Iva Radat

Haute Tension : Lesbian Audience and the Slasher Film


In my paper I examine the process of audience identification in the slasher subgenre of the horror film. Following the work of theorists who have tackled the issue with a primarily male, but also female and feminist audiences in mind (Williams, Clover, Creed, Pinedo), I focus on the lesbian audience and the pleasures available to this audience in slasher film viewing. Investigations into the mechanisms of audience identification in film viewing employed by this particular social group have emphasized the multiplicity of viewer positions and identifications which traverse the boundaries of sex and gender. Hence representation (of lesbians) was shown not to be the defining factor when it came to audience reactions. Still, as the lesbian viewer gained visibility and recognition, representations of lesbians on screen underwent a shift towards more positive images. I focus on a recent French slasher Haute tension (High Tension/Switchblade Romance, Alexandre Aja, 2003) in order to discuss ways in which the lesbian audience is (and can be) incorporated into mainstream cinema. I examine this particular movie not only because of the female hero’s lesbianism, but also because of the multiplicity of readings available to both lesbian and straight audiences which make for a complex – and potentially subversive – treatment of lesbianism. The paper presents various readings of what is at first glance a clichéd, pathologizing portrayal of lesbian desire; one such reading of the film narrative traces the origins of the heroine’s murderous impulses not in her sexuality, but in societal norms which prohibit the expression of lesbian desire. Thus it is the repression which breeds monstrosity, and the heroine’s violent rampage becomes a fantasy of sadistic revenge against the homophobic society, one which I encourage the lesbian audience to engage in.