My Critical Murder Party

A dinner party, a fiction, a synopsis, and a research proposal

William Castle, House on Haunted Hill (Allied Artists, 1959)

I have been watching movies and writing about all that happens when I am alone with my television. My eyelids are heavy, my vision is blurry, I have lost sense of what is and isn’t real. It is time to resocialise myself. It is time I throw a critical murder dinner party! 


I’m Frederick Loren and I’ve rented the house on haunted hill tonight so that my wife can throw a party. A haunted house party. She’s so amusing… There’ll be food, and drink, and ghosts. And perhaps even a few murders. You’re all invited. If any of you will spend the next twelve hours in this house, I’ll give you each a 10,000 word commission in my wife’s book. Or your next of kin, in case you don’t survive. Ah!—but here come our other guests… 

Jacques Rancière, Susan Sontag and Roland Barthes are arriving in the first car. Jacques and Susan have been arguing the whole journey about the power of the photographic image. They are debating ideas of fact, testimony, and interpretation. The question seems to be whether photographs possess an intrinsic quality that sets them apart from other representations, or whether that is not the point or an apt question to ask. From up here, it looks like they can’t agree on the fact that they are in agreement, wouldn’t you say? 

‘What is written about a person or an event, is frankly an interpretation, much like paintings and drawings! Photographed images aren’t really statements about the world so much as pieces of it, they’re miniatures of reality that anyone can make or capture!’ 

‘But representation isn’t the act of producing a visual form! It’s the act of giving an equivalent, which speech does just as much as photography! An image isn’t the double of a thing! It’s a complex game of relations, between visible and invisible, the visible and speech, what is and isn’t said…’ 

‘Although there is a sense in which the camera does indeed capture reality, not just interpret it—’  

‘The photographer opposed an image of appearance to an image of reality. Then people got suspicious of the image of reality. They think that what it shows is too real, too unbearably real, to exist as an image—’  

‘Photographs are an interpretation of the world just as much as paintings and drawings are!’ 

‘Then they declare the image unfit to critique reality, because it exists under the same visual system as that reality. Which in turn reveals its shiny appearance and the sordid truth of its backside! Which both make up one and the same spectacle!’ 

When the time comes, do you think they will be able to tell dreadful artifice from unseemly reality? 

Roland is just as respected as them in his field, but he isn’t as rigorous as he used to be. Susan and Jacques don’t include him in the conversation, dismissing his arguments as sentimental drivel. Jacques believes he doesn’t have it anymore. ‘I think he’s actually expecting to see ghosts tonight,’ he whispers to Susan. 

Here comes the next car, with Wyndham Brandon, Charles Granillo, and their ex-professor, Rupert Cadell. They admire him greatly and feel a sense of kinship with him, an understanding. They absolutely loved his recently published essay, ‘On Murder, Considered as One of the Fine Arts’. Rupert is concerned by their immaturity and unselfconscious conviction. He finds their praise of his work to be worryingly literal. 

Wyndham and Granno heard that Andy Warhol was coming tonight. He is on his way somewhere behind them, riding with Vincent Price, to whom he’s just offered a part in his next movie. We shall see if that was a serious proposition, or just party chatter. Oh, don’t fret, gentle reader. I am a man of my word, and I promise you my little bet is most serious. You have as good a chance as any of them to be featured in my wife’s book. Or to remain in this house, for all eternity… 

Andy’s a great entertainer, although he has been known to rub people the wrong way. Nevertheless, you can’t deny, it wouldn’t be a party without him. He’s met Wyndham and Granno at a few soirées before and every time they shadow him all night. He humours them but finds both to be irritating try-hards. Dorks, really. They mistake his mockeries for witty piques between friends. 

The last car is driving in now, with John Waters, William Castle, and Rosalind Krauss, who got stuck in the middle. John is a man of renown these days, but at the moment he is looking somewhat starstruck. How endearing! Will’s premieres were a formative part of John’s childhood. After a couple drinks, he will often tell of this gimmick where a skeleton flew from behind the screen, over the audience, into the projection booth. He says he’s been trying to emulate that level of showmanship in every one of his movies. 

Rosie’s not one for such tricks. She claims she doesn’t believe in ghosts, nor does she want to be featured in Clara’s book. She says she is however interested in writing an essay about a widespread phenomenon of delusion in contemporary artists, who seem to believe in the reality of their own creations. She sees my invitation as a sort of research residence, so to speak. I do hope it’s worth it! 

We’re only expecting you now, gentle reader. Fashionably late as always. Just make sure you join us before midnight. That’s when we lock the doors.