the role of the monstrous: The subtext of many
horror films is fear and loathing of people with disabilities (134). Given
the centrality of the body to cinematic representations of horror, and the
subtextual centrality of the disabled body in lending affective and narrative
power to the genre, it is worth looking more closely at, and listening more
closely to, how visual and aural modes represent disability as horror.
Expanding from this core, the second part of this chapter takes up the
concept of narrative prosthesisunderstood as the pervasiveness of
disability as a device of characterization in narrative art (Mitchell and
Snyder 9). Specifically, this chapter pinpoints disability as a sonic narra-
tive prosthesis in the non-diegetic music, diegetic sounds and noises of
horrorfilms (Neumeyer and Buhler 2015). If harmonic consonance and
rhythmic stability in the ordered aural worlds of music can be understood
to signify the imagined collective body, then dissonance, rhythmic insta-
bility, non-human sounds, and noise may be taken to suggest otherness,
analogous to the disabling otherness inhabited by alternative bodies.
Maintaining a Disability Studies lens can provide approaches that bring
about a more active role for music, sound, and noise within scholarship on
horror films as transnational phenomena.

Disability asNarrative Prosthesis: Musical,

Sonic, andNoisy Representations ofDisability
inTransnational Horror

Placing Disability Studies and horror scholarship in dialog is relatively new

but promising territory (Och and Strayer 3). As this chapter shows, this
conversation can be especially valuable for examining the soundscapes of
the genre. The noises, sounds, and music of transnational horror dart in
and out between the audible and inaudible, and, just as quickly, the hyper-
audible. This can be understood as analogous to the paradoxical loca-
tion of the disabled body. Claudia Gorbmans conceptualization of the
inaudibility of a films music (her focus is on classical Hollywood) refers
to the secondary, even marginal place that aurality has for the filmgoing
public(Brown 1994). Given the apparent absence of music, to say noth-
ing of sound and noise, within the filmic sensorium, the first question to
ask is: what might enable audiences to hear, not just see, deformity and
destructiveness in the aural representation of otherworldly embodiments?

Theoretical work in Disability Studies has drawn attention to the

pervasiveness of disability as a device of characterization in narrative art
(Mitchell and Snyder 9). Music serves in various ways as an expressive
medium through which to narrate the disabled body, indeed, to imbue it
with sonic characteristics (Straus 114). While horror narratives are often
considered to frighten through a particular rhetoric of visuality, the famil-
iar notion that horror films are robbed of their capacity to frighten in the
absence of sound suggests that it is the interaction of sight and sound
which allows the horror genre to gain narrative momentum.
The flourishing scholarly subfield of Disability Studies in Music guides
my exploration of the aural interplay between corporeal normativity and
otherness (Lerner and Straus; Straus, Normalizing the Abnormal and
Extraordinary Measures). Extending the scope of Disability Studies in Music
theoretical lenses, this analysis is concerned not only with musical, but also
with general sonic representations of disability. My analysis shows that the
line separating collective and alternative bodies is given meaning not only
through the visual narration of horror, but also through its aural narration at
the levels of both diegetic and non-diegetic music, sound and noise.
Disability occasionally threatens to leak out beyond the filmic diegesis
and intrude into the spectators own real world. As such it weakens and
even obliterates the binary distinctions between the fictional and real. This
leads spectators to recoil in horror before the disabled body shown in film,
even while retaining a comforting grasp, however unconsciously, that this
disabled body does not create a risk to their bodily integrity in the real
world. Such is the dimension of horror at work in the transnational sound-
scapes of Ringu and The Ring. A wider sociocultural perspective that
opens beyond the immediate theoretical concerns with the disabled body
embraced in this chapter has to do with the Japanese genre of kaidan,
ghost stories, which present apocalyptic visions of the world (See McRoy).
The profound mobility of noise, sound, and music enhance the fear of this
contamination of disability. In addition to the threat of the visual intru-
sion of disability on the audience, the soundscape also unleashes a noisy,
sonic, and musical spectacle of postmodern body horror (McRoy 23).
My argument veers towards the tautological heresonic mobility intensi-
fies sonic representationbut the core point is that sonic representations
of the disabled body in horror films do not, indeed, cannot fix disability
in space and time with the clarity of visual representation. The purpose-
ful breakdown of the barriers between sound, noise, and music, therefore
fulfill an important narrative function in making the viewer increasingly

unsure of the separation of the collective and alternative body (to

borrow Parris terminology: 3). The horrifying soundscape of Ringu is
shaped by sensory textures, audible gestures, and narrative strategies simi-
lar to those ofThe Ring. To that extent, thekaidannarratives more readily
associated withRinguthan its American remake are subject to a kind of
sonic transnationalism, that is, to the non-containment of noise, sound,
and music. The latter film cannot, therefore, sever its bonds with kaidan,
even if its representation of Samara relies on conventions that mark it as an
American remake calibrated to the tastes of audiences unfamiliar with the
situated meanings and traditions of the ghost lore out of which Sadako is
The well shown in the deadly video draws on its own wellspringa
source that has long flowed through Japanese ghost stories, in which watery
environments are filled with multiple streams of signification (Wee 84):

The image of the well in Ringus video similarly references the traditional
folk-tale Bancho sarayashiki, as well as other cinematic predecessors includ-
ing Onibaba and Ai no borei. In all three films, the corpses of innocent
murder victims are thrown down wells and deep pits in the ground. If we
consider the enduring power of these folktales within Japanese culture, and
acknowledge the tremendous influence that traditional Japanese art and aes-
thetic traditions continue to have on contemporary Japanese cinema, it is
clear that Ringus depiction of Sadako as a vengeful spirit is directly refer-
encing these earlier ghost stories. (Wee 84)

For Wee however, it is inadequate to analyze Sadakos representation as

nothing more than an angry spirit. To proceed in this manner is to occlude
the sociocultural meanings, and the mythologies which sustain Sadakos
horrifying presence (84).
Intersections between the stereotypical representation of disabled char-
acters in films, (including horror), and the use of metaphors of disability
in several music-theoretical traditions may initially seem obscure (Straus
130131). To illuminate this strange convergence, it is helpful to take
in a wider perspective: With noise is born disorder and its opposite: the
world. (Attali 6). Attali places music in a place of great power, not merely
as an addition to everyday social, cultural, and political activities that cre-
ate the semblance of order, or, at the very least, contain chaos, but rather
as a vital part of these practices. If noise is defined by sonic disorder, then
music, its opposite, produces sonic order. Going further, one might locate

noise and disorder within the realm of the otherworldly. Such a move raises
the question of how horror films render viewers (temporarily) forgetful of
the fact that the otherworldly is, indeed, fictive. Music, sound, and noise
may exceed, and perhaps even disable, the diegesis. Conceived along a
continuum from order to disorder, the soundscape may reconstitute famil-
iar notions of spatial and temporal order in such a way as to fundamentally
weaken reassuring binary distinctions: between reality and fantasy; safety
and horror; controllable sight and sound and uncontrollable sensorial dis-
array; between the reassuring and real invisibility and inaudibility of the
disabled body and its fictional hyper-visibility and hyper-audibility.
Closing ones eyes can be a viewers response to these representations
of horrifying bodily difference, a kinesthetic defense to try to weaken
the effect of horror (Lerner2006; 2010). The viewer assumes that the
accompanying music, sound, and noise will fail to achieve its effect;
dissonance, repetitive patterns, and other gestures typically associated
with the repertoire of horror film depend on the linkage between sound
and sight to register in the viewers mind as unsettling. In the follow-
ing comparative analysis, I explore the possibility that imagining horrific
music, sounds, and noises without making the aural dependent upon
the visual can jolt the spectator out of common sense expectations of
horror films, namely the reliance on sudden stinger chords and other
shock effects (Lerner 2010: ix). The combinations of music, sound,
and noise in Ringu, and to a lesser extent in The Ring, illustrate how the
totality of the aural world in a horror film soundtrack can intensify the
sense of instability and discomfort by driving home corporeal differences
that horror narrates to powerful effect. In what follows, I work through
the multiple textures in the music/sound/noise design of the climactic
scene when the spectral figure manifests within the filmic diegesis with
fatal consequences. For those readers unfamiliar with the overall narra-
tive of these films, the story centers on a series of unexplained deaths
that, as subsequent events make clear, are caused by people watching a
particular videotape, the origins of which are unknown. Upon watching
the tape, viewers receive a phone call with the cryptic message seven
days. Pinpointing the nature of the videotapes deadly effects becomes
the increasingly frantic task of a journalist, Reiko in Ringu, and Rachel in
The Ring. In both films, the journalists ex-husband becomes involved in
this life-saving effort, because their son has watched the film. Both films
thus narrate a time span of seven days.

Musical, Sonic, andNoisy Representations

ofDisability inHideo Nakatas Ringu, andGore
Verbinskis The Ring
A comparative analysis of the ending of Hideo Nakatas Ringu and Gore
Verbinskis remake, The Ring, demonstrates that the near erasure, in this
scene, of the boundaries between non-diegetic music and diegetic sounds
and noises, and the implicit danger of an eventual transgression of the
porous borders between the filmic diegesis and the world of the specta-
tor confront the spectators faith in his/her own biological integrity
(Mitchell and Snyder 37). The strategies of visual representation used
to animate the monstrous figure of Sadako (in Ringu) and Samara (in
The Ring) are intensified through this crisis of sonic representation. The
sound designs of this scene in both films create transnational monsters
cast into the shadows between the physical and spectral worlds of Japanese
and American horror. Whereas Disability Studies in Music has often con-
sidered the sonic representation of disability through the play of musical
consonance and dissonance (Straus, Extraordinary Measures), ultimately
what is at stake in, and endangered by, the transnational circulation of
Sadako and Samaras bodies is a reassuring line between music and noise,
through which the chaos they herald can be contained. The violation of
this culturally-sanctioned aesthetic boundary horrifies audiences: it calls
into question not only their collective (concordant) sense of self in relation
to the alternative (discordant) other, but also the social order represented
by humanly organized music, as against the anarchy represented by noise.
These feelings of horror conjured up in the sound design of Ringu and
The Ring correlate with larger social (dis)ease with the presence of physi-
cal and mental difference, itself bound up in the cultural fascination with
spectacles of difference (Mitchell and Snyder 37).
A discourse of disability runs deeply through the climactic scene in
Ringu. It is animated by the interplay between Japanese folkloric and
mythological traditions on the one hand, and the industrialized horror of
Hollywood on the other. From a Disability Studies perspective, this move-
ment relies on a system of representation that is not solely framed in terms
of a confrontation between the human and the supernatural; it is also
between a normal human body, and an abnormal supernatural body that
is at once disabled (unable to look and move normally), and possessed of
superhuman ability (able to both disable and kill normal human bodies).

The visual spectacle of a contorted figure crawling toward the television

screen and then emerging out of that screen into the real world is deeply
terrifying, a terror that is reinforced by the image of the seemingly twisted
and deformed human body. Sadakos twisted body, her jerky movements,
and her lank black hair hanging down and partially obscuring a bulging,
seemingly misshapen face and eye are terrifyingly grotesque. Again, this par-
ticular sequence reflects the influence of both traditional Japanese aesthet-
ics and contemporary Hollywood horror concerns. This cinematic image
reflects the qualities historically ascribed to Japanese folk culture and labeled
ero guro nansensuor erotic, grotesque, nonsense. (Wee 90)

Alongside this language of disability through which Sadako is depicted

as twisted and deformed, it is worth considering, briefly, some of the
aesthetic and sociocultural issues that shape the transnational discourses
at work in Ringu and its remake as The Ring. Nicholas Holm (2011)
offers an incisive comparison of the key differences in the handling of the
videotape through which the disabled bodies of Sadako and Samara exact
infinite revenge. One such difference lies in the cinematic role accorded to
the montage on the tape itself:

whereas the Japanese version of the tape provides clues that propel the nar-
rative forward, the American version provides little more than formalist
images that must be interpreted by the viewer as much as the characters. The
ultimate purpose of The Rings tape, thus, is inaccessible and indecipher-
able to the viewer without the manipulation carried out by Rachel, which
stands in contrast to Ringus tape, whose logic of interpretation is salient, if
opaque, from the perspective of the audience. (188).

The interpretive practices associated with the onryou tradition of spec-

tral figures motivated by lethal vengeance can be enlarged for present pur-
poses. This can help contextualize the sonic incursion of the mutated,
alternative body (Parris 3) into the realm of the spectators collective,
and normatively able body, a body which ostensibly provides a reliable
defense against cinematic horror: Sadako is the supernatural offspring
of a human being and a sea monster. Although Ringu employs the tradi-
tional motif of the vengeful ghost longing for eternal rest, this narrative
should not be understood, at least not in the familiar sense, as a tale of
the uncanny (White 40).
The figure of Sadako, and by extensionif in attenuated fashionSamara,
is the cinematic expression of the onryou, or avenging ghost motif, which

remains an exceedingly popular and vital component of contemporary

Japanese horror cinema. (McRoy 75). The tradition of onryou draws from a
variety of sources, including Shintoism, Christianity, Noh and Kabuki theater.
The tradition is marked by narratives of incursion by the spectral into the
realm of the ordinary for the purposes of exacting revenge (McRoy 175).
The spiritual traditions which inform Sadakos filmic representation in Ringu
and Samaras transnational extension of Sadakos body are pursued here; it
will suffice to observe that engaging with these traditions in future analyses of
the soundscapes of Ringu and The Ring would deepen our understanding of
how the sensorium on which the horror genre depends may also be shaped in
significant ways by their expression in specific uses of noise, sound, and musi-
cal techniques of scoring horror.
The transgression of the border between the physical and spectral
worlds in the climactic scene is reinforced musically through a disorient-
ing interplay of diegetic and non-diegetic sound. Both Ringu and The
Ring handle this environmental destruction in subtly different, yet also
subtly congruous ways. Scholarship on the representation and construc-
tion of disability in music guides my exploration of how musical disso-
nance represents the physical otherness identified by Parris as constitutive
of the horror genre. The conflictual portrayal in both films of the murder-
ous antagonists, Sadako and Samara, situated in the interstices between
the physical and spectral worlds, receives its main dramatic force from
a blurring of the borders between musical consonance and dissonance,
and ultimately between music and noise. The violation of these culturally-
sanctioned aesthetic boundaries disrupts our collective (concordant) sense
of self in relation to the (discordant) other. My analysis locates these feel-
ings of horror within a larger social contradiction: greater social disquiet
over the presence of physical and mental alterity in our midst on the one
hand; and on the other, the cultural fascination with spectacles of dif-
ference (Mitchell and Snyder 37). For the sake of clarity, I discuss how
the climactic scene plays out first in Ringu, and then in The Ring. At key
points throughout, however, I refer to both films, in order to take note
of significant points of divergence, and of overlap in their respective sonic
representations, and to draw out the transnational vocabulary that binds
these distinct filmic works together.
In the climactic scene in Ringu, Ryuji (the protagonists ex-husband)
is alone in his apartment, believing that the videotape and the monstrous
figure it contains no longer poses a threat. When his television set turns on
automatically several times, despite his repeated attempts to switch it off,

what follows is a confrontation of the human and supernatural, of normal

ability, and horrific disability from which we, the viewer, come to feel
there is no escape. An undefined, piercing screech presented as an episodic
pulse accompanies Sadakos emergence on screen from the bottom of the
well. The sound has no definite pitch value, instead projecting the qualita-
tive features of a high-pitched metallic squeak. The rhythmic regularity
coupled with its illegible harmonic and melodic profiles mirrors Sadakos
liminal status between the human and spirit worlds. The sonic background
to this metallic pulse is likewise non-pitched. Instead, it is vaguely akin to
a resonant bass drone, of the kind that might conventionally be used to
express an ominous atmosphere in non-diegetic musical scoring of a hor-
ror sequence. Although the sonic vocabulary is non-tonal, it is nonetheless
hierarchical, and legible in reference to a conventional polarity between
bass and treble (low and high) registers. As Sadako inches closer towards
the television in Ryujis apartment, the separation between the sounds of
the distortions in the video and the sound of Ryujis breathing weakens.
Adding to the increased sensory chaos, the video footage is grainy, and
there are moments when the image flickers and distorts hovering between
the center and periphery of the spectators aural perception. The diegetic
sound of the phone ringing introduces a measure of tonal stability, sound-
ing the interval (approximately) of a major third.
Moments before Sadako breaches into the filmic diegesis of Ringu and
effectively disables the televisual diegesis that separates her non-world
from the real world inhabited by the films protagonists, there is a sound
which calls to mind the ghostly, flickering sounds in the lethal videotape.
As Sadakos hair and arms enter Ryujis apartment, the noisy accompani-
ment reflects the sustained horror represented by her horrifying incur-
sion into the real world of the film, a real world which is, of course, itself
a diegesis relative to the spectator. As Ryuji stands up against a window
that no longer provides any means of escape, or even temporary safety,
the sonic interplay gathers momentum. There is a throbbing effect in the
bass accompanied by increasingly frantic sounds in the treble, juxtaposing
the relative stability of the resonant drone heard earlier against an aural
confusion that threatens the spectators belief that the soundscape can
provide a stabilizing presence in the face of as yet limitless visual horror.
The sounds of Sadako dragging her body along the carpet are brought
increasingly into the foreground. This mirrors her greater proximity to
Ryuji and, by implied extension, to the spectator. The rhythmic throb-
bing becomes increasingly legible as a pulsating mass of string sonority.

As the camera zooms in on Sadakos head, her face entirely obscured

by the flowing black hair that signifies her spectral embodiment of ven-
geance (onryou), we hear the first definite pitched eventa trill played
by the strings in their upper register as Sadako turns menacingly towards
the spectator. The temporary aural stability provided by the oscillating
string pattern is cut short as the camera shows Ryujis increasingly cha-
otic, disabled bodily movementsstumbling and falling repeatedly in a
futile attempt to escape Sadakos incursion.
In the last few seconds, Sadako stands upright, slowly raising her head
again, with the upper strings trembling in panic, this time at a higher
pitch with the throbbing bass pattern now representing Ryujis immo-
bility as the spectator becomes certain of his fate. The camera closes in
on Sadakos deadly gaze, with a single, dramatic, high-pitched percussive
sound followed immediately by a noise vaguely reminiscent of a video on
fast forward mode, and reinforced in the non-diegetic musical backdrop
by the trill gesture in the upper strings. Ryujis final scream is quickly over-
powered by the utter disintegration of the aural fabric into sheer noise; the
disabling of the filmic diegesis is complete.
Gore Verbinskis remake, The Ring, substantially alters the aural scheme
of the 1998 original, and, in particular, the distribution of non-diegetic
music, diegetic sounds, and noises heard in the climactic scene. What
remains consistent, however, is the confrontation between supernatural
and human bodies, in this case between Samara and Noah. As in Ringu, the
climax of The Ring begins with the protagonists ex-husband (here Noah)
alone in his apartment unaware that the videotape retains its deadly power.
Acting as a unifying strand in the aural textures of The Ring, the principal
non-diegetic music associated with Samara is in D minor and imparts the
atmosphere of a conventional romantic drama, an ironic and perhaps even
wistful evocation of the sort of stable family life that Samara was never to
have, and for the denial of which she must seek eternal revenge. This the-
matic material is in triple meter, with a conventional distribution of melody
in the upper register, and accompaniment in the lower part. The relative
harmonic consonance, rhythmic regularity, and tonal stability (albeit with
chromatic inflections) in this music suggests that Samaras monstrosity is
contained, rendered inert by the ameliorating influence of a domesticity
conjured up through musical sound. The climactic scene, in which the
tonal environment of Samaras theme is recalledbut from which the
theme itself is absentillustrates the capacity of horror film music to play
with the boundaries between order and chaos, containment and infinitude,

and aurally to represent the porousness of these boundaries: [c]ontain-

ment is frequently depicted as achievable, if onlyas in Nakatas Ringu
through a process of eternal deferment (McRoy 76).
In contrast to the beginning of the climactic scene in Ringu, the ring-
ing phone is heard within the first few seconds of the equivalent moment
in Verbinskis remake, as the television switches itself on by an unseen,
unheard, and unknown agency. Although, as in Ringu, an ill-defined reso-
nance acts as the sonic background, non-diegetic music controls the aural
narrative in the remake of this scene; the spectator hears diegetic music in
the prevalent D minor tonality (associated, as I have already noted, with
Samaras theme) at the moment the television turns on. The instant that
Samara emerges from the well there is an eerie non-pitched sound. Instead
of a rhythmic high-pitched pulse as in Ringu however, there is a kind of
spectral temporality, one which plays off against the feeling of stasis in
the filmic diegesis that is Noahs world. In the remake, the sound of the
phone ringing at the tonal interval of a major third is very much in the
foreground. The aural narrative oscillates rapidly between the tonal non-
diegetic music that presents the skeleton of Samaras theme, the buzzing
sound of the distortion in the video, the chaotic noise of the traffic as
Naomi drives frantically to Noahs apartment, and the eerie sound effects
that imprint the horror of Samaras body on the spectators consciousness.
At the precise moment Samara breaks through the television screen,
there is a peculiar dissonance that exceeds familiar descriptive vocabulary.
The low D in the bass register is completely overthrown by this noise, sug-
gestive of an electronic soundscape, while at the same time resisting cat-
egorization within traditional distinctions between acoustic and electronic
music. Samaras bodily movements are much more rapid than those of
Sadako in Ringu. Whereas the scoring of this scene in Ringu relies much
more noticeably on silencea technique that corresponds to the slower
unfolding of the scene as a wholethe remake delivers the constant pres-
ence of sound in one guise or another, providing a continuity that some-
what attenuates the sharp horror of the original.
When Samara stands upright, and Noah falls backwards, her spec-
tral figure lunges in a way that is physically impossible for an ordinarily
able-bodied human. This supernatural rush forward is accompanied by
a resonant surge of sound that has no fixed pitch, or timbral or rhyth-
mic profiles. At this point, the only stable reference point is the rhyth-
mically and melodically consistent sound of the phone ringing. As the
camera rushes to meet Samaras malevolent gaze, no single aural event

registers the exact moment at which she opens her eyes. Instead, whatever
remained of the musical accompaniment to this scene dissolves completely
into noise. The disabling of the filmic diegesis differs from that achieved
in Ringu through its greater emphasis on aural continuity, and on a pacing
that adheres more closely to linear narrative action. In Ringu on the other
hand, sharp contrasts between music, sound, and sheer noise, emphasize
the horrifying discontinuity that Sadakos physical manifestation brings
into the filmic diegesis, with fatal consequences for the protagonist Ryuji.
The relationship between sound, noise, and music, and the representa-
tion of the horrific body in both the Japanese original and its American
remake, illustrate how sight and the constellation of sound, noise, and
music mobilize transnational horror. The horrific body, as I understand it
in this chapter, is a body at once marked by disability and by extraordinary
non-human ability accentuated through the technological nightmares
etched into the uncontainable spectre shown on the videotape. In her
moment of fixing the character of Ryuji (Ringu) and Noah, (The Ring)
Sadako and Samara perform their bodily difference, escaping from the
discursive constraints of the filmic diegesis which strives to cast them back
into invisibility and marginalizationthe originating pole inhabited by
disabled performing bodies (Kuppers 2003, 48). The irony, here, is that
whereas the stares which fix disabled people have the power to objectify,
they are rarely if ever fatal.
The climactic scenes of both Ringu and The Ring culminate in musi-
cal, sonic, and noisy chaos, vividly illustrating the capacity of aural rep-
resentational systems to produce the disabled body as an instrument of
horror (Parris 3). The transnational presence of Sadako and Samara and
the threat their presence constitutes to the fully human protagonists drive
the shared narrative of Ringu and The Ring. Unlike the other characters
in these films, however, Sadako and Samara are inaudible for virtually
the entire duration of the film, a silence whichas the counterpart to
their noisy, sonic, and musical emergence as horrifying spectaclesrein-
forces their marginal status as neither transnational, nor even national,
but as rejected bodies. Paradoxically, their greatest power lies in an unsee-
ing visuality, inflected to greater and lesser degrees by the technological
aura of the videotape. Samaras representation is rather more inclined
in that direction, as shown in the close-up of her malevolent and fatal,
but ultimately blind gaze. At least one recent commentator has located
Sadakos difference within the human realm of belief, cognition, affect,
and destructive action:

Sada [Sadako] the unmoved Mover dwells in the supernatural realm, con-
taminating the human world owing to her insatiable wrathThe motives of
the ghost stem squarely from the human psyche: vengeance evens the score
between felt grievances in the past and violence in the present, seeking equi-
librium between internal tension and the status quo. (Ma 16)

As my analysis has suggested, the transnational revenge achieved by

Sadako and Samara is represented aurally through a disabling of the bor-
ders between sound, music, and sheer noise. This operates not only inter-
nally within a given musical tradition, but also as ways of conceptually, and
practically asserting the priority of one musical tradition over another. The
climactic scene of Ringu is a meta-narrative of the transnational spread of
horror, containing within it the possibility that Sadako will not only trans-
gress television screens within the world of Asian horror films, but also
within, and ultimately beyond that of Hollywood remakes.

The Future ofMusic, Sound, andNoise

inTransnational Horror Films

Circling back, in ring-like fashion, to the broader landscape surveyed at

the outset of this chapter, I would like to conclude by considering the
transnational aesthetic practices revealed in the juxtaposition of Ringu and
The Ring. By transnational aesthetic practices I refer to the ensemble
of aural discourses through which Ringu and The Ring render the bodily
encounters on which their horror narratives depend. Despite the dissimilar
sociocultural and historical contexts in which these films were produced,
and in which they have been received, they share commonalities. Both
Ringu and The Ring may be said to express and reinforce particular socio-
cultural logics governing which kinds of bodies are visible, and audible,
as fully human, and which are cast into the realms of eternal fear, dis-
quiet, and inhumanity. Instead of understanding disability as the over-
arching representational system within this transnational horror discourse,
I propose following the example set by recent horror film scholarship:
that is, the videotape in Ringu and The Ring may also be understood as a
metaphor for the struggle to contain and conceal difference through the
distancing and objectifying capacities of technology, not only within the
different national contexts in which these films were made, but within
their respective local environments.

Transnational horror as exemplified by Ringu and its Hollywood

remake, The Ring, extend and reimagine the folkloric and mythological
traditions which gave birth to Sadako, and (in more attenuated form) to
Samara. It remains an open question as to whether the production and
reception of transnational horror can come to inhabit a space with sharper
critical edges, enabling film makers, audiences, and scholars to bring greater
attention to the presence of disability in the genre. A potentially valuable
contribution of Disability Studies to horror film scholarship is to show
that direct challenges to the spectators faith in his/her own biological
integrity (Mitchell and Snyder 37), as well as on the ensuing struggle by
those comfortably situated within the dominant corporeality, need not be
resolved by attempting to contain or render the horrific intruder invisible
and inaudible. In this, horror films situated in a transnational cinematic
framework may have, as yet, unfulfilled promise in horrifying us out of our
distaste and fear of bodily difference, thereby allowing disability as horrify-
ing presence to transform into an aesthetic discourse at once more refined,
and more inclusive. By drawing on Disability Studies approaches in this
chapters visual and aural analyses, I have sought to widen the theoreti-
cal apertures of horror film scholarship, and to venture into the spectral
borderlands between consonance and dissonance, between a collectively
imagined music, and mutated, alternative sounds, and noises.

Albrecht, Gary, Kathrin Seelman and Michael Bury. Handbook of Disability Studies.
Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2001. Print.
Attali, Jacques. Noise: The Political Economy of Music. Trans. Brian Massumi.
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. Print.
Balmain, Collette. Introduction to Japanese Horror Film. Edinburgh: University of
Edinburgh Press, 2008. Print.
Brown, Royal. Overtones and Undertones: Reading Film Music. Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1994. Print.
Buhler, James, Caryl Flinn, and David Neumeyer. Music and Cinema. Hanover:
Wesleyan University Press, 2000. Print.
Church, David. 2006. Fantastic Films, Fantastic Bodies: Speculations on the
Fantastic and Disability Representation. Off screen 10 (10). Retrieved from:
Ellis, Katie. Disability and Popular Culture. Burlington: Ashgate, 2014. Print.
Gardenour Walter, B.S. Ghastly Transmissions: The Horror of Connectivity and
the Transnational Flow of Fear. Transnational horror across visual media:
Fragmented bodies. Eds. Dana Och and Kristen Strayer. NewYork: Routledge,
2014. 1729. Print.

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. The Cultural Logic of Euthanasia: Sad Fancyings

in Herman Melvilless Bartleby. American Literature. 76. 4. 2004. 777806.
Web. 21 Jan. 2016.
Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. Staring at the Other. Disability Studies Quarterly.
25.4. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.
Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. Dares to Stare: Disabled Women Performance
Artists and the Dynamics of Staring. Eds Carrie Sandahl and Phillip Auslander.
Bodies in Commotion: Disability and Performance). Ann Arbor: The University
of Michigan Press, 2005. 3041. Print.
Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. Staring: How We Look. New York: Oxford
University Press, 2008. Print.
Gorbman, Claudia. Unheard Melodies: Narrative Film Music. Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1987. Print.
Graham, Elaine. Representations of the Post/Human: Monsters, Aliens and Others in
Popular Culture. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2002. Print.
Herzogenrath, Bernd. The Cinema of Tod Browning: Essays of the Macabre and
Grotesque. Jefferson: McFarland, 2008. Print.
Hills, Matt. Ringing the Changes: Cult Distinctions and Cultural Differences in
US Fans Readings of Japanese Horror Cinema. Ed. Jay McRoy. Japanese
Horror Cinema. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. 2005. 161174. Print.
Holm, Nicholas. Ex(or)cising the Spirit of Japan: Ringu, The Ring, and the
Persistence of Japan. Journal of Popular Film and Television. 39. 4. 2011.
183192. Web. 27 January 2016.
Klein, C. The American Horror Film. Globalization and Transnational U.S.-
Asian Genres. American Horror Film: The Genre at the Turn of the Millennium.
Ed. Steffen Hantke. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2010. 314. Web.
27 January 2016.
Kuppers, Petra. Disability and Contemporary Performance: Bodies on Edge.
NewYork: Routledge, 2003. Print.
Lerner, Neil. The horrors of one-handed pianism. Music and disability in The
beast with five fingers. Eds Neil Lerner & J.N.Straus. Sounding off: Theorizing
disability in music. NewYork, NY: Routledge, 2006. Print.
Lerner, Neil. Ed. Music in the horror film: Listening to fear. NewYork: Routledge,
2010. Print.
Lerner, Neil and Straus, Joseph. Sounding Off: Theorizing Disability in Music.
NewYork: Routledge, 2006. Print.
Longmore, Paul. Why I Burned My Book and Other Essays on Disability. Philadelphia:
Temple University Press, 2003. Print.
Ma, Sheng-mei. Asian Diaspora and East-West Modernity. West Lafayette: Purdue
University Press, 2012. Print.
McRoy, Jay. Nightmare Japan: Contemporary Japanese Horror Cinema. NewYork:
Rodopi, 2008. Print.
Mitchell, David and Sharon Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependencies
of Discourse. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2000. Print.

Neumeyer, David P. and James Buhler. Meaning and Interpretation of Music in

Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015.
Norden, Martin F. The Cinema of Isolation: A History of Physical Disability in the
Movies. Rutgers: Rutgers University Press, 1994. Print.
Och, Dana and Kirsten Strayer. Transnational Horror Across Visual Media:
Fragmented Bodies. NewYork: Routledge, 2013. Print.
Ochoa, George. Deformed and Destructive Beings: The Purpose of Horror Films.
Jefferson: McFarland & Co, 2011. Print.
Parris, Michael. Ringu: Japan and the technological/horrific body. Paper pre-
sented at the annual meeting of the NCA 93rd Annual Convention, Chicago,
IL. 2007. Web. 13 November 2009.
The Ring. Dir. Gore Verbinski. Perf. Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, and Brian
Cox. Dreamworks, 2002.
Ringu. Dir. Hideo Nakata. Perf. Nanako Matsushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, and Rie
Inoo. Toho Company Ltd., 1998.
Sandahl, Carrie and Phillip Auslander. Bodies In Commotion: Disability &
Performance. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2005. Print.
Schrader, M. Music, the Obsessive Avenger, and Eugenics in America. Anxiety
Muted: American Film Music in a Suburban Age. Stanley C Pelkey and Anthony
Bushard. NewYork, NY: Oxford University Press, 2015. 164185. Web. 27
January 2016.
Smith, Angela. Hideous Progeny. Disability, Eugenics, and Classic Horror Cinema.
NewYork, NY: Columbia University Press, 2012. Print.
Snyder, Sharon and David Mitchell. Re-engaging the Body: Disability Studies
and the Resistance to Embodiment. Public Culture. 13.3. 2001. 367389.
Web. 23 Jan. 2016.
Straus, Joseph. Normalizing the Abnormal: Disability in Music and Music
Theory. Journal of the American Musicological Society. 59.1. 2006. 113184.
Web. 22 Jan. 2016.
Straus, Joseph. Extraordinary Measures: Disability in Music. New York: Oxford
University Press, 2011. Print.
Stringer, Julian. The Original and the Copy: Nakata Hideos Ring (1998). Eds
Alistair Phillips and Julian Stringer. Japanese Cinema: Texts and Contexts.
NewYork: Routledge, 2007. 296307. Print.
Sutton, Travis. Avenging the Body: Disability in the Horror Film. Ed. Harry
M.Benshoff. A Companion to the Horror Film. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons,
2014. Web. 27 January 2016.
Wappett, Matthew and Katrina Arndt. Foundations of Disability Studies. NewYork:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Print.
Wee, Valerie. Japanese Horror Films and their American Remakes. London:
Routledge, 2016.
White, Eric. Case Study: Nakata Hideos Ringu and Ringu 2. Japanese Horror
Cinema. Ed. Jay McRoy. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. 2005. 3847.

