The idea that I usually attribute to a gaze is curiosity. Whenever a person gazes at someone or something, to me this usually implies deep interest or fascination towards that which is gazed upon. So, to use this term to analyse horror movies, specifically the part in every viewing where the victim supposedly “gazes upon” the monster first confused me. I initially thought that this term was was inapplicable. Aren’t people supposed to generally feel fear towards monsters?
Before I learned about Linda Williams’ article about the woman-monster connection in horror films, it never occurred to me before that a woman gazing upon a monster could imply other things besides either a feeling of shock or horror. I don’t think that anybody could think about fear-conquering or submission when they come face to face with a monster. I remember stories of people freezing at their alleged ghost encounters, trying to look away but they couldn’t out of the sheer shock and fear they’ve experienced, and I could imagine finding myself in a similar situation given the chance. I therefore acknowledged every horror movie’s monster-gazing moments back then more as a reaction rather than an action. So, when I first saw The Innkeepers (this was before I attended horror film classes), I quickly dismissed it as nothing more than a simple and traditional ghost story.
Yet the minor details there make the movie complex and delightful. Rarely do we ever see women in horror movies being portrayed as the kind who are interested in, and in the case of this movie, obsessed with, monsters. Claire, the female protagonist, is different from the usual woman shown in most horror movies. She’s the kind who doesn’t enjoy girl-to-girl chatting and gossiping, she would rather hang out with guys and talk about ghosts. She’s the kind who gets scared, just like everybody else, but doesn’t cry or cuddle up in a corner or grab the nearest guy’s arm to bury her face on; even if she was asthmatic she could carry on by herself. On the other hand we have Luke, our male protagonist, the kind of guy who is nice and all but is weak and wimpy. We can say that even if he lied about his ghostly encounters, he’s still a guy that can be interested in paranormal stuff, except he couldn’t own up to it unlike Claire. Later on in the movie we are revealed to this somewhat reversal of roles. To me, Claire turned out to be more the traditional man than the traditional woman, and Luke the other way around.
The scene that intrigued me the most with relation to the Linda Williams article was the part where Claire and Luke went to the basement, where Claire supposedly sees the ghost of Madelyn but Luke couldn’t turn around to see it as well. Luke, the one who is supposed to be the man in the film, was supposed to see the ghost first along with the audience. Instead, Claire, the supposed woman in the film, sees it first, and the audience never got to see the ghost there. Luke was the one who became paralyzed and eventually ran away like a little sissy. Claire, in her final moments, gazed upon the ghost but never submitted to it unlike the traditional horror movie woman. What I took from that experience was that we were being told that what we understood about the female (or male) gaze was wrong, we do not truly understand. The film was telling us that, the truth of the matter is, the female gaze isn’t so different from the male gaze, and it shouldn’t be. Both of them are open to the supposed exclusive traits of men and women, knowing that exhibiting manliness does not actually require a person to be male as well as exhibiting womanliness does not actually require a person to be female.