Category Archives: Horrific movies

The Most Dangerous Game (1932): Sexual sadism and trophy hunting collide

Since I’m recovering from post-convention fever (that is, laziness), I felt like rewatching some old favorites. Pre-Code films are awesome, because they are just as fixated on torture, mutilation, and sexual deviance as so-called “torture porn” and “hardcore horror” films.

Animal cruelty and sexual perversion collide in The Most Dangerous Game (1932), when big game hunter Rainsford and his lover Eve (Fay Wray) are shipwrecked on an island owned by a wealthy foreigner. The antagonist, Count Zaroff, is himself a big game hunter who has become bored with hunting animals, and and is now a hunter of humans. This film, based on the  novella by Richard Connell is still relevant today given the connections between big game trophy hunting and serial murder. This psychological connection was also recognized by Erich Fromm in The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness in his brief discussion of “elite hunting” (note this phrase was borrowed by Eli Roth in the Hostel franchise), which is differentiated from hunting in which the objective is to consume the animal’s meat.  

A glimpse of Count Zaroff’s…unique collection.

 

In true serial killer fashion, Zaroff keeps a trophy room fillled with the heads of his victims, and confesses that a successful “hunt” makes him desire physical “love.” Following the “hunt,” he believes the Rainsford to be dead, he plans to rape Eve as a means to celebrate his conquest. Rainsford saves her and kills the Zaroff, who is then torn apart by his own dogs. Having survived the ordeal, the protagonist is able to empathize with the animals he himself hunted, and renounces his hobby.

Andrew Divoff Interview – My Horrific Life

 

Join us for an an exclusive interview with Wishmaster star Andrew Divoff!   Andrew met with us at Crypticon 2017 to discuss his charity, Mountain Film and Theater Arts Committee,  his new Djinn rings (soon to be available on his official website), and his new line of beer.  We love this interview!

Stay tuned for future updates about Andrew’s charity fundraising efforts and his upcoming beer pour at the Lake Arrowhead Brewfest.

Crypticon Kansas City 2017: Now in St. Joe, Missouri

Todd, Colleen, and I at Crypticon’s new venue.

Crypticon KC 2014 was the first convention I ever attended. This year, I  went on a road trip with my podcast cohost Todd and his wife Colleen. Oddly, Crypticon Kansas City was actually held in St. Joe, which is roughly an hour away from Kansas City itself. I assumed that the move from the Howard Johnson Plaza in KC to the St. Joe Civic Center was merely for economic reasons. I found out later that it was because of a very real-life horror story.

More on this later.

Andrew Divoff sweetly agreeing to have a phone chat with my mom.

For those of you who prefer your horror in film and culture, Crypticon did not disappoint. It was great seeing my friend Andrew Divoff (Wishmaster, Lost, Toy Soldiers), who sweetly agreed to chat with my mom on the phone before things got too busy. 

With Jeffrey Combs, who should be in every movie.

 

I also enjoyed seeing Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator, Star Trek) again. He kicked off the convention Q&A session with several fascinating stories and a great sense of humor.

William B. David and Mitch Pileggi talk UFO’s

Another fun session was the panel with X-Files stars Mitch Pileggi and William B. Davis. The most interesting aspect of this panel was their discussion about paranormal activity and the existence of extraterrestrial life. Pileggi is a believer and Davis is not.

Dirk Benedict trumped us during a political discussion at his table!

Battlestar Galactica and A-Team star Dirk Benedict gave a lively talk about his personal life, past romantic relationships, political views, and love for his children. I didn’t always agree with his opinions (for example, he had many positive things to say about Donald Trump), but it was refreshing to listen to someone who was unafraid to share his unfiltered views.

We met a lot of new people too, a few of whom will be future podcast guests. African-American horror-fantasy author Crystal Connor shared a bracing story about a collision with a swastica-tattooed skinhead, only to be surprised that he was more concerned for her well-being. Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp) and Mark Patton (A Nightmare on Elm St. 2) have passionate opinions on depictions of gender and sexual orientation in horror films, and I can’t wait to talk to them further. Later, über-sweetheart David Naughton (An American Werewolf in London) chatted with us about his upcoming projects, Sharknado 5: Global Swarming and The Hatred.

Chatting with Andrew Divoff at the hotel.

On the final day, Andrew Divoff shared information about his upcoming charity pour and new hand-sculpted Djinn rings. We talked about the new convention venue, and he asked how it compared to the old one. I explained that I stayed in the Howard Johnson Plaza in Kansas City during Crypticon 2014, and while my room was clean, there were definite problems with the facility. One elevator bounced sickeningly before stopping at the correct floor, and another was broken entirely. I opted to take the stairs instead, and found the dismal concrete stairwell to be littered with broken glass and used needles. The convention hall itself looked decent, but occasionally I would notice a foul stench waft through, as though a particularly flatulent convention-goer had walked by and cropdusted the aisle. It turns out that the old plumbing system perpetually leaked sewer gas during the summer months. As unsavory as that was, I speculated that Crypticon simply moved because they found a cleaner, bigger, or cheaper venue.

