Scott Allen Nollen Interview Part 2 – My Horrific Life

Please join us for part 2 of our fascinating interview with author Scott Allen Nollen!

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Scott Allen Nollen Interview Part 1 – My Horrific Life

Please join us for the first of two interviews with author Scott Allen Nollen!  Scott is the author of over 24 books including “Boris Karloff: A Critical Account of His Screen, Stage, Radio, Television and Recording Work”, and “Boris Karloff: A Gentleman’s Life.”  Listen to this amazing interview as Scott recounts his lifelong passion for the works of Boris Karloff, and his discussions with Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, Ray Bradbury, and others.

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American Mary: “Make sure they deserve it”

 American Mary, directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska, is one of the smartest and wittiest rape-revenge films I’ve seen, exploring body modification as a means for women to express and control their own sexuality.

The film follows Mary, a talented medical student who drops out of her school after being raped by her professor. She puts her talents to use within the body modification subculture, and perfects her surgical techniques by using her rapist as a human guinea pig.

Many of my friends are uncomfortable with rape-revenge films because they feel that rape scenes are unnecessary and exploitative. That may be accurate for some films, but is not the case with American Mary, because the filmmakers focus exclusively on the Mary’s face and anguished reactions. Like other rape-revenge films, issues of bodily sovereignty are prominent, but betrayal is a key factor here too. When Dr. Grant invites her to a party along with his prestigious peers, Mary assumes she is being viewed as an equal. Of course, the party is a ruse to drug and gang rape Mary. I think this scene will resonate with women who strive for equality in male-dominated fields, but who are constantly devalued or exploited.

Mary finds acceptance in the body modification community, and her first client is a woman who wishes to look like a human Barbie doll, meaning she wants her nipples and external genitalia removed. Because subsequent clients want more complicated procedures for which formal medical training does not exist, Mary first tests these procedures on Dr. Grant. The first procedure involves dental work, and as I learned in the director’s commentary, the apparatus she uses to open his mouth is a vaginal spreader. As the film progresses, Dr. Grant, or what’s left of him, is kept alive, and he definitely looks worse for wear.

Mary isn’t just avenging her own loss of bodily autonomy by taking Dr. Grant’s away. The more positive aspect of the film is that he helps her clients achieve their own version of bodily autonomy and sexual self-expression. Mental health professionals would label some  of the characters as suffering from body dysmorphic disorder, but the filmmakers never pathologize these characters. The Soska sisters themselves make a cameo appearance as twins who want to deepen their sense of connection with each other by swapping right arms. American Mary is the Soska sisters’ best work to date, and  a film I enjoy revisiting regularly.

This may be my last post for a few days, as I will be assisting Camille Keaton of I Spit on Your Grave during her appearance at El Paso Comic Con! Check back soon for new podcasts featuring some very special guests and a series of blog posts about 1960s Hammer films.

 

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The Woman

Today I’m taking a look at both the novel the novel and the film version of The Woman, a collaboration between Jack Ketchum and Lucky McGee. The Woman is a sequel to Off Season and Offspring. It is the third entry in a series about a feral cannibal family who abduct infants and eat tourists. The Woman is like other Ketchum novels (I’m specifically thinking of The Lost and The Girl Next Door here) in which good people fail to take a stand against evil, or do so too late to change the outcome. Ketchum and McGee pull of a remarkable feat with The Woman, because they portray the cannibal woman of the previous books as a sympathetic victim, and a respectable upper-middle class family as sadistic villains.

The novel is actually written rather beautifully, and at times reminded me, in both tone and subtext of Susan Griffin’s prose poetry ecofeminist manifesto Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her. (Check out the quotes on Goodreads to see what I mean.) If you like the message of The Woman, it’s also worth your time to read Pornography of Meat by Carol J. Adams, in which animals and women are often stand-ins for each other in popular discourse, and both are often discussed in the same sexualized terms.

The film adaptation is remarkable in that both Ketchum and McGee were involved (McGee as the director and Ketchum as a co-writer), but it took me awhile to warm up to the film adaptation. Although the film adaptation is true to the book, the tone is often very different. While the book is poetic, the film is sometimes satirical in tone, featuring an ironic or whimsical soundtrack. Because I had read the novel first, I found the film a little off-putting on the first viewing. There are a few other plot points and concepts in the novel that don’t translate as well to the film, such as the incest subplot and the twist about the dog kennel.

As I previously stated, The Woman, like other stories by Jack Ketchum, is about people who wait too long to do the right thing. In this case, the women of the story are so beaten down and terrorized by the family patriarch Chris that they are either afraid to confront him, or have a twisted view of what constitutes normalcy. For this reason, “The Woman” may not refer only to the cannibal woman, but to the plight of all of the female characters, and all women by extension. Chris, a lawyer, is an avid hunter. During one of his hunting expeditions he sees The Woman, who is nude (in the novel) and living like an animal. He decides to capture her and holds her as a human captive in his cellar with a plan to “civilize” her. And by “civilize,” I mean that he intends to subject her to the physical, mental, and sexual abuse his family experiences. A reasonable person would wonder why his family would agree to a human captivity scenario in the first place, but we find out later that this isn’t his first experiment in this arena. Unlike other Ketchum works such as The Girl Next Door, The Woman ends on something of a positive note, with a show of solidarity between the surviving female characters.

 

 

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Meet Camille Keaton at El Paso Comic Con, April-20-23

Just a quick announcement: I will be assisting Camille Keaton of I Spit on Your Grave at El Paso Comic Con, April 20-23, 2017. I’ve known Camille for three years, and she’s an awesome lady. She also has so many great behind-the-scenes stories about ISOYG. If you are in the El Paso area, stop by and say hello!

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Nurse 3D: A bottomless treasure trove of excess (explicit)

So while I’m on the subject of women taking revenge, it seemed imperative to cover Nurse 3D. Not because it’s a particularly complex movie with any sort of deep social subtext waiting to be deconstructed, but because it’s fun and just plain weird.

Be advised that this review contains explicit content and stills from the movie that feature nudity.

First, there were the rather racy pinup-style advertisements, as seen below.

The movie itself is weirder and more graphic. It starts with a close-up of actress Paz de la Huerta applying lipstick, a scene paired with wooden voice-over narration that’s a bit reminiscent of American Psycho. “My name is Abigail Russell. I look like a slut. But don’t be fooled, this is merely a disguise to lure the dangerous predators who walk among us. This is their jungle. Their breeding ground. And tonight I’m on the hunt. These are the cheaters – the married lying scum. They are like diseased cells, cultured in alcoholic petri dishes, but destroy unsuspecting families, and infect millions of innocent vaginas. There is no cure for the married cock. Only me, the Nurse.”

“I look like a slut.”

Nurse Abby sets off to hunt married lying scum in an improbable see-thru cocktail dress that showcases her buttocks, the first symptom of a strangely ass-obsessed movie.

If you are interested in things like plot and performance, they both “work.” Some reviewers criticized Paz de la Huerta’s performance, but I think her flat affect is perfect for this character, and effectively conveys Abby’s psychopathic nature. It’s also an interesting choice to establish Abby as the protagonist, and the film is told from her perspective. Of course, she kills several adulterous men, including her therapist, and gets to say a lot of ridiculous things in the process. “With your help, I can lick this.” (Referring to her sex addiction.) And when she tortures and kills her disgusting supervisor, she threatens to cut off his penis, saying, “Let’s get rid of Mr. Weenie, so he can’t cheat on Mrs. Whiny anymore. And, by the way, Mr. Weenie is looking very teeny right now.” This is some brilliant writing here.

Abby preps her boss for radical surgery.

In addition to stalking and killing assorted cheating male scum, Abby becomes fixated on a young coworker, Danni. She invites Danni out for a night of drinking and dancing, roofies Danni, performs sexual acts on her, and later tries to blackmail Danni by sharing photos of those acts. Abby fondly recalls that night, and tells us over voiceover, “I watched Danni’s little round ass, the same one that I’d eaten the night before, prior to finger-fucking her to six orgasms.” (Again with the ass fixation). This is surely the weirdest aspect of the movie. Since Danni was roofied, the acts Abby discusses in this scene would qualify as sexual assault. Yet Danni is never appropriately outraged at this. But there’s no clear indication that she consented to or enjoyed sex with Abby, because when Abby presses her for a lesbian relationship, Danni acts completely oblivious, even when Abby is flouncing around Danni completely bottomless. As if this is a perfectly normal way to behave around a friend and/or coworker.

