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03 Mar

Chapter on Styrian No-Budget Horror

Written by Michael Fuchs
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Austro-Trash and the Environment: The Politics of Das Ding aus der Mur and Its Prequel

In their introduction to EcoGothic (2013), Andrew Smith and William Hughes note that while the Gothic revolves around ambivalence, "[t]he type of questioning posed by the Gothic has traditionally raised concerns about its political orientations" (2). However, the Austrian ultra-low-budget movies Das Ding aus der Mur (2012) and Das Ding aus der Mur: Zero (2015) demonstrate that the Gothic may, indeed, be employed for political ends.

While both movies tap into the well-known visual grammar of the horror genre, their "no-budget" status turns the graphic display of apparently fake blood and excessively used super-cheap special effects into moments of viewer amusement rather than shock. Yet despite their humorous nature, these "splatstick" movies draw on the Gothic's capability to generate unease by celebrating corporeal instability. This aspect becomes emblematized by the movies' monster (a humanoid creature reminiscent of the Creature from the Black Lagoon garnished with nuclear anxieties), which preys on human beings who get too close to the river Mur.

In my contribution to this volume, I will argue that the monster's body—half human, half amphibian creature—epitomizes the movies' ecological concerns. The movies explore the ways in which human beings and their environment interact. (It may be useful to point out here that the Mur's course—not only—through Graz was shaped by human beings before pollution caused several fishes and other animal species to disappear from the river. More recently, human interventions have helped "nature" to recover to the point that even very pollution-sensitive species such as the grayling have returned to the river.) By featuring a monster that results from human interventions in nature, the two Ding aus der Mur movies suggest that the apparently "good" intentions driving the conservation of the Mur region were, in fact, spurred by humanity's focus on progress. While this drive for progress effected the recovery of the river and its surroundings, it also further compromised the natural environment and created a "false" nature.

Yet beyond the warnings about the undercurrents of (some) conservation efforts, the movies also communicate a class-based message: One of the ideas driving the conservation efforts was to bring the inhabitants (and tourists) of Graz closer to the Mur, both metaphorically (by establishing a bond between the city's inhabitants and the river running through the city) and literally (by creating walking and biking trails and other attractions that would invite people to, indeed, be closer to the river). However, some human groups had occupied this territory before it was opened to the masses—marginalized groups like the homeless and punks (not necessarily mutually exclusive groups, of course). In this way, the movies also become pleas for not (further) dispossessing the (already) dispossessed. And if the environmental message should not be sufficiently explicit (and/or political), the latter message is, undoubtedly, political.