Inside West Hollywood's feminist haunted house: Zombie folk singers and body-positive vampires

With Halloween fast approaching, it is the season of haunted everything — from haunted amusement parks to haunted mansions to haunted hayrides. Which means it's the perfect season for "KillJoy's Kastle," the lesbian feminist haunted house created by a pair of artists from Toronto.

The show, which will be staged at Plummer Park in West Hollywood starting Friday, isn't technically a haunted house. "It's an art installation of a haunted house," says Allyson Mitchell, one half of the art duo who created the piece. 

But it will still contain plenty of ghouls and gore — not to mention a performer dressed up like Andy Warhol-shooter Valerie Solanas. "You will," says co-collaborator Deirdre Logue, "be very harshly entertained."

Certainly, "Killjoy's Kastle" will not be your average haunted house full of mindless monsters and defenseless ingenues. The project, which occupies the park's entire community center, features a singular marriage of high-minded gender and queer theory mixed in with zombies, witches, feminist latch-hook rugs and some very large sculptures of tampons.

The title of the installation is inspired by Sara Ahmed's 2010 book "The Promise of Happiness," which explores the stereotype of the "feminist killjoy."

"We were also inspired by the concept of Christian hell houses," Mitchell says. "But also by Christopher Guest movies." 

The installation/performance, organized by the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at USC, will take visitors through an array of mock serious experiences.

Guests are led through the haunted house by a performer playing the role of a "demented women's studies professor." This person guides the visitor through a paranormal consciousness raising, a straw feminist hall of shame (featuring paintings of Beyonce, Lena Dunham and Margaret Thatcher) and a crypt of defunct queer organizations, publications and ideas. (Included in the mix is a tombstone for Catch One, L.A.'s longtime black, gay disco.)

The haunted house also will contain a "Riot Ghoul" party that visitors will have to traverse. "You have these performers dancing in a clique," explains Mitchell. "And you have to get through their mean, judgy dance to get through the room."

There are also zombie folks singers, a Linda Blair bathroom and a room full of confident vampire grannies letting it all hang out. (The grannies, for the record, are made out of pantyhose and stuffing.)

The artists, who run the Feminist Art Gallery in their hometown, first staged the haunted house in 2013. Located in an old warehouse in Toronto, it drew constant crowds. The show was tongue-in-cheek, but Logue and Mitchell think it touched a nerve because it addressed real issues of sexism and homophobia.

"For five or six years, we'd been riffing on these ideas," explains Mitchell. "We were thinking about what makes people so scared. What is so scary about us — these queer nerds? So we figured, what better factory to generate a response than a haunted house?"

"This project is about action," adds Logue. "It's about creating an affective space where people can't not talk about the issues that are raised."

The show, in its West Hollywood iteration, will feature more than 50 performers — singers, artists, activists, academics and even real-deal witches —  from around the L.A. area and Canada. And it will feature a special haunted house gift shop run by the Echo Park design shop Otherwild.

The haunted house will be open for 10 evenings between now and the end of October. But there is one special day the entire crew is taking off. 

"We aren't open on Halloween," says Logue, "which is the ultimate killjoy." 

"KillJoy's Kastle: A Lesbian Feminist Haunted House," opens at 5:30 p.m. Friday and runs on select evenings through Oct. 30. (Check the calendar for operating days and hours.) Plummer Park, 7377 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, one.usc.edu.

Find me on Twitter @cmonstah. 

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