But then, Andrew said, “No, it was closed down because of the bodies in the elevator shaft.”

The now defunct Howard Johnson Plaza/former Ramada Inn

Note the overgrown weed problem.

It was like American Horror Story: Hotel, minus the glamor. Maybe more like Bentley Little’s novel The Resort. This took me down a rabbit hole of research of the Howard Johnson Plaza/Ramada Inn, beginning with reviews from hotel guests who had far worse experiences than I did. (See select photos above from TripAdvisor.) There were tales of  mildewed coffee pots, filthy bedding, broken windows, televisions “ghetto-wired” directly into the electrical outlet, cockroach and rat infestations, bedbugs, and entire sections left abandoned, with unmade rooms potentially occupied by homeless people. It seems that the Howard Johnson Plaza was like a ghost town by September 2016 and abandoned entirely by December.

As for dead bodies, I found evidence of only one in the elevator shaft.  According to Fox 4 News and the Kansas City Star, a homeless man who frequently sheltered in the hotel reported to police that he had found  a body in one of the elevator shafts, and that it had been there for quite awhile. So long that it was not immediately obvious whether the body was male or female. While I have not found much follow-up information about this, it seems that the death was accidental. The victim was apparently stealing copper pipes and fell to his death.

Stay classy, KC.

 

Berlin Syndrome: Nice Guys and necrophilous personalities

Berlin Syndrome, a film I had been anticipating for months after reading Bryan Bishop’s review in The Verge, is finally out on DVD and VOD. The film is directed by Cate Shortland and adapted from the novel by Melanie Joosten.

Berlin Syndrome is a slow-burn movie that lacks any significant onscreen body count, but is disturbing nonetheless. In many respects, it reminds me of the John Fowles novel The Collector and its  film adaptation starring Terrence Stamp. Both stories are about men who “collect” the women with whom they are obsessed. Arguably, both stories are also about Nice Guys as villains. Note that I differentiate nice guys from Nice Guys, the former being genuinely good and kind people who happen to be men, and the latter are men merely performing a social script of niceness to cover an ulterior agenda, and who are not nice people at all. For more information about the scourge of Nice Guy behavior and their diseased mindset, read this excellent article by Dr. Nerdlove, or listen to my guest appearance as part of a roundtable discussion on the KitchenShrinks podcast episode about benevolent sexism.

Berlin Syndrome nicely exposes Nice Guy psychology and their twisted view of women and relationships. Thankfully, most Nice Guys do not keep women as human captives, but if they had the means to do so without getting caught, they would likely view it as an effective solution to being “friendzoned.” (Although even then, the Nice Guy would view the female captive as a moocher or gold-digger, living in his home rent free and therefore definitely owing him sexual favors.) In Berlin Syndrome, an Australian tourist Clare has a one-night-stand with Berlin Nice Guy Andi, who can’t accept that she doesn’t want a long-term relationship with him. Once Clare is Andi’s captive, she discovers that Andi is a serial kidnapper and possible serial killer, abducting a new victim as soon as the “romance” is gone in his relationship with the current captive. When we see Andi interact with multiple potential victims, we see that all of his charming and endearing  behaviors are just part of a script that he repeatedly performs. Like all Nice Guys, Andi hates women, and in fact sees them as literally dirty, as evidenced by his compulsive urge to wash himself after being touched by a female coworker.

Max Riemelt as Berlin Syndrome’s Nice Guy Villain. Photo by Sarah Enticknap.

I have not read Melanie Joosten’s novel, and therefore don’t know if it provides further insight into Andi’s simultaneous hatred of women and desire to keep women as captives to fulfill his romantic fantasies. But his behavior fits nicely within Erich Fromm’s theory of the necrophilous personality, as discussed in The Heart of Man: Its Genius for Good and Evil  and The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness. As discussed in an earlier essay, the necrophilous personality is not the same as necrophilia, though the personality and the paraphilia can coexist. One trait of the necrophilous personality is to transform, literally or metaphorically, something that is alive into something that is dead. In The Collector, Miranda’s captor kills and collects butterflies. Instead of admiring these living creatures in the wild, he kills them and keeps their bodies on display so that he can enjoy looking at them. Miranda realizes in horror that, in his mind, she is exactly like those butterflies. In Berlin Syndrome, Andi compulsively photographs Clare, sometimes in candid moments, other times forcing her to model lingerie. When she behaves in a sexually provocative manner during one of these photo sessions, seemingly mocking Andi’s fantasies, he becomes upset with her. She is perhaps too alive with too much a mind of her own. Fromm himself discussed the the compulsive need to take photographs as a symptom of necrophilous personality in The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness. True crime author Brian Masters, himself influenced by Fromm’s work, took the observation further in his biography The Shrine of Jeffrey Dahmer:

“The person, once threateningly alive, now exists insofar as the photographer allows him to exist through images of his creating. It is a translation of life into death, of sentience into petrification, of will into object, the dissolution of all into one triumphant thing—the photograph. (p. 163) … It is important to recognize that the camera does not enhance, it reduces (in so far as the person photographed is now no more than an image), and it insultingly proclaims ownership too. (p. 164).”

