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.

 

The Mummy Movies – My Horrific Life

Erica and I took a look at Mummy movies throughout the years, focusing on the 1932 classic with Boris Karloff, the 1959 Hammer production with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, and the new movie with Tom Cruise.  (we mention the Brenden Frasier movies as well).  We review the new Mummy movie and – Surprise!! – is was not good.  Take a listen for the full scoop.

Marlo Marquise – My Horrific Life

Join Erica and I for a wonderful interview with Marlo Marquise!  Marlo is an fascinating, fun, internationally renowned striptease, cabaret, sideshow, and suspension artist!  Learn more about her work and tour dates at her website.

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 N*ggers 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.

John Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy – My Horrific Life

Join Erica and I as we discuss three of our favorite movies – the three movies that make up John Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy” – “The Thing”, “Prince of Darkness”, and “In the Mouth of Madness”.

Hanging out with suspension artists at the KC Villain Arts Tattoo Convention

The Enigma pulls off a blindfolded stunt with a live chainsaw. (Photo from www.theenigmalive.com).

I’m going to preface this post by saying that I normally would not have considered going to a tattoo convention. Although I enjoy well-executed tattoos on other people, I have zero tattoos and have no intention of getting any. Likewise, I am minimally pierced with no plans to get additional piercings. That said, I’m glad I went to the 3rd Annual Kansas City Tattoo Convention by Villain Arts.

A victim of the volcanic eruption at Pompeii: The Exhibit.

What made this trip great for me was the quality of live performances, along with local sightseeing. Because I seek out morbid attractions, I attended Pompeii: The Exhibition at the Union Station. Of course the fate of the the ancient city was gruesome, but the glimpse into the daily lives of Pompeii’s inhabitants was fascinating and more technologically advanced than one would expect. Although the exhibit is no longer in Kansas City, I highly recommend seeing it at its next location.

At the tattoo convention itself, it was very cool to meet The Enigma, whom I immediately recognized from a popular episode of The X-Files. The Enigma’s live performance combined stand-up comedy with gross-out stunts, along with sideshow staples such as sword-swallowing. He best describes his own act by observing that stage magicians make the audience ask “how?,” whereas sideshow artists like himself make audiences ask “why?'”. I should also mention that he is an utter sweetheart in person.

Burlesque artist Marlo Marquise. Photo by Gary Heller.

But the most shocking things happened during the late night performances, starting with burlesque artist Marlo Marquise, who combined a striptease act with stunts similar to those performed by The Enigma earlier in the day. But then she went a few steps beyond his performance by balancing on machetes and piercing her own skin with metal skewers. Her other acts include fire-eating,  a “burlesque on hooks” suspension act, and balancing on a staircase of machetes. You can watch clips of her performances at her website (NSFW).

After Marlo’s performance, there was a series of “suspension acts,” by three different women, one of whom had never tried it before. Although I had seen videos of suspension on TV, it was entirely different seeing such performances live. I’m not ordinarily a squeamish person. After all, I’ve assisted in dozens of autopsies, served victims of violent crime in emergency rooms, and once worked for a funeral home. But for some reason, I initially found seeing these women hanging from hooks in their skin to be disturbing. I feared their skin would rip, causing them to fall from a significant height. It also looked incredibly painful. Yet, the performers appeared to be having fun.

Marlo balances on a staircase of machetes, from her Youtube page.

The following day, I talked to some of the performers about what it is like to be suspended, and their answers made me more comfortable with the idea of trying it someday myself. But don’t take my word for it. I’m happy to announce that our next podcast guest will be Marlo Marquise herself! She will be discussing her unique stage performance and clearing up misconceptions about suspension art. In the meantime, read this article from The Atlantic to learn more about the 5,000-year-old art.

 

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.

Interview with Tim D Welch part 1 – My Horrific Life

Don’t miss our interview with actor, special effects artist, and producer Tim D Welch.  Tim’s story of overcoming life obstacles is truly inspirational!  It’s so good we had to do another one – Part 2 will be out soon!

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.

Hammer Films – My Horrific Life

We Love Hammer Films!  Please listen as Erica and I discuss what we like about classic Hammer films (I am convincing Erica to love them!).  We discuss a couple we like, with a particular emphasis on Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.  This is the first of what I am sure are many podcasts about this film studio.

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.

Camille Keaton Interview – My Horrific Life

Please join Erica and I for a wonderful interview with one of our favorite horror actors in history – Camille Keaton!  Camille is the star of the controversial film “I Spit On Your Grave”.  Please join us as Camille discusses her views on “I Spit On Your Grave”, her other films, her current projects, and her favorite horror films.

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.

 

 

 

 

Scott Allen Nollen Interview Part 1 – My Horrific Life

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

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.

I Spit On Your Grave – My Horrific Life

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

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.

Women in Horror Month: Lovecraftian fiction and StoryBundle special

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

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

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

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

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

The StoryBundle Lovecraft collection

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.