This is a recurring motif in Nurse 3D, and a visual indicator that director Douglas Aarniokoski is an odd man. He makes a LOT of off-kilter visual choices. For example, Abby’s makeup is atypical, with little or no eye makeup and bold dark lips. Her face looks…er, bottom-heavy. Which brings me to the many nude scenes. Most directors would choose either topless scenes or full nudity, but Aarniokoski went with bottomless scenes almost every time, and not just with Paz de la Huerta. It’s also counterintuitive for practical reasons, as most women can’t wait to take their bras off after a long work day, even if that means deftly unhooking and slipping the bra out of one arm hole of their shirt. I could only stare at the screen in awe, thinking, “what does it mean? What does it MEAN?!” It’s not that gratuitous nudity and horror aren’t frequently paired together, but hey, Douglas, naked breasts matter too.

Sometimes, the bottomlessness makes no sense contextually. There’s no reason why Abby couldn’t have worn clothes while dismembering her boss. The only logical reason for stripping naked would be to keep her white uniform clean. Instead, she leaves her pristine white bra on, and that’s going to get ruined. Who would do such a thing? I guess it stands to reason that a woman who applies only half her makeup  will only remember to wear half her clothing.

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I Spit On Your Grave – My Horrific Life

Erica and I discuss “I Spit On Your Grave” – one of the most controversial movies in American cinema.  Is it a feminist masterwork or  exploitive trash?  Listen to our take! (We have pretty strong opinions!).

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All the Boys Love Mandy Lane…but she doesn’t love them back

For today’s film about women’s exploitation and revenge, I’m covering the 2006 film All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (dir. Jonathan Levine), which I view as a rape-revenge movie minus actual rape. Be warned: there is no way to discuss the point of the movie without spoiling the twist ending.

The film introduces Mandy Lane (Amber Heard), a young woman who is a shy loner, but also the object of desire by all the boys at her school. As a teen boy named Red explains to his friends, “There she is boys, Mandy Lane. Untouched, pure. Since the daw of junior year men have tried to possess her, and to date, all have failed. Some have even died in their reckless pursuit of this angel.” The death he refers to occurs in the opening pool party scene, in which Mandy’s best friend Emmet goads a not-too-bright jock into jumping off the roof and into the swimming pool below, because that’s surely what will win Mandy’s heart. Naturally, the jock cracks his head open on the cement edge of the pool, and dies shortly after.

The other noteworthy aspect of Red’s monologue above is the fact that Mandy’s virginity is fetishised. The boys aren’t all that interested in Mandy herself, but merely in being the first one in, if you get my meaning. This conquest mentality is highlighted by the boys’ lack of interest in Chloe, a physically attractive teen who is not desired precisely because she is the “school slut.” Chloe is also eager for Mandy to lose her virginity, probably because this would diminish Mandy’s perceived value in the sexual marketplace of their high school and possibly improve Chloe’s sexual/social capital in the process.

Fetishized virginity and objectified innocence

Red invites Mandy, Chloe, and a few male friends for a weekend at a secluded ranch, and in typical slasher film style, the young people are picked off one by one by a killer, who is revealed to be Mandy’s seemingly estranged friend Emmet. Mandy’s “friends” are far more repulsive and unlikeable than most slasher film victims, and I found myself wondering why she agree to the weekend party in the first place. Not only is Mandy more of a “square” than the others (she avoids drugs and alcohol), she is clearly disturbed and angered by the boys’ attempts to seduce her. The seduction attempts, by the way, are clumsy at best, and harassing and borderline rapey at worst.

Mandy stabs Chloe

Then we get to the strange Columbine-ish twist, in which it is revealed that Mandy and Emmet are working in cahoots. Honestly, I didn’t expect the twist, because it goes against slasher film tropes for the Final Girl to also be the killer. This twist can be more fully appreciated on a second viewing, because what first seemed to be shyness on Mandy’s part was actually thinly concealed contempt for her shallow peers, and her “innocence” was in reality coldly calculating. Mandy and Emmet have a suicide pact following the murders of the other teens, but Mandy has no intention of following through on her end of the bargain. Instead, she seems to view Emmet as yet another boy who is desperate to conquer or possess her to his own end. Mandy dispatches Emmet, setting him up to be blamed as the lone killer in the process, and making herself appear as the conventionally heroic Final Girl.

 

 

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Featured Artist: Abigail Epstein of unSpooky Laughter

After recently connecting with Abigail Epstein on social media, I wanted to promote her work. Abigail is the owner of unSpooky Studios, and does some amazing watercolor paintings. Her subjects include aspects of nature such as flowers and animals. And, best yet, what she specializes in what described to me as “fat ghosts.” Her paintings are ideal for those who want hints of happy spookiness in their decor, without gore.

Abigail is drawn to the whimsical side of horror, as she discusses in an interview with Rochester Brainery. In one of our discussions, she stated that she is most drawn to horror-comedies. Below are a few examples of her work, taken from her Instagram and Facebook pages.

Follow Abigail on Instagram at unspookylaughter and visit her website for information about ordering her work.

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Men, Women, and Chainsaws: essential reading for every horror fan

Today, I’m reviewing the scholarly book that every horror fan and has to read. Carol. J. Clover’s Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film is hands down the most important work of horror film criticism, and one of the most important works of film criticism, period. Prior to this book, horror was either ignored by “serious” critics and scholars, or condemned as hopelessly misogynistic. Men, Women, and Chainsaws did a lot to legitimize the genre and argue for feminist subtexts in the horror films of the 1970s, ’80s, and early ’90s. Clover also argued against the notion that the predominantly male audiences of the time identified with the (usually) male killer, stating that audience members identified across gender lines and with the surviving female character.

Clover is  perhaps the only academic author to influence horror filmmakers in a signifiant way, and even appeared in the pseudo-documentary S&Man (Sandman). If you are wondering why there are films and novels with titles like The Final Girls (2015, dir. Todd Strauss-Schulson), Final Girl (2015, dir. Tyler Shields), Final Girls: A Novel (2017, author Riley Sager), The Last Final Girl (2012, author Stephen Graham), Final Girls (2017, author Mira Grant), and Last Girl Standing (2016, dir. Benjamin R. Moody), it’s because of Carol Clover. In the chapter, “Her Body, Himself,” Clover coined the term “Final Girl” to describe the lone female survivor of slasher films. Usually the Final Girl is virginal, tomboyish, and more resourceful than her peers.

While the Final Girl concept is the most referenced and recognized aspect of Men, Women, and Chainsaws, the rest of the book is important as well. In “Opening Up,” Clover explores gender role subversion in supernatural horror films, as well as racial politics along the lines of “Black Magic” vs. “White Science” (think of The Serpent and the Rainbow as a prime example of this). The chapter “Getting Even” explores rape-revenge films, particularly I Spit on Your Grave, one of the most unfairly reviled and condemned films of its type. The final chapter, “The Eye of Horror,” discusses the role of voyeurism in the enjoyment of horror and the issue of viewer identification with killers and victims.

Men, Women, and Chainsaws is now 25 years old. While many aspects of the book are still relevant today, the horror genre has gone in new directions, sometimes creating new subgenres that are now likewise being unfairly dismissed and condemned. Clover’s book is a vital reminder that there needs to be ongoing engagement with and analysis of the horror genre as it evolves.

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Amer: All roads of sexuality lead to piquerism

Because April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, it seems only fitting that we devote the month to rape-revenge films and other works depicting misogyny and the exploitation of women.

To kick things off, I’m first taking a look at the neo-Giallo film Amer, directed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, who more recently co-directed The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears. Like their giallo predecessors, both films are visually stunning but don’t make a lot of rational sense.

Be advised of spoilers ahead.

Amer is set up as a trypich of the sexual development of the main character, Ana, through her life as a child, an adolescent, and an adult woman. As the film has very little dialogue, much is left open for interpretation. Nonetheless, it is a picture of how a woman’s sexuality may evolve when subjected to constant voyeurism and the threat of violence.The first part, with its lurid use of color is visually reminiscent of Dario Argento’s Suspiria. Ana spies upon her parents making love, but seems under constant threat by supernatural forces, likely a product of her overactive imagination. It is telling that she is just as fascinated by seeing the corpse of her grandfather as she is by watching her parents engage in intercourse.

The second part is grounded in everyday reality, with Ana as an attractive adolescent. While walking outdoors with her mother, a group of men leer at Ana. Their gaze is somewhat intimidating, but she appears to enjoy being watched. Noticing Ana’s enjoyment, her mother slaps her soundly. This further solidifies the association between sexuality and pain, and arguably steers Ana further away from any sort of heteronormative sexuality, toward more deviant forms of pleasure, specifically picquerism, as depicted in the final segment.

