Video from the Void: Video Spectatorship, Domestic Film Cultures, and Contemporary Horror Film

Article excerpt

IN I998, JUST A FEW MONTHS BEFOREthe release of The Blair Witch Project, the low- budget motion picture The Last Broadcast ap- peared on the festival circuit. Billed as the first "desktop feature film," The Last Broadcast was the first feature-length motion picture filmed, edited, and screened entirely using digital tech- nologies.1 Like The Blair Witch Project, The Last Broadcast is presented as a documentary fo- cusing on a group of enterprising documentary filmmakers who enterthe woods in orderto in- vestigate a legendary monster, never to return. The filmmakers, a group of publicity-hungry young men with a cable-access show called "Fact or Fiction," enter the woods in search of a local legend known as the Jersey Devil. However, unlike Blair Witch, Broadcast func- tions less as a horror film and operates more as a satire of documentary filmmaking, specifi- cally documentaries that focus on overturning court verdicts. In fact, several of the interviews are carefully juxtaposed with found footage in orderto discredit both the interviewees and the video images themselves. In this sense, The Last Broadcast exposes itself as a construc- tion, with the documentary filmmaker actively producing the meaning of the film. Thus, the film explicitly invokes fears of video and the Internet in its satire of documentary authenticity through the unverifiable horror film figure, the Jersey Devil. The Last Broadcasts satirical approach to reality television and investigative documentary offers a welcome challenge to other, more recent horror films that take as their subject the home spectator, the horror film fan who repeatedly watches his or her favorite horror films from the comforts of home. This article examines the ongoing attempts to negotiate the economic, social, and political changes represented by the domestic film audience through a series of media-sawy horror films that engage with the practices and habits associated with watching movies at home.

In this cycle of horror films, television, video, and the Internet appear as threats to the stability and safety of human subjects, challenging not only the status of cinema itself but also the stability of the nuclear family, specifically through the reconfiguration of the relationship between public and private space. These films seem to imply that electronic media will lead to fragmented social relationships because of their illusion of authenticity and their potential to further isolate people from a larger community. Moreover, the films seem to imply, because of their emphasis on perceived threats to documentary authenticity, that TV, video, and the Internet will undermine our grounds for interpretation and knowledge. My focus here is on the cycle of recent horror films that are concerned with TV, video, and the Internet, from the 1990s and early twenty-first century, including The Blair Witch Project (1999), Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 (2000), The Ring (2002), FeardotCom (2002), Dawn of the Dead (2004), The Ring 2 (2005), White Noise (2005), and Cloverpeld (2008). I concentrate on two films, The Blair Witch Project and The Ring, and how they navigate the tensions between film, TV, and video. For the most part, I have consciously decided to exclude horror film parodies, such as the Scream films, from this study because they focus less on the media delivery systems themselves and instead merely parody horror film genre conventions. The Scream trilogy relies heavily on horror film fans, mostly teenagers, who Immediately recognize the trilogy's allusions to past horror films, in part because of their familiarity with these films through repeat viewings on VHS or cable television; however, the media-sawy horror films after The Last Broadcast, even though many of them do bear intertextual relationships to past horror films, seem less invested in "hyperpostmodern" allusiveness and more focused on theorizing the practices of watching horror movies and the processes of media change associated with the introduction of new technologies such as the DVD. …