Academic journal article CineAction

Shocked and Awed? Hostel and the SPE T CLE of Self-Mutilation

Academic journal article CineAction

Shocked and Awed? Hostel and the SPE T CLE of Self-Mutilation

Article excerpt

"I was down in the cellar of society, down in the subterranean depths of misery about which it is neither nice nor proper to speak. I was in the pit, the abyss, the human cesspool, the shambles and the charnel-house of our civilization. This is the part of the edifice of society that society chooses to ignore." --Jack London (1)


In times of crisis, it is not uncommon for society to prefer amnesia to analysis in its choice of entertainment, and--like the zombies of George Romero's Land of the Dead (2005) who are so easily bemused and befuddled by the bursting of fireworks in the night sky--audiences in recent years seem to have overwhelmingly favored spectacles of cinematic bliss to self-reflection. In this respect, cinemagoers have merely followed the example of Barbara Bush who told viewers of Good Morning America shortly before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, "[W]hy should we hear about body bags and deaths? [...] [I]t's not relevant. So, why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?" (2) Thus, the dismal box office failure of recent "war on terror"-themed message films like In the Valley of Elah (2007), Lions for Lambs (2007), and Rendition (2007) is hardly surprising. As New York Times columnist Frank Rich put it, "Iraq is to moviegoers what garlic is to vampires." (3)

This does not mean, however, that the post-9/11 age has not left its mark on the silver screen. Indeed, even films that do not directly address such issues as imperialist war, international terrorism, or the federal encroachment on civil liberties may still serve a political purpose--that is, the social reality they present can act as an ambrosial reassurance that the dominant social order is indeed the right one. While the subversive force of such iconoclastic films as Brokeback Mountain (2005) and The Wrestler (2008) is not easily ignored, one cannot deny that the primary thrust of recent film has been largely conservative. Whether it's the resurrection of yesterday's action heroes like Indiana Jones, John Rambo, and John McClane, 300's (2006) exploitation of Orientalist fears and extolment of white supremacist values, Spiderman's (2002) fantastic reimagining of the American Dream, or pseudo-liberal films like Charlie Wilson's War (2007) and War, Inc. (2008) which, by critiquing government policies as inexplicable aberrations, serve ultimately to redeem the mythic image of our country as the forever righteous "city upon a hill," a glance across the spectrum of post-9/11 U.S. cinema testifies to the validity of Antonio Gramsci's notion of cultural hegemony--the idea that cultural products perpetuate the dominance of existing power structures. Or, to put it another way, it seems that in the post-9/11 era, Hollywood too has been swayed by an overall atmosphere of domestic shock and awe.

Curiously enough, it is out of the midst of these cinematic outbursts of onanistic patriotism that new life has been breathed into the horror genre, and recent years have given birth to a new, grisly breed of exploitation cinema. There has perhaps been no better announcement of horror's renewed vigor than the box office dethroning of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (2004) by the gruesome remake of Dawn of the Dead (2004), an apparent victory of the profane over the pious in which the horror genre boisterously proclaimed its return to the scene and to the screen with an almost Whitmanesque barbaric yawp.

Thus, our subject is post-9/11 splatter horror. In addition to the Dawn of the Dead remake, a non-exhaustive list of the films making up this cycle might also include Cabin Fever (2002), High Tension (2003), House of 1000 Corpses (2003), Wrong Turn (2003), The Descent (2005), The Devil's Rejects (2005), Wolf Creek (2005), Turistas (2006), 28 Weeks Later (2007), and Captivity (2007), as well as the remakes of 1970s horror films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003), Black Christmas (2006), The Hills Have Eyes (2006), Halloween (2007), and The Last House on the Left (2009). …

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