The third part  has a bit of a twist, thanks to clever editing. While the first two segments were about the pleasure of seeing and being seen, the final segment focuses on Ana’s awareness of her own bodily sensations, and she revels in both pain and pleasure. Here we see Ana as an adult, returning to her childhood home, which is now empty. As with the first segment, it is difficult to distinguish between her fantasy life and real life. It appears that a man is stalking her, and we see ubiquitous giallo-stye close up shots of a straight razor caressing black leather gloves. Because of fantasy sequences in which Ana imagines being attacked, I assumed it was a foreshadowing of her future victimization. However, we then see a leather-clad Ana accosting her male stalker and slashing his face, mouth, and eyes with the straight razor. There is no explanation of motive. Perhaps she is enraged at her constant objectification by men, but she primarily seems sexually aroused during the course of this murder.

In the final scenes, Ana’s fantasies reach their logical necrophilic conclusion in which she is both the murderer and the corpse–the ultimate passive object of desire.

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Disturbed Divination: The Daemon Tarot

Disturbed Divination is back, and this time, we take a look at The Daemon Tarot: The Forbidden Wisdom of the Infernal Dictionary. Let’s get an obvious complaint out of the way first. This isn’t technically a tarot deck as  it has only 72 cards and does not follow the standard tarot format of major and minor arcana. It is more of an oracle deck based on the 1818 text The Infernal Dictionary by French occultist Jacques Auguste Simon Collin, with 69 cards, each based on the demons described in that text.

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, I have to point out that this is not an evil or “satanic” deck designed to to assist the reader in working with dark forces. The book’s  interpretations for each card is more often along the lines of cautionary advice–recognizing negative influences and correcting them.

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Raw (2016): Fleshly appetites awakened

Thanks to the Alamo Drafthouse, I finally got to see Raw, the 2016 film by French director Julia Ducournau, wrapping up my month of viewing women-directed horror films. If you have a chance to see Raw at a theater, do so immediately. It’s a surprisingly tasteful take on the cannibal family trope, melded with a young woman’s coming-of-age story.

In some respects, Raw reminded me of another woman-directed film, Trouble Every Day by Claire Denis, but far more agreeable. In Trouble Every Day, the cannibals eat their living victims during sexual intercourse, which just seems rude. I considered writing a review for that film, but couldn’t think of one darn thing to say about it, other than a bad joke about it giving new meaning to “eating pussy.”

Raw is a classy film in which cannibalism and sexuality collide, but with a sympathetic main character who has a moral compass. Somehow, the idea of being afflicted by a genetic predisposition toward cannibalism seems more troubling in this instance. In an interview with Laura Berger of Women and Hollywood, Decournau states:

“I wanted the audience to feel empathy for a character that is becoming a monster in their eyes. It sounds twisted, but I believe that the building of a moral identity comes with the acknowledgement of tendencies that we qualify as monstrous or evil. I often ask myself, for example, ‘What’s the difference between me and someone who kills?’ ”

The ability of these human “monsters” to feel conflicted about their appetites may be one of the reasons why fictional cannibals are becoming more popular than their undead counterparts, according to Charles Bramesco of The Verge. Flesh-eating and sexuality have long been connected in the horror genre, so a cannibal craze is the next logical extension.

If you enjoy killer women, stick around for our look at rape-revenge films this month!

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The Love Witch Review – My Horrific Life

Erica and I both enjoyed THE LOVE WITCH – from Director Anna Biller.  We liked both the themes and the cinematography.  Enjoy our review and commentary!

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LIFE (2017): That ending tho…(spoilers ahead)

I’m taking another brief break from our Women’s History Month theme to report on my viewing of Life, the new big-budget sci-fi/horror movie starring Jake Gyllenhal and Ryan Reynolds. As with Kong: Skull Island, I’m somewhat wary of big-budget horror films, because they tend to play things safe.

For the most part, Life does play things safe, referencing classic films such as Alien and The Thing, without really adding anything new to the genre. Yeah, we get it. There’s an invasive life-form on the ship and it cant be allowed to reach earth. After it kills a few crew members, the best option is to shoot the alien into deep space and send the human survivor back to Earth in an escape pod.

But then…the filmmakers go where few other mainstream filmmakers have gone before. The ending comes out of left field and seems more like something John Carpenter would have filmed while in a bad mood, though even Carpenter isn’t generally this cruel, with the exception of In the Mouth of Madness. The best way I can describe the ending is that it is defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, thanks to some deceptive switcheroo editing reminiscent of The Silence of the Lambs. I wasn’t completely caught off-guard, because things seemed “off” once the escape pod reached Earth, but the big reveal was still something of a gut punch. I was actually pretty repulsed, but walked out of the theater snickering over the misanthropy of it.

Another clue to the final deception is the fact that the trailer itself is deceptive. Entire scenes and pieces of dialogue in the trailer don’t appear in the movie, or appear in altered form. The trailer shows a clean intercept of the rover containing samples of martian soil, whereas the intercept in the film is offscreen and a bit messy. One of the trailers also has dialogue stating that the invasive life-form destroyed civilization on Mars, but there is no mention of a martian civilization in the movie itself.  While most of the film doesn’t break new ground, I will recommend it because of the ending alone.

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The Slumber Party Massacre: “sometimes a power drill is just a power drill”

The Slumber Party Massacre franchise is, to my knowledge, the only slasher film series written, directed, and produced by women. Rita Mae Brown, best known for Rubyfruit Jungle,penned the screenplay for the first film.

Upon initial viewing, I tended to agree with Adam Rockoff’s assessment in Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, 1978-1986 that, “[It’s] a weird brand of feminism indeed which equates a tawdry high school locker room shower scene with any liberation other than that from clothing. . . sometimes a power drill is just a power drill” (p.138). However, upon viewing The Slumber Party Massacre and its sequels years later, I was able to appreciate the more subversive elements of this series. In the original film, women already have androgynous traits, as opposed to becoming more masculine in order to survive. Unlike the standard slasher film formula in which the “slut” dies first, the first victim is actually a female construction worker. Shortly afterward, we are introduced to the main characters in gym class. During the aforementioned tawdry locker room scene, we are privy to their private conversation that includes a mutual obsession with sports and a tendency to objectify attractive boys at their school. Perhaps the killer is threatened by the inherent masculine qualities of these women, rather than being merely a picquerist using a powerdrill as a substitute for his penis. Another key difference is that there is no single Final Girl (as defined by Carol Clover in Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film), but instead a group of young women working together to defeat the maniac.

Like most early 1980s slasher films, Slumber Party Massacre avoided the issue of sexual assault entirely, preferring instead to penetrate women’s bodies with a variety of sharp weapons in an act of symbolic rape. Just look at the film’s cover art if you doubt me on this.This symbolism is more blatant than in other slasher films, as the killer skewers several half-naked young women with his overly phallic power drill while muttering, “It takes a lot of love for a person to do this . . .You know you want it.” It is ultimately no surprise that the survivors symbolically castrate him by chopping off his drill bit (to which he reacts with horror and self-pity) before finally impaling him.

Slumber Party Massacre II is the oddball of the series, a rubber-reality Nightmare on Elm Street knock off with the young women being terrorized by a rock and roll maniac. It’s massively ridiculous, but fun anyway.

“Nice Guy ” Ken is overcompensating for…something

Slumber Party Massacre III is my personal favorite of the series, in which the Nice Guy character is not only the killer, but is literally lacking a penis.

(This post was adapted from an excerpt within my earlier work “Carnage and Carnality: Gender and Corporeality in the Modern Horror Film,” originally published in No Limits! A Journal of Women’s and Gender Studies, 2011, Vol.1.)

 

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In Her Skin: women hurting women

Naughty me, I’ve abandoned posting for a few days, yet there are still so many women-directed horror films to discuss!

In the last week, My Horrific Life podcast cohost Todd and I saw The Love Witch  at the Alamo Drafthouse; I got bogged down in spring cleaning (anyone know how to get bloodstains out of an antique wool rug?); and I caught The Belko Experiment, which doesn’t fit this month’s theme, but it worth your time despite the mixed reviews. Some have referred to The Belko Experiment as a Trumpian satire, but that’s just the liberal lamestream fake news media talking. To be precise, the manner in which characters are selected to die is more like watching Paul Ryan and GOP House members trying to balance the budget by cutting existing programs. Hint: people over 60 are selected to die first.