An Eyepatch ofCourage: Battle-Scarred

Amazon Warriors intheMovies ofRobert
Rodriguez andQuentin Tarantino


In his novella about the American Civil War, The Red Badge of Courage,
Stephen Crane brilliantly caricaturized the glorification of war through
his ironic leitmotif of wounds serving as emblems of bravery and valor,
as signs of belonging to a mysterious fraternity born of the smoke and
danger of death (Crane, 1942, 65). Cranes book is remarkable in that
it reveals such war fantasies to be extremely naive. (To be sure, wounds,
missing limbs, and other bodily damages exhibited by veterans and civilian
casualties are but the most visible signs that tell us about the horrors of
war. Many generations have shared this experience; many books have been
written, many films have been made about it). There are genres, however,
which call for that naive perspective, like the action and horror film.
Especially influential in this regard have been the effects-laden aesthetics
of exploitation horror cinema in the 1960s and 1970s which often capital-
ized on sensationalizing instances of bodily damage and mutilation.

Many thanks to Christof Decker, Benedikt Feiten, Sophia Siddique, and Nils
Osowski for offering helpful comments on various drafts of this chapter.

M. Fink (*)
University of Munich, Munich, Germany

The Author(s) 2016 133

S. Siddique, R. Raphael (eds.), Transnational Horror Cinema,
134 M. FINK

Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantinofellow cineastes, friends,

and frequent collaboratorsare two of todays most successful filmmakers
who became famous for revisiting the genres and tropes of the exploitation
era in many of their movies. Spaghetti Westerns, Hong Kong kung fu and
Japanese yakuza and samurai films, as well as various American, Mexican,
and North-European exploitation traditions are all generic features amal-
gamated into the brothers in spirits postmodern pastiche style. A sort
of fan filmmaking on a large scale (Mathijs and Sexton 236), many of
Rodriguezs and Tarantinos movies are packed with the whole range of
clichs and grotesqueries the realm of exploitation cinema has to offer.
Besides the most obvious reminiscence to exploitation filmtheir mov-
ies bathe the viewer in scenarios of violence and bloodsheda significant
feature of this aesthetic is the filmmakers shared interest in the depiction
of Amazonian women warriors. As Jeffrey Brown (2004) has observed for
the Western action heroine in films and comic books, these fantasy charac-
ters blend traits that are typically associated with either masculinity (sport-
ing arms and muscles, being cold-blooded) or femininity (being seductive,
having long hair, wearing clothes that emphasize the female body),
thereby destabilizing such gender categories by displaying them in exag-
gerated ways. In addition, the woman warrior is also a popular theme in
Asian film history, most notably in Japanese B-movies since the late 1960s
(Desjardins, 2005, 222223). By drawing on film images of woman fight-
ers from different national origins, Rodriguezs and Tarantinos female
characters thus evoke hybrid images of both gender and nationness.1
What interests me here is the motif of representing action heroines as
disfigured. As I will argue, wounds or other bodily damages serve to
strengthen these characters Amazonian identitythat is, to be at least as
battle-tested, ruthless, and cool as the male protagonists in completely
overdrawn, hyper-artificial film worlds. In looking at the disabled women
warriors in Rodriguezs and Tarantinos movies, I will illustrate that the
disabilities are not markers of physical inferiority. Rather, these disfigured
Amazons blur not only the opposition between masculinity and f emininity
but also that between ability and disability. In other words, the bodily
damages are not treated as handicaps in the movies; they are signifiers for
the potency of the women to prevail in screened worlds of violence com-
monly associated with masculinity.
As an archetype of the disabled Amazon figure in film history I will
consider One Eye, the female protagonist from the 1974 Swedish rape-
revenge movie Thriller: A Cruel Picture. As we will see, One Eye showcases

the eyepatchs dual function of emphasizing and disturbing the panoptic

male gaze, of representing a marker of inferiority as well as empow-
erment. Both Tarantino and Rodriguez referred to One Eye by paying
homage to the cute-chick-as-bare-knuckle-killing-machine signified by an
eyepatch: in Kill Bill we have Elle Driver, alias California Mountain Snake;
in Machete, the protagonists sidekick Luz, also known as Sh.2
In contrast to One Eye, though, Tarantinos and Rodriguezs adapta-
tions of the character recall the naive glorification of a battle brother-
hood (65) which Crane described in The Red Badge of Courage. The
filmmakers allusions remain in a state of conjuring up the fantasy of sexy
women warriors fighting like men, which is often understood in terms
of some form of postfeminist accomplishment.3 An eyepatch worn by a
woman thereby would demonstrate her uncivilized nature, her blurring
of the hegemonic-male gaze, her Amazon-ness in what Lisa Coulthard
calls a gender-neutral zone (159). Rather than facing an exclusive battle
brotherhood, the women seem to belong to the mysterious fraternity
born of the smoke and danger of death just like the men in the movies.
However, this assumed emancipatory effect is precarious because it
ignores the male agencies behind the women (Bill and Machete, respec-
tively). Also, as Coulthard has noted for the Kill Bill films, Tarantinos
portrayal of women warriors renders them markers of the violation of
nature (165). In this regard, Tarantinos and Rodriguezs movies are fol-
lowing a dominant cultural mode of representation in that their narratives
and tropes often mark the female fighter as artificial, as trained, destined
built fighters guided by male father figures (167). The eyepatch thus
serves as a superficial (albeit iconic) signifier. Stemming from prevalent
images in popular culture, the device is readily appropriated by such post-
modern filmmakers as Tarantino or Rodriguez to juxtapose with those
women warriors, characters who correspond to more traditional clichs
of womanhood qua concepts of femininity and motherhood. Regular
Amazonian fighters, such as Kill Bills The Bride, thus are presented
as desirable, loving, and caring women. The disabled Amazons, by
contrast, are typically marginal, solitary typesbitches or super-Ama-
zons who may belong to a mysterious fraternity, but are nevertheless
outsiders within macho film worlds.
The eyepatchan object that is of particular significance in the cin-
ematic context because it concerns and troubles the ocularcentric regime
of powerthereby underscores the marking of the female fighters as
violation of nature, as other vis--vis traditional representations of
136 M. FINK

femininity in a hegemonic-male context. Moreover, the eyepatch demon-

strates the idea that female defacement in films usually concerns one side
of the body, thus emphasizing the opposition between beauty/desirability
and ugliness/aversion within a dominant-male discourse where a wom-
ans power is defined by her beauty. Beyond the eyepatch, this marking
expresses itself in other forms of bodily damage as well.4 Linking the motif
of the disfigured Amazon to the Onna Sazen movie series and the con-
temporary machine-girl films in Japan, this chapter ends with a reading
of Cherry Darling, the one-legged zombie shooter with a machine gun
functioning as prosthesis, from Rodriguezs 2007 film Planet Terror. As
we will see, regarding its disability motif, Planet Terrors emancipatory
effort towards a feminist posture is much more elaborated (and perhaps
subversive) than Rodriguezs subsequent movie, Machete, or Tarantinos
Kill Bill films. Not only does Planet Terror refuse to draw on the revenge
formula that is so dominant in the representation of women within the
exploitation film tradition, it furthermore lives up to the vision of a uto-
pian, gender-neutral society.

The (Disfigured) Amazon

Western cultural history normally pictures men as agencies of aggression;
women are conversely associated with attributes such as motherhood, soft-
ness, peace. On the flip side of this dominant narrative, however, we find
alternative images of women: images that contradict the clich of the meek
woman and, instead, portray women as tough, coarse, aggressive, or cruel.
In the popular vocabulary, we often refer to such women as Amazons.
Apparently, the Amazon image has a long tradition. As a myth, it
is neither confined to any specific historical period, nor to any specific
geographic region. Batya Weinbaum (1999) illustrates that, throughout
Western cultural history, Amazons have emerged in various forms: from
fierce barbarian hordes of man-hating (and man-killing) women tribes on
horsebacks coming from the uncivilized hinterlands in pre-Homeric sagas
and classical Greek literature; to a more romanticized image of irresist-
ibly beautiful, supernatural and pagan, often nymphomaniac, and increas-
ingly domesticated creatures in Roman literature and medieval folklore;
to utopian notions of faraway and wealthy women tribes inhabiting exotic
islands during the centuries of the great explorations; to the bodysuit-
wearing superheroines and other women warriors in the popular culture
of the twentieth century.

As Abby Wettan Kleinbaum (1983) argues, these images have originally

been shaped by the words and fantasies of meneither to represent the
unnatural or unfamiliar, or to certify their heroic adventures and political
hegemony. Hence a significant convention in cultural representations of
Amazons has become to emphasize the opposite sex, often by showing
Amazons with one bare breast. Also adding to the Amazon myth were
stories about a specific custom among Amazonian nations, namely to
remove one breast (legend has it that the single breast allows the warriors
to be more flexible in battle) (Kleinbaum, 1983, 132). Today all mention-
ing of such traditions of burning or cutting off, or otherwise atrophying
one breast seems rather fantastical, and suggests that the trajectory of the
Amazon is fundamentally tied to patriarchal ideology.
In what follows, I will show that parts of this patriarchal myth have
made their way into modern popular culture. There, the Amazon image
has become a stereotype of representation which continues to depict
women warriors as other, as violation of nature.
From another angle, however, the image of the disabled Amazon
can be understood in feminist terms, as a symbol of not conforming to
the gender roles prescribed by hegemonic-male discourse. In this sense,
some militant feminists in the 1970s appropriated the image of the single-
breasted Amazon and used it to symbolize female power (see Weinbaum
85). The image of the maimed Amazon, then, is twofold: on the one
hand, it represents a stigma of cultural subjugation; on the other, a meta-
phor for female emancipation.
For Disability Studies theorist Rosemarie Garland-Thomson,5 there
exists an intertwining of femininity and disability in Western cultural his-
tory that has to do with the idea of the norm being based on natural
physical superiority (Garland-Thomson, 1997, 19). On the other hand,
wounds and scars are commonly held to be manly attributes. Women,
by contrast, are supposed to look perfectly neat. Peter Lehman observes
for filmic representations of wounds in patriarchal culture that, in contrast
to women whose power comes from beauty (61), a scar on a mans
face frequently enhances rather than detracts from his power (63). This
adds to Paul Longmores influential study of images of disability as a form
of stereotyping which has revealed that, as a feature of representation, dis-
ability is often linked with malevolence: metaphorically, [d]eformity of
body symbolizes deformity of soul, Longmore argues; physical handi-
caps are made the emblems of evil (66). Among others, he takes Captain
Ahab, Doctor No, and Doctor Strangelove as popular examples where a
disability informs the stereotype of the ultimate villain.
138 M. FINK

Considering cultural representations of women as disabled, we can say

that it marks them as other in relation to the attributes of feminin-
ity prescribed by patriarchal ideology. Eyepatches and artificial legs, for
example, recall clich-ridden images of pirates or war veterans as a tradi-
tional male discourse, rather than femininity which is typically linked
to physical perfection. While images of male pirates with eyepatches usu-
ally dont bother us much, women sporting eyepatches or leg prostheses
constitute a flaw within this generic framework. Hence the question to
be posed is whether the representation of women warriors in exploitation
films as disabled corresponds to the stereotypes suggested by Lehman and
Longmore, or whether this may be another category altogether. Put dif-
ferently, if the imagery of women is contrasted with unwomanly traits
such as being violent and fierce, how are we supposed to understand an
additional marking of these warlike women as disabled?
As a possible answer I propose that, within what David Mitchell and
Sharon Snyder call alternative representational modes, disability can
function as a textual vehicle through which alternative identities are nego-
tiated. Garland-Thomsons analysis of disabilities in the works of African
American women writers, for instance, illustrates how images of disabil-
ity help to destabilize the dominant binary codes of abnormal/nor-
mal, male/female, desired/undesired (Mitchell and Snyder 28). Or, as
Caroline Molinas reading of the film The Piano suggests, the muteness of
the female protagonist can be interpreted as a sign of refusal to participate
in the discourses of the dominant patriarchal culture. In these alternative
modes, images of disabled women are not necessarily markers of inferior-
ity, but entail a dimension of empowerment over, escape from, or interfer-
ence with the patriarchal hegemony.

Exploitation Film Revisited: Women Warriors

andTransnational Cinema

In twentieth-century popular culture, images of fighting women are

legion. Aside from science fiction and fantasywhere Amazonian crea-
tures often represent alternative civilizations in relation to the culture,
nationality, or world of the male adventurers the exploitation films of
the 1960s and 1970s were an especial breeding ground for female fight-
ers.6 Drawing on the notion of the superheroine, which has its roots
in American comic culture (e.g., Wonder Woman, Supergirl, or Batmans

adversary, Catwoman), Amazons made it to the forefront in US popu-

lar culture through (s)exploitation movies such as Russ Meyers girl-gang
fantasy, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965), Jack Hills Foxy Brown (1974)
and Switchblade Sisters (1975), or Don Edmonds seminal Nazi horror
flick, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (1975).
Interestingly, parallel to the proliferation of Amazon images in the
Western exploitation film tradition, women warriors also became a promi-
nent motif in Asian B-movies. The Japanese director Suzuki Seijun was
especially notorious for his depictions of violent women in the yakuza
genre, as in Underworld Beauty (1958) or Branded to Kill (1967), and in
his girl-gang film Gate of Flesh (1964). Another domain that popularized
Amazon figures were Japanese samurai films, like the Onna Sazen mov-
ies (1937, 1950, 1968, 1969) or the manga-adaptation Lady Snowblood
(1973).7 From a transnational perspective, Rodriguez and Tarantinos
notion of women warriors, then, is a hybrid formation. It amalgamates
images of female fighters from the Western exploitation film era with those
from Japanese samurai films as well as anime and manga culture, thus
tapping into the Amazon trope as an inherently transnational figure of
One obvious way to look at this proliferation of superheroines is to
view it as an industrial strategyas an attempt to lure male audiences. For
the Western context, Yvonne Tasker (1993) has reminded us that image-
makers sought to present women as active and as powerful, mobilizing
already-existing types and conventions, images that were an established
part of popular culture, such as the leather-clad dominatrix (19). To a
significant extent this corresponds to the Asian area where women warriors
were also situated in a hypersexualized discourse (here one might think
of Gate of Flesh, which contains several quasi-pornographic, BDSM-like
torture scenes). That is to say, like so many portrayals of Amazons before
them, the Amazon images of modern popular culture contributed again
to patriarchal myth-making. In many respects, this characteristic has lived
on in the exploitation film tradition as well as in the films of Tarantino and
Rodriguez to be analyzed here.
Despite their sexualizing forms of representation, however, films like
Faster, Pussycat!and, even though perhaps to lesser degrees, its Japanese
counterparts where fighting women had a much different cultural tra-
jectorycan also be understood as indicative of the impact of feminism
in America and beyond. From this viewpoint, the emergence of strong
women as main protagonists has a lot to do with the mainstreaming
140 M. FINK

of exploitation films in America during the 1960s and 1970s, especially

after the abolition of the Hollywood Production Code in 1968 (see Cook,
2000, 220). As Carol Clover has argued in Men, Women, and Chain Saws:
Gender in the Modern Horror Film (1992), it was initially on the cultural
marginswithin the international independent and low-budget horror
film traditionthat new images such as what Clover calls the Final Girl
(a female victim who prevails over the male aggressors) could emerge, and
then appear on the surface of American mainstream culture.9 According
to Clover, genre films such as the slasher or the rape-revenge movie pro-
duced not only female victims but also female monsters and female girl
heroes, women who are angry and women who are fierce; in short,
women who are both the victims as well as the agents of physical v iolence
(see Clover 1992). Thus the girl-gang stories of such films as Faster,
Pussycat!, Switchblade Sisters, and She-Devils on Wheels (Herschell Lewis
1968), or rape-revenge movies like Act of Vengeance (1974) or Thriller:
A Cruel Picture, suggested progressive reincarnations of women warriors
or Amazons. These films offered alternative, feminist readings in that they
demonstrated a new notion not only of female violence but also of female
empowerment, dominance, and autonomy in generalprogressive ele-
ments that would reach a mainstream audience through such successful
films as George Romeros Living Dead zombie movies (19681990) or
the Aliens trilogy (19791992) (cf. Grant 1992; Doherty 1996).

An Eye foranEye: Revenge inThriller

While the motif of the one-eyed, disabled woman warrior (albeit with-
out the eyepatch) emerged first in Japan in form of the Onna Sazen films,
which I will discuss further in the section on Planet Terror, the archetype
of the maimed Amazon figure in Western film history originates from
the 1974 Swedish underground film Thriller: A Cruel Picture (Thriller:
En Grym Film), directed by Bo Arne Vibenius. Often just billed as One
Eye, which already indicates how much the producers counted on the
films sensationalist appeal, Thriller has established the eyepatch as both a
symbol of female empowerment and a clich of representation that tran-
scends national boundaries.
Undoubtedly, Thriller is not an easy viewing experience. The original,
uncut version contains hardcore pornographic inserts along with scenes of
abuse and violence against women, all of which clearly contributed to the
films underground reputation. From the movies prelude we know that

One Eye, or Madeleine as her birth name goes (played by the Swedish
soft-porn actor Christina Lindberg), was raped when she was a child.
Traumatized, she develops a speaking disability and turns completely
mute. The film then jumps to the time when Madeleine has grown up.
We witness how the young handsome woman gets caught in the clutches
of the obnoxious pimp Tony (Heinz Hopf). Tony addicts Madeleine to
heroin and forces her to work as a prostitute. When Madelaine attacks her
first customer in an act of refusal, Tony retaliates by cutting out her left
eye.10 Madeleine thus becomes One Eye and, for the rest of the film,
wears an eyepatch which she aligns with the colors of her outfits.
The plot advances as One Eye learns about the poisoning of her parents.
She suspects Tony of the deed and decides to take revenge. Notably, One
Eyes preparations for her vengeance correlate with a process of emancipa-
tion and self-knowledge: she takes lessons in shooting, martial arts, and
professional driving. The final act of Thriller is devoted to Madeleines
revenge tour, where she tracks down her tormentors and kills them one
by one. Thereby the character has established a central trope of the rape-
revenge genre which Barbara Creed (1993) calls femme castratricea
function that is already anticipated metaphorically as Madelaine is sawing
off her shotgun (see Heller-Nicholas, 2011, 41).
Significantly, Madelaines speaking disability and disfigurement are not
limiting her power but enhancing ita feature by which Thriller departs
from conventional representations of women as disfigured (cf. Lehman
61). First, Madeleines mutenessinterestingly, paralleled in the American
rape-revenge film Ms. 45may be understood as a refusal to participate
in a world that has allowed for a man to rape a little child (thus mirroring
Molinas reading of The Pianos protagonists muteness in terms of isolat-
ing herself from a male-dominated world) (see Molina, 1997). Second,
and even more importantly, the eyepatch invites attention in so far as it
disturbs the male gaze, which Laura Mulvey (1975) has identified as the
dominant form of how representations of women are encoded in film (and
which Thriller is clearly reflecting, for instance, through the hardcore-
porn inserts). As representational object, the eyepatch destabilizes the
visual regime of power regarding notions of normalness, perfection, or
beauty. This corresponds to Mitchell and Snyders observation that [t]he
addition of physical difference to an economy of masculine erotics compli-
cates the issue of desire (and desirability) by disrupting the visual field of
the patriarchal gaze itself (75).
142 M. FINK

Then again, one could argue that the color-coordinated eyepatch in

Thriller addresses a specific fetish. Thus, after Tony has cut out Madeleines
eye, she is not useless to him as one might perhaps expect. Rather One
Eye, as Tony calls her while talking to a customer on the phone, gets him
more money because of the special feature. In other words, while chal-
lenging the hegemony of the scopic regime, the eyepatch also reaffirms the
cinematic male gaze. Accordingly, when working at Tonys, Madeleine
is mostly shown naked with a pink eyepatch that matches with the color of
her fingernails (the pink clearly connoting her innocenceand allureas
young girl). At this point, it is interesting to note that most of Christina
Lindbergs previous films also emphasized her teenage look. With regard to
Thrillers pornographic inserts, Alexandra Heller-Nicholas (2011) points
out that they intentionally addressed fans of Lindberg who would find
her performance of hardcore sex scenes particularly erotic (although, as
Daniel Ekeroth [2011] notes, the scenes allegedly do not show Lindberg
but rather a stand-in filmed at a live sex show in Stockholm).
While the issues just mentioned are certainly not unproblematic in terms
of female objectification, I instead would like to focus on Madeleine/
One Eyes portrayal when she seeks revenge and address the semiotic and
increasingly emancipatory dimension the eyepatch invokes in the course
of the film. Arguably, this development is connected to one of the crucial
moments of Thrillerthe cathedral scene. After Madeleine learns about
the death of her parents, she visits a church. Strikingly, in what functions
as a cathartic moment, she wears a red eyepatch (Fig. 7.1). Red, not only
being the color of seduction, is of course also the color of blood, and so
the eyepatch could be viewed as a metaphoric device just like the sawn-
off shotgun. In this sense, it is after the cathedral scene that Madeleine
begins with her training. When we see her in the lessons, she is depicted
with a black eyepatchthe same color she is wearing during her revenge
tour (Fig. 7.2). In contrast to the pink eyepatch, the black color does not
signify the girls femininity and vulnerability. Rather, it matches with the
black leather coat One Eye is sporting during her tour de morte, which
connotes not only death but also a certain pirate or cowboy aesthetic. This
obscure imagery evokes traits commonly associated with masculinity, such
as being rough, cold-blooded, and ruthless, in connection with an iden-
tity that transcends cultural or national attributions. Through her way of
(hyperbolic) self-stylization, Madelaine expresses her alternative identity
as emancipated, independent woman who opts out of a society that has
failed to accommodate her, choosinglike pirates or cowboysthe life of
a renegade instead.

Fig. 7.1 Low-angle shot of Madeleine (One Eye) in the cathedral scene fea-
turing a red eyepatch

Fig. 7.2 Long shot of One Eye holding a sawn-off shotgun and ammunition
right before the final shootout
144 M. FINK

Kill theBitch: Kill Bills Eyepatched Villainess

Tarantino has often acknowledged that the reference to Thriller in form of
Elle Driver (Daryl Hannah) was intentional (see, e.g., Machiyama, 2003).
Yet, typical of the filmmakers pastiche style, this allusion remains on the
surface of the film; neither plot (rape-revenge) nor subtext (white slavery,
pornography) of Thriller become explicitly developed. Nevertheless, Kill
Bill mirrors Thriller in that Elles signature eyepatch is initially featured as
a fashionable accessory. The very first scene with Elle Driver in Kill Bill:
Vol. 1 (2002), where she intends to kill Beatrix Kiddo (Uma Thurman),
alias The Bride, who is lying in a coma in a hospital bed, shows Elle walk-
ing down the corridor. She is dressed trs chic, featuring a white coat,
white purse, and white eyepatch (Fig. 7.3). This over-the-top composition
is even surpassed by Elles performance just before she enters The Brides
hospital room: we see close-ups of her putting on white stockings and
buttoning a white dress, what soon appears to be a nurse costume, com-
plete with old-fashioned nurses hat plus a white eyepatch with a red cross
on it (Fig. 7.4). With Elle being portrayed as if she was striding down a
fashion runway to get to the locker room where we witness her dressing
up as nurse, the mise-en-scne clearly emphasizes an erotic component and
alludes to erotic fetishes.
The revenge narrative of Thriller informs the character Elle Driver only
to small degrees (in fact, in Kill Bill, it comes much more to the fore
through The Bride). Rather, Tarantinos quoting of a variety of genres

Fig. 7.3 Low-angle shot of Elle Driver whistling as she is going to kill The Bride

Fig. 7.4 Medium close-up of Elle Driver in a nurse costume as she prepares to
kill The Bride

blends generic formulas and incorporates them into episodic elements that
comprise the whole movie as such. Aside from minor subplots of Elle func-
tioning as avenger (the poisoning of her and The Brides master, Pai Mai,
in retaliation for him having gouged out her eye, as well as her attempted
revenge on The Bride for having an affair with Bill), the eyepatch therefore
primarily serves as a signifier for her cold-blooded, evil nature. Perhaps
similar to the character of Patch from Jack Hills Switchblade Sisters, the
eyepatch associates Elle with the jealous antagonist. In an arena occupied
with Amazons, she thereby becomes the real bad girl, and her character
much more corresponds to the figure of the bitch that Christina Lee
(2010) links to the trajectory of the femme fatale. While the trope of the
femme fatale has its roots in the Hollywood film noir era and is charac-
terized by a seductive, morally corrupted woman whose weapons usually
consist of feminine wiles like sexual allure or social sabotage, the bitch
motif emerges in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Similarly selfish and ruth-
less in nature as the femme, the bitch is typically confronted with a lack
of ideal masculinity around her. As a consequence she appropriates mas-
culine traits like using violence and getting down and dirty, unafraid of
getting hurt or receive an injury (Lee 87, 94).
While Elle is clearly no traditional femme fatale, this link persists by
the fact that her weapon of choice is poison. We not only see her pre-
paring to kill The Bride by lethal injection; moreover, in Kill Bill: Vol. 2
(2004), Elle kills Bills brother, Budd, by means of a black mamba and
we learn that she has poisoned Pai Mai. Finally and also echoing the
146 M. FINK

femme-fatale trope, Elle Driver gets punished for her malevolence.

In one of Kill Bills highlights, we follow the now-legendary duel scene
between Elle and The Bride. Significantly, though, when it comes to a
fight with a woman, Elle corresponds more to the bitch motif than to
the classical femme. This is already indicated by using samurai swords
phallic symbolsas weapons. The saber fight between the two women
is depicted in full details as cruel, dirty, and merciless. And we can easily
compare Elles punishment to the Kill the bitch effect that Lee men-
tions, whereby the audience identifies her as the threat and source of evil
and thus gains satisfaction out of her prescribed punishment (79). It is
relatively safe to suggest that the majority of spectators is not on Elle
Drivers side. In the duel scene, most of us may internally applaud (as
well as shudder) as Beatrix gouges out Elles second eye and blinds her
completelyin fact, Tarantino relies on the audiences assumed reaction
in that he offers the bonus of depicting Beatrix squashing the solitary eye
with her foot in full detail.
On the whole, Elle Driver represents much more the femme fatale fig-
ure than the female avenger. Perhaps less than signifying manly traits,
her eyepatch constitutes a fashionable, fetish-like accessory in Tarantinos
mise-en-scne. Much more than working as a symbol for manlinessa
function that happens to be fulfilled by the swordsit grants equal rights
to women within Longmores paradigm of disabilities being signifiers of
evilness. The eyepatch thus has a symbolic function in that it points out
the films villain(ess) to the viewer, a device which corresponds to the tra-
ditional narrative formula that Kill Bill is based on.

The Eyepatch asEye Catcher: Machetes

In Robert Rodriguezs film Machete (2010) and its sequel, Machete Kills
(2013), the character of Luz/Sh (Michelle Rodriguez) is also reminis-
cent of One Eye in that she represents the tough, bare-knuckle Amazon
warrior with an eyepatch. In addition to Shs underground activity for an
illegal immigration aid organization called The Network, her Amazonian
status is visually signified in full exploitation film fashion through a lot of
skin, her long hair, her well-built, buff body, and an oversized gun (an M4
automatic rifle with grenade launcher), plus the black eyepatch she is wear-
ing for the first time during the final showdown of Machete. Before that,

we witness a scene where Sh has been shot in the eye by one of the films
male villains. Shs character, therefore, is partly motivated by a revenge
theme. Her major function in the first Machete film, however, is to help
Machete take revenge on a Mexican drug lord who had killed Machetes
wife and possibly also his daughter. Significantly, then, in contrast to Elle
Driver, Shs relatively short performance in Machete as reincarnation of
One Eye appears to be in the service of the good, not the bad.
This function is maintained in Machetes sequel, Machete Kills. In the
latter, Robert Rodriguez even makes Sh follow Elle Drivers fate of los-
ing the second eye during an all-Amazon fighting scene.11 Apart from the
different sides the two eyepatched Amazons are on in the respective movie
worlds, what Elle and Sh share is that they are both not the main protago-
nists of the films. Rather, they are auxiliary characters with the eyepatches
functioning as signifiers for their Amazonian identities within a dominant-
male perspective. The main protagonist of Kill Bill is Beatrix, not Elle;
and Machetes narrative is busy with Machetes role as avenger, while Sh
fulfills more the role of his sidekick. Like Elle Driver, she is a solitary type,
not really belonging to the community. This is emphasized in the scene
following the final shootout of Machete where we see Machetes followers
hailing their leader. Here, Rodriguez depicts Sh solo by means of a low-
angle shot which undoubtedly signifies her power, but also her solitary
status (Fig. 7.5).

Fig. 7.5 Low-angle shot of Sh after Machetes final shootout

148 M. FINK

Consequently, Elles and Shs revenges for their lost eyes appear to
happen just as side notes (or even comic reliefs) in the movies. Similar to
Thriller, however, the narratives of Kill Bill and Machete depict the loss of
an eye as both sensational and crucial moments, even though Tarantino
and Rodriguezs allusions are more superficial and less dramatic in this
respect.12 Nevertheless, whether we call the scenes marginal or sensational,
it is important to remember that both Elle Driver and Shs mutilations
are executed by male handsthey are both victims of male violence. Yet
in contrast to Thriller, the narratives of both films are not about personal
revenges. Instead, the eyepatches mark the characters as gung-ho killers,
as objectified special weapons more or less loyal to some powerful male
agency (Elle Driver is a member of Bills elite killer team, the Deadly Viper
Assassination Squad, and Sh assists Machete in his personal missions).
The eyepatch, therefore, functions mostly as an eye-catcher. It adds to the
phallic symbols that are the sword and the automatic rifle, respectively. The
eyepatch invites the viewer to perceive the characters as idiosyncrasiesas
villainess (Elle Driver) or as a sort of super-Amazon (Sh)and thus works
as prosthesis in the sense Mitchell and Snyder have theorized it. As Jeremi
Szaniawski (2010) has correctly observed for the films of Tarantino and
Rodriguez, the filmmakers feminist efforts remain largely on the surface of
the movies. Their films often negate such messages, for they pay homage
not only to the spectacle-driven cinema of the exploitation film tradition but
also to the superficiality and naivet inherent to exploitation cinema.
In this sense, the portrayal of Sh reinforces the patriarchal gaze. After
the final shootout the camera focuses on her in Bruce Willisfashion, with
smoke and explosions being depicted in the background. Close-ups and
slow motion emphasize the way the camera (and implicitly the male audi-
ence) scans her perfectly shaped body, with a special attention to Michelle
Rodriguezs washboard abs. It almost seems as if it was primarily owing to
the opportunity to exhibit this image of the sexy super-Amazon which
motivated Robert Rodriguez to include the character of Sh in Machete.