Andi controls every aspect of Clare’s life.

For the antagonists in The Collector and in Berlin Syndrome, women’s autonomy is somehow so threatening that the Nice Guy psychopaths need to assert control at any cost. They would rather have a sterile, scripted “relationship” than risk rejection or the dreaded Friendzone. Fortunately, things ultimately work out for Clare better than they did for Miranda in The Collector, with women helping each other escape from a horrible situation.

 

What is it? It is Crispin Glover Live at Omaha’s Alamo Drafthouse!

Crispin Glover as ” Mr. World” in the Starz series American Gods

On June 16th and 17th at Alamo Drafthouse (Omaha ), I attended both nights of Crispin Glover’s appearance consisting of live performances, film screenings, Q&As, and book signings. And what a great time it was! Crispin Glover is one of the most wonderfully gracious, down-to-earth, and intelligent people I’ve met. His live performances films and should be experienced firsthand, because they defy easy description. But I’m going to try anyway.

Before I get to that, I want to foreground this review by saying that I didn’t know too much of what to expect from the event or from Crispin himself, and didn’t want to bias my opinion of the event by reading detailed reviews in advance. Aside from enjoying Crispin’s quirky performances in various films (including his recent role as “Mr. World” in the Starz series American Gods), I didn’t know much about him as a person, aside from media articles describing him as” eccentric” or even “crazy,” two terms that are neither equivalent nor interchangeable. Usually, the “evidence” for the “crazy” label consists of speculation about his cringe-inducing first appearance on Letterman in the late 1980s, or the fact that he used to collect antique medical equipment (a fun-sounding hobby that mostly makes me feel envious). As I discussed in an earlier post, “crazy” is a nebulous label, a sloppy blanket term for a range of behaviors and attitudes that don’t necessarily indicate actual mental illness. I’m not just carping about the descriptor “crazy” merely because Crispin Glover clearly isn’t.  I also find it egregious because it’s an intellectually lazy way to dismiss someone whose ideas or behaviors are merely inconvenient, outside the status-quo, or fail to support one’s own agenda. More on this later.

An unexpected reference to bestiality in “Rat Catching”

This isn’t to say that Crispin’s artistic output isn’t eccentric or massively weird, because it is. If you have the opportunity to attend both nights, do so. There is some overlap in content but not so much as to be overly redundant. Both nights began with variations of “Crispin Hellion Glover’s Big Slide Show,” in which Crispin crawled out from somewhere beneath the stage (literally) and then presented dramatic reading of several of his books accompanied by a powerpoint presentation of the book text and illustrations. Most of Crispin’s books consist of Victorian-era texts and illustrations, which have been redacted, recombined, and annotated in ways that transform the narrative entirely, usually making it funny or into absolute nightmare fuel. For example, “Rat Catching” contains a surprise reference to bestiality. Other books, such as “Round My House,” consisted of Crispin’s original text, reprinted from his own handwriting. This was my favorite among the books available for purchase at the event and on his website. The others were out of print or never printed for distribution in the first place. My favorite among these was “The Backward Swing.” Crispin’s dramatic reading style most often further mutated or obfuscated the meaning of the text, because he would often read with an emotion that didn’t seem to fit the text, or would read in a counter-intuitive cadence or put emphasis on atypical words. I enjoy the books themselves, but would argue that they are best experienced when performed by Crispin himself.

Poster for It is Fine! Everything is Fine

Following the Big Slide Show on night one was a screening of It is Fine! Everything is Fine, which is directed by Crispin as part two if the “IT” trilogy. Part one, What is It? was screened the second night. In retrospect, I think I understand his reasoning for screening his films out of order. It is Fine! is a good way to warm up audience members who attended both nights, because of the two films, it is more palatable for mainstream audiences. Moreover, it’s in some ways helpful to learn about the screenwriter and lead actor Steven C. Stewart before seeing the first film. Steven C. Stewart, who had a severe case of cerebral palsy, portrays a serial killer who has a fetish for women with long hair. I won’t spoil this film for readers as I tend to do. While there are several taboo elements in It is Fine!, it’s a film with a coherent, linear plot.

Promotional still for What is It?

