The Ontology of Open Mouths, An ALIEN Poster, JASON TAKES MANHATTAN on Vinyl, And More!
In this Issue:
- Horror History: The Ontology of Open Mouths: The Scream and the Swallowing
- Image of the Week: Priority One
- Tiny Bites – This Week’s Best Horror Headlines
- Things We Love: Jason Takes a Boat Ride on Vinyl
- Hey, That’s Us! – Shudder in the News
The Ontology of Open Mouths: The Scream and the Swallowing
By Lea Anderson
“The grotesque face is actually reduced to the gaping mouth; the other features…only a frame encasing this wide open bodily abyss.” – Mikhail Bakhtin
It is as Bakhtin noted, that all horror is communicated through the shape of the open mouth: a motif so essential to the genre as both a sonic and visual experience that the language through which it operates achieves a type of transcendence. The human revealed again as animal.
The scream is widely considered a universal signal of terror. But as any horror fan knows, not all screams are the same and, in fact, most great horror climaxes hinge on collapsing, wildly disparate emotions, allowing them to spill over each other to conjure the ecstatic. Though distinct as a sonic experience, it is equally visual and imagined. What emerged from the back of Janet Leigh’s mouth in Psycho remains audible, even as a still image.
Then there is the Swallowing, my term for the appearance of a devouring Other. Present across subgenres, the Swallowing threatens the mind, body, family, home, neighborhood, nation-state, and planet, reducing these human institutions to mere prey. It is the reversal of Julia Kristeva’s concept of the abject as fear of invasion or corruption. While these (invasion, corruption) may be “offensive” actions, the fear itself remains obliteration via consumption, rendered visually as a mouth, open, ready to swallow.
If we look at these occasions — the scream and the Swallowing — in the context of both Black Horror films and Black-led horror films, what might they reveal about the construction of Black monstrosity and, further, the location of Black catharsis?
My personal frustration with the totality of Candyman can be summed up by this singular shot:
Helen is the center of this image, just as she’s the film’s emotional center, confirming its gaze as fundamentally white. We know Candyman’s monstrosity is primarily located in his mouth, from which swarms of bees gather and descend. But the film also traffics in a specific type of fear-mongering around Black men’s perceived desirous appetites for white women.
As such, Black desire is in this case synonymous with the occasion of the Swallowing: a notedly white supremacist perspective illustrated in The Birth of a Nation, King Kong, and countless other films.
Tales from the Hood 2 (2018)
Rusty Cundieff reproduces a variation of this image in the Tales from the Hood sequel’s chaotic first segment, Good Golly. Two girls — one white, one Black — roll up to the Museum of Negrosity, the entrance to which is framed by the mouth of an enormous anti-Black caricature, a reference to the infamous Coon Chicken Inn restaurants.
An implication to the allusion is that, as these girls pass through this mouth-frame, they’re moving out of a world where their friendship could exist as “color-blind.” Here, the Swallowing represents that fundamental shift in perspective, threatening only to those whose goal is revision and suppression.
Scream 2 (1997)
As the climax of the sequel’s opening sequence, this shot exemplifies the franchise’s metanarrative project but does so in a way that falls into the trap of rendering Black death a spectacle.
In the moments before her death, Maureen (Jada Pinkett-Smith) is attacked whilst surrounded by people, none of whom respond to her desperation. She stumbles onstage, looks out at a sea of hooded, white-masked figures (not without significance), and lets out a scream tinged with incredible grief as the projection of the film-within-the-film plays over her body. As she dies, she falls back and for a moment, is encased — consumed — within the onscreen Ghostface’s open mouth. In merely reproducing tragedy, the scene denies catharsis, inspiring only horror.
Ganja and Hess (1973)
Ganja’s scream, in contrast, is pure catharsis, even if horror remains elemental. Its context within the film functions as what is termed in poetry a volta: a dramatic turn or shift in thought or perspective. Because nothing prior to the occasion of this scream remains exactly the same on its other side, it represents the place where the scream and the Swallowing exist as the same stretch of space: what the poet Carl Phillips refers to as “the zone of tragedy — transition.” It is, in essence, the moment of transformation. One iteration of Ganja dies here, consumed by the next. And though there is horror, there’s also, eventually, liberation.
It’s typical that the great enduring fear of capitalist white supremacist patriarchy is in fact itself: the eternally present, eternally devouring mouth. Monsters, after all, always say the most about those who fear them.
This piece has been abridged to fit the format of The Bite. Visit our blog for the full version.
Lea Anderson is an independent horror scholar, critic, and poet, currently based just outside Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter.
IMAGE OF THE WEEK
TROG, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, AND MORE
This September, Halloween superfan Anthony Woodle passed away an hour after his wedding to his girlfriend of eight years, Emilee Stickel. The ceremony was officiated by Jamie Lee Curtis. Our thoughts are with Emilee and Anthony’s families during this difficult time.
This week was the 61st anniversary of the Twilight Zone episode Time Enough At Last based on Lynn Venable’s short story of the same name which you can read right here.
We also got some news about the Dexter revival which will be set 10 years following the series finale.
If you’re looking for a good soul-crushing horror film to match the mood this Thanksgiving, Bloody Disgusting has some suggestions.
Looper listed the most frightening horror movies based on short stories that you should most definitely check out.
Script Magazine wrote about the history of horror and what makes an effective horror movie, with input from a wide array of filmmakers, producers, writers, and other industry professionals.
BBC Culture wrote about Joan Crawford’s final film, the absurd Trog, and its legacy as a cult classic and an anomaly for the era.
Gamespot put together a video of horror titles coming out later this year and into next year you’ll want to keep your eyes on.
If you’re looking for watchlist inspiration, Parade ranked their picks for the 151 best horror movies of all time and, dear reader, Deep Blue Sea made the cut.
Get your fill of family this holiday season with these dysfunctional families in horror literature.
Certified Forgotten revisited the made-for-TV sequel When a Stranger Calls Backand its gift for gaslighting its final girl.
FAB Press announced that they will be posthumously publishing the late Stuart Gordon’s autobiography.
Get started on your holiday horror fun with this 32-film bracket of the best and most chilling the subgenre has to offer.
THINGS WE LOVE
Jason Takes a Boat Ride on Vinyl
The soundtrack for Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan is now available for pre-order on vinyl from Waxwork Records. The 2 LP set even comes in the perfectly named NYC Grime and Hot Pink Flying V colored vinyl and we’re obsessed.