From Go-Go Girl toZombie-Killing Machine

inTransnational Borderlands

A much more elaborated approach towards the motif of the disfigured

Amazon can be seen in Rodriguezs previous film, Planet Terror (2007).
Originally part of the double feature Grindhouse (2007), co-produced with
Quentin Tarantino, Planet Terror features Cherry Darling (Rose McGowan),

Fig. 7.6 Long shot of Cherry Darling after Planet Terrors final shootout

a woman fighter with a leg prosthesis of a special kind, as its main protago-
nist. Of course, the leg prosthesis constitutes already another dimension of
disability compared to the eyepatch, as it affects the appearance of the char-
acter on the whole (visible, for instance, even in silhouette; see Fig. 7.6).
Furthermore, the film both reflects on and deconstructs the male gaze in
ways that are much more convincing than the pseudofeminist efforts exhib-
ited by either Machete or Kill Bill.
Most notably, unlike in the films discussed so far, the maiming of Cherry
Darling in Planet Terror is not caused by some male adversary, but by the
dehumanized (and degendered) force of the living dead. If the desertas
transnational borderlandalready plays a prominent role in both Kill Bill
and Machete, Planet Terror suggests, in the words of its creator Robert
Rodriguez, a whole other world. In fact, aside from portraying rural
Texas as a world out of control, in which humankind has to fight against the
undead, the film suggests a society where cultural and gender hierarchies
are overcome in the face of a nightmarish, dystopian state of emergency.
Nevertheless, Rodriguezs imagery in Planet Terror invokes first of all
a hegemonicmale discourse. The film opens with a go-go dance per-
formance of Cherry Darling, which Rodriguez stylizes as if we actually
watch a cheap exploitation flick, including all kind of dust and noise
on the image, in combination with a mise-en-scne that seems to s imulate
150 M. FINK

the epitome of the male gaze. The erotic-voyeuristic level is mediated

through shots from the night clubs audience room with the camera
zooming in, on, and out of Cherrys flawless body that is reflected in a
set of mirrors around the stage. We see Cherry dancing furiously, as she
repeatedly throws back and forth her brunette mane. Her half-opened
mouth addresses the camera in an alluring way. In addition to a medium
long shot of Cherry looking directly into the cameraand implicitly at
the night clubs audience as well as at the (intended male) viewer of the
movieseveral close-ups of Cherrys legs, abdomen, and breasts empha-
size her bodily perfection. The sequence culminates in an extreme close-
up of Cherry licking her own mirror image, juxtaposed with a medium
long shot of the shows ending where she is sitting, legs spread wide, on
stage. She is leaning against the pole as tears are running down her face.
The tears already imply that Cherry is not happy about her situation as
go-go girl, and so Planet Terror is not only about the turkey shooting of
zombies but also presents the story of Cherrys emancipation. At a grill
restaurant, she meets her former boyfriend, El Wray, and they soon ally
in an existential fight against zombie-like creatures (as well as a troop of
army renegades infected with the mysterious chemical that turns humans
into zombies). After Cherry has been attacked and taken to a hospital,
Wray finds her with only one leg. Desperately Cherry tells him that the
other one has been amputated because she was bitten by zombies. At this
point, the film even briefly allows insights into Cherrys psyche (the hor-
rors of losing a leg) before returning to its major themeslaughtering
zombies. As provisional prosthesis, Wray harshly rams a wooden stool leg
into Cherrys stump.
Later on in the movie, the prosthesis becomes a weapon for the first time
when Cherry uses the wooden leg to knock out one of the soldiers that has
forced her to dance in front of him. Strikingly, the man (who is played by
Quentin Tarantino) is labeled Rapist #1 in the final credits. If the scene
has already suggested a possible act of rape (a notion acknowledged in the
final credits), this idea remains invalid thanks to Cherrys preventive attack.
Thus the rape-revenge narrative remains undeveloped within the exploita-
tion horror film revival that is Planet Terror. Nevertheless, if the prosthesis
has already conjured up a phallic dimension, this becomes corroborated
by the modification of it towards the end of the film. El Wray replaces
the wooden leg with an M4 submachine gun with a grenade launcher
attached, and Cherry thereby overcomes her disability (if understood,
in a negative sense, as a form of personal and political limitation). In other

words, the prosthesis does not only provide Cherry with an Amazonian
identity (as stigma) but much more turns her into a deadly weapon itself
(as transformation). In a reflexive way, Planet Terror reminds us that this
process of self-knowledge in the form of becoming an Amazonian cyborg
is also the very theme of the movie. El Wrays comment on Cherrys new
identityI need you to become who youre meant to beis clearly
indicative of this. Near the films very finale, Wray reiterates this notion
as he says, Cherry Darling, its all you! As Enrique Garca observes, the
subsequent shootout is truly transcendental: it finalizes [Cherrys] trans-
formation from victim to warrior (149).
In true exploitation film fashion, the key spectacle of Planet Terror,
then, is the machine gun chickan element exploited to great extents
in the Japanese machine-girl phenomenon in the films The Machine Girl
and Tokyo Gore Police (both 2008), Robogeisha (2009), and Mutant Girls
Squad (2010). It would be beyond the scope of this chapter to go into
depth here, but it is worth noting that the Japanese films featuring the
Amazon-cyborg motif mostly follow the formula of the female avenger
who takes vengeance after members of her family have been killed and/or
she herself has been raped and left for dead. Thereby these films draw on
the tradition of the disabled Amazon warrior as it was popularized in the
Onna Sazen films which centered on a female version of Tange Sazen, the
famous one-eyed, one-armed hero featured in many Japanese books and
films in the early twentieth century (see Paghat the Ratgirl n.d.).
As far as Planet Terror is concerned, however, we can say that the film
parodically reflects on traditional genre conventions. Just like the war
against zombies is presented in hilariously exaggerated ways or the rape-
revenge plot becomes parodied in an afterthought, Planet Terror offers a
parodic dimension regarding the beautiful-women-with-guns paradigm as
we know it from exploitation cinema in various national contextsfrom
Japanese yakuza and samurai films to girl-gang films, such as The Doll Squad
(1973) or the Belgian Panther Squad (1984), to rape-revenge films such as
Vibeniuss Thriller (1974) or the American Ms. 45 (1981), and culminating
in the soft-sex productions of Andy Sidaris on Hawaii in the 1990s, Savage
Beach (1989), Fit to Kill (1993), or Day of the Warrior (1996).
Indeed, there exists a rich exploitation tradition of showing sexy girls
with weapons.13 In this sense, Rodriguezs portrayal of Cherry Darling
also satirically envisions what would be the next level of exploitation cin-
ema: the unity of a sexy woman and her weapon into one form. Hence
Planet Terrors premise concerning the disfigured Amazon motif differs
152 M. FINK

from those of Machete or Kill Bill. With her special feature (and, as men-
tioned before, the film thematizes Cherrys personal frustration with her
existence as a go-go girl and her useless talents such as being a flexible
dancer), Cherry Darling leads a group of people out of the horror world
that is Planet Terror. In this sense, the movies ending, again, undermines
the conventional horror film narrative as it does not end with a successful
revengewith a surviving yet solitary Final Girl of some sortbut rather
closes with Cherry and her cohort of zombie-killing mavericks finding
peace in a distant southern land by the sea. Recognized as the Mayan
ruins of Tulum in Mexico, this beautiful and peaceful looking spot appears
to be a sort of utopian Promised Land (as previously envisioned by Wray
in the movie). As Christopher Gonzlez notes in this context, Cherry
thus functions as a Virgen de Guadalupea powerful Madonna for her
people (135). She guards the utopian, communal life for a mysterious
fraternity consisting of men and women alike.

To conclude this chapter: a thought about names. It is striking that the
names of the disfigured Amazons, from the movies of Rodriguez and
Tarantino looked at, emphasize their identity as women: Elle, Sh, Cherry
Darling are aptonymsspeaking names. They demonstrate a sort of
hyper-femininity that juxtaposes with the hegemonic-male world of the
movies. In contrast to Madelaine, who is called One Eye by her tor-
mentors, however, Tarantino and Rodriguezs women are proud of their
names. Cherry calls herself Cherry Darling, and Sh is of course remi-
niscent of the Cuban revolutionary Ch Guevara. Elle, on the other hand,
is the French word for she. That Elle (she) is followed by the name of
Driver further destabilizes the concept of masculinity within the context of
an action film, a genre where usually men are the ones who are the drivers.
In other words, these women have adopted their names rather than being
dubbed by some male agency. This becomes evident in the scene in Planet
Terror when Cherry meets Wray in the restaurant. He first approaches her
with the name of Palomita (Little Dove), whereupon Cherry explains
that she no longer goes by that name because it is the name that Wray had
once given her. Instead she calls herself Cherry Darling.14
The promising names notwithstanding, it is only Cherry who reflects
some sort of emancipation similar to Thrillers One Eye; Elle and Sh,
on the other hand, remain auxiliaries to more powerful men within a

hegemonic-male world of violence and bloodshed. As the case of Cherry

Darling has shown, it needs much more to make a feminist claim than an
Amazon carrying a phallic symbol and exhibiting an eyepatch of courage.
Similar to Thriller, Planet Terror offers a story of self-knowledge and self-
becoming, which is not so much achieved through a bodily damage per se,
but much more through the politically transformative emancipation pro-
cess that this bodily damage potentially entails. It is only thus that Cherry
belongs to a mysterious, gender-free fraternity rather than representing
a stock character within patriarchally-coded film worlds.

1. For a discussion of hybrid genders and transnationalism in Tarantinos Kill
Bill see, for example, Przybilski and Schlsser (2006).
2. By embedding women with eyepatches Tarantino and Rodriguez have
drawn on a remarkable tradition in film history. The first example is prob-
ably Mrs. Taggart (Bette Davis) from the British black comedy The
Anniversary (1968). The same year saw also the release of the French-
Italian science fiction movie Barbarella (1968) with Barbarellas eye-
patched adversary, The Great Tyrant (Anita Pallenberg). In 1974 followed
One Eye, a year later Patch (Monica Gale) of Jack Hills classic
Switchblade Sisters. Besides Kill Bill and Machete, a postmillennial example
of an eyepatched woman can be seen in Angelina Jolies short performance
as Franky Cook in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004).
3. For a theory of postfeminism, see, for example, McRobbie (2009); for
discussions of Tarantino and postfeminism, see Coulthard (2007), Cervulle
(2009), and Szaniawski (2010).
4. I did not include the character of Beatrix Kiddo (alias The Bride) in my
analysis. Although she is paralyzed and dependent on a wheelchair at the
beginning of Kill Bill: Vol. 1, this disability is only temporarily and does
not contribute much to the concept to be outlined here. Nor do I con-
sider Sofie Fatale whose arms are cut off when she is tortured by The
Bride. It is interesting, though, to point out that Tarantino uses a close-up
to show Sofies head while a larger framing would have allowed him to
stage another spectacle by revealing her torso in the final scene with Bill in
Kill Bill: Vol. 1.
5. Initially, Garland-Thomson used to not hyphenate her last name. For prac-
tical reasons, Im using the recent, hyphenated version here.
6. As Jeffrey Brown (2004) notes, with shows such as The Avengers
(19611969), Charlies Angels (19761981), Police Woman (19741978),
Wonder Woman (19751979), or, more recently, Xena: Warrior Princess
(19952001), action heroines have also made it to the forefront on TV.
154 M. FINK

7. Such representations of female sword fighters are not as extraordinary as

they perhaps may seem from a Western point of view. In fact, the female
warrior is an inherent part of the history of Japanese samurai culture (see
Turnbull 2010).
8. In this respect, it is interesting to mention the character of Miho from
Frank Millers comic series Sin City which was adapted to film by Miller
and Rodriguez. Miho represents an ultraviolent, sword-wielding Amazon
of Japanese origin who doesnt speak, i.e., who is possibly mute. However,
I do not consider her in my analysis because she is a creation of Miller
rather than Rodriguez. For the dual influence of Amazon images from
Western exploitation films and Japanese culture in Tarantinos works see
Franke-Penski (2010). For the representation of female warriors in
Japanese manga and anime culture see, for example, Saito (2011).
9. The Final Girl, as Clover calls this trope, by definition differs from the
femme fatale figure which, in the tradition of Hollywood cinema, works as
a major agent of cabal and evil and typically gets punished in the end.
10. Here Vibenius follows the tradition of explicit eye-gouging scenes, reach-
ing from Luis Buuels Un Chien Andalou (1929) to the films of the
Italian Master of Gore, Lucio Fulci (cf. Heller-Nicholas, 2011, 40).
11. Rodriguez also echoes Tarantinos way of presenting the act of total blind-
ing in a quasi-humorous fashionas a sort of a comic relief. After Shs
adversary, Blanca Vasquez (Amber Heard), has shot her opponent in the
good eye, she jokingly remarks: How poetic. Now you really are the blind
leading the blind.
12. Thriller presents the scene in which Madeleines eye is cut out in detail in
a sequence that lasts 375 frames (ca. 15.5 s) in the original uncensored
version by means of two shotsfirst, front-on, focusing on Madeleines
tormentor, then culminating in a 95 frames (ca. 4 s) extreme close-up of
the eye as it gets cut out. In contrast to that, Elle Driver and Shs mutila-
tions are shown within just a blink of an eye (the pun is not on purpose)
three and four seconds, respectively. Yet, in true horror film tradition,
Tarantino and Rodriguez portray them with a lot of passion anyway. In
Kill Bill: Vol. 2, Tarantino uses a flashback sequence to explicitly depict the
moment when Pai Mai has gouged out Elles eye (only to be topped a few
seconds later as Elles second eye gets torn out and squelched by The
Bride). In comparison to that, the scene where Sh loses her eye in Machete
is even more marginal. Significantly, though, Rodriguez emphasizes the
act by using a slow motion effect, thus being enabled to show the blood
spurt in detail.
13. At another point, Tarantino has demonstrated that he understands his
depiction of women armed with automatic rifles also as a satiric commen-
tary on the American weapon craze. In Jackie Brown (1997), he inserted a

spoof commercial show called Chicks Who Love Guns in which bikini-
clad babes parade their favorite machine pistols and automatic rifles
(Botting and Wilson, 2001, 168).
14. As Christopher Gonzlez (135) observes, cherry as another word for
virginity underscores the association with the figure of the Madonna.

Brown, Jeffrey A. Gender, Sexuality, and Toughness: The Bad Girls of Action
Film and Comic Books. Action Chicks: New Images of Tough Women in Popular
Culture. Ed. Sherrie A.Inness. NewYork: Palgrave, 2004. 4774.
Botting, Fred, and Scott Wilson. The Tarantinian Ethics. London: Sage, 2001.
Cervulle, Maxime. Quentin Tarantino et le (post)fminisme: Politiques du genre
dans Boulevard de la mort [Death Proof]. Nouvelles questions fministes 28.1
(2009): 3549.
Clover, Carol J.Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film.
Princeton: Princeton UP, 1992.
Cook, David A. Lost Illusions: American Cinema in the Shadow of Watergate and
Vietnam, 19701979. Berkeley: U of California P, 2000.
Coulthard, Lisa. Killing Bill: Rethinking Feminism and Film Violence.
Interrogating Postfeminism: Gender and the Politics of Popular Culture. Eds.
Yvonne Tasker and Diane Negra. Durham: Duke UP, 2007. 153175.
Crane, Stephen. The Red Badge of Courage. NewYork: Modern Library, 1942.
Creed, Brabara. The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis. London:
Routledge, 1993.
Desjardins, Chris. Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film. NewYork: I.B.Tauris, 2005.
Doherty, Thomas. Genre, Gender, and the Aliens Triology. The Dread of
Difference: Gender and the Horror Film. Ed. Barry Keith Grant. Austin: U of
Texas P, 1996. 181199.
Ekeroth, Daniel. Swedish Sensationsfilms: A Clandestine History of Sex, Thrillers,
and Kicker Cinema. Trans. Magnus Henriksson. Brooklyn: Bazillion Points,
Franke-Penski, Udo. Faster, Pussycat, Kill! Amazonen im modernen Action-
Film. Amazonen: Kriegerische Frauen. Eds. Udo Franke-Penski and Heinz-
Peter Preuler. Wrzburg, Germany: Knigshausen, 2010. 103123.
Garca, Enrique. Planet Terror Redux: Miscegenation and Family Apocalypse.
Critical Approaches to the Films of Robert Rodriguez. Ed. Frederick Luis Aldama.
Austin: U of Texas P, 2015. 141156.
Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability
in American Culture and Literature. NewYork: Columbia UP, 1997.
Gonzlez, Christopher. Intertextploitation and Post-Post-Latinidad in Planet
Terror. Critical Approaches to the Films of Robert Rodriguez. Ed. Frederick
Luis Aldama. Austin: U of Texas P, 2015. 121139.
156 M. FINK

Grant, Barry Keith.Taking Back the Night of the Living Dead: George Romero,
Feminism, and the Horror Film. Wide Angle 14.1 (1992): 6476.
Heller-Nicholas, Alexandra. Rape-Revenge Films: A Critical Study. Jefferson:
McFarland, 2011.
Kleinbaum, Abby Wettan. The War Against the Amazons. NewYork: New Press,
Lee, Christina. Screening Generation X: The Politics and Popular Memory of Youth
in Contemporary Cinema. Farnham: Ashgate, 2010.
Lehman, Peter. Running Scared: Masculinity and the Representation of the Male
Body. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1993.
Longmore, Paul. Screening Stereotypes: Images of Disabled People in Television
and Motion Pictures. Images of the Disabled, Disabling Images. Eds. Alan
Gartner and Tom Joe. NewYork: Praeger, 1987. 6578.
Machiyama, Tomohiro. Quentin Tarantino reveals almost everything that
inspired Kill Bill in The Japattack Interview. 23 Aug. 2003.
Web. 3 Sept. 2012. <>.
Mathijs, Ernest, and Jamie Sexton. Cult Cinema: An Introduction. Chichester,
UK: Wiley, 2011.
McRobbie, Angela. The Aftermath of Feminism: Gender, Culture and Social
Change. Los Angeles: Sage, 2009.
Mitchell, David T., and Sharon L.Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the
Dependencies of Discourse. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2000.
Molina, Caroline. Muteness and Mutilation: The Aesthetics of Disability in Jane
Campions The Piano. The Body and Physical Difference: Discourses in
Disability. Eds. David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder. Ann Arbor: U of
Michigan P, 1997. 267282.
Mulvey, Laura. Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Screen 16.3 (1975): 618.
Paghat the Ratgirl. Japanese Swordswomen III: One-Armed Swordswoman. n.d.
Web. 5 Jan. 2015. <>.
Przybilski, Martin and Franziska Schlsser. Bell und Bill, Buck und Fuck:
Gespaltene Geschlechter und flottierende Significanten in Tarantinos Kill Bill.
Unfinished Business: Quentin Tarantinos Kill Bill und die offene Rechnungen der
Kulturwissenschaften. Eds. Achim Geisenhanslcke and Christian Steltz.
Bielefeld, Germany: Transcript, 2006. 3552.
Rodriguez, Robert. Introduction. Grindhouse: The Sleaze-Filled Saga of an
Exploitation Double Feature. Ed. Kurt Volk. NewYork: Weinstein, 2007. n.pag.
Saito , Tamaki. Beautiful Fighting Girl. Trans. J.Keith Vincent and Dawn Lawson.
Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2011.
Szaniawski, Jeremi. Laisse tomber les filles: Postfeminism in Quentin Tarantinos
Death Proof. Situating the Feminist Gaze and Spectatorship in Postwar Cinema.
Ed. Marcelline Block. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2010. 168191.

Tasker, Yvonne. Spectacular Bodies: Gender, Genre and the Action Cinema. London:
Routledge, 1993.
Turnbull, Stephen. Samurai Women, 11841877. Oxford: Osprey, 2010.
Weinbaum, Batya. Islands of Women and Amazons: Representations and Realities.
Austin: U of Texas P, 1999.

Act of Vengeance (aka Rape Squad). Dir. Bob Kelljan. 1974.
The Anniversary. Dir. Roy Ward Baker. Warner-Path, Twentieth Century Fox,
Barbarella. Dir. Roger Vadim. Paramount, 1968.
Branded to Kill [Koroshi no rakuin] Dir. Seijun Suzuki. Nikkatsu, 1967.
Un Chien Andalou. Dir. Luis Buuel. 1929.
The Doll Squad. Dir. Ted. V.Mikels. Feature-Faire, 1973.
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Dir. Russ Meyers. 1965.
Fit to Kill. Dir. Andy Sidaris. Malibu Bay, 1993.
Foxy Brown. Dir. Jack Hill. AIP, 1974.
Gate of Flesh [Nikutai no mon]. Dir. Seijun Suzuki. Nikkatsu, 1964.
Grindhouse. Dir. Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Dimension, 2007.
Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS. Dir. Don Edmond. 1975.
Jackie Brown. Dir. Quentin Tarantino. Miramax, 1997.
Kill Bill: Vol. 1. Dir. Quentin Tarantino. 2002. Miramax, 2004. DVD.
Kill Bill: Vol. 2. Dir. Quentin Tarantino. 2004. Miramax, 2004. DVD.
Lady Snowblood [Shurayukihime]. Dir. Toshiya Fujita. Toho, 1973.
The Left Fencer [Onna Sazen: Nuretsubame katate giri]. Dir. Kimiyoshi Yasuda.
Machete. Dir. Robert Rodriguez. Twentieth Century Fox. 2010. DVD.
Machete Kills. Dir. Robert Rodriguez. Open Road Films. 2013.
The Machine Girl [Kataude Mashin Garu]. Dir. Noboru Iguchi. Fever Dreams,
Ms. 45 [aka Angel of Vengeance]. Dir. Abel Ferrara. Warner, 1981.
Mutant Girls Squad [Sento Sho jo: Chi no Tekkamen Densetsu]. Dir. Noboru Iguchi,
Yoshihiro Nishimura, and Tak Sakaguchi. Nikkatsu, 2010.
One-Eyed, One Armed Swordswoman [Onna Sazen]. Dir. Kimiyoshi Yasuda. 1968.
Onna Sazen: Yoko no maki. Dir. Nobuo Nakayama. 1937.
Onna Sazen: Masho ken no maki. Dir. Nobuo Nakayama. 1937.
Onna Sazen: Tsubanari muto-ryu no maki. Dir. Taizo Fuyushima. 1950.
Panther Squad. Dir. Pierre Chevalier. 1984.
Planet Terror. Dir. Robert Rodriguez. 2007. Senator, 2008. DVD.
Robogeisha. Dir. Noboru Iguchi. Kadokawa, Funimation, 2009.
Savage Beach. Dir. Andy Sidaris. Malibu Bay, 1989.
158 M. FINK

She-Devils on Wheels. Dir. Herschell Lewis. Mayflower, 1968.

Sin City. Dir. Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez. Dimension, 2005.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Dir. Kerry Conran. Paramount, 2004.
Switchblade Sisters. Dir. Jack Hill. Centaur, 1975.
Thriller: A Cruel Picture [Thriller: En Grym Film]. Dir. Bo Arne Vibenius. 1974.
Synapse, 2004. DVD.
Tokyo Gore Police [To kyo Zankoku Keisatsu]. Dir Yoshihiro Nishimura. Nikkatsu,
Sony Pictures, 2008.
Underworld Beauty [Ankokugai no bijo]. Dir. Seijun Suzuki. Nikkatsu, 1958.

Scary Truths: Morality andtheDifferently

Abled Mind inLars von Triers The Kingdom

Paul RaeMarchbanks

Preoccupied with Danish filmmaker Lars von Triers bold portrayals of

sexual intimacy and his provocative experiments in cinematic style, the
popular press has effectively ignored the interplay among differently abled
minds, medicine, and moral systems which has interpenetrated von Triers
work for nearly three decades. Von Triers first foray into horror, the mini-
series The Kingdom (1994, 1997), registers in consciously melodramatic
terms the auteurs standing preoccupation with the transatlantic failure of
biomedical ethics and modern psychology to sensitively address those cog-
nitive differences it seeks only to redress. Like film scholar Bliss Cua Lim,
von Trier recognizes that the fantastic, supernatural elements of horror
interrogate the popular, facile dichotomy between modernist reason and
premodern faith by insinuat[ing] the failure of modern disenchantment
to completely supplant nonmodern worlds (110). Critical of the mod-
ernists promotion of science and reason as the salve for all lifes ills, von
Triers videography syncretizes a postmodern affirmation of the idiosyn-
cratic and local with a decidedly premodern bifurcation between Good
and Evil, a thematic melding which in von Triers hands births an ethical

P.R. Marchbanks (*)

English Department, California Polytechnic State University,
San Luis Obispo, CA, USA

The Author(s) 2016 159

S. Siddique, R. Raphael (eds.), Transnational Horror Cinema,

rubric counter to the materialism and calculating utilitarianism of Western

medicine. Early interviews join close readings of his work to reveal an
artist persuaded of humanitys depravity and convinced of the spiritual
worlds veracity (if also its determination to defy description), one hungry
for signs of the sympathy and understanding he has failed to find in the
current medical models curative paradigm.
The species of viewer he seeks for his work actually resembles the type
of character he endorses within them: one who resists the mercenary ten-
dencies of the surrounding world, remains mindful of the ineffable, and
refuses to be bound by the ardent rationalism that dominates current the-
ories of progress. Such a character often sports a differently abled mind
one labeled cognitively disabled by a powerful medical establishment which
has in recent memory advocated sterilization, euthanasia, institutionaliza-
tion, abortion, and invasive surgery to correct, hide, or eliminate such
conditions. In assigning special discernment to a character modeled on
those who have been habitually denigrated by Western society since the
Renaissance, von Trier recovers for his characters with differently abled
minds that privileged position held by similar figures in medieval narra-
tive, center stage as the guardian[s] of truth (Foucault 14), but with
a difference. His characters may at times articulate words of reason that
release, in the comic, the comedy (Foucault 14), but von Trier regularly
allows more somber, introspective elements to weave themselves around
amusing oneseven in the outrageously entertaining horror series The
Kingdom. He challenges our ableist prejudices and secular humanism by
defying us to ridicule or otherwise reject uncomfortable insights uttered
by uncomfortably non-normative brains and bodies.

Bloodied Stitches: Amalgamating aNew Brand


Von Trier, whose work in film and television since 1984 has spanned mul-
tiple countries and genres, consistently dramatizes scenarios which assail his
characters (and, he hopes, his viewers) by introducing unanticipated variables
into closed, relatively stable psychological and physiological systems. Logic
and the empirical method will only take us so far, von Trier maintains. His
work accordingly tests the limits of the educated and able-minded characters
ability to respond to stress in a productive way. In his first feature film, the
noirish The Element of Crime (1984), detective Fisher methodically applies
his mentors criminological theory to the case of a serial killer, tracing his

steps and actions as closely as possible throughout Germany, only to discover

his own brains susceptibility to the same environmental elements which
spawned the original crimes: he ultimately commits the very murder he had
hoped to prevent. Dogville (2003) frames the intellectist hubris of young
Thomas Edison Junior, a small-town American didact whose native self-
interest slowly trumps his efforts to enlighten his neighbors about the virtues
of social acceptance, leading to his disastrous betrayal of the beautiful stranger
he had befriended. Even The Boss of It All (2006), the most uniformly comic
of von Triers films, delivers an unrelenting critique of mercenary commercial
practices when its calculating, arrogant business manager fails to sell his suc-
cessful company out from under the Danish employees who built it. In these
and his other works, von Trier wrestles with the question of how one creates
an appropriate relationship to the tenets of good rather than those of evil
(Bainbridge 44), evincing an ongoing interest in reasons covert connection
to that solipsism censured by Christological theology,1 a sinful selfishness that
catalyzes the more horrifying elements in each of his films.
Much of what scares us compels as much as it repels our attention; like
the grotesque image that in classic horror films engendered an [obsessive
fascination] with the deviance it claimed to abhor (Smith 7), horror in a
postmodern era dangles before us ideas and scenarios that kindle compet-
ing impulses. The enduring allure of the scary story across the globe owes
much to a joint fascination with our own physical and mental limitations,
with life-changing variables that lie agonizingly outside human control.
Zombies and vampires register apprehension about the loss of volition
that can accompany debilitating disease. Slasher films probe a preoccupa-
tion with our own mortality and that of our loved ones, as well as grow-
ing concern about those environmental and psychological factors that
create the killers who headline our newspapers with increasing regular-
ity. Movies whose antagonists sport exotic deformitiesor who violently
impose disfiguring and disabling conditions onto their victimscapture
our discomfort with physical difference, particularly those easily mapped
differences that disqualify one from classification as a physically ideal nor-
mate (Garland-Thomson 8). Across two seasons of The Kingdom, von
Trier forces each of these anxiety-provoking confections into his series in
turn, as if tasting only to spit them out. This parodic treatment of singular,
sensational malignancies provides a stark contrast to the more sustained
consideration of our species spiritual and moral limitationsa thematic
engagement which undergirds The Kingdom and which will later form a
rigid backbone for the horror film Antichrist.

Isabel Christina Pinedos Recreational Terror (1997), published the

same year as The Kingdoms final season, serves as a useful rubric for post-
modern horror, a contemporary metric which helps bring the distinctive
features of von Triers work into greater relief. Pinedo identifies five facets
of the postmodern horror film: (1) violence becomes quotidian; (2) moral
and normative boundaries blur; (3) rationality and science find their effi-
cacy questioned; and (4) no tidy ending bookends the narrative; though
(5) the whole proves pleasurable because its re-creation of terror remains
temporally discrete (5). Von Triers first experiment in horror embraces the
first and third of these characteristics completely, holding a tenuous alli-
ance with the remaining three. As with his films, The Kingdom consistently
challenges reason and scientific authority; in so doing, it generates inter-
personal conflict violent and regular enough to become, in Pinedos words,
a constituent element of everyday life (5). In the ghastly realms inspired
by von Triers distressing experiences with therapy and hospitals, it is medi-
cal professionals and would-be professionals who wield logic as a blud-
geon, wreaking psychological and physical destruction that often triggers
an equally aggressive, sometimes bloody response. Pinedos three remain-
ing characteristics only imperfectly map onto von Triers works, however,
revealing the degree to which von Trier challenges the postmodern genres
evolving conventions. Though von Trier dissolves boundaries between
normal and abnormal, granting characters traditionally relegated to
the fringes special access to truths denied the normate, he reinscribes the
moral binary separating good from evil when he suggests that the lat-
ter is ubiquitous, an unsettling proposition that explodes Pinedos notion
of a bounded experience of fear not unlike a roller-coaster ride because it
ultimately locates the frightening agent within ourselves. Similarly, while he
wraps up many (if not all) plot threads in The Kingdom by resolving their
respective crises in conclusive waysa movement which violates Pinedos
remaining proscription against narrative closure (5)von Triers works
challenge the viewers moral complacency, seeking to engender a contem-
plative, slow stewing anxiety that will linger far beyond the series close.

Masters oftheCosmetic: Western Medicine

andIntellectual Difference

Maybe what weve shown you troubles you. Dont be afraid. Keep your
eyes and ears open and all we can do is try to scare you with stage blood.
Its only when you avert your face that weve got you. Behind closed eyes

is where the real horror begins (episode 4).

Once again weve been together at the Kingdom. How did things go? In
the shadow of the eccentric, the charming and the zany terror lurks. Maybe
thats the background against which mans wickedness is clearest (episode 3).

Unlike his later Antichrist (2009), a thematically similar but uniformly

haunting tale of loss that builds to a terrifying climax, Lars von Triers earlier
encounter with the horror genre applies a heterogeneous tonal palette laced
with zany terror to the examination of differently abled minds. Ever the
provocateur, von Trier steps in front of a closed velvet curtain following
each episode of The Kingdom (1994, 1997)2 and, in Hitchcockian mode,
speaks directly to his transatlantic audience with brief, quirky homilies like
those above, drawn from season one.3 Recognizing that many of his view-
ers might prefer watching something comfortingly sentimental, he applauds
those who have stared unblinking into the gore and grotesquery that infuse
this strange television show. Unwilling to categorize his creation as mere
schlock designed to frighten and entertain, von Trier claims for this mlange
of horror, comedy, and melodrama a more weighty, if paradoxical, function.
As he would have it, keeping our eyes and ears open to fear-inducing
situations and visuals facilitates uncomfortable but healthy engagement
with issues that otherwise become unmanageably monstrous; inattention,
he argues, is the gateway to true horror. Von Triers interest here lies less
in that cathartic release which follows the scary tale, providing legitimate
occasions to overtly express terror and rage (Pinedo 2), than with the type
of tonally complex, distressingly unpredictable, metaphysically curious nar-
rative that so unsettles the viewer that her attention is nervously redirected
inwards. Viewers who refuse to avert their eyes from the disturbing, often
sickening elements that von Trier places before them allow his work to act as
a focusing lens that confronts them with elusive truths about themselves and
human nature generallytruths otherwise blurred by an obtuse, material-
istic perspective. Those characters who peer directly into the chaos opening
before them ostensibly achieve a clarity denied those who dismiss or intel-
lectualize the more discomfiting aspects of human experience.
Each episode of The Kingdom opens with a montage of ancient fig-
ures slowly bleaching cloth in a marsh, an area in Copenhagen now bur-
ied beneath the medically progressive Rigshospitalet. Shooting the series at
Rigets Hospitala globally renowned Danish facility that employs physicians
from various western nations including Sweden and Denmarkfacilitates
von Triers effort to parody cultural tensions between the two neighboring

countries educated elite while also positioning his tale at one nexus of the
ongoing, worldwide conversation concerning the relevance of spiritual
variables to physical health. An extended, haunting voice-over during this
opening sequence establishes an antagonistic dynamic between a submerged
spiritual world in which intangible truths from the past are intuited in the
present, and a modern sensibility that recognizes only what can be immedi-
ately, empirically verified.

The Kingdom Hospital rests on ancient marshland where the bleaching

ponds once lay. Here the bleachers moistened their great spans of cloth.
The steam evaporating from the wet cloth shrouded the place in perma-
nent fog. Centuries later the hospital was built here. The bleachers gave
way to doctors and researchers, the best brains in the nation and the most
perfect technology. To crown their work they called the hospital The
Kingdom. Now life was to be charted, and ignorance and superstition
never to shake the bastions of science again. Perhaps their arrogance
became too pronounced, and their persistent denial of the spiritual. For it
is as if the cold and damp have returned. Tiny signs of fatigue are appear-
ing in the solid, modern edifice. No living person knows it yet, but the
gateway to The Kingdom is opening once again.

Though von Triers placement of his tale within the walls of an actual
hospital grounds the narrative in a culturally specific time and place
(Bainbridge 66, 67), the binary between a permanent fog and the best
brains who hope to dispel it signals a conceptual conflict traceable across
the Western world and throughout von Triers work, a near-universal
conflict between empiricist medicine and the metaphysical and affective
domains it deprecates. Here, as in the Scotland of Breaking the Waves
(1996) and the America of Melancholia (2011), a narrowly materialistic
worldview propelled by intellectual hubris ignores the spiritual miasma
surrounding it, only to find its own agenda undermined by that which it
has scorned. As Caroline Bainbridge notes, religious elements and values
become in The Kingdom a means by which the importance of the irratio-
nal domain of affect and its role in the formation of our experience of the
world is highlighted (88).
Those physicians and researchers expert at charting life have, at Rigets
Hospital, formed a secret brotherhood dedicated to ridding the medical
profession of the occult in all its forms, a proscription against sances
and necromancy but also homeopathy, hypnotism, psychiatry, chiroprac-
tic treatment, and other non-invasive forms of therapy that threaten their

professional hegemony. They haughtily ignore psychological processes as

they do spiritual ones, prescribing physical (often surgical) solutions for
all ailments that pass through the hospitals doors. That this attention to
the corporeal blinds them to internal processes of an intangible nature
is brought into comic, caustic relief by their proud assertion that they
are masters of the cosmetic, a fraternity of influential hospital manag-
ers, gastroenterologists, pathologists, and neurosurgeons practiced at de-
emphasizing conditions they cannot treatconvincing patients that serious
ailments are less ugly and upsetting than testing indicates. Such leger-
demain deceives not only their patients but themselves, habituating them
to undervalue the emotional and spiritual dimensions of their patients
experience. Pathologist Palle Bondo, for instance, casually approaches an
expiring patients wife in a quest to gain possession of the fatal sarcoma
once her husband has died, and then is bewildered by her sons anger
at the audacity of his request, convinced as he (Bondo) is that a corpse
[w]ith sublime generosity delivers its body to the science that belongs
to all of us. The similarly arrogant Swedish neurosurgeon Stig Helmer
overlooks a young patients falling blood pressure during brain surgery
and ends up dismantling her fine motor skills, then accuses the girls mom
of libel when she promises him a malpractice suit: I have opened a few
skulls in my time, he cries, That snot-nosed kid wasnt the first.
Dr. Helmers carelessness not only erases young Monas ability to speak
and control her bodily functions (she spends most of her waking hours
rocking on her bed and drooling), it also opens up a channel between
realms by inadvertently freeing a spiritually sensitive mind. As is customary
in the Trierian economy, the differently abled mind which has difficulty
processing and responding to the everyday gains special traction when
confronting the extraordinary. The irony thickens as von Trier allows the
contemptuous Stig, who habitually slathers his coworkers with the epithet
idiot and extols the powers of his own nut (brain), to face his greatest
threat from the very one whose mind has been compromised by his sur-
gical error. Mona begins to perceive a number of things ignored by oth-
ers, including the barely perceptible but ominous structural deterioration
addressed in the shows prologue.4 She also communes regularly, non-
verbally with one of the buildings ghostly inhabitants, a girl of similar
age who likewise suffered at the hands of a medical professional and who
now haunts the hospital, waiting for the crime against her to be uncovered
by the living. The spectral Mary witnesses Stigs attempts to destroy the
damning anesthesia report filed after his surgery on Mona and somehow

communicates this to Mona who, in the series final episode, spells out
the potentially incriminating half sentences I saw Helmer and Helmer
was, using some alphabet blocks on her bed. With his job in jeopardy
if the truth comes out, Stig Helmer takes drastic measures, bundling up
Mona in a laundry basket and secreting her in the hospitals labyrinthine
conveyor system, from which she fails to emerge.

