Jasper Vrancken: Male Nightmares

Male Nightmares. Defamiliarization and horror film production.

Jasper Vrancken

  • Research Unit Inter-Actions
  • Research Group Re-Visionary

The aim of my PhD in the Arts is to produce work in and reflect upon the field of the horror film. Using the abject as a direct inspiration and a starting point, I will create one short film and one feature length screenplay. Thematically I will focus on two sides of the same coin: male, patriarchal fears and masculinity as being a monstrous entity itself. My film work features issues as gender, male identity, desire and sexuality, and will fuse psychological horror and body horror.

My short psychological horror film “Muil (“Maw”) features main character Richard who has an unusual and dangerous sexual fetish that keeps haunting him. Richard has vorarephilia: he is aroused by the idea of being eaten. Through an online ad he meets Max, who has some kind of animal or monster locked inside a dark room. Now Richard gets the opportunity to fulfill his dangerous fantasy. Will he overcome his fear and step inside? Richard is faced with a sexual identity crisis: there is no way to escape his own terrifying desires, they keep coming back, like an unstoppable nightmare.

With this film I am trying to raise questions about the importance of sexual desire in the construction of our (masculine) identity. The sexual fetish is used as a technique to achieve an estrangement effect. By its nature, vorarephilia is utterly strange and has an almost alien-like, otherworldly quality. I am using this to produce a defamiliarization (ostranenie) of common sexual desire and identity.

There is a tradition in film studies to use defamiliarization in a mostly (neo)formalist way, but I will use this concept focusing on theme, plot and story development. Defamiliarization has been used analogously in literary studies of other genres, like science fiction (e.g. Darko Suvin, John Clute) but not in horror. I will argue that defamiliarization is an underrated and useful tool for creating and analysing horror cinema. I will analyse the relationship and interaction between ostranenie and more commonly used concepts in horror theory, like the abject and the monstrous-feminine. But also several non-psychoanalytic concepts offer an interesting cross-examination when combined with ostranenie for horror film production, like the liminal, the grotesque, and Mary Douglas’ concept of impurity.

Ultimately my goal is to achieve a defamiliarization of the common filmic representations of masculinity. And more importantly, my PhD project is an attempt to fuse theory and practice, for they are often treated as two separate entities, while this shouldn’t be the case.

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