Katie Leigh-Lancaster reviews the experimental film installation Her Horror at Vivid Projects
Starkly experimental and deliciously dark, the film preview of the new exhibition Her Horror was a deconstruction of female identity in Hollywood’s booming horror industry.
Embracing the atmospheric seclusion of Digbeth’s Vivid Projects warehouse, Her Horror spared no effort in its pursuit for blood, guts and gore. Fronted by the all-female collective Visceristahood, the exhibition sported the talent of artists Siân Macfarlane, Vicky Roden, Sarah Walden and Kate Spence. Alongside the short film, the full exhibition showcased new work from the artists involved and ran from the 15th to the 23rd June.
Compiling clips from cult horror films, Her Horror montaged iconic movie tropes to unravel the troubling patterns that hide behind the clichés. Lifeless behind the eyes and foaming at the mouth, The Exorcist’s infamous Regan contorts demonically on screen, fading into menacing close-ups of The Shining’s Jack Torrance. Grainy footage of 60s cult film Rosemary’s Baby adds to the chilling lo-fi aesthetic that resonates throughout much of the montage, prizing retro visuals over the CGI sensationalism of modern horror. Running for 40 minutes, the composition of clips felt largely unsystematic until the middle portion of the exhibition. Close-ups of distressed gothic damsels were deliberately juxtaposed with clips of haggard, malevolent spinsters. Here the troubling dichotomy of female horror archetypes is stressed before the viewer’s eyes. The repeated insistence of women as either victims or villains sheds light on its damaging overuse within the horror genre.
Accompanying the delectably dark visuals, Macfarlane, Roden, Walden, and Spence provided a live musical soundtrack to the Her Horror montage. Each playing to their own rhythm and style, the fragmentation of sound between the four artists heightened the film’s disorienting visuals. The shrill plucking of violin strings felt worlds apart from Hollywood’s elegant string section (think Herrman’s iconic score for Psycho). The foreboding twang of the synthesizer, à la Kubrick’s Moog synth opening to A Clockwork Orange, accompanied the glorious lo-fi feel of Her Horror’s visual gore.
As the movie montage progresse, the visuals began to glitch and stutter, overlaying retro filmography with the aesthetics of an ever-pressing twenty-first-century horror: technology. Screaming faces became pixelated, fragile bodies succumbed to the fuzz of television static. The stark iconography of a pained woman rolling her head back is relentlessly looped, each tortured expression fading over the last. This permeation of modern glitches onto retro filmography is symbolic in more ways than one. It nods not only to the integration of retro movie culture into our modern ways of being, but to our potential to deconstruct the norms of the past. Undoubtedly the most original aspect of the montage, the decision to hold this glitching effect until the final portion of the film feels as if it arrived somewhat too late. A more in-depth exploration of modern glitches could allow the artists to dig even deeper into the heart of their subject matter.
Her Horror is an impressively bold take on cult movie heritage. While I suspect it may have fared better as a looped film installation, allowing viewers to drop in and out rather than watch for the full 40 minutes, there is a charm to its live performance that deserves to take center stage. For both the die-hard horror fan and this self-proclaimed wimp, Her Horror immersed you in the terror of retro spooks – if you dare.
More information on the exhibition, and others at Vivid Projects, can be found here.