Dishwashers withDepth: ACounterpoint

toMedical Eugenics

Von Triers inability to produce a third season of The Kingdom, for which
he had already completed the scripts, allows fans to imagine Mona trav-
eling indefinitely through the bowels of the hospital, communing with
spirits and inhabiting an expanse where others crude prejudices and the
customary limitations to her mobility do not apply. Two additional char-
acters whose perspicacity contravenes their apparent cognitive disability
also occupy this space: a pair of dishwashers with Down Syndrome who
provide a running commentary on the series events. By incorporat-
ing such characters, von Trier caught the wave of post-Americans with
Disability Act interest in cognitive difference sweeping American cinema
in the 1990s,5 at the same time realizing a ten-year-old plan to incorpo-
rate those with cognative disabilities into his work in a way that provoked
thoughtful controversy (Schwander 1617).
Prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which would establish
guidelines for proscribing discrimination based on disability, Hollywood
had taken only intermittent interest in such figures. When filmmakers
did handle cognitive difference, the result proved consistently unsophisti-
cated and one-dimensional. The anti-sterilization polemics of Tomorrows
Children (1934), the ridiculously fanciful vision of a simpleton-made-
genius in Charly (1968), and the uniformly comic portrayal of the gardener
Chance in Being There (1979) drew attention to the limitations and needs of
this population, but in exaggerated ways that generated distancing spectacle
instead of humanizing re-evaluation. Those few horror films that incorpo-
rated characters with cognitive disabilities appeared willing to grant such
figures new forms of agency, but often concluded by perpetuating the same
prejudices they had initially appeared to question. Tod Brownings ground-
breaking Freaks (1932) employed four microcephalic sideshow performers
to represent characters not unlike themselves in a carnival troupe, shaping
a narrative that illustrated their necessary function as not only entertainers

but valued members of a differently abled family of professionals. The films

horrifying conclusion, however, in which one of these cognitively disabled
characters join the rest of their company in wreaking violent revenge on a
beautiful blond who has mocked and betrayed them, reinscribes such fig-
ures as horrifying at the same time that it assigns them unexpected potency.
Similarly, Roy Boultings Twisted Nerve (1968) initially casts young Martin
as a lonely but compassionate man who regularly visits his institutionalized
brother living with intellectual disabilities, and who feigns the limitations
of his sibling in order to win the attention of an attractive and kind college
student. The films later suggestion that Martins emergent, violent psy-
chopathy can be traced to genetic material he shares with his sibling upends
the earlier equation and our sympathy, recasting cognitive difference as a
dangerous variable that society would do well to sequester forcibly.
Von Triers own exploration of this subject matterpolitically charged
territory with which his mother had familiarized him through her work
with individuals living with intellectual disabilitiesfollowed the progres-
sive example of the recently concluded American television show Life Goes
On (19891993) by employing actors with Down Syndrome, a decision
at odds with Hollywoods common practice of turning to the industrys
most versatile actors to depict cognitive disability. This troubling trend
had recently gathered momentum with Rain Man (1988), Dominick
and Eugene (1988), Of Mice and Men (1992), and Whats Eating Gilbert
Grape (1993), and would accelerate unabated through the decade with
Sling Blade (1996), Digging to China (1997), and The Other Sister (1999).
Season one of The Kingdom, repackaged as a five-hour film before arriving
in the United States late in 1994, swam against the current of American
features by not only employing actors with disabilities, but boldly incor-
porating the distinctiveness of their movements and communication styles
instead of trying to hide them through post-production dubbing or cre-
ative editing. As is customary in those living with Down Syndrome, activ-
ity of the eyes, mouth, and limbs appears relatively slow and inarticulate;
Morten Leffers and Vita Jensen also smile and laugh at odd moments in
their scripted conversations, and sometimes demonstrate visible difficulty
recalling their lines. That such particularities of motion and dialogue come
naturally to the actors helps signal the otherness of characters allowed to
see far more than their able-minded peers, while also adding verisimilitude
congruent with von Triers commitment to realism in the contemporane-
ous Dogme 95 manifesto (1995): My supreme goal is to force the truth
out my characters and setting. I swear to do so by all the means available
and at the cost of any aesthetic considerations (Bjrkman 161).

In shaping the roles to be played by these two actors, Lars von Trier
spun old tropes into new garb. Aware that the cognitively disabled charac-
ter habitually appeared in western narratives to serve narrowly prescribed
roles like plot catalyst, wise fool, or moral yardstick (Puccinelli 11), but
also convinced that, as Martin Halliwell notes, the idiot figure is often
a symbolic repository for that which defies categorization (5), von Trier
allows his viewers conventional expectations to settle and harden before
shattering them against his overall design. Some of the resulting shards
resemble what viewers have seen before, while others curve and cut in
unexpected ways.
Unwilling to relegate his unnamed, cognitively challenged characters
to a single function, von Trier first assigns his two dishwashers the famil-
iar, paradoxical role of segregated and emotionally detached fortunetell-
ers who know more about others situations than they do, then stretches
this classical trope to grant the pair considerable powers of introspection,
relatable vulnerabilities, and relational desires. The two appear at irregu-
lar intervals, usually two to three times across each 6070 minute epi-
sode, their mobility bound by the cavernous underground kitchen they
inhabit, and their actions limited to rinsing dishes, placing them in the
plastic crates that pass through the automated dishwasher, and inspecting
them again when they emerge. They possess no scrying glass, or access to
hospital-wide security cameras, yet somehow track all the hospitals events,
both those affecting the living and those that involve the dead. They know
immediately when the resident medium, Mrs. Drusse, has encountered
Marys ghost in the elevator shaft, they anticipate the chaos that will ensue
when three characters plan separately to sneak into the hospitals archives
at the same hour, and they smile knowingly when Dr. Hook becomes
(wrongly) convinced that his temporarily transparent girlfriend, Judith, is
a ghost. When Judith gives birth to the monstrous child she is carrying, a
child with rapidly lengthening limbs and a fully developed head identical
to that of his undead father, the dishwashers anticipate the mixed recep-
tion the demon-like child will receive on the floors above, cryptically com-
menting that The wicked will laugh, the good will cry.
The pairs attitude towards such disquieting events often seems
detached, even callous. In the series eighth and final episode, during
which Judiths beloved child dies at her own hands and Mrs. Drusse dis-
covers a coven of Satan worshippers in the hospitals catacombs, the dish-
washers dance about and observe with laughter, They are ants. They do
bustle about Somebodys poked a stick into the heap to see them run
around themselves. At other moments, however, they appear genuinely

concerned, disturbed that Marys ghost cannot rest until her cause of death
has been made known, and spooked by the fantastic nature of the events
they observe. Von Trier prevents them from becoming non-individualized,
extra-human commentators akin to the chorus in a Greek tragedy by lay-
ering in enough fragility and desire to establish their particular humanity.
Though von Trier provides no signs of bedrooms or any other domestic
spaces to which they might retreat, they talk of resting at nightfall and
bemoan the need to clean the dishes again when the hospitals flaking walls
spoil the wash, as it will make for a long night. They also betray a profound
need for companionship. In their very first scene, the unnamed character
played by Morten Rotne Leffers reaches out to Vita Jensens character and
strokes her cheek with a gloved hand, a tantalizing bit of contact. This is
followed later by an offer to help her arrange the dishes, an elaborate dance
in the final episode in which they circle one another without touching,
and a successful marriage proposal. Time may appear to stand still in the
unchanging kitchen they inhabit, but the same temporal cycle and emo-
tional needs that shape the other characters actions apparently sculpt their
own existence. More limitations emerge as their apparent omniscience in
the first four episodes dissolves across season two. Their first appearance
in episode five finds them sitting down next to the sink, Leffers character
shamefacedly admitting, I thought I knew it all. Yet I know nothing
The little girl found peace. I thought that was enough. But nothing will
ever be the same after the scream. Prostrated by recognition that Mrs.
Drusses discovery and burial of the murdered Mary in season one failed
to subdue the dark forces infiltrating the hospital, the male dishwasher is
temporarily reduced to an inaction symbolic of his greater inutility as an
observer of events he cannot control.
The dishwashers impotence, however, is far from comprehensive.
The hospitals other inhabitants may remain ignorant of the pairs pre-
science and insight, but the viewer does not privileging us to a rela-
tively disambiguated, in-script declaration of the filmmakers concerns
which both anticipates the shows post-episode reflections and ties The
Kingdom thematically to his other works. Von Trier appropriates the worn
literary device of the wise foolcodified in the West since Shakespeares
King Learand brazenly imbues the resulting figures with spiritual acu-
men. Having allowed their distinctive facial features and stilted speech to
unequivocally signal Trisomy 21 (the common form of Down Syndrome
caused by an extra copy of chromosome 21), von Trier defies audience
expectations by granting the two characters an active and salient power of
deliberation which complements their uncanny foreknowledge.

The two dishwashers cannot alter the trajectory of the weird events
they witness, but they do identify the forces behind those incidents,
expound those forces agendas, and extrapolate shrewd conclusions from
the data they have collected. Though many individuals with some degree
of intellectual disabilities have difficulty distinguishing between the figu-
rative and the literal, von Trier requires his dishwashers to regularly gen-
erate creative analogies connecting their own repetitive tasks with the
efforts of those elsewhere in the hospital who alternately bury or exhume
dirty secrets involving themselves and their familiars. After spontaneously
generating four lines of lyrical verse concerning the hospital archives, the
male dishwasher notes the irony of watching a doctor and medical student
from neurosurgery invade, not a brains deepest recesses, but the secured
archives that house a differentif equally bloodykind of memory. When
his partner notes that a load of dishes has been ruined by falling flakes of
paint, he adds, People can be done for that way, too. This loose, colloi-
dal analogy begins to congeal when he likens Mrs. Drusses search for the
truth about Mary to preparation for a big wash, and solidifies still more
when the washing machine malfunctions and he notes that human affec-
tion can similarly degrade: So can love for children and grown-upsand
goodness and friendship, all these things can wear out and break down.
These insights about the malleability of public and private memory, the
difficulty of discovering truth beneath the grime of conflicting agen-
das, and the unfortunate impermanence of relational bonds arguably lie
beyond the grasp of many able-minded individuals, let alone those living
with enduring cognitive dysfunction. Why assign such useful observations
to individuals unlikely to utter them in real life? It seems likely that instead
of mocking the revealed truths themselves, or those who utter them, von
Trier is again implicitly deriding that modern sensibility that blinds itself
to the moral laws and selfish inclinations he believes inflect all human
motivationwarring forces that should be obvious to everyone, whatever
their intellectual capacity. As with satire, exaggeration becomes a means of
framing a truth that should already have caught the observant eye.
The medical practitioners collective failure to counteract the relent-
less self-interest identified by the dishwashers enables arrogant abuses of
power that spawn murder and mayhem, providing this experiment in hor-
ror with ample gruesome spectacle. The Satan worshippers discovered
in the series final episodewhose hooded members practice medicine
on the upper floors when not performing rituals with severed heads and
naked women far belowneatly articulate their hegemonic position as

they chant, Let the weak perish that the strong may reign in the Chaos
of Darkness. This violently eugenic sentiment gains heft when echoed by
the once compassionate junior registrar Dr. Hook, whose disposition has
been upended by a Haitian Vodou poison slipped him by Stig Helmer.
The poison, which kills Hook and reanimates him as a zombie, dramati-
cally realigns his priorities to resemble those of the arrogant Dr. Helmer
himself and Dr. Bondo. Convinced that he is too smart for his superiors,
and boasting to a coworker of what his brain can do for the hospital.
My brain, right, Mogge?, Hook proposes a comprehensive purge of the
human detritus lingering in the institutions hallways and patient rooms.
When his girlfriend asks for his help concerning the abnormally elongated
(and intellectually mature) infant son who claims he must die before a
great evil can possess him, Hook ignores the supernatural argument and
proposes immediate extirpation on other grounds:

If the freak on the wall wants to diehelp him to do so as soon as

possible. If we protect all the deformed, the world will drown in crud.
Its so fucking public He is sick. And you are sick if you cant
see that the weak must be purged.

Hook follows this cruel declaration with action. While he refrains at the
last moment from injecting the disabled Mona with poison to [pare] away
the worst of the hospitals fat, he remedies this oversight in the series last
moments by cutting the hospitals electricity in an effort to exterminate
those other, similar patients whose survival relies on technology.
That Mona and the dishwashers occupy spaces unmapped by Hook at
the moment he flips the switch underscores the limitations of his homi-
cidal project, exempting them from the death that will presumably take
other characters during the blackout, and granting their unique perspec-
tives an authority that lingers after the shows final moments. Von Triers
repeat visits to the spiritually attuned dishwashers throughout the series
has helped him assemble an alternative worldview, a counterpoint to the
growing eugenicism which he suggests is the logical terminus of a medical
model preoccupied with [h]ealth and physical prowess poor crite-
ria of human worth (Hubbard 106). By focusing so much attention on
the moral and spiritual dimensions of human experience, von Trier deftly
proposes a more egalitarian paradigm in contradistinction to those con-
structed upon standardized notions of intelligence, wealth, and power. If
all humanity is susceptible to sin, then, in one sense at least, we together

occupy a level playing field. If, as the male dishwasher asserts, The evil
eyes sow evil in both the clever and the stupid to the extent that we
cannot easily separate the evil born of our environment from that which
we set in motion ourselves, the inevitable conclusion is both horrifying
and potentially freeing: when the female dishwasher slowly murmurs in a
sinister voice, The evil could be me, her partner responds, Yes, maybe
it is us. Maybe it isnt. And our uncertainty is the beauty of it all. The
beauty of this diffusion of evil is that everyone is implicated equally.
The uniqueness of von Triers vision comes into greater focus when
placed alongside one last foil, the transmogrification of his material by
Stephen King for an American audience. The 13-episode Kingdom
Hospital (2004) incorporates the same botched surgeries and murder-
ous vendettas of the originaleven sprinkling in some extra bloodshed
for good measureand presents a similarly consistent challenge to medi-
cal hubris. King does, however, provide the narrative closure Pinedo
rejects for the postmodern project by reinstituting that species of moral
dichotomy which she associates with classic horror films of the 1930s and
1950s (15), at the same time providing a spin on the two dishwashers that
more completely collapses the normative boundaries governing cognition
and physicality. Abel and Krista, the newly christened prophets with Down
Syndrome, gain new occupational responsibilities and far greater mobil-
ity along with their names; they still stack dishes, but also mop hallways,
reactivate the elevators after inexplicable earthquakes, and serve as the
keepers of keys used by others to access inaccessible places throughout the
hospital. Fulfilling von Triers provocative promise of disabled romance,
King releases the two from their subterranean habitat and guides them,
hand-in-hand, through the hospitals corridors, out onto the parking lot,
and into their shared bedroom. He rejects, however, both his precursors
vision of depraved humanity and the postmodern horror films custom-
ary blurring of moral boundaries. A neat binary is set up between Dr.
Hook, who remains compassionate and courageous throughout the series,
and the unrepentantly degenerate Dr. Stegmore (a conflation of Stig
and Helmer).6 Our two seers, meanwhile, serve a vital role in the final
showdown between good and evil by lining up firmly on the side of Mrs.
Drusse and Dr. Hook, and using their newfound magical powers to help
rewrite the hospitals history by saving the ghostly Marys life before it can
be taken. Clearly, much of the nuance in von Triers original drifted to the
ocean floor before the project could make landfall in America.

The spiritually attuned, disabled characters in von Triers experiment

with horror unsettle their global audience by serving as what Julia Kristeva
has labeled the abject, the in-between, the ambiguous, the composite
which does not [merely] signify death, but shows death, our mortality
(4, 3). The non-normative minds of Mona and the dishwashers remind von
Triers viewers that the tenuous equilibrium savored by the normate will
eventually fall before age and decay,7 while their insights into the metaphys-
ical anticipate that decay by locating moral corruption in the immediate
experience of all humanity. Von Trier ventriloquizes that ableist prejudice
which maps macabre abjection onto disability, but only to concretize the
abject8 so that it can then be more easily identified within those who attempt
to ignore it. Unlike the Golden Heart trilogy of Breaking the Waves,
The Idiots (1998), and Dancer in the Dark (2001), in which von Triers
protagonists seem constitutionally incapable of the evil that threatens and
often kills them, The Kingdom locates death-dealing abjection within the
psychological and moral constitution of everyone. As Kristeva proclaims,
such abjection of self destabilizes that universal project of identity forma-
tion that rests on a firm distinction between subject and object, creating an
epistemological quandary more unsettling than any horror film.

1. Lars von Triers posture towards certain aspects of Christian doctrine and
practice grows more sympathetic after appearing to embrace Catholicism
in the mid-1990s.
2. Though critics often refer to the shows two seasons as separate works, The
Kingdom I (1994) and The Kingdom II (1997), I will occasionally regard
them as a single work unified by plot, theme, and character. Caroline
Bainbridge provides one precedent for doing this (63).
3. The Kingdom brought von Trier his first popular success in a number of
countries, including America. He notes that one screening of the series in
Venice prompted the desired laughter from an international audience
during a scene that mocks the supposedly wide cultural divide separating
Norway and Sweden (Andersen 99). Apparently, his strain of local humor
proved widely accessible.
4. Immediately following a scene in which (non-zombie) Hook discusses the
unreported medical negligence responsible for an array of deaths and inju-
ries at the hospital, von Trier cuts to a shot of the solitary Mona, whose
rhythmic rocking back and forth keeps time with a dripping faucet. Each
drop creates a circular ripple reflected on the ceiling above the filled basin,

a reflection which Mona looks upwards to observe. (This is the only time
in the entire series that she reorients her gaze to look at something in par-
ticular). As in The Element of Crime, Epidemic, and Europa, water appears
to connote deterioration and death, the ripples across the ceiling anticipat-
ing the structural deterioration across the hospital which will grow with
each episode.
5. Public policy in Denmark itself did not follow suit for another decade. In
2004, the EU Employment Equality Directive became Danish Law as Act
No. 1417, expanding the Labor Market Discrimination Act of 1996 by
prohibiting discrimination in the labor market due to age or disability.
6. Despite Stig Helmers plotting, lying, and bold self-interest throughout
von Triers series, Stig does, in rare moments, admit to his failings and ask
forgiveness of his girlfriend. He even expresses regret at having killed Hook
(before the poison has had a chance to resurrect his nemesis). Kings mor-
ally flat Stegmore admits to no personal failings whatsoever.
7. Lennard Davis practice of calling the normate temporarily abled under-
scores the inevitability of disability for all who live long enough (1, 8).
8. David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder label such an association between dis-
ability and the concept it comes to symbolize the materiality of metaphor:
The corporeal metaphor offers narrative the one thing it can not pos-
sessan anchor in materiality conretiz[ing] theory through its ability to
provide an embodied account of physical, sensory life (63).

Andersen, Lars. K. A Stone-Turner from Lyngby. 1994. Lars von Trier
Interviews. Ed. and Trans. Jan Lumholdt. Jackson: U. Press of Mississippi,
2003. 8899.
Antichrist. Dir. Lars von Trier. Perf. Willem Dafoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Storm
Achele Sahlstrm. 2009. Blu-Ray. Criterion, 2010.
Bainbridge, Caroline. The Cinema of Lars von Trier: Authenticity and Artifice.
NewYork: Wallflower Press, 2007.
Being There. Dir. Hal Ashby. Perf. Peter Sellers, Shirley MacLaine, Melvyn Douglas.
1979. Blu-Ray. Warner Home Video, 2009.
Berthelius, Marie and Roger Narbonne. A Conversation with Lars von Trier.
1987. Lars von Trier Interviews. Ed. and Trans. Jan Lumholdt. Jackson:
U.Press of Mississippi, 2003. 4758.
The Boss of It All. Dir. Lars von Trier. Perf. Jens Albinus, Peter Gantzler, Benedikt
Erlingsson. 2006. DVD. IFC, 2007.
Breaking the Waves. Dir. Lars von Trier. Perf. Emily Watson, Stellan Skarsgrd,
Katrin Cartlidge. 1996. DVD.Artisan, 2000.

Charly. Dir. Ralph Nelson. Perf. Cliff Robertson, Claire Bloom, Lilia Skala. 1968.
DVD.MGM, 2005.
Davis, Lennard. Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body. London:
Verso, 1995.
Dogville. Dir. Lars von Trier. Perf. Nicole Kidman, Harriet Andersson, Lauren
Bacall. 2003. DVD.Lions Gate, 2004.
The Element of Crime. Dir. Lars von Trier. Perf. Michael Elphick, Esmond Knight,
Me Me Lai. 1984. DVD.Criterion, 2000.
Epidemic. Dir. Lars von Trier. Perf. Allan De Waal, Ole Ernst, Michael Gelting.
1987. DVD.Homevision, 2004.
Europa. Dir. Lars von Trier. Perf. Jean-Marc Barr, Barbara Sukowa, Ernst-Hugo
Jregrd. DVD. 1991. DVD.Criterion, 2008.
Foucault, Michel. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of
Reason. 1961. Trans. Richard Howard. NewYork: Vintage, 1988.
Freaks. Dir. Tod Browning. Perf. Wallace Ford, Leila Hyams, Olga Baclanova.
1932. DVD.Warner Home Video, 2004.
Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability
in American Culture and Literature. NewYork: Columbia UP, 1997.
Halliwell, Martin. Images of Idiocy: The Idiot Figure in Modern Fiction and Film.
Burlington: Ashgate, 2004.
Hubbard, Ruth. Abortion and Disability: Who Should and Should Not Inhabit
the World? 1990. The Disability Studies Reader. 3rd edition. Ed. Lennard
J.Davis. NewYork: Routledge, 2010. 107119.
King, Stephen. Kingdom Hospital. Dir. Craig R. Baxley. Perf. Jamie Harrold,
Diane Ladd. 2004. DVD.Sony Pictures Home, 2004.
The Kingdom. Dir. Lars von Trier. Perf. Ernst-Hugo Jregrd, Kirsten Rolffes,
Holger Juul Hansen. 1994. DVD.Koch Lorber Films, 2005.
The Kingdom II. Dir. Lars von Trier. Perf. Ernst-Hugo Jregrd, Kirsten Rolffes,
Holger Juul Hansen. 1997. DVD.Koch Lorber Films, 2008.
Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror. Trans. Leon S.Roudiez. NewYork: Columbia
University Press, 1982.
Life Goes On. Pilot. Writ. Michael Lange, Kim Friedman. Perf. Chris Burke,
Kellie Martin. 1989. Warner Brothers Television, 2006.
Lim, Bliss Cua. Translating Time: Cinema, the Fantastic, and Temporal Critique.
Durham: Duke U.Press, 2009.
Melancholia. Dir. Lars von Trier. Perf. Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg,
Alexander Skarsgrd. 2011. Magnolia Home Entertainment, 2012.
Mitchell, David T. and Sharon L.Snyder. Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the
Dependencies of Discourse. Michigan: Michigan Press, 2000.
Pinedo, Isabel Christina. Recreational Terror: Women and the Pleasures of Horror
Film Viewing. Albany: State University of NewYork Press, 1997.

Puccinelli, Patricia M. Yardsticks: Retarded Characters and Their Roles in Fiction.

NewYork: Peter Lang Publishing, 1995.
Schwander, Lars. We Need More Intoxicants in Danish Cinema. 1983. Lars von
Trier Interviews. Ed. and Trans. Jan Lumholdt. Jackson: UP of Mississippi,
2003. 4758.
Smith, Angela M. Hideous Progeny: Disability, Eugenics, and Classic Horror
Cinema. NewYork: Columbia U.Press, 2011.
Tomorrows Children. Dir. Crane Wilbur. Perf. Diane Sinclair, Donald Douglas,
Carlyle Moore Jr. 1934. DVD.Alpha Video, 2005.
Twisted Nerve. Dir. Roy Boulting. Perf. Hayley Mills, Hywel Bennett, Russell
Napier, 1968. DVD.Sinister Cinema, 2010.
Vilensky, Daniel. Antichrist: Chronicles of a Psychosis Foretold. Senses of Cinema.
53. 30 Dec. 2009: n. pag. Web. 1 Aug. 2012.

Responses to Trauma

Towards aSoutheast Asian Model

ofHorror: Thai Horror Cinema inMalaysia,
Urbanization, andCultural Proximity



In recent years, increased attention has been paid to the movement of

cultural products across national borders within the Asian region (see, for
example, Cho 2005; Huang 2011; Kim 2005; Onishi 2006; Shim 2006,
2008; Sung 2008, 2010). Such a development is due, at least in part, to
the success of East Asian Popular culture that has displaced the previous
American cultural domination in the region. This began with Japanese
cultural products in the late 1990s and is now arguably dominated by
the ubiquitous Korean Wave, which has received much academic atten-
tion and continues to be a source of influence and enjoyment across Asia.

This chapter is adapted from the publication Thai Horror Film in Malaysia:
Urbanization, Cultural Proximity and a Southeast Asian Model. Plaridel:
A Philippine Journal of Communication, Media, and Society 12(2).

M.J. Ainslie (*)

Film and Television Programs, University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus,
Semenyih, Selangor, Malaysia

The Author(s) 2016 179

S. Siddique, R. Raphael (eds.), Transnational Horror Cinema,

The rise and conglomeration of the Association of South East Asian

Nations (ASEAN) has meant that the Southeast Asian region has also
become the subject of increasing inter-Asian cultural analysis. The study of
inter-ASEAN cultural exchange has been recognised as particularly impor-
tant in light of its role in creating and furthering much-needed economic
links, and increasing cultural contact between countries formerly sepa-
rated by colonial powers. It has also been influenced by strong nationalist
movements that continue up to the contemporary era.
Recent research suggests that ASEAN people do feel a strong cultural
connection across the region, and believe that they share key values (JWT
Asia Pacific and A.T. Kearney 2013). Despite this, awareness of cultural
products and brands from other ASEAN countries is still relatively low, sug-
gesting that while products are circulating across this wider region, they are
not yet connected to a distinct image of Southeast Asian-ness (JWT Asian
Consumers). Building upon this, scholars note that there are two domi-
nant regional circuits of cultural products within Southeast Asia. Firstly
there is a northern corridor across Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and, to an
extent, Myanmar. This area is largely dominated by Thai cultural products
such as lakon soap operas. The second circuit is southern, reaching across
the archipelagic region of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei, and consists of
Malay-language products (Chua Beng Huat 2015; Jirattikorn 2008). The
Philippines likewise appears to interject into both circuits to some extent,
while Vietnam and Singapore enjoy a much closer cultural relationship to
East Asian countries. Alongside this, South Asian and Chinese products
also circulate, largely due to the substantial Indian and Chinese diasporic
communities across the region. However, there is a notable absence of such
Thai cultural products below the southern Thai border and, likewise, there
is no substantial presence of Malay language products north of this.
While these two circuits may otherwise seem quite distinct (with excep-
tions due to niche fan communities and those with their own familial
connections across such borders), there is another instance of cultural
exchange within ASEAN countries and further across East Asia that must
be added to such regional dynamics. This is the continuing popularity of
Thai cinema across the region, which in its most visible and consistent
form seems to comprise mainly of horror films and, to a lesser extent,
romantic comedies. These continue to dominate cultural representations
of Southeast Asia on the international stage, and cross borders over which
Thai cultural products do not otherwise flow. In doing so they may bypass
and break down these two circuits.

Such is the case in Malaysia. While Thai pop music and TV-dramas
are beginning to challenge the hegemony of the previous Japanese and
Korean products and are gaining increasing popularity in the northern
region of Southeast Asia and in China, these do not appear to have a
substantial recognisable presence in Malaysia. Rather, it is Thai horror
films which are the most frequent and evident example of Thai cultural
products in Malaysia. The vast majority of Thai films released cinematically
in Malaysia are horror films. Six out of seven Thai releases in the top 200
highest grossing films in Malaysia for 2013 were horror films, and, at the
time of writing, five out of six in 2014. Likewise, a substantial portion of
the Thai DVDs available in Malaysian DVD stores such as Speedy Video
are marketed as horror films, as are the cheaper pirated alternatives filling
market stalls. These outnumber romantic comedies and even the well-
known Muay-Thai boxing films.
Defining Thai and other Southeast Asian films as horror is certainly
difficult given the European origins of the term itself and the various
words used to describe such films in both Thai and Malay. In order to
deploy this term we must move beyond traditional understanding of the
term and recognise the fluidity of genre as a concept. Neale posits that
answering much of the confusion and dispute over genre as a term and set
of categories requires,

thinking of genres as ubiquitous, multifaceted phenomena rather than as

one-dimensional entities to be found only within the realms of Hollywood
cinema or of commercial popular culture. (Neale 2000: 28)

This is particularly appropriate when considering both the function and

composition of horror films in Southeast Asia. This region may represent a
new dimension to the horror film, examination of which, as Blake argues,
can tell us a great deal about the culture from which such arguments or
readings emerged (Blake 2008: 6).
This chapter will examine the significant and continuing presence of
Thai horror films in Malaysia. Despite its considerable expansion since the
late 1990s, there is still little academic analysis of Thai cinema and even less
attention to the recent success of Thai cultural products across Asia. Such
success speaks of the recent rise in economic prominence of Southeast Asia
and ASEAN countries as a future economic and cultural hub carving out
their own inter-Asian cultural flows that could potentially challenge both
the traditional Western and more recent East Asian cultural dominance.

The chapter will first address the rise of Thai horror cinema internation-
ally, focusing on its cultivation of a pan-Asian image of urbanization which
allows these films to travel well. Through a comparison with Malaysian
horror, the chapter will then propose a degree of cultural proximity
between the horrific depictions by these two Southeast Asian industries
and a particularly Southeast Asian brand of the horror filmone based
largely upon the effects it is concerned with eliciting. Despite these simi-
larities, the chapter will then indicate that in the changing and complex
context of contemporary Malaysia, Thai horror films may offer the urban
Malaysian consumer a depiction of Southeast Asian modernity perhaps
more appropriate than that represented in the dominant incarnations of
Malaysian horror.
Any discussion of Thai-Malaysian relations inevitably points towards the
southern issue.1 This dominates Thai references to and representations of
Malaysia on both an academic and popular level. However, while the Thai
construction of and attitude towards Malaysia has been analysed through
this issue, there has been very little research addressing attitudes and con-
structions in the other direction: that is, from Malaysia towards Thailand.
Indeed, this is something which becomes significantly more important given
the increased movement of both people and cultural products between these
nations. While Malaysias relations with Thailand have been less problem-
atic and challenging than its relations with Indonesia and Singapore, these
bilateral relations remain very much under-developed (Khalid and Yacob
2012). They are also changing fast due to increased ASEAN integration
under the emerging ASEAN Economic Community. Trade between the
two countries is growing, with tourism from Malaysia to Thailand increased
by 20 percent from 2010 to 2011 while Thailand remains an important
destination for Malaysian exports. This chapter will therefore contribute to
a significantly under-researched geographical and inter-Asian cultural flow
which is becoming increasingly important in the contemporary age.

The International Growth andUrbanness ofThai

A study of the increased international presence of Thai horror, and Thai
film in general, is likewise a study of the changes that Thai cinema has
undergone since the late 1990s. These changes have made Thai cinema
a viable and profitable industry that can now be exported internationally,

placing it very much apart from other Southeast Asian film industries and
beginning to explain how these texts have come to have such a substantial
presence throughout the region.
Since the late 1990s, when so-called New Thai Cinema was born,
Thai film has moved away from its position as lower class, provincial
entertainment to a firm fixture in Bangkok multiplexes and at festivals
around the world. Through deploying lavish depictions of old Thailand
in high quality aesthetics, big budget productions such as 2499 Antapan
Krong Muang/Daeng Bireley and the Young Gangsters (Nonzee Nimibutr,
1997), Nang Nak and Bang Rajan (Thanit Jitnukul, 2000) were able to
capitalise on the growth of cinemas in urban areas in the previous decade.
In doing so, they moved Thai cinema to the more respectable swathe of
urban middle class consumers and, likewise, to international festival audi-
ences. Horror played a notable role in this very significant change: the
1999 ghost film Nang Nak was the most successful Thai film made thus
far and forged a definite turning point in the development of Thai cinema.
It was also one of the first Thai films to achieve widespread international
acclaim, winning twelve awards at a variety of international festivals. The
films also had significantly higher production values than previous Thai
horror films, which had largely catered for rural and provincial viewers
outside of the target audience of sophisticated Hollywood productions
(Knee 2005; Ingawanij 2006; Chaiworaporn and Knee 2006).
In the contemporary age, the increased experience of Thai filmmakers
and the decreasing price of film equipment enabled Thai film to become
both better organised as an industry and more profitable as an enterprise
(Ancuta 2011). Filmmakers now work within a well organised streamlined
oligopoly similar to the Classical Hollywood-style production system.
Due to low production costs, this system is increasingly functioning as
an international hub for filmmaking, with facilities often hired by foreign,
notably Chinese, companies. This is evident in the formation of the major
Thai film studios (many of which are conglomerations of previous smaller
companies), including GMM Tai Hub (GTH), Five Star Production,
Phranakorn Film, Sahamongkol Film International, and Kantana Group.
Filmmakers, producers, performers, and writers work under the same roof
for a company that is also involved in distribution.
With these developments, Thai film has arguably become the most inter-
national of all Southeast Asian film industries. As it has become increasingly
globalized in terms of distribution, the subject matter and mise-en-scene
of its productions have also become definitively urban (Siriyuvasak 2000).

