Allyson Mitchell has a knack for dreaming up nightmares. Imagine these scenarios: “paranormal consciousness raisers,” a “cyclops-sized bearded clam” or a “riot ghoul and gender studies professor dance party” (to which you are not necessarily invited).
These are just a few of the horrors awaiting at the otherworldly Kill Joy’s Kastle, the ultimate lesbian-feminist haunted-house experience, brought to life by Mitchell, one of Toronto’s most infamous queer artists.
“There’s a long tradition of artists who have worked with horror tropes, because it’s a way to play with our greatest fears, individually and collectively,” explains Mitchell, whose practice expands to visual, textile, video, performance and installation art. “So I wanted to use that to think about the complicated politics of queerness and feminism.”
Loosely based on the American evangelical Christian tradition of Halloween hell houses — meant to scare the visitor out of a life of sin — Mitchell’s haunted house is not intended to proselytize to its guests so much as make them think.
“Clearly, I don’t want to indoctrinate people; I want the opposite of that,” Mitchell says. “Which is to ask people to join into the discourse around the meaning of the experience and actually have an opinion.”
To that end, the seemingly endless turns and terrors of the haunted house eventually spit you out into the “chilly climate room,” where guests are asked to engage with self-identified “feminist killjoys” in order to process their experience and, ultimately, agree to hold each other accountable for it.
Despite this somewhat sober ending to the Kastle, there are plenty of screams and a few good laughs to be had throughout the massive installation. Small groups of visitors are led through the space by a ghoulish women’s studies professor and encounter a riotous selection of campy, creepy and often raunchy creatures and crevices from the depths of freaky feminism.