***Many spoilers follow, so if you’ve not yet seen the original ISOYG, skip this review
Of all the horror films to remake, 1979′s I Spit on Your Grave (also known as Day of the Woman) seems a somewhat unlikely choice. That brutal, rape-revenge film made waves upon its first release with the likes of Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert who critiqued its prolonged scenes of sexual assault. It also featured problematic portrayals of the working class and mentally disabled. Though the linkage between lower-classness and sadistic violence remains acceptable mainstream fare, negative representations of disability seem more touchy these days. In short, an I Spit on Your Grave remake seems like a huge risk. Check out the original trailer and see for yourself:
Then again, I Spit on Your Grave does fit in nicely with two concurrent cycles in American horror: torture porn and remakes. As you can see in the trailer, the film involves the gang-rape of Jennifer, a big city writer renting a cabin in a rural area. After surviving her ordeal, Jennifer hunts down each of her attackers, dispatching them with gruesome precision. Based on the IMDB synopsis, it appears that the remake retains much of the original’s basic structure with a few adjustments that I will discuss below. But first, the trailer:
A few observations:
1) Night and Day Aesthetics – Hand-held camera work seems to have replaced the more detached cinematography of the original. The overall color-scheme feels darker than the original, with lots of night scenes and a heightening of blues and greens (probably through filters). This change interests me, given that one of the more shocking elements of the original was the way that the gang-rape occurred in broad daylight. From all appearances, the new film presents Jennifer’s rape as occurring at night and following a break in into her home. My guess would be that filmmakers felt these changes would be a) more realistic to today’s audiences and b) more creepy and atmospheric.
2) Context? – The original ISOYG contextualizes the violence against Jennifer in terms of tensions based on class and gender; the male perpetrators regularly make sexist remarks and criticize Jennifer’s urban sophistication. Surprisingly, the trailer for the latest ISOYG provides very little information about what motivates the rapists, instead focusing on Jennifer. I wonder if the remake will make these connections between misogyny and rape clear or merely assume them to be implied.
3) Targeting – Siskel and Ebert claimed that the audiences that attended screenings of the original consisted primarily of men who cheered on the perpetrators during the rape scenes. While I have some skepticism about Siskel and Ebert’s accounts, I imagine that it’s highly likely that men attended these screenings more than women due to the cultural presumptions about the appropriateness of violent films for women. The remake’s trailer, though, seems targeted primarily toward lady viewers by encouraging viewer identification with Jennifer (generally, Hollywood marketers assume that women identify with women characters and men with men). This doesn’t surprise me, given the recent marketing research that suggests women comprise the majority of horror audiences.
In the end, I am pretty lukewarm on this project, primarily because of my mixed feelings about the original. Given the involvement of the original film’s producers and director, I expect that the motivation for revisiting this material has more to do with cashing in than fleshing out the implications of the original. I hope the new film proves me wrong, but with the tagline “It’s date night,” I shudder to think.
This may be my laziest post ever, but I hope you’ll cut me a break–I’m trying to finish drafting a paper for my “Gender and the Horror Film” class partially based on my previous post about the French horror film Inside. So pardon my blatant lifting of material here!
Below, I have provided 9 of the 11 parts of Queer for Fear (parts 5 and 9 are strangely absent from YouTube), a documentary presented at the 2004 Los Angeles Outfest gay and lesbian film festival. The documentary explores queer moments throughout the history of the horror genre and features a discussion with scholar Harry Benshoff who visited my class last month to discuss his book Monsters in the Closet. Benshoff astutely connects the rhetoric around homosexuality with the tropes of horror films, a topic also discussed in the clips below.
Without further ado, here they are:
***Before I begin, I want to pat myself on the back since this is the one year anniversary of my first blog post. 78 posts later, Dark Room is stronger than ever with May 2010 on track to be the highest traffic month in the blog’s history. Thanks especially to guest contributors and fellow bloggers Alyx of Feminist Music Geek and Kristen of Act Your Age, both of whom regularly plug this blog. But thanks to everyone who has checked out the site and to all of my friends and family who have encouraged me to continue writing.***
Playboy magazine broke another boundary this week, publishing its very first 3-D issue (2 color glasses included). I can’t help but wonder if Playboy has been taking notes while watching the latest 3-D offerings at the cineplex, including the 3-D horror films released since the development of RealD technology. Such films intensify the male gaze with their emphasis on shapeliness highlighting the benefits of 3-D technology.
To be sure, 3-D technology is not a necessary component to structure the male gaze, and analysts have identified such patterns in films that predate the advent of 3-D technology. But 3-D films have an incentive to constantly draw your attention to the novelty-factor that results from these films creating the illusion of depth, and boobs (always a hot seller) seem to be one of the quickest ways to remind viewers that they are getting a different kind of exhibition experience for their extra $5 per ticket.
With horror films in particular, there are additional factors that ramp up the expectation that a 3-D horror film will include voluptuous, naked female bodies. In particular, the genre has a well-known history of representing sex alongside the violence. The extent of this objectification, however, surprised me when I saw My Bloody Valentine 3D when it came out in January 2009. That film included a sex scene followed by a prolonged chase sequence in which the actress ran around naked. Below is a very short part of that scene:
I wish I could find a clip of the scene–it was so outlandish that the audience howled with laughter. The next big 3-D horror film, Piranha 3-D, appears that it will also use the female body for laughs as well as to draw attention to the technology:
With an absurd premise (ancient piranhas emerging from a crevice after an earthquake) and deliberately campy, referential casting choices (Elisabeth Shue, Ving Rhames, Christopher Lloyd, Richard Dreyfuss, and Eli Roth all make appearances), I expect that Piranha 3-D will walk the fine line between pastiche and parody, rather than playing it straight. The spring break component of the film’s plot plays nicely into this comedic approach. The filmmakers can have their cake and eat it too, poking fun at the excesses of the spring break ritual as codified by MTV while also taking advantage of all the hot bodies to spotlight the 3-D.
