Monday, June 18, 2012

Horror Film Exhibition

Recently, my students and I visited the marvelous exhibition, "Can't Look Away: The Lure of Horror Films," curated by Jacob McMurray with designer Ken Burns (Wondermine) at the EMP/Sci Fi museum in Seattle.  

To my mind, "Can't Look Away" is one of the most sophisticated and thought-provoking exhibitions ever developed on the American cultural landscape. Descending the spiral staircase threshold space, filled with photographs of Seattle citizens cheerfully screaming for the camera, the visitor is cleverly detached from the everyday world and prepared for an entrancing voyage into our collective psychic underworld, the consensual hallucinatory space of the modern horror film. We are quickly lured into the central  'thicket' space, evocative of a midnight cemetery and the twisted angles of German Expressionism, as we find ourselves entangled in small film viewing spaces that are partially visible from outside, and yet which each enclose the viewer in a privatized mini trip to the movies. Several veteran horror film directors (Roger Corman chief among them) deliver remarkably interesting commentaries on the genre. My students and I loved the ingeniously designed timeline, which cleverly links moments in the history of horror flicks to the cultural history of the Cold War; the unit on the music and  soundscapes of horror; and the digitized shadow box that transforms the visitors' bodies into monstrous alter egos.  The show abounds with sly humorous, nuanced touches; my students were especially delighted with the air holes for the Giger-esque Alien, and the hockey mask design element throughout the installation.

I suppose what I most love about the exhibition is, at the end of the day, the respect it has for its audience, which mirrors the campy, surreal playfulness of horror films at their best; not above gaudy moments of shock and awe, to be sure, but always ready with a knowing wink at the viewer, reminding us, as we traverse the labyrinthine corridors of the midnight hour, that we are all in this together.

1 comment:

  1. I thoroughly agree. This exhibit acknowledges the true complexity of horror films, specifically the ways in which they hold up a mirror to reveal fears and desires. Such a great learning opportunity for the museum studies students at CWU!