A haunted house that’s not really a haunted house, KillJoy’s Kastle is a unique art project that describes itself as a “sex-positive, trans-inclusive, queer, lesbian feminist fear-fighting celebration.” The project is the brainchild of Allyson Mitchell, a Toronto artist who created the first KillJoy’s Kastle as a parody of a Hell House —the creepy-in-a-bad-way haunted houses where evangelical Christians do their best to turn Halloween into a prayer session — althoughKillJoy’s Kastle is somewhat different from our queer parody of Hell House. A new version of KillJoy’s Kastle has now taken over the community center at Plummer Park in West Hollywood, a city that’s at least 46 percent queer. Let’s take a look inside…
The city is actually funding the haunted house, which is probably not something that most cities could get away with. Running for a total of ten nights, the project was organized by the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the University of Southern California. Killjoy’s Kastle features the talents more than fifty artists and performers, while the obligatory gift shop was set up by trendy design boutique Otherwild. (The original Canadian edition of the gift shop sold fish tacos and “I’m With Problematic” t-shirts.)
The tour begins with an intro by a woman playing the role of Valerie Solanas, the SCUM Manifesto author best known for shooting Andy Warhol in 1968. According to a review in the magazine Canadian Art, the Solanas character lays down the ground rules: “You know that app you have on your phone that’s a flashlight? Don’t fuckin’ use it. Use the light that emanates from our cunts and leads towards the revolution!”
After listening to folkie zombies lending their undead spin to kd lang’s “Constant Craving,” the tour begins. Led by a “demented women’s studies professor,” visitors can see a carpet-munching monster that literally chews on a shag rug, while a little later on polyamorous vampire grannies hold a sign that says “JUST-NOT-MARRIED.” In one room, flannel-clad butches smash plaster truck nuts, while the Riot Ghoul dance party features mean, judgy dancers who stare visitors down and block the exits.
Despite the homespun look, the project clearly took a great deal of time and effort. There’s painting, music, sculpture and a great deal of time-intensive crochet and latch-hook projects. This iteration of Killjoy’s Kastle is credited to Mitchell and Deirdre Logue, who run Toronto’s Feminist Art Gallery together. They were inspired by Hell Houses, but also by the zany improvisational films of Christopher Guest, who made Waiting For Guffman and Best In Show. They also considered the extreme responses to Mitchell’s own Ladies Sasquatch — a controversial sculptural installation featuring a nude lady Bigfoot with huge genitalia — and incorporated the aesthetic into the Kastle.
Mitchell says that KillJoy’s Kastle is “a bit of a funeral for lesbian-feminist ideas that need to die or be buried.” In 2013, she told Bitch that the haunted house is “not just about how lesbian-feminists are monsters in the perception of the general population, but its also about how lesbian-feminists are monsters who would rather end a movement — for example the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival — than make any changes around how gender is perceived.”
That Canadian Art review said that the “atmosphere of experimentation, silliness and provocation was infectious,” but also served a greater purpose. “While populated by humorous, absurd and often soft and inviting figures, the installation also deals with the very real anxiety of entering into the vital yet fraught territory of feminism.”
The haunted house is free and open to the public, running from 6:30 – 9:30PM until Friday at Plummer Park (7377 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood), and organizers advise that you get there early. It’s closed on Halloween.
(featured image by Tony Coelho; all images used with permission)
Previously published October 29, 2015.
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