Please join the Chicago Film Seminar at 6:45 pm on Thursday, December 1 to welcome Catherine Clepper (Ph.D. Candidate at Northwestern) for her talk, "Death by Fright: Risk, Consent, and Sensation in the House of William Castle," and Adam Hart (Ph.D. Candidate at U.Chicago) for his talk, "Something to Be Scared Of: Fear, Anxiety and Phobia in the Horror Film." James Lastra (U.Chicago) and Jeffrey Sconce (Northwestern) will both provide the response. The CFS will be held, as always, in the Flaxman Theater, Room 1307 of the School of the Art Institute's building at 112 S. Michigan Ave.
Thursday, December 1 at 6:45pm
Catherine Clepper, Ph.D. Candidate, Northwestern
"Death by Fright: Risk, Consent, and Sensation in the House of William Castle"
Adam Hart, Ph.D. Candidate, U.Chicago
"Something to Be Scared Of: Fear, Anxiety and Phobia in the Horror Film"
Respondents: James Lastra, U.Chicago, and Jeffrey Sconce, Northwestern
Clepper describes her talk as follows:
From the onset of what Kevin Heffernan has called William Castle’s "middle-career" (beginning with 1958’s Macabre and ending, roughly, with Mr. Sardonicus in 1961) the independent director deftly conflated notions of cinematic suspense and spectatorial fun with those of physical risk and safety. Macabre's now famous Lloyd's of London insurance gimmick, guaranteeing $1000 to beneficiaries should any patron die of fright during the film's initial run, established a prescient agenda for Castle features to follow. In addition to emphasizing the outlandish rituals of promotional ballyhoo that distinguished Castle's career amongst other mid-century showmen, the insurance scheme importantly reminded audiences of the sensations felt within the cinema, namely fear, anxiety, morbid fascination, and (particularly, in the case of later Castle productions) physical shocks and vibrations. In this way, the process of insuring oneself against “death by fright” impressed upon Castle’s audiences the critical relationship between risk and consent as part of the interactive moviegoing experience. Risking unpleasantness (if not death) and consenting to disorientation, Macabre’s viewers were, as Linda Williams has argued, simultaneously more attuned to and distracted by the cinema’s sensorial spectrum; or, in other words, moviegoers anticipated and consented to their own bodily shocks. This talk explores how Macabre’s complex promotional strategies dovetailed with later campaigns for Castle’s House on Haunted Hill and The Tingler (both 1959). As Castle productions became more outlandish both on and off the screen, I argue that emphases on risk, consent, and sensation became even more foregrounded as part of Castle’s non-diegetic prologues as well as his extracinematic gags and installations. I also contend that as Castle’s films integrated excessive amounts of hullaballoo, viewers responded by adjusting their preconceptions about proper viewing habits and initiating an alternative shock-centric mode of spectatorship.
Hart describes his talk as follows:
In the two decades after Psycho, the horror genre underwent major changes. Where the genre was once characterized principally by the display of fearsome supernatural creatures, in the 1970s more human threats became commonplace. Along with this much-discussed transition from exotic monsters (often in foreign lands and older eras) to contemporary scenes familiar to Western middle-class audiences was a significant stylistic shift. The privileged object of display shifted from the extraordinary bodies of monsters to the abjected bodies of victims, with monsters - supernatural or not - kept off screen for much of the movie, sometimes never fully visualized until a climactic final sequence. This talk attempts to provide an understanding of the monster's function within the horror film given its somewhat marginalized position in the post-Psycho genre. Using accounts of anxiety and phobia as models, I posit a conception of the monster as an objectification of abject or undefined threats, a locus within which unspecified signals of danger can be contained.