Romero and the Horror of the Written Word

Curator's Note

Although most known as a masterful horror director, many forget that George A. Romero was also a writer, penning the screenplays for many of his films. The craft of writing is embedded in issues of language in general, a theme that has interested horror scholars. Barbara Creed argues that film monsters represent viewers’ return to states of infantile fears and fixations; in turn, the defeat of these monsters serves as a metaphor for the escape from childhood and into the adult social order. Julia Kristeva, whose theories inform Creed, posits that it is through acquiring language reasoning skills that one obtains the means of entering and fuctioning within the civilized social world. Therefore, by extension, language is understood as standing in opposition to abnormal monstrosity.

However, I contend that Romero’s firsthand insight into the role of the horror writer and the toll these dark narratives can take on those whose create them result in Romero re-interpreting written language and monstrosity as being intimately connected. For example, in Romero’s 1993 film The Dark Half, audiences meet Thad Beaumont, a writer of several successful but graphically violent novels published under the pseudonym George Stark. Beaumont eventually decides that he will no longer be writing as Stark, but Stark will not go away easily. The specter of Stark continues to haunt Beaumont and is determined to take over his identity. For instance, when Beaumont attempts to write, Stark psychically keeps control of the pencil in Beaumont’s hand, scribbling ominous messages before causing Beaumont to stab himself.

After materializing in human form, Stark insists on a final “write-off” with Beaumont to see whose will is stronger. Nevertheless, Beaumont realizes that language and the written word on which he once thrived cannot save him. Beaumont lifts his typewriter and, rather than use it to write for his life, instead strikes Stark with it. Through this act, uncivilized violence prevails over linguistic rationality, and Stark is soon thereafter destroyed. Thus, for Romero, language and the written word are not absolute social goods, but might also be sites of monstrous death, destruction, and chaos to be resisted. 

Comments

Antonio De La Garza's picture

A mind at war with itself

Hi Kyle, Great post. I tend to agree that language is usually interpreted as a sign of civilization and humanity. It makes sense that lovers of human communication, in all its forms, have a long history of privileging language over action. However, written and verbal communication use different parts of the brain, different parts of us “speak” depending on how we chose to communicate. This is made dangerously clear in the film as Stark, the writing mind, tries to destroy Beaumont, the acting mind. So, my question for you is: are we different people when we act? Is it possible that the mind that writes might actually hate, fear, or resent the mind that acts, the mind that talks? Which mind best represents a subject, which mind should we trust? Why do the parts of us that speak do so much rhetorical work to demonize or debase the parts of us that act?

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