Getting back to women’s horror films, Shudder made things easy for me by featuring their own collection of women-directed films. I was almost hesitant to cover In Her Skin  (a.k.a. I Am You, directed by), because it’s debatable if it even qualifies as a true horror film. As some Shudder users described it, it’s mostly just sad. But the subject matter is horribly fascinating. I have more than a decade’s experience serving victims of violent crime and stalking. Because most of this work was specifically with victims of sexual and domestic violence, the victims were almost always women and the perpetrators almost always men. In some of my former agencies, it was taboo to even admit that women could be stalkers or domestic abusers. Yet, I had never been as in much physical danger as when working with some of those women, who themselves had served time for violent offenses. Sadly, it was not entirely unusual for these clients to threaten staff members with weapons. Contrary to what MRA crybabies may claim, women are not equally or more violent than men, but when women are perpetrators, their crimes should not be minimized.

When women are discussed as stalkers, it is usually in the context of erotomania. Just think of David Letterman’s stalker. Rarely can one find discussion of women stalking women, although there is an excellent and insightful article by Charlotte Shane about online harassment. Some of the concepts discussed in Shane’s article are pertinent to the film, particularly the tendency of women who stalk other women to view intimacy with the target as a means to acquire the target’s desired traits, whereas a more rational person would merely emulate their hero’s positive habits or lifestyle.

In Her Skin is based based on the book Perfect Victim: A chilling account of a bizarre and callous murder (coauthored by the victim’s mother under a pseudonym), which in turn was based on the true story of 19-year-old misfit Caroline Robertson who murdered beautiful 15-year-old dance student Rachel Barber. Why? Roberton was obsessed with and envious of Barber’s “perfection,” and believed that she could assume Barber’s identity by murdering her. Robertson was released from prison in 2015, after 16 years of incarceration. Robertson was diagnosed with a personality disorder and had an exaggeratedly negative view of herself and her physical appearance.

A representation of Robertson’s twisted self-image

The film adaptation was somewhat slow and plodding, but maintained my interest because of its basis in real events. Sam Neill stands out as Robertson’s long-suffering father, who acknowledges to the police that his daughter has always been strange. The film doesn’t provide much backstory about Robertson’s estrangement from her father, aside from a massively uncomfortable scene in which she strips naked in front of him and rants about her physical imperfections. One gets the impression that this incident was only one of many similar incidents contributing to the rift. Having not read Perfect Victim, nor the actual case files, I can’t comment as to whether this event actually occurred, but it is an effective moment in the film.

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Women in Horror Month: Lovecraftian fiction and StoryBundle special

I typically don’t recommend books unless I have read them in their entirety, but I’m going to make an exception, because the clock is ticking on a great bargain. Thanks to StoryBundle, I’ve acquired some great Lovecraftian fiction and non-fiction ebooks. And since we are celebrating Women’s History Month here at My Horrific Life, I want to direct your attention to two books in particular. The first is She Walks in Shadows, an anthology of short stories written by women. Fans of Lovecraft will note the absence of women in his fiction. The stories in this collection are not only written by women, but feature women as the main characters. Purists will be pleased as the stories are faithful to the Mythos and its core philosphy. The stories I’ve read thus far really capture the weirdness and dread of Lovecraft’s fiction, minus his extravagant verbiage.

The other woman-authored book is Priestess: The Collected Blackstone Erotica by Justine Geoffrey. This one is…different. If you like the perversity and explicit porniness of Edward Lee’s fiction, this may be the perfect collection for you. Let’s just say that nothing is left to the imagination, and poor H.P.L. is likely rolling in his proverbial grave.

While you can purchase these through Amazon at the links above, the most economical bargain is through the StoryBundle Lovecraft collection, which is only available for the next 14 days. In case you aren’t familiar with them, StoryBundle curates collections showcasing indie authors, and lets the buyer pay what they want…within reason. Most basic bundles start at $5, with an option on unlocking all of the books in the bundle for $15-20. You can also decide if you want a portion of your purchase to support a charity. Once you purchase a bundle, the DRM-free ebooks can be downloaded to your computer or eReader of choice.

I haven’t had time to delve deeply into most of the other titles, but am intrigued by When the Stars Are Right: Towards an Authentic R’Lyehian Spirituality by Scott R. Jones. This seems like a great book for anyone who has had any sort of “religious experience” while reading Lovecraft’s fiction, but who doesn’t relate to the religious texts and grimoires created by Donald Tyson and other occultists. I’m sure I’ll be reviewing it in depth in the future.

The entire Lovecraft Bundle can be purchased for a minimum of $15, and like their other collections, it won’t be offered again once the bundle expires. The other books in this bundle are shown in the image below.

The StoryBundle Lovecraft collection

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I gave “Kong: Skull Island” a chance, and so should you.

I didn’t think I would be seeing Kong: Skull Island. Based on the trailer, it looked horrible, like something made for and by 14-year-old boys. Generally speaking, I do not like big-budget horror films made by major studios. Especially ones with a lot of CGI. I hate CGI. With “corporate” horror films, edgier content is usually watered down, and the scares are absent.

But, I gave Kong: Skull Island a chance, and so should you.

Yes, it does have CGI monsters and a lot of action scenes involving said monsters fighting to the death. Yet, it has intelligent concepts and political satire too. This Vietnam-era reboot doesn’t have much in common with the 1933 classic. In fact, it inverts many tropes of the original film. I won’t spoil too many details of Skull Island here. But you probably know that the original King Kong was, for the most part, a commentary on commercial greed, with a slimy male filmmaker hiring an actress (Fay Wray) in hopes of filming her very real terror and possible death at the hands of the monster. In Snuff: Real Death and Screen Media, Neil Jackson goes so far as to categorize King Kong as the “prehistory” of snuff-themed films for this very reason. At minimum, analysts of the 1933 King Kong could note the “male gaze” and need to fetishize the terror or women. And don’t get me started on that stupid “beauty killed the beast” crap. In contrast, Kong: Skull Island puts a woman behind the camera, and she’s a journalist and self-described “anti-war” photographer. She’s motivated by idealism, not commercialism. While she’s not a badass “action hero,” she’s fearless, and never becomes a stereotypical damsel in distress. Furthermore, she’s never treated as a sexual object by the men in the exploration unit, nor by Kong. There are no love scenes of any kind in this reboot, another bonus in my book.

War journalist Mason explores a “mass grave”

It seems that the writers had the current political climate in mind with lines like “There will never be a more screwed-up time in Washington,” and the wrong-headed shaming of journalist Mason for her “negative” coverage of the Vietnam War. There are references to Cold War politics too. The explorers aren’t entertainers, but scientists and military personnel who want to chart the island before the Russians have a chance, under the auspices of finding new medicines and natural resources. In reality, the explorers drop bombs on the island for no good reason and some want to kill the native species because “those things shouldn’t exist,” with no regard for consequences to the ecosystem and to the long-suffering humans who live there. This is definitely a movie in which humans are the real “bad guys,” with Samuel L. Jackson predictably playing the worst.

As for the CGI, it didn’t hurt my head or look utterly ridiculous, and the action scenes didn’t overstay their welcome. And I’m saying this as as someone who quickly gets bored by action scenes.

See it on the big screen. And make sure you stick around for the teaser after the credits.

 

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Karyn Kusama’s “The Invitation”: the horror of positive thinking

I first saw Karyn Kusama’s elegant, slow-burn horror film The Invitation at the 2015 Stanley Film Festival. In my opinion, it tied with The Final Girls as the best of the festival. While it is slow-burn, it is never lacking interest, and the slow buildup explodes into violence in the last 20 minutes. Rest assured, there are spoilers ahead.

We are first introduced to Will, who is grief-stricken following the accidental death of his son two years ago. Will and his girlfriend receive a dinner party invitation from Will’s ex, Eden, and her current husband. Despite not feeling social, Will accepts the invitation, and is reunited with several old friends and two mysterious newcomers, Sadie and Pruitt. As the evening progresses, Will can’t shake the suspicion that something is terribly wrong. As in many horror movies, his suspicions are proven valid.

The Invitation has many layers. The first is that the characters are endangered by their own politeness. Will is not the only one to notice something “off,” but the other guests are, for the most part, too polite to say anything. Eden and her new husband David spout hollow rhetoric about how suffering is optional, play an unsettling cult recruitment video for the guests, and introduce a party game designed to break down their guests’ inhibitions. Even more unnerving are their new friends Sadie and Pruitt, who seem to have no filters or sense of appropriate boundaries. One character, a tenured professor, decides to leave during the game and it’s not clear in the film itself whether she manages a safe escape. In the Stanley Film Festival Q&A session, Karyn Kusama stated that the character was both “smart and dead,” that is, she was smart to leave but was indeed murdered offscreen.