That said, the oddities of the Big Slide Show and It is Fine! did not adequately prepare me for seeing part one of the “IT” trilogy, What is It?, which Crispin describes as, “Being the adventures of a young man whose principle interests are snails, salt, a pipe, and how to get home. As tormented by an hubristic, racist inner psyche” ( the racist inner psyche is portrayed by Crispin himself). In his Q&A afterward (as in interviews which can be read online), he states that one controversial element was the fact that the cast of What is It? consisted almost entirely of actors who had Down syndrome portraying characters who do not necessarily have Down syndrome. That’s really only one of many controversial aspects of the film. I would go so far to say that there is something potentially offensive or disturbing for every viewer. Some of those things include excessive use of Nazi swasticas, screaming snails, and unsimulated sex scenes involving women in animal masks. In multiple interviews, Crispin said his goal in making What is It?  is for audience members to ask themselves, “Is this right what I’m watching? Is this wrong what I’m watching? Should I be here? Should the filmmaker have done this? What is it?” It worked. Among the things that pushed my personal buttons were gratuitous scenes of snail-killing and some…unique soundtrack choices that included Johnny Rebel’s rendition of “Some Niggers Never Die (They Just Smell That Way)”  and selected songs by Charles Manson. To clarify, these songs were played in the main character’s subconscious by the aforementioned “hubristic, racist inner psyche,” which didn’t prevent me from dying a little on the inside anyway. 

To say What is It? is disturbing is an understatement. More specifically, I actually found it more disturbing than one of my perennial favorite movies, A Serbian Film, and as least as disturbing as my friend Andrey Iskanov’s Unit 731 quasi-documentary film Philosophy of a Knife. I don’t mean this in a disparaging way at all. In contrast to a lot of big-budget dreck that is entertaining in the moment but which leaves you without a thought in your head, What is It?, like the other disturbing films I mentioned above, is not necessarily pleasant to watch , but is something to be appreciated in the long term precisely because it is thought-provoking.

Which brings us to the Q&A sessions, which were an oasis of calm rationality after the strangeness of the dramatic readings and the films themselves. In response to each question, Crispin gave thorough, intellectual answers that reminded me of my favorite professors’ lectures in film theory classes and from subsequent graduate school behavioral science courses. Although each night’s roughly two-hour Q&A had a different overall focus, one unifying theme was Crispin’s argument that corporately-funded films function as a type of propaganda because they discourage audience members from asking questions of any kind. Another observation was, and I hope I am paraphrasing this appropriately, that corporate films are intended for the eyes of children, because anything that could make an audience member uncomfortable is excised. I very much appreciated his in-depth insights and discussions in this subject, in part because I have a similar perception of such films. For over a decade, I’ve believed that most mainstream, corporately-funded films force the filmmaker to take a “No Child Left Behind” approach to storytelling, insofar that even if a film has subject matter deemed not suitable for children, that film is ultimately scripted and edited in such a way so that even the most intoxicated or least intelligent test screening audience member can understand it. Additionally, it seems that the budget of a film is inversely related to how taboo it is “allowed” to be. While that isn’t a terrible thing for every type of film, it’s obviously deleterious for horror films and any other type of film that by nature needs to convey things that are disturbing or controversial.

Crispin Glover as the screaming hair fetishist “The Thin Man” in Charlie’s Angels

Since What is It? was a reaction to corporate straightjacketing, it’s not entirely without irony that a significant a percent of Crispin’s acting work is in corporately funded and distributed films. However, that doesn’t indicate that Crispin’s views on corporate propaganda are somehow inauthentic, but rather that corporate control over the U.S. entertainment industry is so ubiquitous that it’s virtually impossible for an artist to detach entirely from the system. Crispin states that he used income from Charlie’s Angels and other corporately-funded films to cover the cost of making his independent films What is It? and It is Fine! Which brings me back to the issue of some journalists labeling Crispin as “crazy” or some variant on the term. On one level, it may just be an attempt to entertain celebrity gossip junkies or reflective of a common difficulty in separating an artist from his work product, but on another, more insidious level, it is also an easy way to dismiss Crispin’s more subversive views about the U.S. entertainment industry.

Crispin’s Q&A sessions weren’t restricted to professor-like discussions about corporate propaganda and relevant works by  Noam Chomsky and Edward Bernays. He also discussed the influence of the Surrealist movement on his own work and shared several humorous personal anecdotes, including his intent behind his first appearance on Letterman. (I won’t reveal the answer here.) The fact that he openly answers questions in his Q&A sessions that he will not answer in typical media interviews is yet another reason to attend his live performances and film screenings. 

Finally meeting Crispin at his book signing Friday night

 

After the Q&A sessions concluded, both evenings ended with a book signing. While it was a long wait to meet Crispin (I didn’t make it home until 2 a.m. on Friday and 1 a.m. on Saturday), I’m glad I did, and appreciated the opportunity to speak with him one-on-one. A staff member at Alamo Drafthouse told me that they had recommended that he spend only two minutes with each guest, but he generously spent quite a bit more time with those who wanted to talk. As I mentioned earlier, he was very gracious and grounded, and also genuinely interested in each guest and in hearing their feedback about his presentations and films. Even though I intended to not bring up weird or inappropriate topics, my conversation with Crispin started benignly and then evolved to an academic discussion about paraphilias. Fortunately, he seemed unfazed.

