The series of “House” party ads that Mike’s Hard Lemonade have started running are pretty effective and funny in the way that they domesticate tropes of the uncanny.
In my favorite, the host of the party answers the door bell, and a headless deer simply stands on the doorstep, breathing. The mounted head in the room behind him asks “Who is it?” because he can’t move his (dead) head to see who is at the door. The camera cuts back to a point-of-view shot from the party host, angle tilted down to show the standing, breathing, corpse. It’s like the body has come in search for its owner. The mounted head over his shoulder blinks , then asks in a normal-enough voice, just like any one of the guests: “Seriously, who is it?” The host stands just stands between them, puzzled. The commercial cuts to its end cap, a hand spilling a chilly malt beverage from a wet bottle into an icy glass: “Mike’s Lemonade: Always different, always refreshing.”
Like good flash fiction, the scenarios in these ads drive home the “always different” tagline in a way that suggests that the unexpected is omnipresent, always standing on the threshold right outside your doorway (and the entire series of ads are identical up until the doorbell rings). The use of the uncanny trope of the dismembered body part that acts on its own accord is the central motif of this particular ad) there are others in the series that use familiar icons of the horror and dark fantasy genre, like the scarecrow doing house calls, or the 30 foot woman who returns to pick up her lost giant shoe), but the talking mounted head and the ambulatory deer carcass are perhaps my favorite because they most clearly show that the uncanny is both in and out of the household — which is another way of saying that the unfamiliar is always already built into the familiar, and that the domestic space is inherently haunted by what it excludes by the artificial boundary line of property.
I also really like that the deer on the doorway is shown simply breathing. I have written earlier on this blog about “living, breathing death” (“the autonomous movement of fur”) and I can’t help but notice it here, too. The ad seems to suggest that the house party host is encountering the spirit of the game he’s bagged…and ends right on the edge of a horror movie revenge scenario. There is almost a rhetorical appeal here, manifested as a return of repressed guilt for hunting game — a theme that might suggest that the violence required for hunting for animal trophies is inhumane and not so easily forgotten.
But there is another, deeper element of this ad (and all of the “House” ads) that some viewers might not spot right away, if at all, which is really worth noting.
There are women in these ads, but we never see their heads. They are all legs (even, if not especially, in the 30 ft. woman spot). The blocking of the shots literally cuts off their heads, aligning them with the deer whose head is separated from its legs. By association, women are but trophies. This may very well be why the absurdist comedy undercuts the serious horror here, and why the uncertain “oh well” shrug off ending of the advertisement doesn’t follow through on the “revenge of the deer” scenario that it implies.
Of course, beer ads are notorious for the objectification of women, so this analysis really doesn’t say anything really new. The uncanny in advertising often masks the common and familiar by distracting viewers away from the ideologies it indulges. The lesson here is simply that Mike’s Lemonade ad is perhaps not so very “different,” after all.