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Face/Mask: Negation in the Flesh

by Ethan Tussey

by Matt Smith for IN MEDIA RES

In most scholarship on the modern horror film, namely the slasher cycles of the 70s/80s and late-90s/2000s, great importance is placed on the mask of the killer as a simultaneous source and negation of identity. Whether it's Carol Clover's discussion of gender confusion and the obvious influence of serial killer Ed Gein's propensity to wear pieces of his female victims' flesh on The Texas Chainsaw Massacre's (1974) Leatherface, or the recent theorizing by Larrie Dudenhoeffer that Michael Myers's mask in the Rob Zombie remake of Halloween (2007) functions as a visualization of the character's disavowal of the epistemic technologies of new media, the importance of the mask to the genre cannot be understated.

 Recently I have been thinking about Jennifer Brown's discussion of masks at various points in her rather brilliant book Cannibalism in Literature and Film in relation to the attached clip from The Devil's Rejects (Rob Zombie, 2005) and a similar scene it is directly referencing from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (Tobe Hooper, 1986). Brown discusses the wearing of masks by killers at various points in that book, usually thinking through different issues of representation and the breaking down of borders and binary distinctions. But this scene and its referrant use masks to cover the faces of victims of killers, not to obliterate the identity of the killers themselves.

In The Devil's Rejects, a touring group of musicians has just been terrorized by the maniacal Firefly family, and one of the women, Wendy Banjo (Kate Norby) is forced to wear the face of her husband as a form of torture. In TCM 2, Leatherface places the freshly-removed face of radio station tech L.G. (Lou Perryman) on that film's "final girl," Stretch (Caroline Williams) while attempting to hide her presence from his family, which also functions as a form of torture. What these masks seem to suggest to me is that the boundaries between the identities of victim and killer as well as of gender, social class, and so on, are perhaps more permeable than we regularly acknowledge. In these scenes we see the Face/Mask itself blend together as a torture device and a perverse sexual game in the horror film, as well as a negation (in these two scenes) of multiple identities.

Masks and Horror

A clip from The Devil's Rejects

from The Devil's Rejects (2005)
Creator: Rob Zombie
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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