Revising and rewriting my little heart out to get a draft of my dissertation to my adviser by Wednesday. Today, I’m working on fleshing out my second chapter, which deals with the paranormal horror film of the 1970s and 1980s. Just finished a passage on horror movies of that era (primarily The Amityville Horror) and their dependence on the “Native American burial ground.” Read on if you wish, because I have to keep working. #writebitchwrite
Of all the films under analysis in this chapter, The Amityville Horror is the most overt in advancing racial difference as a distancing mechanism and a marker of horror and danger in relation to the heteronormative family. Richard Dyer has noted that “horror as a genre does seem, despite some interesting exceptions, to be a white genre in the West.”[i] As a predominantly “white” genre, then, the horror film has shown, since the time of its inception, a strong tendency to locate its horror in the racialized Other (as described by Robin Wood in his foundational work on the family in 1970s horror cinema) depicted as intruding into the (white) family’s private sanctuary of home and hearth.
A film such as The Amityville Horror and, to a lesser degree, The Shining, also registers what Bernice M. Murphy refers to as “the gnawing awareness that America as a nation has been built on stolen ground resurfaces with renewed ferocity in many of the haunting found in the Suburban Gothic.”[ii] This continues as an important trope in paranormal reality, where a number of the depicted haunting are suggested to have a “Native American angle” despite only the flimsiest evidence, in the absence of other motivating factors, to support such an attribution.
Again, the psychoanalytic process of projection is particularly strong here, allowing trauma in the family to be blamed on the scapegoat of not only the paranormal but racial difference, as well (a process dating back to early American captivity narratives). Abusive patriarchy is therefore absolved of any culpability in their terrorizing of their families, with such behavior chalked up to possession by the agents of historical trauma in the form of Native Americans and their dispossession of ancestral lands.
Richard Dyer observes “that the whiteness of white men resides in the tragic quality of their giving way to darkness and the heroism of their channellng or resisting it.”[iii] The Amityville Horror, and other horror films relying on the “Native American element” present in the trope of the desecrated burial ground,[iv] feature racial difference not as the specter of national injustices from history but as active and racialized threats to family and patriarchy that must be resisted, with the white patriarch’s restoration posited as one of the most crucial points of the narrative and his family’s survival.
[i] Dyer, 210
[ii] Murphy, 104
[iii] Dyer, 28
[iv] Pet Sematary (Mary Lambert, 1989), adapted from Stephen King’s 1983 novel, also demonstrates a concerted investment in the Native American burial ground as a site of horror for the family, and although it is not about a haunting per se, the film does engage extensively with family trauma (particularly in terms of loss and mourning) and the annihilation of the Creed family as the result of their interactions with the Micmac burial ground located in the woods behind their rural Maine home.