Exploring Uncanny Gender Representations through Alice Angel and Ink Bendy

Curator's Note

Bendy (2017-2018) focuses on the adventure of Stein as he meets an array of characters in his old animation studio, attempting to figure out what happened to the workers as many of them have become animated incarnations of the characters from the Bendy cartoon. These include: Boris the Wolf, a mute companion of Stein’s throughout several chapters of the game; Alice Angel, the only female character and antagonist of several chapters; as well as an array of foes including the Searchers, the Butcher Gang, and the Lost Ones, all of whom were created from the array of workers in the studio.

Alice Angel, despite not being the title antagonist of the story, offers a monstrous addition to the game. Alice as a character is the embodiment of two separate employees of the animation studio: Susie Campbell, the original voice actor of Alice Angel, and Allison Pendle, the voice actor who replaced Susie for the character of Alice. Susie Campbell’s incarnation of Alice Angel provides the antagonist role of Chapters 3 and 4 in the game. Alice is obsessed with maintaining a pretty face for her role in the Bendy cartoon. By killing other ink characters in the studio, Alice is able to fix her deformed appearance and appear as she did in the animated cartoon (2017-2018). Alice, through the functions of gender performance and as the primal uncanny for Ink Bendy, operates as an uncanny presence and feminine monster within the game. She reflects masculine anxieties about the power of feminine bodies, which is reflected back to players as a form of fear inducement.

As Barbara Creed (2005a) has argued, this type of anxiety isn’t uncommon within horror tropes and media texts. The feminine monster, instead, induces fear through her own abjected subjectivity. A feminine monster’s very gender performance, the thing that makes her abject in a patriarchal society, is what causes so much fear in those who uphold the society. As Stang argues, these feminine monsters, particularly in video games, are an important site of analysis for the fear and anxiety that they induce. These so-called monsters are products of the patriarchal culture that fears female empowerment. The phallo-centricity of gaming makes feminine monsters in video games a prime area of research.

The feminine monster also lends itself to Creed’s (2005a) understanding of the uncanny gaze and subsequently the primal uncanny. Creed argues the uncanny gaze changes the relationship between the looker and the looked upon until that relationship causes fear or unease in the one doing the looking. Per Creed, this occurs because the object being looked upon moves from being familiar to being unfamiliar, hence upsetting that relationship. As the spectator begins to realize that the object is not what was expected, the uncanny gaze then induces fear or anxiety in that spectator. When the abjectness of the monster is brought forth, calling attention to these expectations and how they are being subverted and rejected, the uncanny becomes visible.

Susie Campbell’s incarnation of Alice Angel provides the game with the uncanny, feminine monster. Indeed, it could be argued that Campbell’s Alice proves to be more monstrous than the title character of Bendy. The function or role of Campbell’s Alice is to illuminate the work done within the uncanny to reflect back on the masculine monster and thus Western, patriarchal cultural values.

Barbara Creed’s (2005a) conception of the uncanny requires that the hidden or repressed be brought into visibility, creating unease and fear in the viewers of that visibility. The feminine monster does this through her gender performance, creating unease in how she can subvert and call attention to the construction of the patriarchal society through her existence in a patriarchal culture. A feminine monster also enacts the uncanny gaze through her gender performance, doubling the monstrous effect.

What makes Campbell’s Alice uncanny and monstrous is her facial deformity and her attempts to rid herself of that deformity. In the Bendy cartoon series by Joey Drew, Alice Angel is a curvy and happy cartoon character. The room leading up to the reveal of Campbell’s Alice is littered with these cherubic, vintage posters of Drew’s animated Alice Angel. However, when Stein first sees Campbell’s Alice, she is far from her cherub-perfection. The familiar and expected feminine performance is turned unfamiliar when Campbell’s Alice steps into the light. Gone is the cartoon Alice Angel, with her similarities to Betty Boop and 1950’s pin-up girls. Instead, Campbell’s Alice stands in her place staring at the player, daring them to look a little longer before she fades into the black background, beckoning Stein, and the player, to come find her again (Kindly Beast, 2017-2018). In Campbell’s Alice, what is brought into visibility instead of being repressed is the ugly, the bitter, and the malevolent aspects of Alice’s personality. Gone is her Stepford wife potential, and instead what remains is an angry and powerful woman who will use what is available to her to survive and become beautiful. Campbell’s Alice is the feminine monster that plays on her abjected and othered aspects to induce a fear in us. Her goal of becoming the angelic, beautiful incarnation of the Alice Angel character is reflective of the beauty standards mapped upon feminine bodies in patriarchy-based cultures. Her failure of succeeding at these beauty standards provides the foundations for the uncanny gaze.   

Campbell’s Alice provides Bendy with the primal uncanny by allowing his own monstrosity to be recognized. Bendy is seen rarely through the course of the game, and, when he is visible, Stein must hide from him to continue on (Kindly Beast, 2017-2018). Alice Angel produces an anxiety in the game that calls attention to the lack of Bendy as an antagonist. Alice interacts with Stein, taunts him, pulls him forward, and sends him scurrying to avoid her traps. Bendy merely meanders through the game until the final battle, where he simply must be avoided until Stein can place the last cartoon in the projector. Campbell’s Alice then fulfills the monstrous archetype successfully until the male monster of the game is ready to be faced. Alice upsets the patriarchal balance of the game by being the main, and more involved, antagonist through several chapters. While she doesn’t evolve into a large and faceless monster as Ink Bendy does, she still induces fear and anxiety through her interactions with Stein, pushing him forward toward Bendy to finish the job, participating in a monstrous form of underappreciated feminized labor. Without Campbell’s Alice, Ink Bendy is an entity that alone doesn’t induce fear within Stein, as he is never seen. Campbell’s Alice upsets the traditional monster trope within this horror video game by creating an anxiety in Stein and the player through her monstrosity, allowing Ink Bendy to finish the job through the fruits of her labor. The masculine monster of Ink Bendy is only possible through Campbell’s Alice. The uncanny makes visible this masculine monstrosity through the disruptive force of Campbell’s Alice disrupting feminine gender performance. Alice functions as the primal uncanny for Ink Bendy and lays the horrifying groundwork for Bendy to fulfill his job as the title monster, but nothing more. 

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