Reflecting the environment and lifestyle of its new primary audience, this
depiction shifted away from both the earlier provincial village setting evi-
dent in pre-1990s productions as well as the heritage aesthetic that had
kick-started the late-90s industry. Productions now began to represent and
engage with the lives of urban professional characters, their lifestyles and
their environment, reflecting what had now becomethrough the network
of urban multiplexesthe primary audience of Thai cinema. Indeed, the
changes on screen reflect the economic changes that Thailand and other
East and Southeast Asian countries have experienced over the past ten years.
Most notably these changes include the movement of rural workers to the
cities, the rise of suburban living and the creation of the Thai middle-classes
who have become the new urban elite.
As well as representing general social changes within Thailand and
the Asia region, the shift in Thai cultural products to address and depict
the urban professional was also part of the successful incorporation of
East Asian aesthetics into Thai cultural products. High quality East Asian
products had long targeted the urban middle-class Asian consumer. These
products travelled well due to the growing economic proximity of the East
and Southeast Asian nations. Many such products are part of the much
studied Korean Wave: the exporting of Korean TV dramas, films, pop
music and stars throughout the region during the mid-to-late 2000s which
replaced the previously dominant Japanese cultural products. Although
such products may be most well-known through historical dramas such
as the phenomenally successful Dae Jung Geum/Jewel in the Palace (Lee
Byung-hoon, 20032004) series, these texts also place a strong emphasis
on depicting metropolitan life, an urban mise-en-scene of coffee shops and
offices as well as professionally competitive characters and, most signifi-
cantly perhaps, the depiction of a new metrosexualized Asian masculinity
which has led to much analysis of changing masculine and feminine depic-
tions across East and Southeast Asia (see Thu Ha Ngo, 2015, for more
discussion of this). Likewise, Thai cultural products have also changed to
depict such subject matter in terms of plots and mise-en-scene.2
Notably, this change in depiction is most evident in Thai horror movies
and romantic comedies, the contemporary incarnation of which are nota-
bly urban-based and deal with issues facing city residents. Romantic com-
edies such as 30+ Soht On Sale/30+ Single On Sale (Puttipong Pormsaka
Na-Sakonnakorn, 2011), ATM: Er Rak Error/ATM (Mez Tharatorn,
2012) and Bangkok Traffic Love Story/Rot Fai Fa Ma Ha Na Thoe (Adisorn
Tresirikasem, 2009) are set largely within an urban city environment

(most often Bangkok) and incorporate urban-based issues into their

depiction. In particular we see a concentration on the new urban profes-
sional young woman, who is sexually active, goes on many dates with men,
and struggles to make relationships work while searching for a partner
who is faithful, considerate, and compatible. Large parts of the films take
place in the workplace, with the heroine struggling to hold down a full
time job and trying to succeed in the business world.
As a genre and a marketing label, Thai horror has also carved out a
highly successful regional market and international presence. International
posters advertise films through their filmmakers and studios connection
to previous Thai horror films, indicating how (since the birth of New
Thai cinema) Thai horror has cultivated a recognisable and successful
image through which it can promote future productions. Thai horror has
notably changed from the heritage discourses and the localised village-
based comedies of the late 1990s to an urban model which fits alongside
recognisable East Asian horror films. High-grossing horror films such
as Shutter (2004), Buppah Rahtree (Yuthlert Sippapak, 2003), Body sop
19 (Paween Purijitpanya, 2007), Laddaland (Sopon Sukdapisit, 2011),
Cheuat Gon Chim/Meat Grinder (Tiwa Moeithaisong, 2009), 4bia
(Banjong Pisanthanakun, Paween Purijitpanya, Parkpoom Wongpoom,
Yongyoot Thongkongtoon, 2008) and Alone (Banjong Pisanthanakun,
Parkpoom Wongpoom, 2007) are notably urban in both their subject
matter and mise-en-scene. Similar to the contemporary romantic comedies
they are set in urban areas and address issues relevant to the city-dweller:
protagonists live in apartment blocks, must work or study hard, and worry
about how to pay the rent. The subject matter also addresses the inher-
ent frustrations and unfairness of city life and, in particular, the hidden
underside of exploitation and oppression that horror can address so well.
Recent theorists such as Blake (2008) and Lowenstein (2005) have spe-
cifically attached the horror genre to a branch of theory known as Trauma
Studies. This can explain Thai horrors focus on the difficulties of urban
existence. They argue that due to their disturbing and disruptive nature,
horror texts are able to engage with traumatic events that otherwise remain
suppressed. The texts then function as a means to mediate traumatic social
events and upheaval. For instance, Blake posits that horror films are able to
engage with and reopen wounds that are otherwise sealed and suppressed
by the process of nation building. National building, she argues, seeks to
erase any conflict and resistance in its quest for homogeneity and conformity.
One recurring theme within contemporary Thai horror is the return of an

abused young woman to take revenge on her male tormentors, a character-

istic that can be attributed to the abuse suffered by Thai women, rural dwell-
ers, and the lower classes as part of the Thai economic boom and bust in the
late twentieth century (see Ainslie 2011 for more discussion of this). This is
easily recognised in films such as Buppah Rahtree, Shutter, Body and Fak Wai
Nai Kai Ther/The Swimmers (Sopon Sukdapisit, 2014). However, Ancuta
also notes another shift in the development of Thai horror. She argues that
contemporary productions reconfigure the formula of the Thai ghost story
to incorporate and respond to the difficulties and contradictions of being
part of the growing middle class in contemporary Thailand. In its depiction
of Thai suburbia and the middle classes, films such as Laddaland bring hor-
ror much closer to home, with characters trapped within the temporality
of a dream of social mobility and economic success (Ancuta 2014: 233).
Like Laddaland, a number of recent Thai horror films engage with
the difficulties of urban and middle class protagonists. These include The
Swimmers, 4bia, OT (Overtime) (Issara Nadee, 2014), Rak Luang Lon/
The Couple (Talent 1 Team, 2014), Kon Hen Pee/The Eyes diary (Chukiat
Sakwirakun, 2014) and Chit sam phat/The Second Sight (Pornchai
Hongrattanaporn, 2013). Ancutas argument also fits films such as
Banjong Pisanthanakuns blockbuster success Phi Mak Phra Khanong/Pee
Mak (Banjong Pisanthanakun, 2013)which tells a well-known and often
remade ghost storydespite the fact the film features a rural scenario and
situation. It is the long hair and blemish-free skin of Banjongs characters
which attaches them to a modern, urban Asian aesthetic and distances
them from other, older versions of the story. This contrast with the older
aesthetic is most evident when compared to Nonzee Nimibutrs 1999
heritage film, with its mise-en-scene of desolate rice paddies and characters
sporting the blackened teeth and helmet hairstyle of Thai peasants.
Similar to romantic comedies, these urban Thai horror films also display
stylistic influence from East Asia which can be traced to internationally suc-
cessful films such as Ringu/The Ring (Hideo Nakata, 1998), Ju-on: The
Grudge (Takashi Shimizu, 2002) and Janghwa, Hongryeon/A Tale of Two
Sisters (Kim Jee-woon, 2003). These influences are particularly evident in
the 2004 blockbuster success Shutter, which is still lauded today (both inside
and outside Thailand) as the scariest Thai movie ever. With its long black
haired and white faced vengeful female ghost Natre, the film fits the East
Asian horror aesthetic which has had a substantial influence on Thai horror
(Ancuta 2015) and it is often mistaken for a Japanese film by non-Asian
viewers (see Ainslie, 2011 for a full discussion of the narrative structure of
this film and its aesthetic relationship to other Thai horror films).

Thai Horror inMalaysiaCultural Proximity

andaSoutheast Asia Model ofHorror?

While Thai films in general travel well due to their adept international
image of Asian modernity and urban life, it is Thai horror which is most
visible in Malaysia. Studying horror films in Thailand and Malaysia indi-
cates that there are particular commonalities between them which make
Thai horror films especially appropriate to a Southeast Asian, and spe-
cifically Malaysian, context. Certainly, both the high quality global
aesthetics and the pan-Asian urbanness of Thai horror seem particularly
appropriate to the social experiences of fellow ASEAN nations such as
Malaysia. As in Thailand, the urban Malaysian population has increased
substantially since the 1970s, growing rapidly throughout the 1980s and
1990s. The rate of urbanization and consumption is high, while the popu-
lation is relatively young and well-connected media-wise (JWT Asia Pacific
and A.T. Kearney 2013). Moreover, Malaysia also boasts a thriving and
successful film industry which has grown significantly in the twenty-first
century and in which horror films are especially popular. Writing in 2012,
the Free Malaysia Today website stated that Three of Malaysias six top-
grossing films are fright flicks made in the past two years, and the genre
made up more than a third of domestic movies in 20113 indicating that
the national success of Malaysian horror films is impressive.
In achieving major box office success and winning several awards, the
2004 production Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam/Fragrant Night
Vampire (Shuhaimi Baba, 2004) which followed a murdered woman seek-
ing revenge as a Pontianak ghost/spirit, was seen as ushering in a new
era for Malaysian horror. Since then the success of the horror film has con-
tinued to grow. The 2007 production Jangan Pandang Belakang (Ahmad
Idham, 2007) held the record for the highest-grossing Malaysian film
for three years. Congkak (Ahmad Idham, 2008) did similarly well, reach-
ing number 30 on the 2008 box office chart and, notably, out-grossing
Twilight (Catherine Hardwicke, 2008). Capitalising upon the success of
these two films, director Ahmad Idham then released Jangan Pandang
Belakang Congkak/Dont look back, Congkak (Ahmad Idham, 2009). The
film (a comedy horror spoof of the earlier successful horror films Jangan
Pandang Belakang/Dont Look Behind and Congkak) became the highest-
grossing Malaysian film ever. In 2010 Hantu kak limah balik rumah/Kak
Limahs Ghost Has Gone Home (Mamat Khalid, 2010), a sequel to the
smaller Zombi kampung Pisang/Zombies from Banana Village (2008),

won several Malaysian awards and is included in lists of the top ten highest
grossing Malaysian films ever. Ngangkung (Ismail Bob Hasim, 2010) was
the highest-grossing film of 2010 while Hantu Bonceng (Ahmad Idham,
2011) was Malaysias highest-grossing horror movie until that point
(and its third highest-grossing film overall). Khurafat: Perjanjian syaitan
(Syamsul Yusof, 2011), which tells the story of a community practicing
black magic for their own gain, was also very successful. The popularity
of horror is such that it is also deliberately used to garner high box office
takings. Shariman notes how horror films are now a particularly important
source of revenue in the Malaysian film industry: Even a poorly made
horror movie can make lots of money if properly promoted. One good
example was the recent low-budget Momok The Movie. It made RM2.1
million [approx. 600,000USD].4
Analysis indicates that there is a possible degree of cultural proximity
between Thai and Malaysian horror films. Cultural proximity is a com-
plex and controversial concept often used to explain the success of the
Korean Wave across East Asia. Scholars and journalists point to the shared
Confucian values, urban setting and pan-Asian depictions in these texts, all
of which are common to East Asian societies (which is the overwhelming
market for these products) as a significant part of their pan-Asian appeal
(Shim 2008; Chon 2001; Heo 2002). However, such conclusions do not
account for the attraction of difference within this equation or the pop-
ularity of such products across other more culturally and geographically
distant nations (see, for example, Ainslie 2015). The application of this
concept to Southeast Asia is complex: Southeast Asianness does not yet
constitute a popular or political category through which such a cultural
representation can be constructed. Yet close analysis of Thai and Malaysian
horror films indicates that both models of horror contain markedly similar
depictions of the supernatural. As such, they begin to suggest a possible
framework for the constitution of a Southeast Asian model of horror, one
that is based largely upon structure and genre.
Certainly, the mise-en-scene and subject matter of successful Thai and
Malaysian horror films contain many signifiers of Southeast Asian daily
life, with tropical foliage, beaches, wet markets, motorbikes, street ven-
dors, and characters wearing loose-fitting clothing and sandals, even when
such productions are decidedly urban-based. Thai and Malaysian horror
films also contain depictions of the supernatural which are in keeping with
belief systems in both countries. These depictions may be representative
of the wider cultural position and development of the supernatural in the

region. Beliefs in various animistic spirits and their supernatural powers are
common across Southeast Asia, and there are a number of shared charac-
teristics across Malaysia and Thailand in terms of both the spirits and their
social effects. In each nation, local spirits which are familiar and recog-
nisable across the country are depicted in films. In Malaysia, numerous
horror films depict the well-known Hantu and Pontianak Malay spirits
while Thai films such as Nang Nak, Krasue Valentine/Ghost of Valentine
(Yuthlert Sippapak, 2006) and Baan Phii Pop 2008 (Bunharn Taitanabul,
2008) depict spirits that are familiar and recognisable across Thailand.
Such spirits notably exist alongside dominant Islamic and Buddhist beliefs
in each country, with religious figures and places of worship featuring sig-
nificantly as characters try to rid themselves of these spirits. Thai films
such as Shutter and Nang Nak will use Buddhist monks and their chants
to pacify spirits, Malaysian films such as Jangan Pandang Belakang and
Hantu Bonceng use Islamic holy men for exorcisms and have protagonists
chant verses from the Quran for protection.
Yet rather than seeking similarity through depictions of spirits, which
have changed radically over the decades and often have very different social
functions in films, the most concrete example of cultural proximity seems
evident in the growth of the popular subgenre horror-comedy in both
countries. In Malaysia, films such as Hantu Bonceng, Ngangkung, Hantu
Kak Limah Balik Rumah and its sequel Hantu Kak Limah2: Husin, Mon
dan Jn Pakai Toncit (Mamat Khalid, 2012) include many instances of phys-
ical slapstick comedy, often mixing these with graphic horror. Filmmaker
Shuhaimi Baba argues this subgenre makes Malaysian horror somewhat
distinctive: Our local horror films are mainly comedy horrors anyway
Real horror films dont do well at the Malaysian box office.5 While it may
have derogatory connotations, this distinction between Malaysian horror
and what Baba calls real horror suggests that filmmakers recognise this
as a significant characteristic of Malaysian filmmaking.
Within this subgenre, the emphasis on humor over horror is clearly
evident. In a representative example Hantu Kak Limah2: Husin, Mon dan
Jn Pakai Toncit (the sequel to Hantu Kak Limah Balik Rumah), horrific
depictions such as the supernatural figures hanging ominously over the
jungle are largely eclipsed by the comedic effects of the bumbling villag-
ers of Kampung Pisang and their banter at the local stall. Character types
such as the older headman, the government workers, the camp stereotype,
the Indian moneylender, the militant gun-toting Keffiyeh-wearing pro-
Palestinian youth, and the overweight friend abound, while the returning

protagonist Husin arrives back in their midst in a worn car announcing

he has been bankrupted in Singapore. Such characters generally react to
events together in a group, with exaggerated exclamations of fright when
the female ghost Mon appears and later the demon Dr. Shamsuddin, who
returns to collect an age-old debt from a demonic ritual conducted during
the founding of the Kampung over 100 years ago. Flashbacks to earlier
historical times depict silent monochrome sequences of characters in tra-
ditional dress waving inanely at the camera while in later historical periods
characters sport impossibly huge Elvis Presley-style quiffs.
In Thai cinema, this combination of horror and comedy tends to be
most evident in productions that do not travel widely outside of the coun-
try and which still depict rural village life, such as Wor Mah Ba Mahasanook
(Bunjong Sinthanamongkolkul, 2008) and Baan Phii Pop 2008. Yet high-
grossing films such as Buppah Rahtree, Khun krabii hiiroh/Sars Wars
(Taweewat Wantha, 2004), Mo 6/5 pak ma tha phi/Make Me Shudder (Poj
Arnon, 2013), Mathayom pak ma tha Mae Nak (Poj Arnon, 2014) and
Pee Mak, many of which have been successful at the Malaysian box office,
can also be described as horror-comedy. Even Shutter, a film which seems
to leave many local characteristics behind in its decidedly Ringu-esque
mise-en-scene, still contains a surprising scene depicting a ladyboy joking
about sex and defecation. In the middle of being viciously pursued by his
dead former lover, the protagonist Thun visits the mens bathroom of a gas
station. Depicted sitting on the toilet smoking, high heeled footsteps click
ominously on the floor beside the cubical, and a point of view shot depicts
a female hand appearing under the cubical door to give him some requested
tissue paper. A reaction shot shows his fear that this mysterious visitor is
the ghost, yet when he kicks down the door, Thun is confronted by a long
shot of a Katoey (ladyboy) sitting on the toilet asking can I poo first? This
indicates how comedy can be inserted liberally within the genre, even when
films may seem to have moved beyond a Southeast Asian aesthetic.
Such an emphasis problematizes the existence of horror as a genre in
Southeast Asia, or at least horror as defined by both the Euro-American
and East Asian models. These models typically focus on suspense structures
and clearly distinguish horror from other genres through their concentra-
tion on generating the emotional effects of fear and disgust (Carroll 1990).
Studying the historical development of entertainment within this region
may offer an example of and source for the proliferation of horror-comedy
in both nations. Ironically, it may be the diversity of the region itself that is
the main characteristic of living in Southeast Asia. Like many of the ASEAN

nations, Thailand and Malaysia are divided by borders which are still rel-
atively recent. Both countries themselves are made up of diverse ethnic
groups, all of which possess their own distinct languages, cultures, and reli-
gions which have changed and blended over time. In its early development,
filmmaking across the region was faced with the problem of overcoming
internal differences and bridging cultural barriers in order to become finan-
cially viable, especially in an unfunded and economically unstable indus-
try. Visual entertainment adapted to cater for the many diverse consumers
within these nations. Films from the region can therefore often be distin-
guished by characteristics such as the existence of a blended narrative
which incorporates elements from many different genres within a single
text and an increased emphasis upon spectacle as a source of stimulation.
Characteristics associated with the horror genre are typically mixed with
elements from other similarly visceral genres such as slapstick comedy,
romance, and action. Such characteristics are able to bridge linguistic and
cultural barriers and overcome divisions that may otherwise problematize
wide appeal in diverse nations. They also function well in rowdy upcountry
communal viewing scenarios which do not engender the close relationship
between the viewer and text that is part of following a complex suspense-
based narrative.6 This blended narrative and its emphasis on spectacle is
particularly evident in horror-comedies which consistently meld graphic
horror and slapstick comedy. Indeed, a discernible Southeast Asian model
of horror which stretches across these two countries may have emerged
which helps explain the particular success of Thai horror in Malaysia.

Difference asAttraction
Along with a degree of cultural proximity, the success of Thai horror
may also be aided by its difference to local Malaysian horror films. Despite
the similar historical context and economic experience, the social depic-
tions and subject matter of high-grossing Malaysian horror films is very
different to that of popular Thai horror films. Close examination and com-
parison suggests that Thai horror may offer an alternative depiction of
Southeast Asia for viewers who are perhaps not adequately represented by
the depictions which dominate Malaysian horror.
In contrast to the pan-Asian depictions found in Thai horror, Malaysian
horror seems to be significantly less international in subject matter and
more localized in its depiction of a particular social group and situation.
These films do not construct the same internationalised and pan-Asian

image of urban modernity we see in Thai horror films and, in keeping

with its local depictions, do not have an established presence beyond
Indonesia, Brunei, The Philippines, and Singapore (the latter in which
it caters largely to the Malay community and the former two in which
it can rely upon linguistic and cultural similarities in a similar way to the
relationship between Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia). It is difficult to
find Malaysian films on the European and American DVD racks which
Thai cinema has carved a place on, and few festivals host Malaysian films
beyond the niche independent and art cinema from celebrated auteurs
such as the late Yasmin Ahmad. Likewise, few Malaysian horror films are
released with any subtitles on the DVD and VCD copies, indicating their
targeted audience.
While Malaysian horror films are not entirely set in rural areas, the depic-
tion of distinct rural and urban areas is a less dominant theme. Moreover,
the audience for the films is not split between rural and urban viewers in
the way it is for Thai cinema. Indeed, the definition and u nderstanding
of what constitutes urban in Malaysia is quite different to Thailand
and may explain the differences between filmic depictions from the two
nations. Unlike Thailand, the Malaysian population is not concentrated
within one or two urban centres, but instead is much more evenly dis-
tributed spatially across the country, with smaller urban towns scattered
around territories such as Selangor and Johor (Jaafar 2004). Notably, such
towns are well-connected (by road) to city centres, and many citizens
commute to cities such as Kuala Lumpur for work or to visit malls at the
weekend. In Hantu Kak Limah2: Husin, Mon dan Jn Pakai Toncit, there
is a regular bus service to Singapore from Kampung Pisang and many vil-
lagers are depicted leaving for work and holidays. Urban amenities, such as
cinemas, are also much more accessible to the general population (many of
whom live in situations that could be called suburban rather than urban)
and are more spread across the states. In contrast, Thai cinemas and their
audiences are overwhelmingly concentrated within cities such as Bangkok
(Ancuta 2011), explaining the very definite urban nature of high-grossing
Thai horror productions.
In keeping with its wider audience, Malaysian horror films tend to place
less importance on distinguishing between rural and urban contexts. As
such, these films are often set simultaneously within these different environ-
ments with characters expressing familiarity with both. Indeed, there is very
little overt reference to the stresses of city living, something referenced with
abundance in Thai films. Malaysian texts depict kampung (village) life and

a suburban environment, and also make heavy reference to villages far away
from urban centres and suburban areas on the fringes of cities.
If, as Trauma Studies theorists suggest, horror functions to mediate and
engage with suppressed traumatic social events and upheaval, then Malaysian
horror would seem to be engaging primarily with the issues and contradic-
tions associated with contemporary village life and community. A common
theme in films is defeating threats to a community and maintaining the sta-
tus quo, thereby reaffirming this context and situation against the increas-
ing fragmentation that is associated with the urbanisation of Malaysia and,
in particular, the Malay community. The successful 2010 comedy-horror
Hantu kak limah balik rumah, set in the village Kampung Pisang, focuses
on its protagonist Husins attempts to find out what happened to his neigh-
bour on his return to his village after working in Singapore. While its later
sequel Hantu Kak Limah2: Husin, Mon dan Jn Pakai Toncit depicts Husin
again returning to Kampung Pisang after becoming bankrupt in Singapore.
Such a depiction contrasts with recent Thai horror films in which urban
and rural life are often separated, with action taking place purely within one
without much depiction of or reference to the other (unless this movement
is a specific part of the plot as in Shutter). That is to say, that the wounds
addressed in Thai cinema are almost exclusively associated with the pres-
sures of existing in urban middle class Thailand.
The setting of Malaysian horror films in rural areas is also evident in
critiques from Malaysian authorities who seem to interpret such depictions
as somehow low in quality due to their localized nature. Former Prime
Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who remains a highly influential figure, crit-
icised Malaysian horror films in 2011 when asked about a recent instance
of hysteria amongst a group of female students. Mahathir described the
depiction of ghosts and spirits in Malaysian films as counter-productive
to building a society predicated upon science, suggesting that there is
something backwards about films set in a rural context which engage
with traditional spirits and beliefs. Norman Yusoff relates Mahathirs con-
cerns to his modernisation policy, arguing that horror films do not adhere
to, and even potentially undermine, the nation-building values that
Mahathir wishes to see as dominant (Yusoff 2012). Yusoff interprets this
as the recognition of the potential of Malaysian horror films to critique
modernity. However, it is difficult to detect such a critique given the sub-
ject matter of the films themselves which lacks the overt engagement with
urban lifestyles and pressures typical of Thai films. Nonetheless, these films
certainly reinforce suburban and rural life in a nation which emphasises

urbanization as part of a modernizing forward direction and may indeed

provide relief from official modernization discourses.
Aside from the lack of focus on urban settings and issues, the dominant
ethnic and cultural depictions of Malaysian horror may also explain the pop-
ularity of the pan-Asian and internationalised depictions of Thai horror. In
the multi-racial nation of Malaysia, successful contemporary Malaysian hor-
ror films overwhelmingly concentrate on what Zulkifli etal. (2012) refer to
as Malay-centric issues. Notably around 60% of citizens in Malaysia are of
Malay ethnicity, with the other percentage consisting mostly of large Indian
and Chinese populations. Despite this multiracial, multicultural nature, for
nearly 80 years Malaysian horror retains a persistent Malay-centric nature in
terms of characters, language and narratives (175).
This Malay-centric focus makes such texts problematic in terms of the
image they construct of Malaysia. The films potentially exclude those who
may be economically and ethnically removed from the Malay majority. For
the large, diverse, and increasingly affluent urban population of Malaysia,
these staple Malay kampung depictions are perhaps not so relevant and,
alongside the pan-Asianness of imported products, may appear old-
fashioned. Furthermore, a large percentage of the urban population are
not Malay. These urban viewers do not live in rural kampungs or suburban
communities. Instead they are more likely to be affected by the complex
pressures of urban middle class living in the condos and gated communi-
ties represented in Thai horror films.
Indeed, online discussions suggest many Malaysian audiences are in fact
embarrassed by Malaysian horror. In making comparisons to Thai cinema,
some viewers express frustration at what they see as the inferior and less
advanced nature of Malaysian film. Malaysian IMDB reviews of the 2010
film Hantu kak limah balik rumah are split between lauding the local-
ized nature of this film (particularly its jokes) and expressing anger at
the low-budget, low quality special effects which seem to embarrass some
viewers.7 In a thread on discussing the best country for horror
movies, one commenter referring to Malaysian horror films states:

There are still some decent ones but most of them are just stupid horror
comedic/romantic types with cheesy scripts and poor quality directors.
Pontianak Harum SM had some great story despite mediocre scare factor,
Jangam Pandang Belakang kind of a big change in our horror industry with
its good use of sound effect and gloomy scenes, after that, its all rehashes
of the same thing [sic].8

Another Malaysian blogger directly contrasts the Thai and Malaysian

industries, expressing frustration as well as anger at the state of the

Malaysian film industry in their review of the historical fantasy Puen yai
jom salad/Queens of Langkasuka (Nonzee Nimibutr, 2008) (a story which
they claim is Malaysian rather than Southern Thai):

Sadly it is not a Malaysian movieit is a Thai movie When will we be able

to produce an epic like this? No, please do not compare this movie with
Putri Gunung Ledang as doing so would insult the Langkasuka movie. Sad
that we are more interested in trying to make movies about drifting auto-
mobiles and mutant human cicaks, than something like this which really
catches the eye of world cinema.

Another commentator on the blog agrees: yes Im embarrassed that we

wasted so much money utilising CGI on movies with shit concepts like
Brainscan and Cicakman.9
The bloggers are not alone in their frustration. Similar sentiments are
expressed within the Malaysian film industry. Prominent Malaysian film-
maker James Lee expresses a similar critique in a lament about the state of
Malaysian filmmaking.10 While seeming to critique the lack of originality
of Thai film, he also expresses frustration at how Malaysian films cannot
yet stand alongside East Asian productions, indicating that he views this
international pan-Asian construction as desirable:

When I go to Hong-Kong Filmart and see Thai films, HK films and Korean
films, they all look alike. If you take the poster of a Thai film and change the
title into Korean, it could become a Korean film. Same with Japanese films,
they all look alike. Malaysia is worse. We havent even reached the point
where we have good mainstream cinema.11

Likewise, in a thread discussing which horror film someone

should watch, one Malaysian commenter states

Well for horror genre, i will go for Thai cause more surprise and plot twist,
Malaysia horror film tend to be more straightforward and predictable but as
Malaysian, i will ask you to support local horror film [sic].12

A later post in the thread then states Malaysia horror film lack those scary
and eerie atmosphere which we always see in Thai and Japan horror.

Clearly however, despite the mixed sentiments of audiences, the high-

grossing nature of these Malaysian films indicates that they are still adept
and successful and, in some cases, can stand alongside major Hollywood
productions at the box office. This suggests that criticism of such films
may be more connected to their differences from the pan-Asian depictions
of Thai and East Asian horror than it is to issues of low quality and their
local nature. Indeed, the above quotes indicate that despite the huge
popularity of imported movies and TV dramas, there is a significant and
profitable market for such local depictions within Malaysia and the rest
of the Malay world. When reviewing Hantu kak limah balik rumah, one
Malaysian blogger states

Story wise, the movie is filled with funny takes on the administrations, the
people and the Malay culture itself. This is something that had rarely been
done since the era of P.Ramlees movies and it felt refreshing to see some-
thing like this appeared on movie screens once more [sic].13

The reviewer evidently likes the way these films emphasize Malay culture
and Kampung life. Indeed, it is easy to understand how such Malay-
centric suburban and rural depictions can be appealing, especially in an
increasingly globalised world in which pan-Asian products have become
ubiquitous. The director of the successful 2011 film, Hantu Bonceng, cites
the depiction of Malay life as a major source of appeal behind these films:

Horror films have struck a chord because they reflect the countrys village
culture and the traditional superstitions that trouble Malay hearts Horror
movies are the type that will be close to our culture.14

Some of the differences between the Thai and Malay models of horror
may also be better understood by considering the unique state pressures
facing Malaysian films and horror films in particular. The wider social and
political context of Malaysian horror potentially curtails the genre and its
filmmakers in ways that would make it difficult for films to cultivate the
international pan-Asian image so successful in Thai and East Asian horror.
Subsequently, in engaging with subject matter and situations which could
be more problematic for local filmmakers, Thai horror may be able to
offer an alternative depiction for Malaysian viewers.

As a genre concerned with the supernatural, Malaysian horror occu-

pies a particularly sensitive position within current religious, political, and
ethnic discourses. As such, horror has had a problematic recent history.
While Thai film has historically always been subject to political censor-
ship under laws which can be draconian, such as the controversial lese-
majeste laws, the depiction of ghosts and spirits has never been a specific
cause for authoritarian concern. Indeed, such beliefs appear to exist quite
comfortably alongside dominant Buddhist discourses. This is also true in
Malaysia: older animist discourses have always existed alongside Malay
Islam (which became the majority religion in the country around the
sixteenth century) in the form of particular ghosts and spirits as well as
bomohs (witch-doctors), all of which are an important part of social life and
the organisation of society.
In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries however, such
beliefs and practices have been targeted as anti-Islamic. This has also
been stretched to horror films. While a new social space of liberal expres-
sion began to emerge in the middle of the first decade of the twenty-
first century, this also spawned increasing political instability in which
the dominance of Malay-centric political organizations was perceived
to be under threat. In part as a response to this, racist and nationalistic
voices appeared which reinvigorated and reinforced the concept of ket-
uanan Melayu (Malay supremacy), an agenda supported by the United
Malays National Organisation (UMNO). UMNO is a nationalist Malay
party which often calls for Malay Muslims to unite, positioning itself
as protecting both the sanctity of Islam and the Malay agenda,
both of which are intimately entwined as it is a constitutional require-
ment that all Malays are Muslim (with very few exceptions) (Ding and
Surin 2011: 107). In this current climate, targeting the depiction of
ghosts, spirits, monsters, and other supernatural constructions in popu-
lar media can be used to display pro-Islamic credentials. Constructing
horror films as anti-Islamic, despite the long relationship between Malay
Islam and animist beliefs as well as the popularity of such Malay-centric
films in the country, is another means by which to reinforce such an
agenda. This is part of an advance in state Islam that is performative
and is part of the process of making Islam obvious and overwhelming
in Malaysian public life (Maznah Mohamad 2009: 7). While Malaysian
films (and foreign imports) are therefore heavily restricted in terms of
sex and nudity as well as attitudes towards and depictions of Islam,
horror films are particularly problematic.