Crispin is currently writing a book about propaganda (I can’t wait for it to be released) and completing an untitled film starring his father, Bruce Glover. Visit crispinglover.com to sign up for his newsletter, buy his books, and get information about his tour dates.

 

The weird and wonderful horror films of Crispin Glover

I am massively excited for tonight and tomorrow, because I get to see Crispin Glover perform live and screen his films What is It? and It is Fine! Everything is Fine!  While these films may not be categorized as horror films, they are reputed to have many disturbing elements that would never be present in big studio films. I will be writing a follow-up post about these films and about Crispin’s live performance, but in the meantime, it seems fitting to take a look at his weird and wonderful performances in the horror genre.

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

The Friday the 13th franchise is definitely not my favorite horror franchise. The entries are so similar to each other, the characters are largely forgettable, and even calling the fourth entry “the final chapter” is a damnable lie. In an interview with my friend Justin Beahm, Crispin essentially said he accepted the role because his appearance in the film would be funny in the future (though he is happy to have been part of it now). Despite the interchangeable quality of the series’ victims, Glover adds memorable quirkiness to his character and delivers some epic dance moves.

Willard (2003)

In his first role as the protagonist in a major studio film, Crispin portrays  downtrodden social misfit Willard, whose only friends are rats.  Willard’s life becomes more difficult when his mother dies and his boss fires him. Willard’s transformation from doormat to empowered murderer is my favorite aspect of this film, and you can see Crispin’s versatility as an actor. It’s especially satisfying to see him take revenge on his abusive boss.

Simon Says

Crispin’s dual role as deranged twin brothers allows him to creatively dispatch several unsympathetic young people. The ending of Simon Says even goes so far as to suggest that the victims in slasher films are entirely interchangeable. Come for the creative kill scenes, stay for the the uncomfortable ” romance” between Crispin’s characters and the “final girl.”

The Wizard of Gore (2007)

In this remake of the 1970 Herschell Gordon Lewis cult classic, Crispin portrays stage magician Montag the Magnificent. Montag’s act consists of dismembering women onstage while delivering obtuse philosophical monologues. The women are revealed to be unharmed at the end of each act, but die of the same injuries days later. This remake differentiates itself from the misogyny problem of the original film by having a character repeatedly point out that Montag’s act has a misogyny problem. The best thing about the original film was the dialogue in the twist ending. According to the director’s commentary, Crispin required that dialogue to be included in the remake. Unfortunately, that scene didn’t make the final cut. Crispin’s scenes as Montag are definitely the highlight of the film, The Wizard of Gore is also worth watching for appearances by genre greats Jeffrey Combs and Brad Dourif.

It Comes at Night: an exercise in understated dread

Shortly after viewing The Mummy (2017), I watched a film with the polar opposite approach. It Comes at Night shows very little horror onscreen, but implies so much. The film centers around an interracial family who have isolated themselves in a remote cabin during a worldwide plague outbreak. The father, Paul, has devised an elaborate set of rules and protocols in order to keep his family safe from the disease, yet it repeatedly finds its way in.

In the opening scene, we see Paul’s wife comforting her sick father, whom Paul then kills and cremates. Later, Paul faces problems from outsiders who may or may not be carrying the plague. Ultimately, Paul’s authoritarianism fails because he has insufficient understanding of the plague and how it is spread. These themes remind me a bit of the Edgar Allan Poe short story “The Masque of the Red Death,” in which a hubristic prince falsely believes he can attain safety through isolation.

It Comes at Night is a tense slow-burn movie that has great atmosphere, but I have to admit that I was disappointed in the abrupt ending. Like other movies with similar pacing, such as The Invitation and The Boy, It  Comes at Night culminates in an explosion of violence. Yet at the same time, it sort of fizzles and leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Nonetheless, I recommend it for its pervasive sense of paranoia and dread.

The Mummy (2017): a triumph of spectacle over substance

As you may have noticed, June has been a lazy month with no particular motif or theme, aside from some lackadaisical coverage of a few summer blockbusters.

Yesterday, I bit the proverbial bullet and watched the new remake of The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Annabelle Wallis, and Sofia Boutella. I tend to be wary of big-budget Hollywood horror films, not because I have anything against casting A-list actors or using sophisticated special effects, but simply because mainstream Hollywood tends to play things safe and not create films that are too disturbing. This is fine for some genres, but not for horror, for obvious reasons.