The film is a thoughtful depiction of the arrogance and toxicity of cults. In an interview with Vox.com, Kusama states, “The overriding principle was the idea that you can have a belief system in which you can make the decision that you know better than others….When do they stop just providing order for an individual’s life, and when do they start controlling or mandating other people’s lives? That is what we were really interested in, thinking about the notion of the group itself as less a fringe cult and more a representation of belief systems when they’re out of control in general.” Indeed, the cult depicted in The Invitation seems generic in many respects. It claim to offer its members a reprieve from suffering and some sort of blissful reunion with loved ones in the afterlife.

The fact it is a suicide cult is the only fringe element, because its tenants appear to be the distillation of society’s most treasured values, the most problematic of which is the glorification of positive thinking. Ultimately, it’s positive thinking that drives the cultists to murder, and positive thinking that causes the victims to endanger their own lives. The former desperately want to stifle their grief in favor of entering a blissful afterlife. The latter choose to ignore obvious signs of trouble, because they want to give their friends the benefit of the doubt.

In contrast, there is Will, who is so consumed by depression and grief that he can’t play these games, or even put up a positive front. In an interview with Nick Allen of rogerebert.com, Kusama posed the question, “What does that mean—not just for him, but for us as a larger society—what does it mean to negate our pain, or to seeing that as useless? What it boils down to for me is that it’s pretty horrifying.” As it turns out, studies indicate that mildly depressed people are more accurate in assessing certain situations, and fear is a vital survival signal, as discussed in Gavin de Becker’s The Gift of Fear, but perhaps the most thorough defense of negativity was presented by Thomas Ligotti in The Conspiracy Against the Human Race. Will is barely tolerated by the rest of the group because of his depression, social anxiety, and paranoia, but these are the things that ultimately save his life. Furthermore, Will’s expression of his pain is authentic, unlike the brainwashed and chemical-induced “happiness” of the cult members. In The Invitation, grief and trauma cannot be rushed or “spiritually bypassed,” but have to be fully felt and processed to eventually heal.

 

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American Psycho needed a woman’s touch

The novel American Psycho, written by Bret Easton Ellis, featured such graphic depictions of sexual homicide, sometimes running on for nearly a dozen pages, that it incited feminist outcry and death threats against Ellis.  I had read the novel when I was a tender 19 years of age, and as much as I typically enjoy fictional scenes of gore and torture, it was too much for me. There seemed to be no point to the scenes, and the endless monologues about designer brands became their own form of torture. The novel’s sadistic murders had to be omitted or softened for the film version to get an ‘R’ rating, but now, in the current post-“torture-porn” era, the time may be ripe for an explicit “hardcore horror” remake. Given the outcry that the book was hopelessly misogynist, it is ironic that  it was adapted for film by self-proclaimed feminists Guinevere Turner (writer) and Mary Harron (director).

The film adaptation eschews the novel’s graphic violence in favor of its satire of ‘80s consumer culture and its criticism of affluent white masculinity, which is largely defined by conformity and superficiality. Corporate psychopath Patrick Bateman and his peers are obsessed with surfaces. Bateman’s daily routine revolves around maintaining and improving the surfaces of his body. The countless hours spent obsessing over tanning, cucumber facial peels, and six-pack abs make his quest for the perfect masculine body look eerily similar to the fascist beauty regimens employed by the women he despises. His existential crises may be triggered by something as meaningless as not getting a reservation at his favorite restaurant, or the discovery that his coworker has a more attractive business card. Bateman’s sexual relationships are largely informed by pornography and are entirely devoid of emotional content. Bateman himself acknowledges that nothing lies beneath these attractive surfaces. “There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman; some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me: only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable… I simply am not there.”

Not surprisingly, his victims are most often women, members of racial minorities, gay men, and people who are economically marginalized, all of whom he sees as less than human. While the novel never seemed to transcend its misogyny and classism, the film adaptation’s approach is savagely funny, with the joke ultimately at Bateman’s expense rather than that of his disenfranchised victims. For more about the “subversive female gaze” of the film, and the ordeal of getting the film made despite opposition by feminist groups and studio interference, read “The Female Gaze of ‘American Psycho‘” and “How American Psycho Became a Feminist Statement.”

And please be sure to check out Mary Harron’s other horror film, The Moth Diaries , currently available on Shudder.

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Interview with Justin Beahm – My Horrific Life

Join Erica and I for an interview with Justin Beahm!  Justin is an author, producer, actor, and the host of the “Justin Beahm Radio Hour” Podcast.  He has a life-long passion for all things horror!

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XX Movie and Women In Horror – My Horrific Life

Happy Women’s History Month!  Erica and I take a look at the fantastic new anthology movie XX – all four segments were written and directed by women, and we discuss women in horror.

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“FantasticLand” only $1.99; Lovecraft Storybundle special

OK, so this isn’t part of our Women’s History Month celebration, but we want our readers to know that our friend Mike Bockoven’s first novel FantasticLand is only $1.99 on Amazon Kindle for a limited time!  Todd and I are excited to review his novel, and this is a great bargain.

StoryBundle has a great deal with their current Lovecraft collection. A mere $15 can get you a dozen Lovecraft-inspired stories in the ebook format of your choice. One of these books, oddly enough, is Lovecraftian erotica. I have purchased two other bundles from StoryBundle in the past, and have had a good experience with the company and the products. This deal expires in 20 days, so get on it.

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Kei Fujiwara’s Organ

Kei Fujiwara’s Organ (1996) is an exercise in pure fantasy. There is very little intelligible plot, but I doubt that Fujiwara was particularly concerned with plot when she made the film. Rather, she wanted to convey some fairly abstract and esoteric philosophical concepts by the means of bombarding her audience with gruesome and fantastic images, such as prolonged shots of radical and unnecessary surgery, or a half-butterfly half-woman creature hatching out of a cocoon. According to the director’s commentary, Organ was so graphic that even Japanese censors were scandalized, and Fujiwara planned on making Organ 2 even more violent. Sadly, I don’t think the sequel came to pass.

Organ consists of approximately four loosely interconnected plots, all dealing with the search for something missing. Yoko, played by Fujiwara herself, compensates for the loss of her eye by illegally harvesting organs, which are then sold on the black market. Her brother Seaki had been castrated by their abusive mother, and is being consumed by a flesh-eating disease. He reasserts his masculinity and staves off the disease by murdering virginal young women and using their blood to prolong his life. Numata, a Tokyo police officer searches for his twin brother, who has been kidnapped by the organ-harvesting syndicate, only to discover that they have used him for a series of gruesome experiments. Another cop seeks to murder his wife’s rapist. In all cases, the quest to overcome loss is impossible, indeed, futile.

 

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Baise-Moi: Revenge is equal-opportunity

Next in our Women’s History Month celebration, we take a look at Baise-Moi (2000), which literally translates as either “fuck me” or “rape me,” and is directed by Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trihn Thi. As a rape-revenge film, it is somewhat atypical in that women are also targets of revenge, and the directors never bother to justify all of the murders. Some of the victims are innocent bystanders, proverbially in the wrong place at the wrong time. In this sense, Baise-Moi may also be categorized with other films that glorify female sociopaths. It is also fairly unique in its use of hardcore sex scenes, both during the rapes of the lead characters and the subsequent depictions of consensual sex. While I find these scenes rather clinical and un-erotic, directors Virginie Despentes and Coralie Trihn Thi (who have themselves worked in the porn industry), state that the sex scenes were absolutely essential in their quest “to reclaim women’s rights over their true sexuality, to step back from the male gaze. It’s always men who have a problem with [women’s sexuality]. It’s their problem, not ours.” Read the full article here. Indeed, the sex scenes deviate from the typical pornographic script in that the women control the encounters. Yet it’s hard for me to relate to characters who are as violent and oppressive as the rapists. As someone who enjoys revenge films and rape-revenge film, I didn’t expect to be such a wet blanket.

If Baise-Moi seems too  extreme for your tastes, but are intrigued by Despente’s philosophy and take on feminism, I recommend reading King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes, which starts off with this great line:

“I am writing as an ugly one for the ugly ones: the old hags, the dykes, the frigid, the unfucked, the unfuckables, the neurotics, the psychos, for all those girls that don’t get a look-in in the universal market of the consumable chick.”

