In both art and politics, the deindustrialized city would seem to have taken on the qualities of the “unrepresentable,” a traumatic experience that can only be recorded by its attendant silence, or of depoliticized representation in genres such as “ruin porn.” Despite or perhaps because of this, the postindustrial city is ubiquitous within the genres of scifi/speculative, fantasy, and horror cinema, appearing consistently as backdrop, symbol, animus, and even in some cases, character. Given the wide literature on horror film, haunting, and traumatic memory, this article suggests we read the emergence of the “horror city” as a representation of the political unconscious of this historical conjuncture. Many films refer back to older mythologies of imperial and racial conquest, but also by doing so represent the symbol of modernity—the city—as travel back to a traumatic past. Yet within this return to history, there is a contest over allegory. Contrasting neoconservative narratives of films like The Road (dir. John Hillcoat, US, 2009) and the slasher film Hostel (dir. Eli Roth, US/Germany/Czech Republic/Slovakia/Iceland, 2005) suggests that the future has not vanished but rather has been spatially dislocated to the peripheries, as the modern site of production returns to inflict pain only on those unaware of its existence. And perhaps more radical still, two independent films, Vampz (dir. Steve Lustgarten, US, 2004) and Hood of the Living Dead (dir. Eduardo and Jose Quiroz, US, 2005), suggest that the abandoned city is still a site for the basic labor of human reproduction even as the infrastructure of full employment has vanished. As a counternarrative to both “ruin porn” and the “horror city,” these low-budget films offer the deindustrialized city as a site of mutuality and political contestation rather than a mystified object of horror and abjection.
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Benjamin Balthaser; Horror Cities: Contesting the Ruins of Capitalism in Contemporary Genre Cinema. Camera Obscura 1 May 2020; 35 (1 (103)): 139–159. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-8085147
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