The original teaser trailer for The Mummy didn’t fill me with optimism. While it’s kind of neat that they have a female mummy, I was immediately put off by what appeared to be silly and exploitative costuming. Do her bandages really need to create a push-up bra effect? Why do female monsters have to be sexually objectified rather than just scary? The ancient Egyptians definitely did not beautify female corpses. In fact, the ancient historian Herodotus wrote that wealthy families deliberately let the bodies of their deceased women spoil a bit, so that embalmers would not be tempted to engage in necrophilic acts with the corpses. Also, the new mummy’s bandages progressively unravel during the course of the film, creating a revealing of macabre pinup look. That could be a legit problem, but at least Boris Karloff had the good sense and dignity to procure some real clothes in the original 1932 version.

Upon seeing the new Mummy, I had wished they had  left some semblance of the original love story intact. Boris Karloff’s character in the original film was sympathetic because his only “crime” was forbidden love. This story could have worked with any gender combination, but the new mummy Ahmanet is massively unsympathetic. She was sentenced to being embalmed alive because she was a baby-murderer, motivated solely by power and greed.

Still, I believe in approaching every movie with an open mind. The 2017 version of The Mummy is actually a lot of fun, if you can approach it for pure entertainment. Aside from a few jump-scares, the film is never truly frightening, but it does seemingly pay homage to darker horror films. The mummy Princess Ahmanet reconstitutes her body by sucking the vitality out of her victims in a Hellraiser-lite fashion. Similarly, when protagonist Nick’s (Cruise) dead buddy keeps showing up to tell him he is cursed, it’s a lot like An American Werewolf in London. There’s also a lot of action, comedy, and a subplot involving Dr. Henry Jekyll.

The original film did so much with so little. There were no action scenes and all of the violence was offscreen, but director Karl Freund and his cast were able to convey so much with meaningful glances and subtle dialogue. In contrast, the 2017 remake does so little with so much. I was never bored while watching The Mummy, but it didn’t give me much to deconstruct afterward. For that reason, it’s not going to be a film I watch obsessively again and again.

This weekend, I’m looking forward to breaking away from mainstream entertainment by seeing Crispin Glover perform live at the Omaha Alamo Drafthouse, June 16-17. Check back soon for more information about this event, which will surely be anything but bland and conventional. For more information about Crispin Glover’s appearances, visit his website.

Is “Alien: Covenant” part of a misanthropic and pessimistic trend?

While watching Alien: Covenant with Todd and his family, I had to ask myself, “Is 2017 the year of the misanthropic Hollywood movie?”

Earlier this year, another big budget sci-fi/horror film Life was released in theaters. In a move more appropriate in a John Carpenter film than a Hollywood blockbuster starring Jake Gyllenhal, the creators of Life decided to end the human race through series of colossal  fuck-ups, revealed in a deceptive twist ending.

Alien: Covenant is the latest entry in what I now view as the Space Fuck-Up subgenre, in which terrible things happen that were completely avoidable. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the movie. I’m saying that virtually all the characters display terrible judgment based on impulse and emotions rather than logic. Explorers on an unknown, un-researched planet decide to flounce around the unexplored terrain with no protective gear and to eat the local vegetation without testing it first. It’s not what kills them, but surely that space wheat was full of gluten. They fail to enact quarantine measures when crew members are infected. Later, when things are completely FUBAR, a pilot risks the lives of thousand of colonists and human embryos because he wants to rescue his wife.

The endless fuck-ups and poor leadership displayed by the human characters may be among the issues die-hard Alien fans have with the movie. But I’m going to assume it was a deliberate thematic choice that explains and enables the villain’s motivation to get rid of the dipshit human species entirely. Yes, the android David is back from Prometheus, and because there can never be enough Michael Fassbender, he also plays the role of another android, Walter. As an added bonus, Fassbender gets to share an erotic scene with…himself.

David was a complex character in Prometheus. He does some terrible things to his human crewmates, but he’s also sympathetic, and exudes an almost childlike curiosity and wonder. Prometheus ended on an optimistic note, with heroin Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) extending kindness to David. One gets the impression that there will be a redemptive storyline for David, with him developing empathy for humans.

All of this optimism is blown to hell in Alien: Covenant, with David emerging as a full-blown villain. He has human qualities, but seemingly our species’ worst traits, combined with superior intelligence. A guy so narcissistic that he would literally fuck himself if he could. Someone whose definition of “love” in no way precludes vivisecting his beloved. Hence we learn of Elizabeth’s horrible fate following her decision to rebuild his body. Like any narcissist, he “loves” others to the extent that they benefit him. As a side note, because  there was the implication that David has developed sexual urges, I do wish the film had more explicitly a homosexual relationship between David and Walter, or human-android relations between David and the new heroine, Daniels.

“Let me do the fingering:” that point when the audience erupted in guffaws of “that’s what she said!”

Because he himself is not human, it’s somewhat easy to understand his contempt or indifference toward humanity as a whole. In this respect, he’s not as strange as the antagonists of Carnosaur or In the Mouth of Madness, who are humans desiring the end of humanity. And while Alien: Covenant has a twist similar to that in Life, I think everyone in the theater saw it coming. But, since this is a mainstream Hollywood film, it’s unusual that the filmmakers  not only decided to let the villain win, but to effectively make him the protagonist and to lay the groundwork for humanity’s destruction.