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Get Out Movie Review – My Horrific Life

We had so much fun reviewing the new movie “Get Out”, from writer-direct Jordan Peele.  We loved the move (big shock there), but we also discuss what this movie suggests about racism in America.

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In My Skin: Self-Harm is Self-Love

For our first review for Women’s History Month, French writer-director Marina de Van explores alienation from one’s own body in her debut film In My Skin (2003). She portrays a woman who suffers and accidental fall and becomes so fascinated with the gashes on her leg that she begins to mutilate herself and consume her own flesh—scenes that are depicted with an exuberant, disturbing eroticism. Her loved ones are naturally concerned with her obsession, but their reactions compound the problem. Esther’s friends are not only alarmed at the harm she is inflicting upon herself, but are also irrationally jealous that she has become more intimate with herself than they ever could be, and so her body is treated as communal property.

The film’s concept was inspired in part by a real life incident. De Van was hit by a car as a child, and her leg was partially crushed. She felt no pain, but rather a peculiar distance from her own body. This sense of alienation was compounded upon the discovery that the ruined portion of bone had been thrown away. She stated in a 2005  interview with wellsping.com (now a defunct link), “A part of me had been thrown in the garbage just like my torn clothes. An object, a piece of trash…Later on, at school, my scars became a source of games. My friends and I had fun putting needles in them because the skin had become insensitive.” De Van is careful not to reduce the motivation behind Esther’s self-mutilation to something cliché, such as a body-image problem or sexual dysfunction. Instead, she states that she wanted to avoid showing the body as “an object of desire or as a social representation, subject to fashion, aesthetic, sexual, or cultural dictates. I wanted to approach this theme in a more elementary way: the body as matter.” I’m not sure if the “average viewer” in North America appreciates the intended subtext. To a lot of us, it looks like picquerism and eroticized auto-cannibalism.

To read more about Marina de Van’s intention with In My Skin, read her interview with The Guardian. De Van has also directed Dark Touch and Don’t Look Back, both of which I recommend.

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My Horrific Life celebrates Women’s History Month!

The Love Witch (2016)

Greetings, freaks! March is Women’s History month, so we will be looking at horror films  and fiction written and/or directed by women. I’m super excited to finally see The Love Witch at a nearby theater this month. The first step in resisting the patriarchy is subscribing to Shudder and watching the collection, “A Woman’s Touch.” Your mistress commands it!

Soon, Todd will be posting our podcast review of Jordan Peele’s Get Out. So subscribe to our podcast on iTunes immediately, whitey!

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My Horrific Weekend: Joe Bob Briggs, Get Out, and Vagina Monologues

I’ve been slow to write new posts because I had an overly long and horrific weekend. The most horrific event being seeing a live performance of the Vagina Monologues for the first time. Don’t get me wrong; the performers did a good job, but I didn’t relate to the source material…at all, although I did like the part where one woman states she viewed her vagina as a black hole, randomly sucking up random particles in its orbit. Perhaps the most disappointing part of the Vagina Monologues is the fact that no vaginas actually talk. I suppose this makes me a bad feminist. Even after over a decade of working with rape survivors, I’m tragically uncool for not “getting” the Vagina Monologues, and in general for not wanting to hear other women talk about their vaginas.

Before this horrific end to my horrific weekend, my podcast cohost Todd and I recorded an episode about sadomasochism in horror movies and why BDSM is boring in real life.  Then we went to see Jordan Peele’s new film Get Out . This is by far the best theatrical release movie I have seen in months. Todd and I will be discussing this film at length in our next podcast, so I won’t spoil too much here. That said, we went to our town’s opening night screening which had an unusually mixed race audience for a horror film in Nebraska. Based on the raucous cheering during the film’s final act, I can conclude that everyone enjoys seeing shitty white characters die. It goes to show that even white people are sick of white people’s bullshit. This movie may be the first step in healing the racial divide that is tearing our country apart. Take a look at the trailer below, and then get thyself to thy local multiplex immediately.

The highlight of my weekend was meeting Joe Bob Briggs, who had a guest appearance at the Alamo Drafthouse in La Vista, Nebraska for a special screening of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet Blu-ray Blue Velvet. I’ve loved Joe Bob since the 1990’s, when I discovered him on TNT’s Monstervision and then read his books. Many horror fans are familiar with Monstervision and Joe Bob’s column, compiled in Joe Bob Goes To the Drive-In, and with his tendency to anger people on the right and the left. Many people have been snowed by his redneck persona and don’t know that he has an Ivy League education. And many people didn’t appreciate the underlying intellectual approach to examining films other critics would prefer to ignore. I suspect that only hardcore fans are familiar with his work to expose fraudulent TV evangelists as a member of the Trinity Foundation and the Daily Show’s segment God Stuff.  The same goes for his “serious” nonfiction works written as John Bloom, most recently Eccentric Orbits: The Iridium Story.

Based on the sarcasm and caustic humor in his books and television persona, I expected Joe Bob to be the type of celebrity guest who roasts his fans. Actually, he was one of the nicest people I’ve met. Of course, I had to drag along copies of his books to be autographed. Joe Bob opened with facts about Blue Velvet, and followed the screening with a Q&A session. Blue Velvet was awesome on the big screen, but no one asked about it or wanted to debate the meaning of the film during the Q&A. Everyone had questions about Joe Bob’s career and which movies he found personally influential. One of the best pieces of advise was for reviewers and bloggers to move away from shallow write-ups of films and toward “curating” films instead. As he states in a recent interview, “You can watch even a horrible movie if you know enough about it in advance. A terrible movie, when it’s curated, can be fun. Certain things, if you keep them in the back of your mind, it changes your experience of the film, hopefully in a good way.”

 

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Sadism and Masochism in Horror – My Horrific Life

During this Podcast Erica and Todd review S & M in Horror Films!  We focus more on “Mainstream” examples of S&M in horror – particularly the Hellraiser series and From Beyond, but also discuss other fringe films like Feed.  Give it a listen!

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Slaughter Disc: the anti-porn meta-horror-porn film

Before reading further, be advised that SLAUGHTER DISC: A TALE FROM THE CARNAL MORGUE  is a hardcore porn film, featuring real sexual penetration and fake snuff-style violence. The film is not appropriate for minors, and this post and accompanying images will be more explicit than usual. (Not that female nipples require an excuse or apology.) Normally, I wouldn’t bother with reviewing a porn film, but the fact that it was described to me as an anti-porn porn film caught my attention. The tagline, “Bondage, Murder, Self-Mutilation, Cannibalism, Necrophilia – these are just the icing on the cake of this journey into Hell,” sealed the deal.

The film is based upon director David Quitmeyer’s short story called “The Tape,” in which the spirit of a murdered porn star takes revenge upon male viewers who abuse pornography and objectify women.

Caroline Pierce as Andromeda Strange

The protagonist, Mike, is a pathetic college man who is so addicted to pornography that he cannot have a successful relationship with real women. His habit puts him in debt, causes him to lose his job, and even isolates him from his same-sex friends. But Mike isn’t a “harmless” consumer. When he isn’t pursuing his latest perverse or absurd fetishes (clown sex!), he participates in a drunken gang-bang at a fraternity party, an encounter that he only dimly remembers the next morning. Rather than worry that he may have committed rape, Mike predictably panics over the possibility that the he may have had sex with a “fat girl.”

One day, Mike learns of a new DVD so explicit that it is banned in every country. Delighted, he pays the website’s rather exorbitant fee and the disk arrives in the mail soon after. The DVD’s female anti-hero, Andromeda Strange, does indeed offer a spectacle different from standard pornographic fare. In the first scene, she masturbates until she ejaculates blood, then slashes herself with a razor. Mike is disturbed, but somewhat aroused by this display of female masochism. In the subsequent scenes, Andromeda has sex with a variety of bound and gagged male victims, whom she treats as passive playthings for her own pleasure. Interestingly, she never achieves orgasm unless by self-stimulation. Perhaps orgasm is too associated with surrender and a loss of bodily control. After an otherwise standard porn scene involving a “cum facial,” Andromeda retorts, “Guess what else I like having sprayed all over my body,” slashes the man’s throat, and bathes in his blood. Another man calls her a bitch, and she bashes his head in with a hammer. Obviously, Mike is not prepared for this onslaught of misandrist snuff, but he can’t stop watching. In the final scene, Andromeda crosses over into Mike’s reality and then claims him as her victim.

A behind the scenes still.

