Outer Space is the apotheosis of the horror movie in the most literal sense. It’s not what’s been filmed that evokes our horror; rather, it’s the physical film itself, the exhibition of the scene, the screening of it ad infinitum, and, above all, the spectacle of collective viewing, that filmmaker Peter Tscherkassky locates at the root of our repulsion. Recomposed from found footage of the 1982 B-movie The Entity, Outer Space redirects the violence of the film’s supernatural rape scene from the on-screen victim of Carla Moran (played by Barbara Hershey) to the off-screen perpetrator of this violence. Adulterated in every conceivable way using scissors, pen torches, and X-Acto knives, the film is violated in the most profoundly physical way possible. With the aspect ratio stretched to its outermost limit at 2:35:1, light reduced to a synesthetic barrage on the senses, and the overblown soundtrack constantly intruding into frame, Tscherkassy draws back the curtain on Hollywood’s “invisible” style in crafting his own form of cinematic poetics.
The space that Tscherkassky initially posits in the form of a suburban house is a good stand-in for the equally safe and sanctified space of the theater. But as Hershey stands on the threshold of this seemingly unobtrusive home, so too do we stand on edge of an illusory precipice. Cinematic form, which Tscherkassky uses as a buttress for the familiar, is still in tact. Only after Hershey enters does the film’s structure decompose as a disturbing kaleidoscopic proliferation of overlaying images and a mirage of tortured sounds. Thus, Freud’s notion of unheimliche is realized in cinematic and literal terms: as the internal processes of cinema’s production and projection are made manifest, the more alien and uncanny they become. As this dialectic continues to build to a crescendo, Tscherkassky sets the stage for his grand finale, which comprises a looped series of Hershey attacking a mirror. In doing so, she becomes the involuntarily prop in Tscherkassky’s shattering of the myth long-bestowed on film by the likes of Bazin, Metz, and other notable theorists: that cinema provides us with an effective mirror with which to view the world.