 

Tim D. Welch interview: additional resources

We recently recorded a two-part interview with actor, producer, and FX artist Tim D. Welch of Scream in the Dark Productions. Here are additional links about his work.

I’m personally very excited to see his recently completed film Sick People, starring Lin Shaye, C. Thomas Howell, and Jasmine Guy. Look for Tim’s appearance as a motorcycle accident survivor in the trailer below:

Tim appears in Penance Lane, starring Tyler Mane and Scout Taylor-Compton. The Film is currently in post-production. 

He appeared in Steven Rea’s short film “Howl of a Good Time,” alongside Leslie Easterbrook and Tamara Glynn.

Tim’s FX work was featured in Death Rot, now available on DVD/blu and Amazon video.

His appearance and FX work in the Icky Blossoms music video “In Folds” are…disturbing.

Tim also had the leading role in Sam Rocha’s short film “M is for Missing,” a finalist for inclusion in ABCs of Death 2.

Check back soon for more information on Tim and his upcoming projects.

Mother’s Day Mayhem

Inside, 2007

Looking for the perfect movie to celebrate the woman who gave you life itself? We have a few suggestions

Wake Wood (2009, dir. David Keating). Grieving parents participate in an occult ritual to bring their daughter back from the dead, but she isn’t quite right. This outing from Hammer Studios has been compared to Stephen King’s Pet Sematary.

The Void (2016, dirs. Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kotanski). In this film full of gooey, disgusting birth imagery, some parents are eagerly waiting for their children to be born and others are grieving miscarriages. One character can caused the dead to be reborn, but as indescribable Lovecraftian monsters.

Grace (2009, dir. Paul Solet). A woman’s unborn child dies inside her, but she is determined to carry it to term. Her baby is miraculously born alive, but with a taste for blood.

Holidays (2016, dirs, Gary Shore, Ellen Reid, and others). This anthology film features two shorts about motherhood. In Gary Shore’s “St. Patrick’s Day,” a lonely schoolteacher gives birth to a “bouncing baby snake.” Ellen Reid’s “Mother’s Day” is a darker story about a woman who becomes pregnant every time she has sex, despite using birth control. Desperate for a cure, she seeks help from a cult.

Sleepwalkers (1992, dir. Mick Garris). A feline-phobic, vampiric mother-and-son duo share a, um, very special relationship in this film penned by Stephen King.

The Brood (1979, dir. David Cronenberg). A hysterical woman manifests her emotions in the form of mutant, parasitic babies hanging in embryonic sacs from her body.

Inside (2007, dirs. Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury). This entry in French extremity depicts the disturbing crime of fetal abduction. A woman who desperately wants a child plots to cut a fully mature fetus out of a pregnant woman and pass the child off as her own. The pregnant woman and her attacker creatively use common household objects and tools of feminine homemaking as weapons, including one death by knitting needle.

Mother’s Day (1980, dir. Charles Kaufman). A mother’s love can overlook many faults, even if her children are rapists and murderers. This campy rape-revenge film is one of Troma’s better outings.

The Quatermass Xperiment (1955)

While viewing films from Hammer Studios’ golden age, I found this little gem of a movie. The sci-fi horror film The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) aka The Creeping Unknown is surprisingly dark and gruesome for its era, although the violence would be considered quite tame by current standards. Not so in 1955, when British censors gave it the “X” certificate, banning admission to audience members under the age of 16. The filmmakers apparently reveled in the “X” rating, because they flaunted it in the unconventionally spelled title. The strategy worked, and the film performed well in Britain.

Richard Wordsworth gives a tormented performance as Carroon

You may ask, what could have been shocking about a 1955 science fiction movie? In The Quatermass Xperiment, an astronaut returns from outer space infected with an alien spore that could end all life on Earth.  As he touches other living things, he absorbs those organisms’ properties and simultaneously drains them of their life force. Victims include unlucky humans, several zoo animals, and a cactus. In short, you have a guy running around and bludgeoning people with his cactus arm, turning them into twisted piles of goo, and leaving a snail trail in his wake.

Carroon reveals his cactus arm

Richard Wordsworth gives a sympathetic and tormented performance as the infected astronaut Victor Carroon, who fights to retain his humanity despite the alien consciousness gradually taking control of his mind. The “hero,” Bernard Quatermass, is a tough, egotistical scientist whose unethical experiment on Carroon is the catalyst for Carroon’s horrible transformation, yet Quatermass eventually prevents the destruction of the human race. Although the ending was reassuring compared to that of other “B” movies and the rare big-budget “A” film, The Quatermass Xperiment and its sequels were subversive for the time. This is something that we will hopefully discuss on a future podcast.