I enjoyed Quitmeyer’s creation of a female character with true power and agency, but his film still cannot escape the dominant/submissive binary that defines the genre. But perhaps Quitmeyer’s methods really are more subversive. All hardcore porn films are designed to trigger an orgasm in their masturbating viewers, ideally when the performers reach orgasm. Feminist critics such as Catharine MacKinnon assert that male viewers are being conditioned to orgasm to the degradation of women (In Are Women Human?: And Other International Dialogues, p. 88). Slaughter Disk seeks to deprogram this response in some obvious ways. During the more conventionally “sexy” moments, the camera cuts away from Andromeda’s sexual gymnastics to Mike masturbating. Something about his skinny, whipped-dog body, and vacant stare is the antithesis of sexiness. The message to viewers is “This is you,” and this sort of identification is highly unappealing.

And of course, the male victims are killed at precisely the moment when the viewer is supposed to reach orgasm. Nor does the film make an attempt to show what women’s sexuality might actually look like—Andromeda spends the majority of time catering to male fantasies before brutally letting her “lovers” know how fundamentally wrong their desires are. Like conventional horror films, Slaughter Disk achieves a perverse form of gender equality by elevating the status of women, but also by figuratively and literally cutting men down to size—both socially and via physical mutilation.

(This post was adapted from an excerpt within my earlier work “Carnage and Carnality: Gender and Corporeality in the Modern Horror Film,” originally published in No Limits! A Journal of Women’s and Gender Studies, 2011, Vol.1.)

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Feed: “Consumption is Evolution”

Keeping with the theme of kinky and anti-porn horror films, Love Object portrayed necrophilic fantasy, but the 2006 film Feed adds another layer of complexity to anti-porn rhetoric.  Feed addresses a bizarre spectrum of behaviors between consenting adults, opening with a scene based on the real-life case of the German cannibal Armin Meiwes, who placed an advertisement for a willing victim to be “slaughtered and consumed,” and found one. The Meiwes case has been depicted in other films, including Grimm Love (Fangoria Frightfest) Grimm Love and Marion Dora’s Cannibal. Feed and Cannibal are unconventional in their depiction of malevolent victims, That is to say, the “victims” not only consent to their demise, but are at least as culpable and villainous as the villains. The victim in Cannibal berates the Meiwes character into killing and eating him, suggesting that Meiwes initially merely fantasized about cannibalism but didn’t plan on following through. The victim in the beginning of feed is at least equally responsible, and pleads to the investigator who tries to save him, “It’s my body…and I want to be eaten!”

Deirdre is initially pampered in romantic surroundings…

It doesn’t seen that a film that starts with a man eating his own penis after watching it being fried in a skillet could get nastier, but it does. This film addresses an obscure subculture within the BDSM/fetish community (though many BDSM practitioners would disavow it), known as feeders and gainers, with a dash of vore. The gainer, usually a woman, is fed until she is so obese that she is completely dependent on her partner. Of course, numerous pornography websites are devoted to this paraphilia. The would-be hero of the film, Phillip, is an Interpol agent who investigates legal violations on “internet porn” sites. While investigating the fat appreciation fetish site, he discovers that the pornographer Michael is force-feeding the models to death. In an especially gruesome twist, subscribers to Michael’s site place bets as to how long it will take the women to die. Then, these women’s bodies literally become products to be consumed, as he feeds their fat to new, unsuspecting victims. When Phillip tries to save one of the models, Deirdre, who is near death, he is shocked when she rabidly defends her abuser.

…Then the boudoir devolves into an autopsy room as Deirdre nears terminal mass.

Although Feed addresses a very obscure subject, the overall message is that pornography “models” and sexual submissives are often so brainwashed that their consent cannot be considered genuine. The film depicts pornographers and dominants as merely preying on their submissives’ low self-esteem and creating the illusion of a caring relationship. The film’s villainous pornographer often adopts feminist rhetoric about healthy sexuality and body image, but in reality despises women. Michael tells heavy women that they are beautiful, and encourages them to gain more weight. His ideal of beauty becomes just as oppressive and destructive as the mainstream cultural mandate to be very thin. Perhaps this film is not fair to the feeder-gainer subculture, nor to BDSM subculture as a whole, but, based on personal conversations with various…people,  Michael’s rhetoric does resemble the twaddle spouted by some self-described doms…Beating the one you love is a way to honor them, blah blah blah. Suffice it to be said that the more I try to approach BDSM (or at least its apologists) with an open mind, the sillier–and more insulting–it seems.

Yet, this film poses important questions. Who decides what is safe, sane, and consensual? To what extent should we have freedom to decide the fate of our bodies? Are our desires really ours to begin with? Perhaps this is a conundrum because even the most “normal” and “healthy” sexual and romantic relationships are traditionally characterized and defined by the dominant/submissive binary.

(This post was adapted from an excerpt within my earlier work “Carnage and Carnality: Gender and Corporeality in the Modern Horror Film,” originally published in No Limits! A Journal of Women’s and Gender Studies, 2011, Vol.1.)

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Love Object: pornographic fantasy as disease

Robert Parigi’s 2003 film Love Object is only one of many horror films that explore male fantasies involving passive women in the form of sex dolls and/or corpses. Other films to tackle the subject with varying degrees of competence include Dead Doll, The Coroner, Autopsy:Love Story, Marrionier: A Doll Horror Story, Living Doll, and the short film “Mail Order Bride” in Tales from the Carnal Morgue, Vol. One. As discussed in my essay within Understanding Necrophilia: A Global Multidisciplinary Approach, the sexual attraction toward dolls, statues, and mannequins is called pygmalionism, and is considered to be linked to necrophilia in that it provides an entirely compliant non-rejecting “partner.”

Kenneth unboxes his sex doll. Note the coffin-life appearance of the box.

Love Object is also one of many films that criticize the pornographic fallacy, that is, the phallocentric assumption that the desire of women is to fulfill the sexual desires of men, no matter how brutal or perverse. The feminist notion that pornography distorts men’s perceptions of women is illustrated by protagonist Kenneth’s visit to a porn shop, a scene that takes on a hallucinatory quality as he becomes increasingly entranced by the sight of silicone- enhanced, eager women and the prospect of sadistic and exotic sexual acts. But then there is a sharp jump-cut back to reality, which is a cruel shock—Kenneth is surrounded by real women, who are often dumpy-looking, pregnant, elderly, and/or generally disinterested in sex.

Kenneth shares a tender moment with his doll.

Kenneth is rather socially inept when it comes to relating to women. He has a crush on his coworker, but is unable to connect with her appropriately. He solves this problem by buying a $10,000 sex doll custom made in her likeness.  Initially, his role-plays with the doll help him “rehearse” appropriate interactions with his crush, who eventually dates him. However, he can’t handle the fact that his new girlfriend has a mind and desires of her own. His solution is to embalm her with a plasticizing agent so that she will be perfectly compliant, creating a necrophilic replacement for the original sex doll. The embalming plan doesn’t succeed, but depressingly, he gets away with his attempted crime because patriarchal society refuses to recognize that his desires are deviant.

Kenneth is less than tender with his flesh-and-blood girlfriend.

Love Object treats male violence against women as a continuum beginning in “harmless fantasy” that develops into objectification, and ends in femicide. To emphasize the pathological nature of the pornographic mentality, Parigi depicts it as manifesting itself as a disfiguring purple stain that marks the film’s perverts. The visit to the sex shop is the catalyst that transforms Kenneth’s personality. While extreme in its view that men are so easily influenced by pornography, it is merely an exaggerated version of Catharine MacKinnon’s theory that pornography “institutionalizes a sub-human, victimized, second-class status for women by conditioning orgasm to sex inequality,” (from Are Women Human?: And Other International Dialogues, hardcover first edition, p. 88), and that the pornographic mentality encourages men to experience women as compliant objects.

Kenneth attempts to embalm his girlfriend alive.

(This post was adapted from an excerpt within my earlier work “Carnage and Carnality: Gender and Corporeality in the Modern Horror Film,” originally published in No Limits! A Journal of Women’s and Gender Studies, 2011, Vol.1.)