The genre itself was curtailed in 1994 when the horror film Fantasi
(Aziz M. Osman, 1994) was initially banned before being altered sub-
stantially and eventually released. Interpreted as the result of the rise in
Islamic sentiments since the 1970s, this was the beginning of a climate
in which censors stopped approving scary movies15 and Malaysian hor-
ror films were effectively banned for celebrating the other-worldly in
violation of Islamic teachings.16 This ban was effectively lifted in 2004
with the success of Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam/Fragrant Night
Vampire (Shuhaimi Baba, 2004). This shift was in keeping with the more
relaxed attitude to popular culture at the end of Mahathirs rule. After the
election of Abdullah Badawi in 2003, space for liberal expression opened
up further. At that time, locally made horror re-emerged as a genre and
quickly became successful.
However, in recent years Malaysian horror has again been a target of
religious authorities, indicating the difficulties the genre and its filmmak-
ers face in the contemporary context. Following Mahathirs comments
about the counter-productive nature of horror films (which were widely
reported) UMNO called for the government to empower JAKIM (Jabatan
Kemajuan Islam Malaysia, the Department of Islamic Development
Malaysia) to ban both the production and importing of horror, mysti-
cal and superstitious films, claiming such films can weaken the faith of
Muslims in the country and do not carry any positive message, but
instead may destroy the faith.17
Such controversies place restrictions on Malaysian filmmakers that are
very different to those faced by the directors of Thai horror. Malaysian
directors are pressured to stick to conventional plots and cannot be too
innovative in the subjects they tackle. Notably, the Film Censorship Board
of Malaysia (LPF) must approve all movies, and horror films in particu-
lar must be seen to have Islam winning out in the end over the super-
natural.18 Viewers appear to be aware of these constraints and give an
indication of the self-censorship that Malaysian filmmakers will engage in
regarding supernatural subject matter. A blog post reviewing The Legend
of Langkasuka states: I have a feeling that if we ever produce something
like this, the censorship board wouldnt allow it to be released. For they
need to keep the illusion that melayu = Islam even if that means rejecting
our rich legend and folklore. With regards to horror, one commentator
states that pressure from the censorship board stunts a promising home-
grown genre that faces competition from imported Hollywood and other
foreign blockbusters, and shackles directors who need to think beyond
the conventional to expand their art.19

Recent targeting of the genre by Mahathir and UMNO was evidently of

such concern that the Malaysian Film Producers Association (PFM) held a
press conference. During the conference filmmaker Shuhaimi Baba stated
that there are attempts by several powerful groups who are eyeing to
sanction horror films in Malaysia.20 While no guidelines from JAKIM
were forthcoming (even with pressure from UMNO) and the call to ban
horror movies was met with widespread ridicule and no real support, the
incident serves as a poignant reminder that horror films remain controver-
sial in Malaysia.

It appears that due to the lack of a clear pan-Asian urban depiction and
a heavy focus on the society of a particular ethnic group, Malaysian hor-
ror does not enjoy the same level of internationalisation as Thai horror.
It is the pan-Asian urban depictions common to internationally success-
ful Korean, Japanese, and now Thai horror films which enable them to
travel across boundaries which are not usually breached by other cultural
products. What is more, internal pressures and sensitivities also impact
upon filmmakers willingness to innovate and explore the horror genre,
leading to a degree of frustration and criticism within the country. The
urban focus of Thai film as well as its high quality look and feel are
definite elements in its appeal and relevance to Malaysian viewers. With
its carefully cultivated East Asian aesthetics and depictions of the pres-
sures of urban living, Thai film appears to fill a niche for contemporary
consumers who may not feel adequately represented by or able to engage
with Malaysian films.
Moreover, close examination indicates that there are many similarities
between the cultural products of these two nations. In particular, the fre-
quency of comedy-horror films across Southeast Asia invites further analy-
sis as a possible version of horror particularly appropriate to the region.
This sets these films apart from the more internationally dominant East
Asian model and suggests that the horror genre could represent a very spe-
cific form of cultural proximity in the products of Malaysia and Thailand.
As Thai horror appears to be the dominant representation of Thai
popular culture in Malaysia, its reception deserves more in-depth exami-
nation as an example of cultural exchange which has significant potential
to shape relations between the countries. Direct interviews and recep-
tion studies could enrich our understanding of the relationship between

Thai and Malaysian consumers during a period in which this exchange

is becoming increasingly significant, especially due to economic changes
throughout this region. Indeed, assessing the relationship between cul-
tural products and consumer perceptions may prove to be a significant
means by which to document the changes that the ASEAN region is cur-
rently undergoing. Examining the uneven flow of the horror genre may
be a particularly valuable window into this process.

1. This is the difficult situation of the southern Thai provinces which border
Malaysia. In contrast to the majority of Thailand, provinces such as Yala,
Pattani and Narathiwat are ethnically Malay and Muslim, putting them in
a difficult position next to the dominant state-defined Buddhist-led dis-
courses of Thainess. There is a small separatist movement which wishes to
break away from Thailand and many acts of violence have been committed
in response to an, at times, quite violent process of suppression of internal
cultural difference. While this situation is complex, scholars understand
economic disadvantage and social grievances at perceived discrimination
and human rights abuses to be major motivators of such a movement (see
Srisompoba and Panyasak 2006). Notably, while references to Malaysia
from within Thailand (from both popular and academic sources) focus
overwhelmingly upon this situation and often blame Malaysia for instigat-
ing or supporting potential secession, there is little reference to or interest
in what is considered an internal Thai problem from within Malaysia itself
other than warning potential tourists when violence flares up.
2. This impact can be a very direct one: the popular Thai films Kuan Meun
Ho/Hello Stranger (Banjong Pisanthanakun, 2010) and Love Sud Jin Fin
Sugoi (Thanwarin Sukhaphisit, 2014) both depict protagonists who are
obsessed with East Asian pop culture, even travelling to South Korea and
Japan respectively to indulge their fantasies. This indicates that Southeast
Asian industries and viewers are not passive receivers but are actively
responding to and incorporating such signifiers into their own
6. While Thai cinema may seem to have left such a context far behind in its
urban audience and multiplexes, this informal viewing context still contin-
ues. This is evidenced by the amount of talking, eating, and walking around
that still takes placed in an urban Thai cinema.

10. James Lee is a prolific and highly-awarded Malaysian filmmaker who has
been involved in both avant-garde art productions and more general mass-
released films. He has directed Malaysian horror films Histeria (2008),
Claypot Curry Killers (2013) and Tolong, Awek Aku Pontianak (2011).
11. h t t p : / / f i l m . c u l t u r e 3 6 0 . a s e f . o r g / m a g a z i n e / i n t e r v i e w s /
16. h t t p : / / w w w. t h e m a l a y s i a n i n s i d e r. c o m / s h o w b i z / a r t i c l e /
18. h t t p : / / w w w. t h e m a l a y s i a n i n s i d e r. c o m / s h o w b i z / a r t i c l e /

Ainslie, Mary. Contemporary Thai Horror: The Horrific Incarnation of Shutter.
Asian Cinema Journal 22.1 (2011).
Ainslie, Mary. National Hierarchies and Hallyu Fans: Perceptions of Korea and
Korean-ness by K-drama Fans across Thailand. The Korean Wave in Southeast
Asia: Consumption and Cultural Production. Eds M.Ainslie and JLim. Kuala
Lumpur: SIRD, 2015: 95114.
Ancuta, Katarzyna. Global Spectrologies: Contemporary Thai horror films and
the globalization of the supernatural. Horror Studies 2.1 (2011): 131144.
Ancuta, Katarzyna. Spirits in Suburbia: Ghosts, Global Desires and the rise of
Thai middle-class Horror. Horror Studies 5.2 (2014): 233247.
Ancuta, Katarzyna. Surfs Up: The Korean Wave and Thai Cinema. The Korean
Wave in Southeast Asia: Consumption and Cultural Production. Eds M.Ainslie
and JLim. Kuala Lumpur: SIRD, 2015.

Blake, L. The Wounds of Nations: Horror Cinema, Historical Trauma and National
Identity. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008.
Carroll, Nol. The Philosophy of Horror or Paradoxes of the Heart. London and
NewYork: Routledge, 1990.
Chaiworaporn, Anchalee, and Adam Knee. Thailand: Revival in an age of global-
ization. Contemporary Asian Cinema, Ed. Anne Tereska Ciecko. Oxford:
Berg, 2006: 5870.
Cho, Hae-Joang. Reading the Korean Wave as Sign of Global Shift. Korea
Journal Winter 2005: 148182.
Chon, G. Golden Summer. Asiaweek 26 October 2001: 4649.
Chua, Beng Huat. Korean Pop Culture: Emergent Genre of East Asian Pop
Culture? The Korean Wave in Southeast Asia: Consumption and Cultural
Production. Eds Mary Ainslie and JLim. Kuala Lumpur: SIRD, 2015: 175192.
Ding, Jo-Ann and Surin, Jacqueline Ann. Freedom of Expression in Malaysia 2011.
Kuala Lumpur: Centre for Independent Journalism, 2011.
Heo, J.The Hanryu Phenomenon and the Acceptability of Korean TV Dramas
in China. Korean Journal of Broadcasting 16.1 (2002): 496529.
Huang, Shuling. Nation-branding and transnational consumption: Japan-mania
and the Korean wave in Taiwan. Media, Culture & Society 33.1 (2011): 318.
Ingawanij, May Adadol. Un-Thai sakon: The scandal of teen cinema. Southeast
Asia Research 14.2 July (2006): 147177.
Jaafar, Jamaliah. Emerging Trends of Urbanization in Malaysia Statistics
Malaysia vol. 1 (2004): 4354.
Jirattikorn, Amporn. Pirated transnational broadcasting: The consumption of
Thai soap operas among Shan communities in Burma. Sojourn 23.1(2008):
JWT Asia Pacific and A.T. Kearney. ASEAN Consumers and the AEC JWT Asia
Pacific (2013) Web. Available at
Khalid and Yacob. Malaysia-Thai relations: A case of benign neglect or one-sided
affair? Joint Seminar. Presentation at Socio-Economic Cooperation in the Border
Areas between Thailand and Malaysia. Pullman Bangkok King Power Hotel,
Bangkok, September 1314 2012.
Kim Hyun Mee. Korean TV dramas in Taiwan: With an emphasis on the localiza-
tion process, Korea Journal 45.4 (2005): 183205.
Knee, Adam. Thailand Haunted: The Power of the Past in the Contemporary
Thai Horror Film. Horror International. Eds Steven Jay Schneider and Tony
Williams. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2005: 141159.
Lowenstein, Adam. Ed. Shocking Representation. NewYork: Columbia University
Press: 2005.

Mohamad, Maznah. Paradoxes of State Islamization in Malaysia: Routinization

of Religious Charisma and the Secularization of the Syariah Singapore. Asia
Research Institute Working Paper Series No. 129. 7.29 (2009). Asia Research
Institute, National University of Singapore.
Neale, Steve. Genre and Hollywood. London and NewYork: Routledge, 2000.
Onishi, Norimitsu. A rising Korean wave: If Seoul sells it, China craves it. The
NewYork Times. 2 January 2006.
Shim, Doobo. Hybridity and the Rise of Korean Popular Culture in Asia. Media,
Culture & Society 28.1 (2006) 2644.
Shim, Doobo. The growth of Korean cultural industries and the Korean wave.
East Asian Pop Culture: Analysing the Korean Wave. Eds B.H. Chua and
K.Iwabuchi. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2008: 115.
Siriyuvasak, Ubonrat. The Ambiguity of the Emerging Public Sphere and the
Thai Media Industry. The New Communications Landscape: Demystifying
Media Globalization. Eds Servaes, Goonasekera and Wang. London: Routledge,
2000: 96212.
Srisompoba, Jitpiromsri and Panyasak, Sobhonvasu. Unpacking Thailands
southern conflict: The poverty of structural explanations. Critical Asian
Studies 38.1 (2006): 95117.
Sung Sang Yeon. The High Tide of the Korean Wave III: Why do Asian fans
prefer Korean pop culture? The Korea Herald 4 February (2008) Web. Asia
Media News Daily.
Sung Sang Yeon. Constructing a new image: Hallyu in Taiwan. European
Journal of East Asian Studies 9.1 (2010): 2545.
Thu Ha Ngo. Korean Masculinity in TV Dramas and Local Fantasies: A Case
Study of Full House and Its Vietnamese Remake Ngi Nh Hnh Phc. The
Korean Wave in Southeast Asia: Consumption and Cultural Production. Eds
Mary Ainslie and JLim. Kuala Lumpur: SIRD, 2015.
Yusoff, Norman. Cinematic Time, Mahathir and Bunohan, 2012. Web. Available at
Zulkifli, Mohd Amirul Akhbar Mohd, Amelia Yuliana Abd Wahab and Hani
Zulaikha. The Potential of Malaysias Horror Movies in Creating Critical
Minds: A Never Ending Philosophical Anecdote. Proceedings of 2012 2nd
International Conference on Humanities, Historical and Social Sciences (CHHSS
2012) (2012): 174178.

Planet Kong: Transnational Flows ofKing

Kong (1933) inJapan andEast Asia


Towards Understanding anEspecially

There is perhaps no film in the history of American cinema that has invited
such radically disparate reception as King Kong (1933). For three-quarters
of a century, this film has been a central discursive space in which America
has carried on a conversation with itself about race1 and power. On the
one hand, many see this monster movie about blackness as a cultural
monument to a uniquely American racism, a thinly disguised metonym
for debased black masculinity, hyperbolized and caricatured as bestial,
violent, and rapacious.2 At the same time, in apparent impossible con-
trast to this, the film and its central grotesque body has been used by
many marginalized spectators both in the US and internationally, at least
anecdotally, as a powerful icon of anti-official power. Viewers as varied
as those in segregated theaters in the American South in the 1930s, to
American black militants and blacks across the African diaspora decades
later, to viewers across East Asia,3 appear to have used the monsters

R. Raphael (*)
University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HI, USA

The Author(s) 2016 205

S. Siddique, R. Raphael (eds.), Transnational Horror Cinema,

owerful resistance, although ultimately doomed, as a spectacular image

of their own n egotiations with official (American) power. With this
radical ambivalence, King Kong as chronotope has accommodated both
marginalized spectators and the most fervently racist viewers; both have
somehow viewed the same film as spectacular confirmation of seemingly
irreconcilable worldviews. In what must be the clearest example of this
tension, this film that has been embraced by marginalized viewers who
feel shut out of mainstream expressions (Erb 207) was also apparently an
all-time favorite of Adolph Hitler4 (Skal 70). It is the purpose of this
chapter to attempt to account for this ambivalence.
For almost three quarters of a century, this body of resistanceneither
man nor apewith its resistance to national borders and generic ones,
has also served as a spectacular site for a global conversation about power,
and resisting power. And making a spectacle of these concerns, as femi-
nist scholars like Kathleen Karlyn (1995) suggest, may make them more
vulnerable to change. This chapter looks at the movement of King Kong
to Asia, particularly focusing on a series of Bad Kongs, the unofficial
knock-off movies released in 1976 and 1977 attempting to capitalize on
international awareness of King Kong (1976), and Dino De Laurentiis
widely panned New Hollywood remake. I will limit the discussion to these
films in this particular period, rather than tracing all of its many exchanges
with Japan and East Asia, particularly the TOHO Studios remakes and
interpretations in the 1960s and 1970s, including Godzilla in the 1950s;
likewise, this chapter will not address Peter Jacksons popular 2005
Any attempt to account for Kongs deeply ambivalent power must also
consider the works association with crisis. Both Bakhtin (1985) and Mary
Douglas (1966) suggest that the cultural power and danger of ambiguous
bodies are perhaps greatest in times of historical crisis. I suggest that, in
ways that are largely overlooked, the film King Kongs resistance to clear
generic category and national boundaries, and the central monsters asso-
ciation with violent resistance, has created a very unstable ambivalencea
danger that has resonated with the transnational flows of this monstrous
body as it has dialogued with particular local cultural and industrial cri-
ses. These flows have created powerful imperatives to contain this danger,
a dynamic clearly seen in critical reception to a series of Bad Kongs.
Dismissals of the Bad Kongs on aesthetic criteria (especially the quality
of their special effects) completely overlook the films profound critique
of power, particularly military power, as we will consider in tracking the

flow of Kong through a small sample of transnational iterationsincluding

a close reading of one notable Bad Kong movie, the Hong Kong Shaw
Brothers 1977 production Xing xing wang (Mighty Peking Man).5
Bakhtins concept of the chronotope (his word for a time-space) is help-
ful in considering the film King Kong both as a temporally situated histori-
cal production and as an imagined space, both dimensions having been
closely tied to social and economic crisis. For Bakhtin, the chronotope is
where the events of the external world dialog with the represented world
and enter into one another. Bakhtin privileges the chronotope as the essen-
tial source of creative work, more essential even than genre. Using biolog-
ical metaphors fitting for a discussion of monsters, Bakhtin describes the
chronotope as that which allows the narrative to take on flesh, the very
life force that causes blood to flow in the [narratives] veins (Bakhtin,
1990, 250). He continually highlights the chronotopenot genreas
the prime force giving body to the entire novel (Bakhtin, 1990, 250).
Bakhtin suggests that narrative itself might best be conceived of biolog-
ically. The text never appears as a dead thing (Bakhtin, 1990, 252), he
insists. All narrative, as an amalgamation of chronotopes, is a dialog of liv-
ing human voices, living human bodies. In other words, Bakhtin reminds
us of the obvious here: that a text is always alive; it is always born of
actual people and actual places, including the author in the authors actual
time and the spectator(s) in their own specific actual time(s). Out of the
actual chronotopes of our world (which serve as the source of representa-
tion) emerge the reflected and created chronotopes of the world repre-
sented in the work (in the text) (Bakhtin, 1990, 253). In speaking of the
complicated relationship between the chronotopes of the actual world and
that of the represented worlds, he says that while they are separated by a
sharp and categorical boundary (Bakhtin, 1990, 253), they are none-
theless indissolubly tied up in each other and find themselves in continual
mutual interaction (Bakhtin, 1990, 254). The work and the world rep-
resented in it enter the real world and enrich it, and the real world enters
the work and its world as part of the process of its creation, as well as part
of its subsequent life, in a continual renewing of the work through the cre-
ative perception of listeners and readers (Bakhtin, 1990, 254). Bakhtin is
suggesting that, as a living work, a text is continually renewed by its dialog
with actual readers and the actual events of the world. Being attentive to
the informing chronotopes that compose King Kongs origin and renewals
is essential to understanding its transcultural work.
While the ambivalent range of cultural responses to Kong have been
addressed in scholarship (especially by Cynthia Erb in her Tracking King

Kong, 1998), there has generally been hesitancy to recognize the kind of
identification Kong has invited for marginalized spectators. I focus here
on a reading of King Kong 1976, then considering its move to Hong
Kong via the Shaw Brothers Mighty Peking Man released the next year. I
illustrate how the chronotope is animated in these different cultural set-
tings, especially interested in the use of Kong as signifier of resistance.
The monster Kongs body, a body that has invited such charged identi-
fication, might be seen as an uber-text of the grotesque body. For Bakhtin,
the grotesque body is a body that brings attention to all that the classical
body would concealits bulges and orifices. While the classical body is a
static fixed proportionate body, the grotesque is one that is in constant
change, a body that oozes beyond borders and fixed categories and is
marked by inversions. That which is small is made large; that which is hid-
den is made seen; that which is low is made king. It is also a body marked
by profound ambivalence, simultaneously inspiring intense longing and
attraction, and equally powerful feelings of revulsion and disgust. Bakhtin
attributes tremendous political significance to such images, and their radi-
cal multi-valence. With its bodily inversions, he sees the grotesque body
as always political, offering a kind of visual map of dissent or resistance, a
kind of embodied threat to dominant power, particularly for populations
that lack a vocabulary for political resistance. Seen as such, Kong has cir-
culated widely as just such an utterance.

Chronotope ofKing Kong (1933)

The narrative is well known: a venture capitalist sets out to the dark jun-
gles of Skull Island, armed with a camera and a girl, and captures the beast
Kong. But no chains can hold the monster, and he breaks free, running
amok in NewYork City, battling official power, police, and the military in
a spectacular climax atop the Empire State Buildingall before eventually
plunging to the city street below. The film at once celebrates resistance
and punishes it.
Additionally, crisis has been key to the cultural work of the chrono-
tope of King Kong. The story is centered in the capital of perpetual cri-
sis,6 New York City. In addition to the citys diegetic importance, the
films release was also deeply connected to the city as Kongs premiere also
marked the anxious opening of the two largest theaters in the world at the
timeRadio City Music Hall and the RKO Roxywhich collectively could
seat just under 12,000 people (Balio, 305). Perhaps most importantly,

Kong was also released in a climate of tremendous financial insecurity.

Released in March 2, 1933, King Kong was RKOs response to the horror
cycle and would become the biggest box office success of the cycle (Balio
304). It would be an enduring success spawning a host of official and unof-
ficial remakes. Kong was well received at the box office: it quickly recouped
its $622,000 production cost and went on to gross nearly $2 million dur-
ing its initial release (Balio 305). With a film that it is all about spectacle
and hyperbole it should come as no surprise though that King Kongs suc-
cess has been exaggerated. It is widely mythologized (and hyperbolized)
as a defining success of the era, a hit that single-handedly saved RKO
from bankruptcy.7 While the film celebrated these industrial triumphs, the
nation itself was in a state of near complete economic crisis. Within two
days of the films release, to forestall panic, F.D.Roosevelt, upon assum-
ing the presidency, declared a national bank holiday (temporary closure
of banks) in the hope of obviating a devastating public run on banks.
This original moment of crisis continues to inform the text and may help
explain why it appears so well-suited for other moments of cultural crisis.8
The films relation with race has also been charged with ambivalent
tension. For many, Kong has been seen both as racist sign and sign of
spectacular resistance to racism. The late James Snead (1994) suggests
that the film is clearly a film about blackness and that Kongs famous
transatlantic journey to become star freak performer in NewYork is the
hyperbolized and refracted narrative of the slave trade. If this is indeed
true, the film is also about spectacular resistance. As such, the film (and its
official and unofficial remakes/knock-offs) could be considered the only
mainstream popular films in the 1930s, or for decades to come, with a
central narrative at least potentially sympathetic to violent black resistance
to official power, however fantastic or hyperbolized. This charged nar-
rative of resistance, regardless of how conceived, has proved particularly
resistant to borders.
In her final revisiting of Visual Pleasure (Mulvey 1989 and 1999),
Changes (Mulvey 1985), Laura Mulvey suggests that such radical inver-
sions in narratives, even if temporary and ultimately punished, always have
the potential to bleed beyond the narrative frame. The inversions, how-
ever fleeting, may invite disparate audiences to start to articulate their own
language of resistance. This might be said to be consistent with numerous
popular uses of the iconic body of Kong in the African diaspora. There are
anecdotal reports of African-American viewers in segregated theaters under
Jim Crow cheering Kong as he battled military planes and other forces of

official power.9 Indeed, the Kong trope was also used as a sign of resistance
in black militant theater.10 In another example Trinidadian singer Mighty
Sparrows popular 1970s hit, the protest anthem King Kong makes this
identification with the power of Kongs body clear: I am a gorilla on the
rampage. [...] Big and black and strong [] taking over the town like
King Kong.11 In complete contrast to this, as previously noted, the same
films radical ambivalence has allowed it to resonate with viewers holding
the most radically different views. This tension between containment and
resistance, together with the films historical associations with social and
economic crisis forever inscribed by its initial release, further adds to the
instability of Kongs body. This instability, as we will consider, has created
pressure to contain it.

Good Kongs andBad Kongs

With both King Kong and especially its remakes, a central way by which
popular criticism has attempted to contain this potentially dangerous
ambivalence has been by depoliticizing the Kong chronotope. The story
is framed as simply a good yarn about an ape and a babe. A key part of
this depoliticization process is limiting the critical focus to questions of
authenticity. For the numerous remakes of King Kong, any film is a Good
Kong to the level that it is faithful to the original and American in its
sensibility, including that its technical achievements are comparable in its
own time to the innovations of the original.12 On the other hand, it is
a Bad Kong if it transgresses these sacred lines. These frames/critical
filters ensure that the transgressive charge of the film and its associations
with crisis and resistanceand its subsequent potential appeal to margin-
alized transnational spectatorsare conveniently overlooked.
This dynamic of containment is evident in reception to the New
Hollywood remake King Kong (1976). With few exceptions, popular
critical reception panned the film, largely on issues of its lack of American
authenticityboth its faithfulness to the original and the legitimacy of its
special effects. This allowed criticism to bracket off what might be seen
as the films most distressing ideological criticism. Largely ignored were
the films strident critique of American military power in the immediate
cultural moment after the Vietnam War. Popular criticism instead zeroes
in on its questionable legitimacy, both because of its special effects and
because of its slippery national identitysomething helped by the films
close association with Dino De Laurentiis.

King Kong (1976)s problems began well before its release. American
film critics took immediate offense to the films brash Italian producer, the
flamboyant Dino De Laurentiis. Many reviews made the unusual choice
of phonetically transcribing De Laurentiis PT Barnum-like claims about
the film in De Laurentiis broken English. Doing so helped make his early
brash but essentially pragmatic assessment of the market appeals of the
upcoming film sound ridiculous:

Intellectuals gonna love Konk [sic]; even film buffs who love the first Konk
gonna love ours. Why? Because I give them no crap. I no spend two, three
million to do quick business. I spend 24 million on my Konk. I give them
quality. I got here a great love story, a great adventure. And she rated
PG.For everybody. (De Laurentiis, quoted in Time, October 25, 1976)

This clearly made him look like a buffoona cocky, foreign showman toy-
ing with a sacred icon. These reviews helped cast early suspicions about the
films legitimacy. A central thing that irked critics was the films choice to
use Kaiju style special effects for the films central monster. Kaiju is basi-
cally suit-mation, man in a monster suit technology originally developed
in Japan for Godzilla (1954). This tradition of special technology is closely
wedded with Kong historically. The best known Kaiju monster Godzilla is,
by its creative teams own admission, a deliberate attempt to fashion the nar-
rative and aesthetic framework of King Kong (1933) to the needs of their
own national context. In many ways Godzilla was a refracted response to the
still fresh horrors of nuclear war at the hands of the US.So this historical
memory of trauma might be said to be present in use of the Kaiju tradition.13
Regardless of this, for critics of the 1976 film cycle, huckster Italian
showman De Laurentiis remake and its use of this foreign tradition
only helped cast further suspicion on the films legitimacy. The reviews
began to cement the popular perception that this was a Bad Kong.
These concerns with the films authenticity allowed criticism to com-
pletely disavow King Kong (1976)s strident critique of American military
policy, which is perhaps the most explicit of any mainstream blockbuster in
global American film history. While the original King Kong (1933) always
invited a certain unstable identification with Kong, in the New Hollywood
remake this invitation appears to become much more pronounced. While
in some sense, a general suspicion of authority is characteristic of much of
the output of post-Watergate New Hollywood (see Cook, 2000, etal.), it
appears something else is going on here.

In the film, the military is painted as far from sympathetic, appearing

instead secretive and prone to use excessive force. These are no longer the
noble forces protecting NewYork City, and Kongs unrestrained presence
in the city reveals the worst about military power. As the remake nears its
climax and Kong approaches the World Trade Center, we see a long shot
of a soldier crouched by the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He
scurries into the darkness, telling the other soldiers on his communicator
to stay in the shadows. More ominously, a general curfew is announced
over speakers appearing to signal a police state, warning that anyone still
on the street will be shot on sight.
As Kong arrives at the World Trade Center, the military and police offi-
cers gather silently around the base of the buildings, hiding in the shadows
for an apparent ambush on Kong. While the original film placed spectators
in an unstable position between identifying with the noble forces protect-
ing Gotham city and an almost-equally noble beast obeying its nature,
here this tension is largely erased. In its place, the spectator is invited into
an increasingly oppositional position against the increasingly unsympa-
thetic American forces. (We see later that this has important consequences
for transnational subjects).
This oppositional relationship with military and official power is espe-
cially clear in the spectators invitation to identify with the perspective of
the films central male (human) lead. As Kong scales the building with the
girl (Jessica Lange) in his hand, Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges) races up the
elevator along with him and stands behind a large glass wall framing his
view, helpless to protect Kong, in much the same position as the specta-
tor. During the climactic final battle, Bridges character offers a kind of
voice-over to Kongs experience and further tutors the audience in how
to react during the battle between Kong and the military. Jack watches in
horror as the soldiers spray a kind of liquid fire at Kong. (This appears to
evoke Napalm fire strikes in Vietnam and perhaps also the iconic water
hose strikes on black civilians in Birmingham). In an over-the-shoulder,
high angle shot that invites the spectator to identify with Kong, Kong
violently retaliates by throwing what appears to be an oil tank back at
the American soldiers, instantly immolating them. Looking crazed, the
films long-haired hero Jack celebrates their fiery end. Yes! he shouts in
a medium shot. He eulogizes the fallen soldiers with a few last words:
dirty, rotten bastards! This author is not aware of any other mainstream
blockbuster in the history of American film in which a central hero is
given narrative license to openly celebrate the violent death of American

soldiers. However, this violent critique of power is basically disavowed in

critical responses that limit their discussion to its technical and national
legitimacy. This disavowal become even more pronounced in critical
reception to other transnational Bad Kongs.
While other transnational uses of the chronotope of King Kong in
this period share the 1976 versions explicit critique of American military
power, they too are also largely dismissed in criticism as bad remakes
with insufficient attention to realism. We see this in a variety of unof-
ficial remakes, including the simultaneously produced A*P*E (1976, dir.
Paul Leder), an American-South Korean joint production, and Xing xing
wang (Mighty Peking Man) (1977, dir. Meng Hua Ho), a Shaw Brothers
Hong Kong production. All of these have wildly varying commitments
to a realist aesthetic in their own anti-American/anti-Western critiques.
These remakes/knock-offs are often simply grouped as Bad Kongs. All
of these also rely principally on Kaiju14 special effects to animate their
monsters; with little exception, popular American criticism of these films
evaluates them solely on technological achievement. The works spectacu-
lar critiques of American power, especially military powerhowever seem-
ingly obviousdo not seem to register.
Without a framework to engage them, the films are simply dismissed as
incomprehensible. Their only apparent value is that they are simply unin-
tentionally funny. Roger Eberts review of Mighty Peking Man is represen-
tative: Crazy demented weirdness! I laughed a lot.15 The films pointed
critique of the American/Western military forces passes without notice.
This limited critical view on Bad Kongs is perhaps best represented in
response to the South Korean-American Transnational production A*P*E
(1976). It may in fact be considered the uber-Bad Kong. Figure 10.1
shows a shot from the film in which the Kong character in a medium
shot gives the finger to the camera. Within the narrative, this friendly
gesture is intended for the US military. A spectacular, grotesque body tell-
ing the worlds most powerful military where to go is dismissed as sim-
ply comical. So much so that in fact the film is honored in some sense as
the poster child of bad film, the quintessential Razzie. This very image is
in fact used on the cover of The Official Razzie Movie Guide (Wilson and
Travers, 2007), the ultimate bad movie.
This cultural status and transgressive charge are all present in the Shaw
Brothers film Xing xing wang (Mighty Peking Man) (1977). The film was
in many ways a response to local economic and specific industrial crisis.
It was made in the years immediately after Hong Kongs economic crisis

Fig. 10.1 The monster in the South Korean-American bad kong A*P*E
(1976) confronts the military

in the early 1970s, precipitated by a local stock market crash in 1973.

Other crises influencing it were cultural and economic crises associated
with uncertainty with Hong Kongs economic shift from manufacturing
to financial services.
Industrial pressures are reflected in the plasticity of the films title in dif-
ferent national settings. The film was also called Goliathan in its American
release. Its dialog with race was made even more explicit in its limited
European release in which it was re-titled Colossus of the Congoa clear
slippage of otherness, although Africa is never mentioned in the film and
its narrative takes place completely in Asia. More recently, the films name
shifted when it was brought back to American attention in Miramaxs very
limited rerelease in 1999 to 14 American theaters. The release was done
within the auspices of Quentin Tarantinos short-lived Rolling Thunder
Pictures, a venture whose stated aim was to bring attention to neglected
exploitation films and independent work, particularly works from Asia.
(This initiative most notably brought attention and renewed interest to
Wong Kar-wais Chungking Express in 1996). DVD releases of Mighty
Peking Man were accompanied by a short run of midnight screenings.
Problematically released as Quentin Tarantinos The Mighty Peking
Man, Tarantinos apparent appropriation of the film adds to the layers of
slipperiness of national identity.