Carroon’s not looking so hot at the end of the “Xperiment”

This film not only spawned a franchise, but may have influenced TV series such as The X Files. It definitely influenced John Carpenter, as he explicitly referenced the later series Quatermass & The Pit in his meta-horror film In the Mouth of Madness.

It’s Hammer Time!

Welcome back, freaks! For the month of May, we are covering our favorite Hammer horror films of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s,…and anything else we want to talk about! If you haven’t already, be sure to listen to Part 1 and Part 2 of our podcast with author and historian Scott Allen Nollen, who personally knew Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Vincent Price, and so many other icons.

And there’s also that story about that time he touched Abraham Lincoln’s blood.

El Paso Comic Con with Camille Keaton, and horrific sight-seeing

I’m back from my weekend with Camille Keaton of I Spit On Your Grave at El Paso Comic Con, and what a fun trip it was! Camille is a true friend, and it was great to see her again after a three years.

I’m also pleased to announce that Camille will be our special guest on the next My Horrific Life Podcast, where she will discuss her early film career in Italy, behind-the-scenes info about I Spit on Your Grave, and everything she’s allowed to tell us about the official direct sequel, called I Spit on Your Grave: Deja Vu (now in post-production). Just the fact that an official sequel has been made, not to mention the existence of a remake and its franchise, is proof that the Law of Attraction and vision boards really work. Because I’ve been trying to manifest these movies through sheer mental energy for at least the last 15 years.

With Camille at her El Paso Comic Con booth

This was actually my first Comic Con. The comic book world is not exactly my forte, but I was pleased to see other horror genre guests, including Kevin Grevioux (Underworld) and Nicholas Brendon (Buffy), and some cool vendors such as a reptile rescue/mobile petting zoo called Island of Misfit Morphs.

The Island of Misfit Morphs offers “reptile parties.”

Of course, there’s no point in traveling if you can’t see local points of interest. On some level, I wanted to visit Juarez, Mexico, as I had studied the hundreds of femicides that had occurred there since the 1990s, but due to the explosion of violence in Juarez within the last decade, it simply wasn’t safe to go. I asked several El Paso locals what they thought of Trump’s proposed border wall, given that they share the border with Juarez. They all said that the wall simply isn’t necessary for El Paso due to the strong military presence nearby and the fact that virtually everyone has a concealed carry permit. Apparently the drug dealers and violent criminals from Juarez avoid causing trouble in El Paso, because they know that the people of El Paso won’t put up with their shit. In fact, El Paso was rated the safest city in the U.S. for the fourth year in a row.

The text on the mountain advises the residents of Juarez, “The Bible is the truth. Read it.”

The downtown area has a number of interesting art galleries and museum, including the El Paso Holocaust Museum, which ended up being my first stop. This museum is excellent, with interactive exhibits and mini-documentaries in each room. As expected it is also emotionally grueling, especially the death camp exhibits. The tour ends on an uplifting note, with a series of resistance and survivor stories. Visit their website for more images from their exhibits, as well as information about the museum founder, Henry Kellen, who was himself a Holocaust survivor.

Anti-Semitic propaganda published by the Nazi Party.

A Tree of Life sculpture in the Survivor Stories room

Other museums had moments of gruesomeness in otherwise benign exhibits. One example being the death mask of Pancho Villa on display at the El Paso History Museum.

The death mask of Pancho Villa

Special thanks to J’sin and Eva for their hospitality and for showing us around the town. I recommend visiting Deadbeach Brewery and shopping at Dreadful Things, a horror boutique, tattoo parlor, art gallery, and reading room.

A 1920s sideshow banner hand painted by Fred J. Johnson

One of several original art pieces on display at Dreadful Things

Dreadful Things has an element of visual overload

A few of the goodies available for purchase. I picked the Cheshire Cat purse.

That’s all for now! Be sure to come back soon for our podcast interview with Camille Keaton, and a special focus on Hammer films for the month of May.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

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!

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.

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.

 

 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.)

 

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.

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.

 

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.

 

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.

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.

 

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.”

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.

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!

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.”

 

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.)

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.)

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.)

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.

My Horrific Life gets kinky this February

Still from Jean Rollin’s Living Dead Girl

Now that we are abandoning January’s pleasant apocalypse fantasies, February will be devoted to something far more horrific: romance. In honor of Valentine’s Day and our corporate overlords who mandate that we purchase obligatory tokens of affection for those whom we love, we are kicking things off with our favorite romantic horror films and sexy vampire movies. Then as the romance wears off–as it always will–we will try to keep the spark alive by exploring horror that features kink, sadomasochism, and taboo sexuality.

As February is also Black History month, we will also be featuring reviews of race-related horror, including my current read Lovecraft Country: A Novel. We really can’t contain our excitement for Get Out, which looks something like The Stepford Wives, except subservience is  along racial, rather than gender lines.