Although the plot of Fede Alvarez’s 2013 version of “Evil Dead” is centered about a demon that, one by one, possesses a group of college students in order to fulfill a wicked prophecy, the cabin in which the friends have their weekend retreat represents a significant source of horror in the film. What makes it a monstrous setting is that on top of the fact that it contains all of the possession and murder scenes, the cabin also becomes a centralized location of the abject. In “Kristeva, Femininity, Abjection,” Barbara Creed explains that, “The horror film abounds in images of abjection, foremost of which is the corpse, whole and mutilated, followed by an array of bodily wastes such as blood, vomit, saliva, sweat, tears and putrefying flesh” (Creed 66). When each female character in the movie becomes possessed, she performs acts such as burning her skin with scalding water, cutting off a section of her jaw with a shard of glass, or mutilating her arm with an electric knife. Robert Kilker claims that “the abject is horrifying because it is something that disgusts us, yet comes from us or from which we come” (58). Blood, urine, vomit, and dismembered body parts pollute almost every corner of the cabin, and so the omnipresence of abjection in this setting renders it monstrous.
Another monstrous quality of the cabin is its ability to simultaneously repulse and attract the audience with its physical appearance. As much its walls, streaked with glistening blood, and its floors, dirtied with severed body parts, evoke terror from the viewers, they also have an irresistible appeal. Ironically, individuals who are terrified by a monster’s grotesqueness also feel an undeniable intrigue towards it. Katerina Bantinaki proposes in “The Paradox of Horror: Fear as a Positive Emotion” that people are attracted to horror because fear from watching a film is an emotional experience that is ultimately exciting and pleasurable (383). Like many other modern horror films, Evil Dead primarily strives to provide its viewers with a rush of fear, and it does so by creating graphic and gory images of the cabin. Distorted female bodies that are strewn throughout the setting also contribute to the appalling-intriguing duality of the cabin. Briony Kidd describes women as “a novelty item in horror” because society has developed an obsession with hopeless female victims in horror films. Thus, while viewers are nauseated by images of the college girls leaking pus, urine, and blood all over the cabin, they cannot help but feel a perverted appeal upon seeing those scenes. In this regard, the monstrosity of the setting is further established by the irresistibility of its horror.
1. Bantinaki, Katerina. “The Paradox of Horror: Fear as a Positive Emotion.” Journal of Aesthetics & Art Criticism. 70.4 (2012): 383-392. Print.
In this article, Bantinaki sets out to explore and develop an argument for why she believes that fear in response to horror is an overall positive experience for an individual while reading a scary novel or watching a scary movie. Before diving into the different psychological analyses of horror, she provides readers with some useful background information, such as how filmmakers utilize certain techniques to heighten fear in the audience. She then introduces the irony of this emotion, posing the hypothetical question, “How can horror audiences find pleasure in what by nature is distressful and unpleasant?” Bantinaki then goes on to citing psychologists such as Cynthia Hoffner, Kenneth Levine, and Susan Feagin, who all share a common theory: that the degree to which the audience feels queasiness and horror correlates positively with how much pleasure it feels afterwards. I appreciated the abundance of sources that Bantinaki included in this piece because it strengthened her argument and allowed me to more comprehensively understand the attractive nature of an emotion that initially evokes disgust and uneasiness.
2. Creed, Barbara. “Kristeva, Femininity, Abjection.” 64-70. Print.
I found Creed’s article on abjection to be extremely useful in guiding my thoughts because it provided a clear account on what exactly abjection is and how it is utilized in modern horror films. Although Creed uses Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror as one of the fundamental guidelines of her paper, she continues to build upon a preexisting argument by including her own perspective. Excerpts and quotes from Kristeva help to define abjection and show some examples of what qualifies as the abject, which is essentially that which violates bodily borders. Creed then continues with three ways that she believes abjection is portrayed in certain films. Firstly, horror films are abundant in images of mutilated bodies, sweat, tears, saliva, vomit, and more. Secondly, a monster’s abjection derives from the crossing of a particular order. Lastly, some scary movies focus the idea of abjection on the maternal figure. Creed offers examples of movies that abound in the abject, such as Carrie (1976) to substantiate her point that many films “play” with their audiences by providing such graphic images. Overall, Creed’s article was effective because it was first informative, and then developed into an argument driven piece once the reader had acquired a basic understanding of the topic.
3. Kidd, Briony. “Scream Time: Women Take Power Over Horror.” Metro. 17.3 (2012): 102-105. Print.
Although the main purpose of this article was to unearth the struggle for female horror filmmakers to be rightfully recognized. I found the introduction to be valuable. First, Kidd talks about how female actresses are increasingly portrayed as the unlucky victims in horror because according to an article written by Lloyd Kaufman, this movie genre is the “most male chauvinistic area in pop culture.” Because it has been dominated by male directors, female directors have found it difficult to be taken seriously because in the past the role of females in horror films was restricted to helpless screaming victims, drenched in blood. Kidd then spends some time to further discuss how women are often victimized and belittled in scary movies. The remainder of the article is dedicated to talking about the efforts that filmmakers of both genders have invested into acknowledging the women that stand behind the camera in horror films. Events such as Viscera Film Festival are devoted to highlighting the ability of females to direct and create a film that is just as scary as that of their male counterparts. As a whole, Kidd sympathizes with female filmmakers. After she presents the issue that many of them are facing, she provides examples of horror films directed by females to bolster her standpoint that women are just as effective as men when it comes to directing a scary movie.
4. Kilker, Robert. “All Roads Lead to the Abject: The Monstrous Feminine and Gender Boundaries.” Literature Film Quarterly. 34.1 (2006): 54-63. Print.
Kilker explores the role of abjection specifically in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, but the ideas that he presents are relevant to any horror film that contains abject shots of its characters and setting. Although the article initially refers only to The Shining, Kilker goes on to talk about other films, such as Carrie, that builds its horror around the idea of what is abject. The sections I found most helpful to my final project were “Fear of the abject.” and “Dangerous fluids.” In them, he talks about how culture has taught us to see certain bodily fluids as foul and shameful when it is exposed beyond the human body. Furthermore, he notes the trend in films for the majority of abject fluids to come from the female actresses, even quoting Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror to support the idea that abjection is linked to femininity. Kilker’s article is much more factual and informative than it is argument-driven, which makes it effective to further understand how certain films are centered about abjection. However, it does not provide readers with a specific viewpoint, as Kilker’s individual and unique opinions surrounding the idea of abjection do not shine through.