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Lovecraft Country: America’s Monsters Exposed

In honor of Black History Month, I’m taking a break from covering erotic horror to review Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country: A Novel, which I’ve been reading for the past month. I love the cover art, which melds the images of a Lovecraftian tentacled monster with the hoods of KKK members, and bears the tagline, “America’s Monsters Exposed.” As the title and cover art suggest, the novel depicts not only the distinctively American fictional horrors of H.P. Lovecraft and his contemporaries, but also the very real horrors of racism in the Jim Crow South and 1940s America as a whole. It’s a fitting combination, because for all of Lovecraft’s creative genius, his major character defects were his racism and anti-immigrant xenophobia. Although his personal correspondence and stories indicate a softening of these attitudes later in his life, perhaps in part due to marrying a Jewish immigrant from Russia, some of his early writings were atrocious. Ruff references this when protagonist Atticus expresses his enjoyment of Lovecraft’s fiction, only to have his father ruin his enjoyment by pointing out, with no small degree of gleeful sadism, an early Lovecraft poem entitled “On the Creation of Niggers.” Repeatedly, the novel illustrates the complicated relationship between African American readers and the fiction created by racist white authors, as illustrated in the following dialogue:

“But stories are like people, Atticus. Loving them doesn’t make them perfect. You try to cherish their virtues and overlook their flaws. The flaws are still there, though. “
“But you don’t get mad. Not like Pop does.”
“No, that’s true, I don’t get mad. Not at stories. They do disappoint me sometimes.” He looked at the shelves. “Sometimes, they stab me in the heart.”

Not only is Atticus shamed by his father for enjoying the fiction of a racist such as Lovecraft, he is questioned by white people who  can’t comprehend that a black man could be appreciate science fiction, let alone be a reading enthusiast at all. One of the most harrowing scenes occurs when Atticus is pulled over by a southern police officer–not because of a traffic violation, but because a black man couldn’t possibly own a decent car. When the officer searches his car trunk and finds a collection of science fiction and horror novels, along with evidence of his military service, this proof of Atticus’ intellect and past heroism arouses further suspicion that the car and the belongings must have been stolen from a white man. Indeed, while the novel does feature Lovecraftian monsters and occult rites, these things are not nearly as terrifying as the mundane horrors of the Jim Crow South.

Sadly, despite the progress we’ve made in this country, we aren’t necessarily much better. Consider this occurrence from my graduate school days. My program brought in an African American FBI Special Agent to teach a class on cybercrime, and while hurrying from one end of campus to the other with his laptop tucked under one arm, he was stopped by a police officer who suspected that he had stolen the laptop. Even after showing her his FBI badge and explaining he was on campus as a guest instructor, she offered no apology whatsoever. He later recounted his experience to my class with the explanation, “The black man can’t have nice things.”

As awful as the examples of racism are in the book, the book isn’t entirely dire and oppressive because the the interconnected narratives tend to offer happy endings for the characters, who are able to outwit the villains. This is especially refreshing considering how the horror genre often treats black characters as expendable.

 

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We decided to make Valentine’s Day a second Halloween

Last night, My Horrific Life podcast cohost and I decided to make Valentine’s Day into a second Halloween, thanks to a Vampire Ball at the Rococo Theatre in Lincoln, Nebraska. This was the first event of its type in Lincoln, and the Rococo Theatre was the perfect venue, given its somewhat gothic interior. So Todd, his wife Colleen, a few other friends and I donned our fangs and black formalwear for a night of dancing and ghoulish fun.

Todd decided to sport some sickly makeup for the event.

The cover band looked the part and gave a solid performance, but my one gripe about the evening is why, why, why did they focus exclusively on recent Top 40 hits, instead of covering goth rock and punk hits?

Colleen and I showing off our custom fangs.

Top 40 pop hits aside, I hope this will become an annual event, to liven up this drab holiday with some unconventional fun.

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Love and Sex Magic at Hearthside Candles and Curios!

Last Saturday, I visited my friends at Hearthside Candles & Curios, located in Ralston, Nebraska. Because of Valentine’s day, the owners decided to put on a class about love and sex spells.

“What does this have to do with horror?”, you ask.

A good part of the class was about historical love and sex spells that have fallen out of favor, and for good reason. Specifically, these spells, which are horrific in their own right, involve adding your own menstrual blood or semen to a recipe that will disguise it, and then feeding it to your love interest without his/her knowledge. Interestingly, variations of this type of love spell have been practiced in all parts of the world and in many different magical traditions. Another variant is “sweat rice,” in which you squat over a pot of hot rice, and then allow the steam to drip off your nether parts and allow the steam to drip back into the rice, which is then served to your crush. Again, without their knowledge. This creepy and potentially bio-hazardous tradition is yet another good reason not to accept food or drinks from anyone who seems a bit lonely and desperate. That and date-rape drugs, of course.

Naturally, the folks at Hearthside Candles & Curios don’t endorse these old-school love spells. They have their own line of candles, oils, and room sprays to to set the mood. All of their products are made with natural ingredients and essential oils, and are hypo-allergenic. My favorite scent line they developed is the Queen Bee candle, perfume oil, and bath soap, discussed in my earlier post. It is delicious, and really fills a whole room with an uplifting, yet sensual fragrance. In addition to products by Polaris Rising, the shop is also the home of Shadowlights Candles, and products by Mama Kiki and Mama Creepy. Even if you don’t live near Omaha, Nebraska, you can order products from their website or follow them on their Facebook page for promotions and giveaways.

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Sexy and Romantic Horror – My Horrific Life

Happy Valentine’s Day!  In honor of the holiday, Erica and I talk about “Sexy” and Romantic Horror movies (at least they TRY to be Sexy!).  Lots of talk about Vampires, of course, but that’s not all. Lots of “off topic” stuff as well.  Enjoy!

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Romance sucks: predatory sexuality in lesbian vampire films

I confess, I’m not the best person to review or analyze romantic horror films, or romantic anything. I tend to find the genre boring. But I can understand why it appeals to many readers, who want some sort of pleasant escape from the disappointments real life. In my observation, avid romance fans love the genre for providing a substitute for what they don’t have–a partner, or a partner who is sufficiently romantic and caring toward them. Be advised, I haven’t done any sort of formal study on this (I recommend you read this article by Janice Radway for an analysis of popular romance novels and their readers).

This isn’t to say that I’m negatively judging romance fans. Let’s face it, real-life romance is more often than not a dumpster-fire of drama. And Valentine’s Day season, with its emphasis on consumerism as a means of expressing heteronormative affection, is a hard time for many people. So why not embrace a fictional escape into a more perfect, more passionate relationship?

That said, I’m more interested in the worst-case-scenario, dumpster-fire depictions of romance than in idealized ones, and that cynicism is where the romance and horror genres can mesh well together.

Vampire Diane LeFanu corrupts the groom before dispatching him.

A case in point is the so-called lesbian vampire film of the 1970s. They are amazingly formulaic. Inevitably, they reference the Sheridan Le Fanu story Carmilla, and/or the crimes of real-life murderer Countess Elizabeth Bathory. In many cases a predatory lesbian or bisexual female vampire fixates on a newlywed heterosexual couple, and destroys their relationship from within. Among the films following this pattern are The Blood Spattered Bride, The Velvet Vampire, and Daughters of Darkness.

It’s rather challenging to analyze these movies, because they seem to close the gap between feminism and misogyny. If one assumes that they were marketed primarily to heterosexual men, as many horror and exploitation movies of the 1970s were, one can assume that these films are primarily misogynistic in their outlook. After all, during his honeymoon, his wife is seduced and snatched away by a woman with superior sexual prowess. In The Velvet Vampire, the vampire Diane LeFanu even tells the young bride that men hate and fear women, because women experience sexual pleasure that men can never understand. In most instances, the female vampires are cruel and predatory, and the young women are either neurotic or complete air-heads.

Newlywed Valarie is caught in the middle of two predators in Daughters of Darkness.

And yet, these films make their male heroes so incredibly unsympathetic, and in some cases, they don’t even survive the entirety of the film. The husband in Blood Spattered Bride rapes his wife and drags her around by her hair. Similarly, the husband in Daughters of Darkness is a sexual sadist who savagely and non-consensually whips his bride with his leather belt. Women, especially virginal women are forced with the awful choice of merely choosing the lesser of two abusers.

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The Tarot of Vampyres

Drawn to the gorgeous box art, Ian Daniels’ The Tarot of Vampyres turned out to be a terrible deck for learning to read tarot cards, but was a wonderful purchase in other respects. The artwork is incredibly sexy, but as one can see from the sample spread below, does not clearly resemble the Rider-Waite archetypes. Some of the symbolism is there, but it’s obtuse.

Fortunately, the companion book, Phantasmagoria, provides in-depth discussions of the illustrations and thorough, uplifting guidance and interpretations for each card, borrowing heavily from Kabbalistic associations and pathworking concepts. For Daniels, vampires are not a symbol of evil, but rather are representative of humanity’s spiritual thirst for communion with the Divine and the Eternal. I recommend reserving readings with this deck for those times in which one has spare time to read the commentary for each card drawn, even if one is an experienced tarot reader.

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