Even before Tarantinos appropriation, the original production of

Mighty Peking Man in 1976 was also resistant to clear national boundar-
ies. In addition to filming at the Shaw Brothers studios in Hong Kong,
Mysore, India was also used with the hope of ramping up the perceived
production value of the film, as well as securing more international appeal.
Shaw Brothers was at the time the leading motion picture company in
Hong Kong, and this film, with a budget of over 6 million Hong Kong
dollars (approximately 1 million US dollars), was their biggest yet.16 The
studio was run on the exported concept of a strict classical Hollywood
studio, with the Shaw brothers (Run Run and Run Me) holding absolute
control over all projects, and using their stable of exclusively contracted
actors. At the time of the production of Mighty Peking Man, it was a
model in crisis and, despite the films budget, the film came at the decline
of the studio. Their prominence was threatened by other studios with
more flexible production strategies. Part of the choice to feature India as
an international location was to compete with local rival, Golden Harvest,
who threatened the Shaw Brothers market position. Golden Harvest had
a good deal of international success particularly with action films in the
early 1970s coming out of their agreement with kung fu star Bruce Lee,
especially those set in international locations. So in some ways, the film
was an attempt to counter these strategies (Chu, 52).
The circumstances of production further blurred national boundaries.
Its special effects team was contracted from Japan, including many TOHO
Studios (home of Godzilla) key players (including Sadamasa Arikawa and
Koichi Kawakita).17 Chinese effects teams were also used independently. It
is safe to assume the patchworked, transnational constellation of produc-
tion teams presented communication challenges. These issues, coupled
with a rush to beat King Kong (1976) to the box office, resulted in incon-
sistent, often haphazard special effects. Many American critics and current
fan sites note how the size of the Kong monster changes wildly in the film,
from apparently ten feet tall to ten times that. In its later 1999 rerelease,
after being branded as Quentin Tarantinos Mighty Peking Man, these
subsequent inconsistencies and errors are actually highlighted as selling
points. The official review on Amazons product site for the DVD touts
the absurdly obvious special effects and atrocious dubbing as part of
the works apparent entertainment value. Additionally, the films cast was
also cross-national and included leads Danny Li, a contract player who
made his debut as Bruce Lee impostor, and Evelyn Kraft, a blonde Russian
actress who would later star in Deadly Angelsthe Shaw Brothers Hong

Kong produced Charlies Angels knock-off (Charles 71). So the makeup

of the Mighty Peking Man cast and the films special effect aesthetics are all
heavily shaped by its transnational co-production.
The production also takes elements of the basic chronotope of King
Kong (1933)particularly notions of colonialismand reorients them.
Venture capitalists still venture into the dark forest of the Other (now
India). In jungle scenes shot in Hong Kong at the Shaw Brothers studios,
the natives are black faced ethnic Chinese. And the explorers are Asian
men wearing a combination of the markers of both English and American
explorers and frontiersmansafari hats and khakis. The explorers eventu-
ally capture the Kong monster, (here called Utam), and also get the girl,
a beautiful, speechless, wild woman whoin the improbable narrativeis
raised by the monster after her parents die in a plane crash during her
childhood. The girl eventually becomes the love interest for Danny Lis
character, who in his role of benevolent conqueror, gives her language.
Colonialism and otherness remain key elements but are now reoriented
with a different racial hierarchy, with the Asian male now on top.
Similarly, the final climactic scene of Mighty Peking Man animates the
originals sliding points of identification with the monster, although here
it is more consistent with the transgressive dynamics of the 1976 remake.
Here a presumably British military is painted as duplicitous and indifferent
to human (and monster) life. As Li and Kraft attempt to get the monster
down from the tower18 peacefully, moments after promising not to shoot,
the British general gives the order to open fire. Seen in close up, with
an increasingly crazed expression, he screams Let him have it! In the
armys subsequent enthusiastic attack and indiscriminant strafing of the
area, both the girl and the Kong monster (Utam) are killed. In the films
final moment, a tired but still standing Danny Li holds the girls lifeless
body against the uncertain skyline of the future. (See Fig. 10.2). In this
over-the-shoulder medium shot, the spectator is invited to identify with
him and what he has endured (and lost) at the hands of official power.
In conclusion, we see that this grotesque body of resistance, marked
by the memory of a series of crises, may continue to bleed past the nar-
rative limits that would seek to contain it. Perhaps, most importantly, the
chronotope of King Kong appears to have served, in times of local and
national crisis, as spectacular refracted vision of trauma, a charged space
in which disparate audiences might imagine, even if only temporarily, the
possibility of resistance against power. In briefly considering some of the
disparate uses of the chronotope of Kong, this examination has suggested

Fig. 10.2 The final moment of Mighty Peking Man (1977)

that to understand the transcultural work of King Kong it is essential we

recognize it both as cultural product export and as fluid body of resistance
that, despite its famous death(s), has been extremely difficult to contain.

1. As Cynthia Erb explores in her Tracking King Kong (1998). Also, although
not the focus of this chapter, the film has also been an important site in
which scholars have examined horrors charged relationship with gender
(see especially Williams, 1991, 1999, Modleski, 1998a, 1998b and Clover
2. As recently as April 2008, an image of star athlete LeBron James clutching
fashion model on the cover of Vogue elicited national protests that it was a
racist evocation of the Kong trope (See Zaleski LeBron James Vogue).
3. As many as a third of all King Kong remakes and unofficial knock offs
are from Japan and East Asia. Licensed transnational uses include Toho
Studios King Kong Versus Godzilla (1962) and King Kong Escapes (1967).
Unofficial remakes include the transnational productions A*P*E (Korean/
American, 1976) and Shaw Brothers Mighty Peking Man (1977). Gojira
(1954) released in the U.S. in 1956 as Godzilla, King of the Monsters is,
according to both the films director Ishir Honda and writer Shigeru
Kayama, their version of King Kong (1933). Lost unofficial Japanese
remakes include King Kong Appears in Edo (Edo ni Arawareta Kingu
Kongu) (1933) and a lost silent by Torajiro Saito.
4. In Germany, the films title, King Kong und die weisse Frau (King Kong
and the White Woman), made the racial tension explicit (Snead, 21).

5. The film was alternatively known as Goliathan and Colossus of the Congo.
6. See Rem Koolhaass Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for
Manhattan (1997) for a look at the utopian project of Manhattanist
architecture; particularly relevant to King Kong is how the Empire State
Building (less than two year old in 1933) would have itself been seen as a
particularly ambivalent symbol as it had just violently replaced one of the
citys central icons of wealth and powerthe stately Waldorf-Astoria.
7. For accounts that complicate this narrative, see Erb, etal. For one, the film
Little Women later that year was a far bigger hit (Erb 51).
8. Speaking as early as the 1950s, Derek Hill (1958-9) notes the correlation
between the horror genre and economic crisis (or war). Every horror
cyclehas coincided with economic depression or war (Wood 75).
9. See X.J. Kennedys 1960 essay Who Killed King Kong.
10. See Martin Gottfields Opening Nights: Theatre Criticism of the Sixties

(1969), p.232.
11. Other examples include late 1950s South African musical King Kong, the
story of the struggles of a successful black boxer that gained international
prominence as an early expression of the horrors of apartheid (Erb 191).
12. In this light, Peter Jacksons King Kong (2005) is the uber-good Kong.
13. The tradition is even more closely tied with transnational movement of
King Kong: the central special effects technician (Fuminori Ohashi) who
develops the Kaiju technology made internationally famous in Godzilla
originated the technique in what was almost certainly the first King Kong
interpretation to come out of Asia, King Kong Appears in Edo (Edo ni
Arawareta Kingu Kongu). It is one of the great lost films, presumably lost
to neglect or destroyed in the American bombing of the Japans popula-
tions in the war (Brin, 213). Also, according to October 21, 1933 issue of
Japanese cinema journal Kinema Junpo, a lost silent film by Torajiro Saito
would pre-date this.
14. The film generally considered as the first to use Kaiju is the King Kong
inspired Gojira (1954), slightly re-edited for American audiences and
released as Godzilla, King of Monsters (1956) with its original explicit anti-
military subtext dampened. For discussion of the films dialog with the
chronotope of King Kong, see Monstrous Returns in the Postwar
Context: Mighty Joe Young and Godzilla in Erbs Tracking King Kong:
A Hollywood Icon in World Culture (121154).
15. See Eberts 1999 review of Mighty Peking Man and his unattributed com-
ments on the box of Rolling Thunder release DVD.
16. According to the IMDB listing for Goliathon (1977) Xing xing wang
(original Title).
17. IMDB listing for Goliathon (1977) Xing xing wang.
18. The Jardine House, at the time the tallest in Hong Kong.

Bakhtin, Mikhail. The Dialogic Imagination. Ed. Michael Holquist. Austin: U of
Texas P, 1990.
Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World. Trans. Hlne Iswolsky. Bloomington:
Indiana UP, 1985.
Balio, Tino. Grand Design: Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise, 19301939.
Berkeley: U of California P, 1995.
Brin, David. King Kong is Back!: An Unauthorized Look at One Humongous Ape.
Dallas: BenBella Books, 2005.
Charles, John. The Hong Kong Filmography: A Complete Reference to 1100 Films
Produced by British Hong Kong Studios, 1977 through 1997. Jefferson, NC:
McFarland, 2000.
Chu, Yingchi. Hong Kong Cinema Coloniser, Motherland and Self. London:
Routledge, 2009.
Clover, Carol J.Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film. Horror: The
Film Reader. Ed. Mark Jancovich. London: Routledge, 2002. 7789.
Cook, David. Lost Illusions: American Cinema in the Age of Watergate and
Vietnam, 19701979: History of The American Cinema Volume 9. NewYork:
Scribner, 2000.
Douglas, Mary. Purity and Danger. NewYork: Routledge, 2002 [1966].
Erb, Cynthia. Tracking King Kong: A Hollywood Icon in World Culture. Detroit:
Wayne State UP, 1998.
Hill, Derek. The Face of Horror. Sight and Sound 28.1 (19581959).
Here comes King Kong. Time 108.17, October 25, 1976.
Karlyn, Kathleen. The Unruly Woman: Gender and the Genres of Laughter. Austin:
U of Texas P, 1995.
Kennedy, X.J. Who Killed King Kong. Dissent (Spring 1960).
Modleski, Tania. The Terror of Pleasure: The Contemporary Horror Film and
Postmodern Theory. Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings (Fifth
Edition). Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. NewYork: Oxford UP, 1999a.
Modleski, Tania. Cinema and the Dark Continent: Race and Gender in Popular
Film. Feminist Film Theory: A Reader. Ed. Sue Thornham. NewYork: NY UP,
1999b. 321335.
Mulvey, Laura. Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Film Theory and
Criticism: Introductory Readings (Fifth Edition). Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall
Cohen. NewYork: Oxford UP, 1999. 833844.
Mulvey, Laura. Afterthoughts on Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema. Visual
and Other Pleasures. NewYork: Macmillan, 1989.
Mulvey, Laura. Changes. Discourse, Fall 1985. 1130.
Skal, David J.The Horrors of War. The Horror Film. Ed. Stephen Prince. New
Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2004.

Snead, James. White Screens, Black Images: Hollywood from the Dark Side.
NewYork: Routledge, 1994.
Staiger, Janet. Interpreting Films: Studies in the Historical Reception of American
Cinema. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1992.
Williams, Linda. Film Bodies: Genre, Gender, Excess. Film Theory and Criticism:
Introductory Readings (Fifth Edition). Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen.
NewYork: Oxford UP, 1999[1991]. 701715.
Williams, Linda. When the Woman Looks. The Dread of Difference: Gender and
the Horror Film. Ed. Barry Keith Grant. Austin: University of Texas P, 1999.
Wilson, John, and Peter Travers. The Official Razzie Movie Guide: Enjoying the
Best of Hollywoods Worst. NewYork: Warner, 2005.
Zaleski, Katharine. LeBron James Vogue Cover Criticized For Perpetuating
Racial Stereotypes The Huffington Post., 2 Apr.
2008. Web. 31 Jan. 2016.

A*P*E. Dir. Paul Leder. Kuk Dong, 1976.
Frankenstein Conquers the World (Frankenstein Tai Chitei Kaiju Baragon). Dir.
Ishiro Honda. Toho Studios, 1965.
Godzilla, King of the Monsters. Dir. Ishir Honda. Toho, 1956.
Gojira. Dir. Ishir Honda. Toho, 1954.
King Kong. Dirs. Merian Cooper, Ernest Schoedsack. Perf. Faye Wray, Robert
Armstrong. RKO Radio Pictures, 1933.
King Kong. Dir. John Guillermin. Perf. Jessica Lange, Jeff Bridges, Charles
Grodin. Paramount Pictures, 1976.
King Kong. Dir. Peter Jackson. Perf. Naomi Watts, Adrien Brody, Jack Black.
Universal Pictures, 2005.
King Kong vs Godzilla (Kingu Kongu Tai Gojira). Dir. Ishiro Honda. Toho
Studios, 1963.
Mighty Peking Man. Dir. Ho Meng-hua. Shaw Brothers, 1977.

Embodying Spectral Vision inThe Eye


In their essay The Fusion of Film Studies and Disability Studies,
Hoeksema and Smit argue for the rich contributions that Film Studies
can offer to Disability Studies. While the analytical framework of repre-
sentation certainly provides a provocative pathway in grappling with the
interconnections between Disability Studies and Film Studies, the authors
contend that an emphasis on the aesthetic contributions of Film Studies
would open Disability Studies to an entire corpus of critical understand-
ing (35). A recuperation and focus on aesthetics brings the importance
of form back into this intersectional fold. Such aesthetic contributions
rooted in Film Studies would include an engagement with the films mise-
en-scne, its editing and sound designs, and lighting and cinematography.
Hoeksema and Smit argue that such aesthetic strategies and devices are
integral to the manner in which a film presents disability (35).
Angela Marie Smith takes up this aesthetic charge with respect to the
representation of blindness in her essay Impaired Visions: The Cultural
and Cinematic Politics of Blindness in the Horror Film. She hones in
on the ways in which the camera, for example, can dis-able vision
and therefore render a similar process of perceptual realignment and

S. Siddique (*)
Department of Film, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY, USA

The Author(s) 2016 221

S. Siddique, R. Raphael (eds.), Transnational Horror Cinema,

reattunement within the spectator. She acknowledges this sensory and

perceptual reorientation when she analyzes horror films that employ
disability at a formal level, enacting the dis-abling of spectators through a
cinematic impairment of vision (270). By manipulating the formal prop-
erties of the camera (lens and selection of focus, for example), the spec-
tator is sutured into a sensory framework that challenges the spectators
ideology of normative vision. While Hoeksema, Smit, and Smith place
film aesthetics in dialogue with Disability Studies, I add to this conversa-
tion by bringing film phenomenology into contact with Disability Studies,
using The Eye, a transnational horror text, as my case study. Like the films
analyzed by Angela Marie Smith, the tension between blindness and nor-
mative vision, between the scopic and the tactile, is similarly present in The
Eye. In fact, The Eye tells the tale of Wong Kar Mun (played by an actress
of ethnic Chinese minority of Malaysian descent). Mun has been blind
since the age of two. She receives a corneal transplant from an unknown
female donor and the film chronicles her experiences of acquiring a visual
vocabulary to navigate her newly sighted world set in the urban fabric of
Hong Kong. This journey is predicated on the tension between the tactile
and the ocular as sense knowledges. The Eye is of course a horror film, so
Muns rose-colored glasses become spectral as she is plagued by visions
she cannot at first comprehend or control. This spectral form of vision
allows Mun to see myriad ghosts and spirits. The audience then follows
her journey through Hong Kong to rural Thailand in order to track down
the source of her spectral visionLing, the mysterious female donor (an
ethnic Chinese minority from Thailand). Comprised of a series of intricate
scopic and tactile layers, this spectral vision implicates Mun, the camera,
and the spectator within its phenomenological and intersensorial embrace.
The work of film phenomenologist Jennifer M. Barker speaks to my
project of locating this spectral vision at the intersection of Film Studies,
transnational horror, and Disability Studies. Barkers scholarly contribu-
tion serves to cut through and move beyond cinemas scopic regime and
its privileging of the gaze. Her work ruptures these ocularcentric concerns
to reveal what has been occluded: namely, the tactile properties of vision.
Barker challenges the conventions of film theory that remain deeply rooted
in the primacy of vision as the dominant sense of perception in cinema.
Her arguments take the reader into the folds of the film form. From the
surface of touch to the surface of skin and the depths of musculature
and viscera (cinematic tactility), within the filmic apparatus and the
embodied spectator, Jennifer M. Barker articulates a vision of cinemas

capacity for personal, emotional, ethical, and political connection (2009).

For Barker, the tactility of cinema can engender a different relationship
between screen and spectator, one that offers an intimate experience
and a close connection when compared with the manner in which spec-
tators have historically been socialized to encounter the screena mode
of spectatorship that is distanced and disembodied (2).
The phenomenological film analysis that Barker undertakes lays claim
to several foundational assumptions about the exchange between film and
spectator that inform my approach to an engagement with spectral vision
in The Eye. First, she draws upon touch as a style of being, one that
though shared by film and spectator is not wholly analogous. Rather, the
affinity is one of correspondence (2). For example, both the spectators
body and the films body possess kinesthetic awareness. The kinesthetic
awareness for the spectator lays within his or her bodys ability to move
with a spatial sensitivity, while the films kinesthetic awareness is grounded
in the cameras musculature: its dollies, pans, and tilts, and its play with
off- and on-screen space. Second, Barker argues that the ability for films to
make sense and to signify is central to the correlational exchange between
film and spectator. For Barker:

The films body that Sobchack posits is a lived-body (but not a human one)
capable of the perception of expression and the expression of perception:
the film certainly perceives, experiences, is immersed in, and has a vantage
point on the world, and without a doubt the film signifies, or otherwise
there would be nothing at all for us to see, hear, feel, or interpret. (9)

Third, this correlational relationship between film and spectator posits

that both are sensing and sensible subjects, and in this vein there is no
solid, bounded demarcation between film as object and spectator as sub-
ject. Instead, Barker deploys Maurice Merleau-Pontys conceptual meta-
phor of flesh as a way of articulating this point of touch (12). In this
conceptual metaphor, Barker acknowledges the material contact between
viewer and viewed is less a hard edge or a solid barrier placed between
usa mirror, a doorthan a liminal space in which film and viewer can
emerge as c o-constituted, individualized but related, embodied entities
(12). For her methodology, Barker calls for a phenomenological stance
towards understanding cinematic experience that moves beyond either
a textual analysis of film as object, or a psychoanalytical or cognitive
framework which centers primarily on the spectator as viewing subject.

This stance provides a fertile entry into navigating difference and alterity in
the horror film. In Barkers reorientation, a phenomenological film analysis
would recognize film and the viewer as acting together, correlationally,
along an axis that would itself constitute the object of study (18). She
offers a tactile mode of engagement that moves from textual analysis to
textural analyses, handlings of film rather than readings of film (25).
In this more tactile form of analysis, Barker persuasively argues:

careful attention to the tactile surfaces and textures involved in the film
experience might illuminate complexities and significance that might be
overlooked by a focus on visual, aural, or narrative aspects. Even those
films that seem dominated by narrative and cognitive concerns might pos-
sess secrets that we miss at first glance, secrets we may only discover when
we begin to scratch the surface with a more tactile form of analysis. My
approach considers texture as something we and the film engage in mutu-
ally, rather than something presented by the films to their passive and anony-
mous viewers; in other words, I try to avoid reducing films to texts and
viewers to passive receivers of them. (25)

I adopt Barkers textural handlings and engagements as my methodologi-

cal tools to plumb the textural, perceptual, and phenomenological depths
of spectral vision in The Eye. The secrets revealed by The Eyes spectral
vision include the palpable presence of two grotesque bodies: one consti-
tuted between The Eye (film) and the spectator, and the other by Mun-
Ling. The grotesque body of Mun-Ling in particular offers allegorical
meditations on the personal and collective forms of trauma located within
Thailands ethnic minority Chinese population. Before launching into my
textural and tactile handlings, I offer a contextualization of The Eye as a
transnational horror text.

The Eye asTransnational Text

The Eye operates transnationally along a series of registers: from financ-
ing, production (shooting locations and casting), plot and story, to
brand management (pan-Asian). At the level of financing, The Eye is a
co-production between Hong Kongs Applause Pictures and Singapores
MediaCorp Raintree Pictures. Directors Peter Chan, Allan Fung, and
Teddy Chen founded Applause Pictures in 2000 to produce mainstream
pan-Asian films. According to Peter Chan (who is Thai-Chinese), the
box office market for these pan-Asian products comprises approximately

300 million people drawn from Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, and
Singapore ( Raintree Pictures was established as
the film production arm of the Media Corporation Singapore in 1998.
Raintree Pictures produces films for Singapore audiences and for the
regional and international markets. As both Hong Kong (East Asia) and
Singapore (Southeast Asia) have Chinese majority populations, it does not
seem surprising that a major market for these pan-Asian co-productions is
the transnational Chinese audience in East and Southeast Asia. In the con-
text of The Eyes co-production, this transnational branding of pan-Asian
films includes the ethnic Chinese minority in Thailand (Southeast Asia).
In keeping with this pan-Asian and transnational Chinese sensibility, a
majority of the crew and cast of The Eye are ethnic Chinese from Hong
Kong, Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia who speak a variety of languages
and dialects including Cantonese, Mandarin, Thai, and English. For exam-
ple, Danny and Oxide Pang, twin brothers and the co-directors of this film
were born in Hong Kong but work both in Hong Kong and Thailand.
These co-directors of The Eye provide the spectator with an invitation to
cohabit the sense perceptions, tactile epistemologies, proprioception, and
kinesthetic awareness of two sensible and sensing subjects: Mun, the films
blind protagonist and the camera eye of The Eye. This is most evident in
the films opening and title credit sequence.
In the opening sequence, the images in soft focus especially challenge
cinemas scopic regime and call for a tactile embrace instead. Human
forms exist as abstract contours, without discernible faces until the cam-
eras lens briefly comes into focus to reveal Mun, the films central pro-
tagonist. While the spectator is not sutured into Muns optical point of
view, the shots that are in soft focus or that weave in and out of focus
force the spectator into alternate postures of perceptual attunement.
The visceral and textural effects of these ocular and tactile gestures is
one that almost simulates pupil dilation. Shots then continue in a dialec-
tic dance between focus and blurring, the abstract and the representa-
tional. This dialectic dance suggests that the camera eye itself is blinking
and attempting to orient itself to its surroundings, and thereby moving
to orient the spectator as well. For example, the camera navigates the
built environment of this diegetic space muscularly and kinesthetically
through whip pans, tilts, and the occasional gestures of the hand-held
camera. Other images pervade the screen, often including the use of the
close-up, where special emphasis is given to objects with complex tex-
tures, grains, and gradations of color. In some shots, minute movements

of a characters costume take on a greater sartorial intensity; the specta-

tor almost feels the undulating fabric of Muns costume as she walks.
This opening sequence sets a correlational relationship between film and
spectator; we are enmeshed within the ocular sense perceptions of the
camera, Mun, and the spectator. Indeed the title of the film The Eye is
ambivalent about who is looking, who possesses the properties of vision,
and whose perceptual subjectivity the spectator is inhabiting.
The title sequence offers a similar haptic and tactile invitation to the spec-
tator but it adds to the sensory complexity by outlining the tension between
the scopic and the tactile, bringing into relief a set of competing sense knowl-
edges. In this title sequence, the screen becomes a white, blank canvas. The
credits begin in braille and then transform into the English alphabet. The
outline of two hands seems to graze, brush, and caress the canvas from
the inside out. The shape of the canvas, and hence the screen, shifts with
each movement of these unseen, unknowable hands. A textural handling
and tactile analysis of the opening shots and the title credit sequence co-
constitute a film experience in which a perceptual realignment takes place.
Spectral vision acknowledges that normative vision and the dominance of
the scopic regime are only two modes of sensory and perceptual inhabit-
ance. In The Eye, the tension between the scopic and the tactile enabled by
spectral vision is further emphasized by categories of the ghostly who pos-
sess varying degrees of corporeality. There are ephemeral wraiths suffused in
black who are barely visible; spectral wisps of human bodies; ghosts who are
fully corporeal but who float smoothly along streets and disperse through
walls. The ghostly are men, women, boys, girls, a mother and her baby.
These categories of the ghostly materialize in places of transition (the eleva-
tor and the highway) and sites of social change (the hospital rooms and its
corridors) where patients experience that final rite of passage (death). These
places and sites are between floors, between destinations, between life and
death. Categories of the ghostly materialize in the crevices of social bonds:
in an apartment building of family units; during food preparation and acts of
consumption at a roadside restaurant; and when Mun learns the tactile and
embodied art of calligraphy from a venerable master.
This spectral vision plays with the texture and materiality of the social
fabric. Such forms of co-existence between the human and the spectral
between vision and touch, between film and spectator as sensing and sen-
sible subjects, between a tactile logic and a scopic one, between normative
vision (Smith 269) and non-visual paths to knowledge (Smith 270)give
The Eye a rich depth of allegorical meaning. In my textural handling, The Eye

becomes a pathway to trace the shifting identities and social realities of ethnic
Chinese in Southeast Asia, specifically Thailand as well as the production of a
transnational Chinese sensibility. For the remainder of this chapter, I deploy
a tactile and textural logic to touch upon two forces that contour these alle-
gorical resonances. These resonances find their expressions in a phantasmic
geography and within the grotesque body of Mun and her spectral counter-
part, Ling, as well as the grotesque body of the film-spectator.

Phantasmic Geography
The phantasmic geography of The Eye maps the entangled relationship
between urban Hong Kong and rural Thailand through a vernacular tap-
estry of Cantonese, English, Thai, and Mandarin, and within the domes-
tic sphere of Muns bedroom. The vernacular tapestry emerges with the
search for Muns donor in Thailand. Mun and Wah discover that the
donor was a woman from rural Thailand. They only know her by her
ethnic Chinese name: Chiu Wai Ling. Mun and Wah manage to find the
hospital where Ling was admitted after her suicide. Wah eventually con-
verses in halting English with two Thai nurses who then introduce him
to Dr. Eak (played by an ethnic majority Chinese from Singapore). Dr.
Eak and Wah introduce themselves in English. Wah then explains why
they are at the hospital. Dr. Eak code switches to Mandarin and enquires
if they are from Hong Kong. Incredulous, Wah responds, You speak
Mandarin? The vernacular tapestry weaves Cantonese (the dialect that
Mun and Wah speak in Hong Kong), English (the language that serves as
the initial medium of communication), Thai (the familial language spoken
between mother and daughter), and Mandarin (the language that Wah,
Dr. Eak, and Lings mother speak). This phantasmic geography reorients
space and place by transcending national boundaries through the powerful
transnational, global language of Mandarin.
The materiality of Muns built environment (the dresser, objects on
the dresser, walls) soon becomes ephemeral and transient. It undulates
and morphs into Lings bedroom in Thailand then shifts back into Muns
bedroom in Hong Kong. Mun tries to grasp a framed photograph on
her dresser but it dissolves in her hands. Both bedrooms threaten to col-
lapse into a singularity. Muns spectral vision, enabled by Lings corneas,
sutures two seemingly incommensurate places (urban Hong Kong and
rural Thailand) into a transnational phantasmic geography of disloca-
tion and terror.

The sequence first begins with a series of shots that brush against each
other in rapid fire cuts. The images themselves oscillate between soft focus
and in-focus. A sepia-tone permeates the grain of each image. The specta-
tor cannot discern if these disturbing images are a flashback or a memory.
Similarly, there is no clear sense whether these ephemeral fragments belong
to Mun or to Ling. The composition of these images are similarly disturbing
and disorienting. Some shots are composed with a straight-on angle, while
others take on a canted angle. The soft focus creates an eerie and uncanny
glow and atmosphere. The spectator can barely glean the surroundings.
It suggests a hospital but the exact location cannot be determined. The
sequence continues with a number of shots intercut: a wheelchair, a hospi-
tal bed or gurney on wheels, an IV bag, and a patient shrouded in bloody
bandages. The shots are framed in a series of close-ups, ranging in degree
and intensity from an extreme close-up to a mid-close-up. This confusing
sequence challenges the proprioception, kinesthetic awareness, and percep-
tual orientation of Mun, the spectator, and the camera.
In my textural handling of the films spectral vision, sound is as impor-
tant a sense modality as vision and touch. In this sequence, the spectator
is sonically and acoustically accosted by intense and jarring rattling. The
source of these cacophonous sounds is revealed to be the wheels of a
hospital gurney moving across a tiled floor. While the source is identified,
the unpleasant sensations of these harsh and discordant sounds remain.
The sound mix privileges these sounds above others, thereby transforming
the soundscape from one of a source of fidelity to an unsettling embrace
of sounds acoustic propertiesits pitch, timbre, and intensity. Philippa
Lovatt speaks to the connection between film phenomenology and sound
when she writes:

By foregrounding the texture of sound using techniques such as excessive

amplification, vibration or distortion, sound design can communicate feel-
ing through its close association with the sense of touch, and by extension,
emotion. (65)

The feelings that emanate from the texture and materiality of wheels scrap-
ing against the tiled hospital floors are many. For the spectator and Mun,
such feelings include unease, apprehension, dread, and fear. This sequence
is powerful precisely because of its construction of haptic soundscapes
(Lovatt 75), which exist alongside the tactile, the textural, and visual. The
final cut takes the spectator to Muns bedroom where she is encased in a
cool blue color scheme.

The camera muscularly tracks close to her and in a single reverse shot,
the spectator assumes Muns optical and tactile point of view. The shot
is of Muns bedroom, dissolving into yet another unknown space. It is
unclear whose bedroom bleeds through and into Muns domestic space.
A medium close-up of Muns bedroom dresser and table contains Muns
personal objects which include a tissue box and a brush. Both objects are
tactile in function and form, meant to be held, touched, and grasped. Like
the walls that dissolve between Muns bedroom and the unknown bed-
room, objects on the dresser pour through from the other domestic space.
A picture frame appears, then disappears. As Mun walks across the floor of
the bedroom towards the dresser, she is drawn to a shadow of an object
cast on the floor. Objects (like picture frames) re- and dematerialize in the
background. She attempts to grasp the evanescent picture frame, returning
to a "tactile epistemology" (Marks 2000: 138) or embodied knowledge
but without success. This picture frame eludes her grasp. The bedroom
transforms yet again into an entirely different space, then dissolves back
into Muns bedroom. These spectral dissolves not only express the tactile
and scopic dimensions of Muns spectral vision but also suggest the tactile
properties of cinema. As Barker notes, dissolvesare a kind of cinematic
caress (60). While the bedroom evokes this cinematic caress, the editing
strategy in the perceived oneiric sequence contains cuts. Here, the tactile
effect is one of wounding, penetration, and slashing. While this textural
handling reveals the films phantasmic geography, my textural handling of
the diegetic characters Mun and Ling, and the phenomenological relation-
ship between film and spectator, suggests the presence of grotesque bodies.

Grotesque Bodies: Mun-Ling andFilm-Spectator

In her analysis of The Eye, Arnika Fuhrmann astutely notes that the rela-
tionship between Mun and Ling offers insights into the transformation of
Chinese femininity from denigrated minority identity to pan-Asian, cosmo-
politan ideal in Thailand (93). While she positions the corneal transplant
as a motif to interrogate prosthetic memory (Alison Landsberg as cited
inFuhrmann 94), I situate the corneal transplant within Bakhtins conceptual
framework of the grotesque body. For Bakhtin, orifices such as the mouth
and nose are the most privileged for the grotesque body. Bakhtin argues:

the grotesque body is not separated from the rest of the world. It is not
a closed, completed unit; it is unfinished, outgrows itself, transgresses its

own limits. The stress is laid on those parts of the body that are open to the
outside world, that is, the parts through which the world enters the body
or emerges from it, or through which the body itself goes out to meet the
world. This means that the emphasis is on the apertures or the convexi-
ties, or on various ramifications and offshoots: the open mouth, the genital
organs, the breasts, the phallus, the potbelly, the nose. (26)

Rather than the mouth, nose, or the orifices outlined by Bakhtin above,
the eye is the organ and orifice that becomes constitutive of the grotesque
body in The Eye. I argue that Mun and Ling, through the corneal trans-
plant, become a grotesque body. The corneal transplant is a removal of
one set of tissues and the grafting upon of another. The eye in this instance
is not an impenetrable surface (Bakhtin 318) nor does this sense organ
express an individualself-sufficient human life (Bakhtin 316). There
are two bodies (a physical and a spectral), two forms of perceptual aware-
nesses, and two subjectivities contained within the seemingly singular
corporeal entity known as Mun. In this case, Bakthins grotesque body
or two bodies in one (26) is exemplified here by Mun-Ling. The gro-
tesque body does not exist hermetically sealed, separated from the world.
As noted in the quote above, the world enters the grotesque body and
the grotesque body opens to meet the world. This act of reversibility and
intersubjectivity is what imbues the grotesque body with a phenomeno-
logical resonance. Scholar Sara Shabot outlines this critical connection
between Bakhtins grotesque body and phenomenology:

The kind of embodied intersubjectivity by the grotesque emphasizes at the

same time both interconnectedness and heterogeneity, both connection
and difference. This kind of embodied subjectivity stands at the basis of
some phenomenological and postmodern epistemologiesAt the basis of
Merleau-Pontys philosophical project is the idea that there are no clear-cut
divisions between humans as embodied subject and the rest of the world.
Our being intimately, carnally, mingled, intertwined with the world, con-
stitutes the roots of our ambiguous existence, and precludes our epistemo-
logical and our ethical conditions. It is precisely our situation as embodied
subjects that connects us ineluctably with other subjects, objects, and the
world as a whole. (230)

This makes the grotesque body (with its scopic, tactile, and phenomenolog-
ical dimensions) particularly suited for an allegorical embrace. In the case of
The Eye, this embrace finds its palpable expression within the personal and

collective traumas of its central characters, Mun and Ling. The Eye situates
these personal and collective forms of trauma in specific places. Personal
traumas experienced by Mun and Ling are located in Hong Kong and rural
Thailand respectively while collective forms of trauma are only transposed
to rural Thailand. It is Mun (alone) who struggles with the pain of the
operation and the disorientation of learning to function in her normatively
sighted, world. She must initially rely on mnemonic and indexical devices
such as home movies to recapture childhood memories and images of her-
self as a child; images that she could never see. When Mun finally is able
to see her reflection in the mirror, she is both nervous and excited. The
camera only shows us her reaction and does not reveal the reflected image.
Neither the audience nor Mun realizes anything is amiss until Muns
companion, Wah shows Mun a photograph that was taken of her and
Ying Ying, a young patient with whom Mun shared a hospital room. Mun
glances at the photograph, looks at Ying Ying, and intently gazes at the
woman next to Ying Ying. Mun does not recognize her and is soon aghast
to learn that she is the woman next to Ying Ying. The scene ends just
as Mun looks up at her reflection on the subway window. When Mun
tearfully and anxiously stares in the mirror in her bedroom, the audience
sees a woman whom Mun presumed was herself. It is a horrific act of
misrecognition and Mun shatters the (Lacanian) mirror in a fit of hysteria.
Each shard reflects the weeping phantom from multiple angles and the
next shot frames the back of Muns head as she stares at this splintered
psyche. Mun experiences the profound trauma of identity loss within the
textured embrace of her spectral vision. Here, Mun is from the ethnic
Chinese majority in Hong Kong (although portrayed by actress Angelica
Lee, an ethnic Chinese minority of Malaysian descent) who discovers
that the image she identified as herself is that of Ling, an ethnic Chinese
minority female ghost from rural Thailand (according to the 2000 census
Chinese-Thais number 14% of the population).
Lings personal trauma is both social and spiritual. In a doubling of
vision, Ling reaches out to Mun by showing Mun searing images of her
childhood. This spectral plea for validation begins when Mun, standing in
Lings bedroom asks Well I am here now. What do you want to tell me?
As a child, Ling is teased mercilessly and cruelly taunted by the Thai inhab-
itants of her village. Her torment relentlessly continues into adulthood. In
this tactile and haptic space of fractured and spectral vision, Lings ethnic
Chinese minority identity is displaced onto her psychic abilities. Despite
attempts by her Thai neighbors to ostracize her, Ling continues to warn

them of an impending disaster. Unable to endure the social stigma of her

psychic gifts or her failure to prevent the disaster, Ling commits suicide.
This ultimate act of erasure serves as an allegory to the dilemmas that
the Chinese have faced in Sino-Thai relations. In the 1930s, for example,
Prime Minister Phibun Songkhram enacted a series of legislation aimed
at the minority Chinese in Thailand. Such legislation included taxes on
Chinese businesses, and forced the Chinese to submerge their ethnicity
and culture into a larger Thai society. Historian Peter Church described
the assimilation process as occurring: through Sino-Thai business part-
nerships, intermarriage, and Chinese acceptance of Thai language, educa-
tion, and culture (170171).
The first collective trauma is the fire that consumes many Thai lives
in Lings village. The second collective trauma takes place in a crowded
traffic jam caused by an overturned tanker trailer. Mun foresees this disas-
ter when she observes wraiths clad in black standing next to people in
their cars, waiting patiently to claim their souls and transport them to the
afterlife. The first collective trauma (shot in black and white) is crosscut
with Muns vain attempts to urge people to abandon their cars and escape
the seeping gas from the tanker trailer. An unsuspecting man, who has
switched off his car engine, decides to turn his engine back on. Sparks
from the engine ignite the gas that swirls through the cars and the city
street. This culminates in an incredible explosion, killing those caught in
the traffic jam. The audience sees these wraiths guiding the victims as they
float past the camera: a newly married couple, a bus full of children. The
scenes are graphically violent with the camera lingering on smoky bodies,
charred bodies, bodies draped over the car door, and bodies that writhe in
extreme pain. In its lingering, the camera is both a witness and observer
and by phenomenological implication, the spectator cannot but witness
and inhabit this collective trauma using his or her sense modalities (sight,
hearing, and touch). Even the sense modality of smell is evoked by the
wisps of smoke emanating from these singed bodies and charred wounds.
This collective trauma evokes what Adam Lowenstein describes as an alle-
gorical moment, a shocking collision of film, spectator, and history where
registers of bodily space and historical time are disrupted, confronted, and
intertwined (2). This collective trauma speaks to two political upheavals
in Thai history. As Thai film historian Anchalee Chaiworaporn writes: the
years 1973 and 1976 areheld in a historical past of Thailand as both a
year to remember and a year to forget (141). Students at Thammasat
University demonstrated against the military government and called for
democracy in 1973. These protests garnered mass support and forced the

military government out of office. The second upheaval occurred when

the Thai army and police fired into a crowd of unarmed student protestors
in 1976. Thai-Chinese students were at the forefront of these develop-
ments. This historical trauma continues its slippery yet tenacious hold in
contemporary Thailand. Thai film scholar Adam Knee writes:

These events to the present day, threaten social disaffection and disrup-
tionthey both remain bitter sites of contestationof attempts to clearly
determine facts, assign guilt, and dole out punishment -as well as of bat-
tles over the representation of the past in classroom textbooks and popular
media alike. (154)

While a textural handling of Mun-Ling as a grotesque body yields this alle-

gorical reading, what might the grotesque body of film-spectator reveal? As
Barker notes, the demarcation between film and spectator is not reducible
to the film as textual object and the spectator as viewing subject. Instead,
the contact between film and spectator is one of correlation and co-constitu-
tion(Barker 2009; Sobchack 1992; Sobchack 2004). It is within this process
of correlation and co-constitution that I locate the grotesque body of the film-
spectator. This liminal contact outlined by Barker, the touch at the heart of
co-constitution speaks to Bakhtins conceptualization of the grotesque body
as one not bounded, or a closed, completed unit (26). The grotesque body
of the film-spectator is implicated in the act of witnessing and in this witness-
ing, the generative possibilities for an ethical form of spectatorship abound.

After shards from the horrific explosion damage her eyes, Muns corneas
are removed and she resumes her life as a blind woman in urban Hong
Kong. In a closing voice-over, Mun says, I hold no resentment towards
her. Since I saw and experienced the same pain that she did. But aside from
pain, I saw beauty. Muns final words echo the ambivalent and complex
phenomenological encounters, haunted entanglements, and intersensorial
embraces that occur between Mun (fully corporeal as an ethnic Chinese
majority) and Ling (a ghostly ethnic Chinese minority from Thailand). In
this preliminary inquiry, I have tried to suggest an allegorical reading of
this spectral vision that operates within a phantasmic geography (Hong
Kong and Thailand) and the grotesque bodies of Mun and Ling as well
as film and spectator to evoke the shifting and entangled identity politics
of overseas ethnic Chinese (both within and across national boundaries).

Bakhtin, Mikhail M. Rabelais and His World. Trans. Helene Iswolsky. Bloomington:
Indiana University Press, 1984.
Barker, Jennifer M. The Tactile Eye: Touch and the Cinematic Experience. Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2009.
Chaiworaporn, Anchalee. Thai Cinema Since 1970. Film in South East Asia:
Views from the Region. Ed. David Hanan. Philippines: SEAPAVAA, 2001.
Church, Peter. A Short History of South-East Asia. Singapore: John Wiley & Sons,
Fuhrmann, Arnika (2008). Ghostly Desires: Sexual Subjectivity in Thai Cinema and
Politics after 1997. Retrieved from Proquest, UMI Dissertation Publishing.
Hoeksema, Thomas B., and Christopher R.Smit. The Fusion of Film Studies and
Disability Studies. Screening Disability: Essays on Cinema and Disability. Eds.
Anthony Enns and Christopher R.Smit. Lanham: University Press of America,
2001. 3343.
Knee, Adam. Thailand Haunted: The Power of the Past in the Contemporary
Thai Horror Film. Horror International. Eds. Steven Jay Schneider and Tony
Williams. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2005. 141162.
Lovatt, Philippa. Every drop of my blood sings our song. There, can you hear
it?: Haptic sound and embodied memory in the films of Apichatpong
Weerasethakul. The New Soundtrack, 3.1 (2013): 6179.
Lowenstein, Adam. Shocking Representation: Historical Trauma, National
Cinema, and the Modern Horror Film. NewYork: Columbia University Press,
Marks, Laura U.The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the
Senses. Durham: Duke University Press, 2000.
Shabot, Cohen Sara. Grotesque Bodies: A Response to Disembodied Cyborgs.
Journal of Gender Studies, 15:3 (2007): 223235.
Smith, Angela Marie. Impaired Visions: The Cultural and Cinematic Politics of
Blindness in the Horror Film. Horror Zone: The Cultural Experience of
Contemporary Horror Cinema. Ed. Ian Conrich. London: I.B. Tauris & Co
Ltd, 2010. 259273.
Sobchack, Vivian. The Address of the Eye: A Phenomenology of Film Experience.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.
Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture. Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2004.

A American International Pictures

ability, 4 (AIP), 70
abjection Americans with Disabilities Act, 166
myriad psychoanalytical models Antichrist, 12, 161, 163
of, 3 Antonioni, Michelangelo, 68
Abu Ghraib prison, 34 Applause Pictures, in 2000, 224
Act of Vengeance (1974), 140 Arendt, Hannah, 60
aesthetic contributions of Film Argento, Dario, 45
Studies, 221 Asia Extreme, 36
Ai no borei, 119 label, 28
Ainslie, Mary, 1213, 179201 The Assassin (1967), 72
Alan, Harry, 69 Association of South East Asian
Albatros Film, 32 Nations (ASEAN), 1802
Albertini, Bitto, 74 ATM: Er Rak Error/ATM (2012), 184
Aliens (19791992), 140
Almanach des gourmands, 104
Along Came Polly, 19 B
Altman, Rick, 35, 73 Baan Phii Pop 2008, 189, 190
Amazon, 1368 Badham, John, 76
American Civil War, 133 Bad Kongs, 13, 206, 207, 21017
American horror film, 44 Bainbridge, Caroline, 161, 164, 173n2

Note: Page numbers followed by n refer to foot notes


The Author(s) 2016 235

S. Siddique, R. Raphael (eds.), Transnational Horror Cinema,

Baker, Roy Ward, 8, 65, 67 Branded to Kill (1967), 139

Bakhtin, Mikhail M., 34, 13, 2068 Breaking the Waves (1996), 12, 164, 173
Bakhtins theory Bridges, Jeff, 212
of grotesque body, 34, 208, Breillat, Catherine, 7, 58, 60
22930 British Board of Film Classification
ballyhoo merchants, 23 (BBFC), 212, 279
Bamboo House of Dolls, 74, 75 Browning, Tod, 166
banality of evil Brown, Jeffrey A., 134, 153n6
continental horror film, 7 Buppah Rahtree (2003), 185, 186, 190
the banality of evil, 601 Burke, Edmund, 91
Bancho sarayashiki, 119 The Burning of the Red Lotus Temple, 72
Bangkok Traffic Love Story/Rot Fai Fa
Ma Ha Na Thoe (2009), 184
Bang Rajan (2000), 183 C
Barker, Jennifer M., 2224, 229, 233 The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), 2
Bates, Norman, 48 Call Him Mr. Shatter, 1974. See
Battle Royale (Batoru Rowaiaru, Shatter
2000), 28 Cantafora, Antonio 74
Bava, Mario, 45 The Canterbury Tale, 68
Baynton, Douglas C., 87, 88 Carpenter, John, 47, 50
Being There (1979), 166 Carreras, Michael, 68, 78
Bellucci, Monica, 59 Carreras, Sir James, 66
Bennys Video, 57, 59 Carroll, Noel, 3, 84
Bernard, Mark, 24 castration
The Big Boss (Lo Wei), 73 myriad psychoanalytical models of, 3
bizarre transnational horror film, 8 censorship, 1969
Black Lagoon, 114 Chainsaw, 19
Blake, L., 181, 185 Chaiworaporn, Anchalee, 232
The Blob (1958), 967 Chanbara (sword-fighting), 72
Blow Up, 68 Chang Cheh (Zhang Che), 67, 72, 76
body, 1 Chan, Peter, 14, 224
grotesque, 24 chaos and collapse, 45
Body and Fak Wai Nai Kai Ther/The Changes (1985), 209
Swimmers (2014), 186 Charlies Angels, 216
Body.Sop 19/Body (2007), 185 Charly (1968), 166
Bondo, Palle, 165 Chen, Teddy, 224
Borghese, Salvatore, 74 Cherry, Brigid, 35, 46
The Boss of It All (2006), 161 Cheuat Gon Chim/Meat Grinder
Boulting, Roy, 167 (2009), 185
bourgeois realism, 2 Childs Play, 47
Brady, Ian, 51 A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), 75
Brainscan, 195 Chiang, David, 65

Chiu Wai Ling, 22733 curiosity

chronotope idea of, 53
Bakhtins concept of, 207 Cushing, Peter, 8, 65, 78
of King Kong (1933), 20810 Cut Flesh article, 85
Chungking Express in 1996, 214
Church, Peter, 232
Cicakman, 195 D
cinma brut, 43 Dae Jung Geum/Jewel in the Palace
cinma du corps, 43 (2003-2004), 184
Cinematic Emotion in Horror Films and Dancer in the Dark, 12, 173
Thrillers: The Aesthetic Paradox of The Dark Hair (1973), 76
Pleasurable Fear (2010), 3 Darling, Cherry, 11, 14852
Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold Da Vinci, Leonardo, 98
(1975), 74 Day of the Warrior (1996), 151
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, 33 Day of the Woman, 36
Clover, Carol J., 68, 140 Deadly Angels, 215
Code Unknown (2000), 59 dead meat, 83110
Coff, Christian, 102, 104 dearth of scholarship, 1
coherent subgenre, 35 death
collective trauma, 232 monsters feeding off, 967
The Collector (2009), 36 Deep Thrust-The Hand of Death
Colossus of the Congo, 214 (1972), 71
Come Drink With Me, 72 deliberate stranger, 58
Congkak (2008, 2009), 187 De Mansion de diabla, 2
consensus and constraint, 45, 46 Denis, Claire, 43
contemporary horror, 46 de Van, Marina, 58
Contempt, 68 The Devils Rejects (2005), 35
continental horror film, 7, 4362 Dew, Oliver, 289
continental horror, 5661 dialectic dance, 225
phases of the horror film, 457 Digging to China (1997), 167
the rise of the serial killer, 4751 Dillon, Mike, 1938
without a trace, 516 questions of genre, 67
contingency, 59 Dillon, Thomas, 60
continental horror film, 7 De Laurentiis, Dino, 1, 206, 210, 211
Cooke, David, 21 disability, 5, 6, 914, 83110
Cortina, Sarah, 21 identity, 1046
cosmetic master, 1626 as narrative prosthesis, 11720
Coulthard, Lisa, 135, 153n3 representations of, 12128
Count Dracula, 8, 66 Disability Studies Lens, 117
Crane, Stephen, 11, 133, 135 Dogme 95, 11
Creed, Barbara, 141 Dogme 95 manifesto (1995), 167
cultural proximity, 13, 188 Dogville (2003), 161
Thai horror cinema, 182, 18791 The Doll Squad (1973), 151

Dominick and Eugene (1988), 167 F

Douglas, Mary, 206 Fairbanks, Douglas, 72
Down Syndrome, 166, 167, 172 Fantastic Supermen, 74
Dracula, 8, 6578, 956 Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
Driver, Elle, 11, 135, 1448, 152, (1965), 139
154n12 Fat Girl (2001), 58, 59
Dumont, Bruno, 7, 59 Feelin Sorta Kinda, 19
DVD jacket female revenge, 11
Grotesque, 278 femininity, 134, 138
Film/Genre, 35
film-spectator, 22933
E the Final Girl, 140
Ebert, Roger, 213 finger-knives. See fingerlike
Edison, Thomas, 161 appendages
Egan, Kate, 23 fingerlike appendages, 85
The Element of Crime, 12, 160 Fink, M., 1011, 13355
Elkins, James, 85 the First Kung Fu Horror
Elsaesser, Thomas, 2 Spectacular, 65
embodiment Fists of Fury, 8, 71
cultural scripts of, 4 Fit to Kill (1993), 149
embodiment, cultural scripts of, 514 Five Fingers of Death, 8, 71
the horrific body (disability and Five Golden Dragons, 69
horror), 912 flexible bodies, 925
questions of genre, 69 food critic, 1046
trauma, 1214 Forrester, Maryann, 100
Embodying Spectral Vision in The 4bia, 186
Eye, 14 4Digital DVD, 2830
Enns, Ruth, 94 Foxy Brown (1974), 139
Enter the Dragon, 74 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance
Epidemic, 12 (1994), 59
epilogue, 78 Frankenstein, 10, 114
Erb, Cynthia, 207, 217n1 Frankenstein, Victor, 89, 93
Euro horror, 44, 45 Freaks (1932), 10, 84,
Europa, 12 1046, 166
Execution of Mary Scot 1895, 2 French-language DVD, 30
The Exorcist (1973), 76, 91 Friday the 13th series, 47, 49
The Eye (2002), 14 Frontier(s), 36
Eyes of Crystal (Occhi di Cristallo), 32 Fukasaku, Kinji, 28
The Eye, spectral vision in, 22133 Fung, Allan, 224
grotesque bodies, 22933 Funny Games (1997), 59
phantasmic geography of, 2279 The Fusion of Film Studies and
transnational text, 2247 Disability Studies, 221

G grotesque body, 24, 84, 889, 103,

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie, 12, 85, 2205, 208, 213, 216, 22933
90, 92, 137, 138, 153n5 Bakhtins theory of, 34
Gate of Flesh (1964), 139 Gruson-Wood, Julia, 910, 83110
The Gates of Janus: Serial Killing and Guantanamo Bay, 34
its Analysis, 51 Guinea Pig films, 36
gender, 4, 5 Guinea Pig series (Gin Piggu,
the generic image, 36 1985-1988), 22
genre, 1, 35, 181 Gurotesuku, 2009, 20
The Ghost Lover (1973), 76
giallo films, 45
Gibson, Mel, 36 H
Girls of Denmark (1973), 74 Halliwell, Martin, 167, 168
Godard, Jean Luc, 68 Halloween, 47, 49
Godzilla, 206, 211, 215 Hammer Pictures, 8, 657
goeng si (stiff corpse), 75, 76 Hammer studio, 8
Golden Harvest studio, 71 Haneke, Michael, 7, 43, 57
Golden Heart, 12 Hanich, Julian, 3
Golden Swallow (1968), 72 Hantu Bonceng (2011), 188, 189
Goldsmith, Ben, 70 Hantu kak limah balik rumah/Kak
Goliathan, 214 Limahs Ghost Has Gone Home
Goliath and the Barbarians (2010), 187, 189, 193, 194, 196
(1960), 70 Hantu Kak Limah2: Husin, Mon dan
Gonzlez, Christopher, 152, 155n14 Jn Pakai Toncit, 189, 193
Good Kongs, 21017 Harvey, S.S., 114, 22133
Gorbman, Claudia, 117 Heller-Nicholas, Alexandra, 142
Grandrieux, Philippe, 43, 58 Hellman, Monte, 65, 78
graphic violence, 20 Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, 7,
Grindhouse (2007), 148 45, 4851, 556, 58
Grotesque, 6, 201, 213, 30, 346, Hercules (1958), 70
378 Hideo Nakata, 114, 115
BBFC, 278 musical, sonic, and noisy
cover art for, 27 representations of disability in,
DVD jacket, 278 1218
filmic identity, 20 High Tension (Haute Tension 2003), 36
Shiraishi, Ko ji, 20 Hill, Jack, 139, 145
UK cover, 25 Hitchcock, Alfred, 44, 46, 47
unrated cover, 24 Hitler, Adolph, 206
unrated DVD of, 29 Hoeksema, Thomas B., 221, 222
grotesque banquets Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan, 44
and disability identity, 1046 Holm, Nicholas, 122

Honisch, Stefan Sunandan, 10, I Saw the Devil (Akmareul Boatda), 36

11329 I Spit on Your Grave, 36
Hopf, Heinz, 141, 142 Italian detective thriller
the horrific body (disability and horror) Eyes of Crystal (Occhi di Cristallo;
Fink, Moritz, 1011 Puglielli 2004), 32
Gruson-Wood, Julia, 910
Honisch, Stefan Sunandan, 10
Marchbanks, Paul, 1112 J
horror, 83110 Jabatan Kemajuan Islam
eating in, 956 Malaysia(JAKIM), 198, 199
horror genre, 2, 7, 51 Jancovich, Marc, 47
Horror of Dracula (1958). 67 Jangan Pandang Belakang Congkak/
The Horror Sensorium: Media and the Dont look back, 187, 189
Senses (2012), 3 Janghwa, Hongryeon/A Tale of Two
Hors Satan, 43 Sisters (2003), 186
Hostel, 20, 24, 26, 27, 30, 37 Japanese B-movies, 134
Houghton, Don, 67 Japanese distribution companies, 30
Hsi Ching (David Chiang), 66 Japanese DVD, 278
100 European Horror Films, 44 Japan Today article, 21
hypothetical horror audience, 35 Jaws (1975), 33
Jensen, Vita, 167, 169
Jidaigeki (Zatoichi meets One-Armed
I Swordsman), 72, 74
Ichi the Killer (Koroshiya Ichi 2001), Jigsaw, 32
36 Jin Yong, 72
idea of curiosity, 53 jiupai (Old School), 71
The Idiots (1998), 12, 173 JollyRoger, 22, 29
I Know Who Killed Me (2007), 36 Johor, 192
Impaired Visions: The Cultural and Ju-on: The Grudge (2002), 186
Cinematic Politics of Blindness in
the Horror Film, 221
industry K
symbiotic relationship with, 2 kaidan, 118, 119
industry-wide genre, 73 Kaiju style, 211
informal distribution networks, 37 Karlyn, Kathleen, 206
In My Skin (2002), 58 Kennedy, John, F., 44
inquiry Kerner, Aaron Michael, 35
principal lines of, 6 ketuanan Melayu, 197
insane splatter movie, 36 Khun krabii hiiroh/Sars Wars
intellectual difference (2004), 190
Western medicine and, 1626 Khurafat: Perjanjian syaitan 2011), 188
Irreversible (2002), 59 Kiddo, Beatrix, 144, 146, 147

Kill Bill, 11, 135, 136 Lange, Jessica, 212

eyepatched villainess, 1446 The Last House on the Left, 36
Kill Bill: Vol. 1 (2002), 144, 153n4 The Last Supper (14951498), 989
Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004), 145, 154n12 Lee, Bruce, 71, 75, 217
The Killing Gene, 36 Lee, James, 195
Kill the Bitch, 1446 Lee, Sangjoon, 6578
Kingdom Hospital (2004), 12, 172 questions of genre, 89
The Kingdom (1994, 1997), 12, Leffers, Morten Rotne, 167, 169
15974 Legend of Langkasuka, 198
bloodied stitches, 1602 The Legend of the Seven Golden
counterpoint to medical eugenics, Vampires (1974), 89, 6578
16673 Lehman, Peter, 137, 138
Western medicine and intellectual Lemuer, Raymond, 524
difference, 1626 Les Dents de la Mer (The Teeth of the
King Kong (1933) in Japan and East Sea), 33
Asia, transnational flows of, 13, Lev, Peter, 68
20518 Lhomme qui voulait savoir (The Man
ambivalent text, 2058 Who Wanted to Know), 57
chronotope of, 208108 Li, Danny, 215, 216
Good Kongs, 21017 Liang Yusheng, 72
King, Martin Luther, 44 Liaozhai Zhiyi (Strange Tales from a
King of Japanese Grotesuqe Chinese Studio), 75
Movie, 27 Life Goes On (1989-1993), 167
King, Stephen, 12 Lindberg, Christina, 141, 142
kitschier cover design, 27 Living Dead (19681990), 140
Kleinbaum, Abby Wettan, 137 Lobato, Ramon, 20
Knee, Adam, 233 Lo Lieh, 74
knock-off Kongs, 13 Longmore, Paul, 137, 138, 146
Ko ji Shiraishi, 20 Los Angeles Times, 77
Kracauer, Siegfried, 2 Lovatt, Philippa, 228
Krasue Valentine/Ghost of Valentine The Lovers and the Python (1961), 76
(2006), 189 Lowenstein, Adam, 185, 232
Kristeva, Julia, 173 Lucas, Henry Lee, 48, 49
Krueger, Freddy, 856, 93
Kuei Chih-hung, 74
kung fu fighters, 6578 M
Machete, 1011, 135, 136
super-Amazon, 1468
L Machete Kills, 147
La Vie Nouvelle, 43 The Machine Girl (2008), 151
Laddaland (2011), 185 Madeleine, 1413, 154n12
Lady Snowblood (1973), 139 Malay-centric issues, 194
The Lady Vanishes (1978), 78 Malcolm, Robert, 74

Man about the House (1974), 78 Mun-Ling, 224, 22933

Marchbanks, Paul, 1112, 15974 music, 10, 11329
martial arts-magic spirit, 72 representations of disability, 12128
Martyrs (2008), 36 in transnational horror films, 1289
masculinity, 134, 152 Mutant Girls Squad (2010), 151
Massacre, 19 mutated alternative bodies, 10
Mathayom pak ma tha Mae Nak
(2014), 190
McNaughton, John, 7, 45, 48 N
Media Corporation Singapore, 225 Nang Nak (2000), 183, 189
medical eugenics Naremore, James, 73
counterpoint to, 16673 narrative prosthesis
mega-genre, 71 disability as, 11720
Melancholia (2011), 12, 164 Ndalianis, Angela, 3
mental illness, 1003 Neale, Stephen, 36
Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender negative curiosity
in the Modern Horror Film, 140 continental horror film, 7
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, 223 neo-nasty filmmakers, 24
Metropolitan Museum of Art, 212 Netherlands, 51
Meyer, Russ, 139 new extremism, 44
Mighty Peking Man (1977), 207, 208, Newman, Kim, 50
21316, 217, 217n3, 218n15 New Thai Cinema, 183
Miike, Takashi, 28 The NewYorker, 60
Miramax, 214 Ngangkung (2010), 188, 189
Mitchell, David T., 10, 11, 138, A Nightmare on Elm Street, 47, 856
141, 148 Night of The Living Dead (NOTLD)
Mockbusters, 23 (1968), 67, 97
Mohammed, Mahathir, 193, 198, 199 No, Gaspar, 43, 59
Molina, Caroline, 138, 141 noise, 10, 11329
Momok The Movie, 188 representations of disability, 1218
monstrosity, 956, 11317 in transnational horror films, 1289
in True Blood, 100103 Nornes, Ab Mark, 30, 37
monstrous bodies, 925
Mo 6/5 pak ma tha phi/Make Me
Shudder (2013), 190 O
morbid curiosity, 578 Och, Dana, 113
motion pictures, 2 Ochoa, George, 116
Mr. Vampire (1985), 75 official culture, 2
Muay-Thai, 181 The Official Razzie Movie Guide
multiple analytical approaches, 356 (2007), 213
Mulvey, Laura, 141, 209 Of Mice and Men (1992), 167

One-Armed Swordsman (1967), 72 Prescott, Jack, 212

One Eye, 11, 134, 135, 1403, 146, Psycho (1960), 44, 46, 48
147, 152, 153n2 psychopathic madmen, 60
Onibaba, 119 Puen yai jom salad/Queens of
Onna Sazen, 136, 139, 140, 151 Langkasukai (2008), 195
onryou, 1223 Pu Songling, 75
ORegan, Tom, 70
Oswalt, Patton, 19, 37
The Other Sister, 167 Q
our fear of other people, 58 questions of genre
Dillon, Mike, 67
Lee, Sangjoon, 89
P Wynter, Kevin, 7
pan-Asian filmmaking, 14
pan-Asian gaze, 14
pan-Asian identity, 14 R
Panther Squad (1984), 151 race, 4, 5
Paranoid Horror, 45, 46 Radio City Music Hall theater, 208
paranormal romance novels, 3 Rain Man (1988), 167
Park, Chan-wook, 28 Raintree Pictures, 224, 225
Parris, Michael, 10, 114 Raphael, R., 114, 20518
Pasolini, Pier Paolo, 68 Recreational Terror (1997), 162
The Passion of the Christ (2004), 36 Red Badge of Courage, 11, 133, 135
Patton Oswalt-Yo La Tengo renegade, 21
Hanukkah, 19 repression
Pee Mak, 190 myriad psychoanalytical models of, 3
Perfect Love (1996), 60 Reyniere, Alenandre-Balthasar-Laurent
phantasmic geography Grimod de la, 104
of The Eye, 2279 Richards, Penny L., 87
The Philosophy of Horror: Or, Paradoxes Rigets Hospital, 164
of the Heart, 1990, 3 The Ring, 10, 11329, 186
physical alterity, 10 Ringu (1998), 10, 11329, 186
The Piano, 138, 141 RKO Roxy theater, 2089
Pinedo, Isabel Christina, 162, 163, 172 Robogeisha (2009), 151
Planet Terror, 1011, 136, 140, Rodriguez, Robert, 10, 1346, 139,
14853 1469, 151, 152, 153n2, 154n8,
Pollock, Jackson, 97 154n11, 154n12
Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam/ Rollin, Jean, 45
Fragrant Night Vampire (2004), Romero, George A., 67, 140
187, 198 Roth, Eli, 25, 34
post-9/11, 35 Rouge (1988), 75
powerful bodies, 925 Latimer, R v, (2001), 94

S Sombre (1998), 43, 58

sadistic violence, 20 Sombre and La Vie Nouvelle, 43
Saint Martyrs of the Damned (Saints Somethings Gotta Give, 19
Martyrs des Damns 2005), 6, 30 Song at Midnight (1936), 75
Sarawak, 75 sonic
Savage Beach (1989), 151 representations of disability, 1218
Saw, 20, 30, 32 sound, 11329
Saw the Devil (Akmareul Boatda, in transnational horror films, 1289
2010), 36 Southeast Asia model
Saw Zero (Sou Zero), 6, 30, 34 of Thai horror cinema, 18791
scare tactics, 8991 Southeast Asian theatre chains, 8
Schmid, David, 51 Spaghetti Westerns, 70
Schneider, Steven Jay, 44 spectacular cultural transgression, 2
Secure Horror, 45, 46 spectacular resistance, 209
Seltzer, Mark, 52 Speedy Video, 181
Serial Killers: Life and Death in splatter film, 36
Americas Wound Culture, 52 Spoorloos, 7, 51, 57
The Seven Brothers Meet Dracula, 77 statistical person, 55
Shankland 2007, 36 the stranger, 589
Shatter, 65, 69, 74, 78 continental horror film, 7
Shaw Brothers, 65, 67, 69, 714, 78, The Stranger and the Gunfighter
207, 208, 213, 215, 216, 217n3 (1975), 74
She-Devils on Wheels(1968), 140 Straus, Joseph, N., 10
sheer banality, 60 Strayer, Kirsten, 113
Shih Szu, 65, 74 Summers, Jeremy, 69
short motion picture, 2 supercrip, 923
Shutter, 185, 186, 189, 193 Supermen against the Orient,
Sign of the Gladiator (1959), 70 74, 75
Simmel, George, 58 Suzuki Seijun, 139
Singapores Raintree Pictures, 14 Swedish Fly Girls (1971), 74
single-studio-cycle kung fu, 73 Switchblade Sisters (1975),
Skull Island, 208 139, 145
slasher films, 7, 47 Szaniawski, Jeremi, 148
slaughterhouse of cinema, 37
Sling Blade (1996), 167
Sluizer, George, 7, 45, 51 T
Smit, Christopher R., 221, 222 taboo cinema, 25
Smith, Angela, 116, 221, 222 Tai Pah (Ti Lung), 78
Snead, James, 209 Taoist Monk Kah, 66
Snyder, Sharon, 11 Tarantino, Quentin, 10, 11, 1346,
socioeconomic depression, 56 139, 144, 146, 148, 150, 152,
30+ Soht On Sale/30+ Single On Sale 153n1, 153n2, 154n8, 154n11,
(2011), 184 154n12, 154n13, 214, 215

Tasker, Yvonne, 139 from go-go girl to zombie-killing

Texas, 19 machine, 14852
Texas chainsaw massacre, 20 transnational cinema, 13840
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, transnational grotesuqe, 1938
47, 49 the generic image of torture (porn),
Thai horror cinema, 179201 347
censorship, 1969 Grotesuqe, 378
difference as attraction, 1916 mistranslation, 304
international growth and urbanness unrated and unauthorized, 2330
of, 1826 Transnational Horror Across Visual
in Malaysia, 18791 Media: Fragmented
Thatcher-era Britain, 23 Bodies (2013), 3
theme park rides, 3 Transnational Horror Cinema:
theoretical intervention, 514 Bodies of Excess and the
Bakhtin, Mikhail and the grotesque Global Grotesque, 1, 14
body, 34 transnational horror films
Thi, Coralie Trinh, 60 music, sound, and noise in, future
Three Supermen against the of, 1289
Goldface, 74 transnational trash horror, 8
Three Supermen in the Jungle trauma, responses to
(1970), 74 Ainslie, Mary, 1213
Three Supermen in Tokyo (1967), 74 Harvey, S.S, 14
Thriller, 1404, 151 Raphael, R., 1314
Thriller: A Cruel Picture, Trouble Everyday, 43
11, 134, 140 True Blood (20082014), 84, 103
Tianyi studio, 72 consumption rituals in, 97100
Time of the Wolf (2003), 59 monstrosity in, 1003
Titchkosky, Tanya, 90 Tudor, Andrew, 45, 75
title credit sequence, 225, 226 Twentynine Palms, 61
TOHO Studios, 206, 215 Twilight (2008), 187
Tokyo Gore Police (2008), 151 Twisted Nerve (1968), 167
Toledano, Zev, 20 2499 Antapan Krong Muang/Daeng
Tomorrows Children (1934), 166 Bireley and the Young Gangsters
Tompkins, Joe, 29 (1997), 183
topsy-turvy body, 4
torture-as-genre, 36
torture movie, 20 U
torture porn, 6, 20, 345, 37 Underworld Beauty (1958), 139
Tove, Brit, 74 United Malays National Organisation
Tracking King Kong, 2078, 217n1 (UMNO), 197, 199
translations in bad faith Untraceable (2008), 36
secondary concept, 23 urban pan-Asian gaze
transnational borderlands film construction of, 14

V Wood, Robin, 7, 267, 44, 76

Vacancy (2007), 36 World Trade Center, 212
The Vampire Lovers, 1971, 67 Wor Mah Ba Mahasanook (2008), 190
vampires, 5, 6578, 91 WZ, 36
Van Helsing, Laurence, 8, 66 Wuxia films, 8
The Vanishing, 57 Wuxia pian, 72, 73
Vengeance (1970), 72 Wynter, Kevin, 4362
Verbinski, Gore, 114, 115, 1256 questions of genre, 7
vernacular tapestry, 227
video games, 3
video nasties, 22 X
Vietnam War, 210 Xing xing wang (Mighty Peking Man),
villains, 9 14, 207, 213, 218n16, 218n17
visual media, 4 xinpai (New School), 71
Visual Pleasure, 209
von Trier, Lars, vii, 1112, 43, 15974
Voorhees, Jason, 47 Y
Yusoff, Norman, 193

Weinbaum, Batya, 136, 137 Z
Wells, Paul, 45 Zatoichi, 72
Western medicine Zhang Che. See Chang Cheh
and intellectual difference, 1626 Zhang Zhen, 72
Whats Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), Zimmer, Catherine, 35, 36
167 zombies, 5
women warriors, 13840 Zombi kampung Pisang/Zombies from
Wong Kar Mun, 22233 Banana Village (2008), 187