Still, a more blatant attempt to fuse horror, nudity, and 3-D technology can be found in the aptly titled Big Tits Zombie 3-D, a film likely more famous in the United States for it’s trailer rather than the full feature length version (I’ve yet to find an actual review). Here’s what’s been floating around the internet:
Pop Matters has a nice little piece about the trailer which points out the obvious irony of the clip. I agree that this film seems to be more about self-mockery than any kind of earnest effort at horror; in other words, it’s camp in the most deliberate sense.
It’s no wonder that these campy horror films use 3-D as a means of calling attention to the excessive bodies ever-present in our culture, given that camp aesthetics often include exaggerated bodies that emphasize the grotesque. Check out Divine, for instance, in the John Waters directed Pink Flamingos:
But the question–it’s always the question with irony–is whether or not these recent appropriations subvert or reinforce the very cultural standards they gently mock. With the particular trend of 3-D boobs, I lean against the possibility of subversion, especially with such self-promoting celebrities like Heidi Montag supposedly jumping on board–The Hills “star” told People Magazine that she is “making the first 3-D beach comedy about a shark that attacks a small beach town and I save the day with my 3-D boobs.” She claims to have cast Dolly Parton in a cameo role. In other words, there’s more yet to come on the 3-D boob front. Brace yourself!
I’ve been doing a little digging of late to see what’s coming down the pike over the summer and have been pleasantly surprised by what will be on offer. Particularly interesting to me: Splice, a Canadian/French co-production directed by Vincenzo Natali of Cube fame. Check out the trailer for Cube below:
I’ve not yet seen Cube, but I can’t help but notice some parallels with Saw. But don’t let that dissuade you–Cube received solid reviews and a small but enthusiastic fan following. In other words, it’s a cult classic.
Some, such as Variety reviewer Justin Chang, expect that Splice will prove more lucrative. For one, the film stars Sarah Polley as Elsa and Adrien Brody as Clive. I am especially excited to see Polley in the lead role. Polley’s no stranger to the horror genre, as her turn in the Dawn of the Dead remake demonstrates:
Splice offers Polley the perfect horror role for such an accomplished actress. She plays Elsa, a geneticist working with her fellow scientist and lover, Clive (Brody), combining DNA for the purposes of gene therapy. Elsa and Clive propose a more radical project mixing human DNA with that of other animals to create a new species, but the corporate powers that be reject the idea in favor of the safer and more profitable route. Elsa and Clive continue with the project in secret; the trailer will explain the rest:
Several things immediately jumped out at me upon viewing the trailer. First, I find it interesting that the film transfers the Frankenstein story into a heterosexual couple. Scholars like Harry Benshoff have argued that by pairing a male scientist with a male assistant to create a new life together, many Frankenstein films can be read as queer texts. With the use of a straight couple in Splice, the implications of parthenogenic birth change. When Clive calls their creation (named Dren) a “mistake” and attempts to gas it, the subtext that comes to mind is that of the unmarried couple faced with an unexpected pregnancy and debating the option of abortion.
Along with the heterosexual coupling comes some pretty stereotypical depictions of gender roles. Elsa appears to be the the most protective of Dren, and the trailer shows her picking her up as if to hold her. She also takes offense when Clive calls Dren a “specimen,” clearly exhibiting an emotional attachment to Dren that defies rationality. Clive’s comment also plays into the tired idea that men make detached, logical decisions while women allow their feelings to determine their courses of action. It’s like Elsa and Clive are a good cop/bad cop parenting team.
In short, I’m excited to see Splice (the early reviews are mostly positive) but more than a little leery about the gender politics it will espouse. Then again, maybe the most subversive thing about Splice will be that conventional, heterosexual parents are the ones who create the the monster that takes down the human race.
Mothers play such an important role in the modern horror film that it would be remiss not to do a little post on Mother’s Day about all of the crazy moms in the genre. We have Freud to thank for this demonization of motherhood–it was he, after all, who suggested that our attachments to our parents drive our psycho-sexual development for better and for worse–it’s the “worse” that the horror film relishes to the point of cliche.
Of course, modern serial killers also seemed to confirm Freud’s theories, particularly Ed Gein, whose hyper-religious mother resembles the mother of Carrie. Like Gein’s mother, Carrie’s mother asserts that women are the source of all evil and associates Carrie’s menarche with sinful behavior. In other words, Carrie’s mom doesn’t take the news of her daughter’s first period well:
Of course, a film that drew heavily from the Gein playbook would have to be Psycho since the film’s killer, Norman Bates, seems abnormally attached to his mother as was Gein. Gein also expressed a desire for a sex change, an idea which Psycho plays upon due to Norman Bates’ assumption of his mother’s personality. In the end scene, it becomes clear that Norm has been fully subsumed by the “mother half” of his self:
While you might be able to argue that the mother of Bates’ mind is merely a projection, the sadistic matriarch in Mother’s Day is flesh and blood, provoking her sons to acts of rape and murder. I’ve yet to see the film, but the trailer suggests a fairly standard rape-revenge plot with the added bonus of the crazy mother for camp value:
Other mothers in the genre set out to take revenge for the past wrongs committed against their children. Most memorable of these would have to be Pamela Voorhees from the Friday the 13th series. Her reign of terror kicked off the series before Jason became its iconic killer. Below, final girl Alice fights Mrs. Voorhees.
Just as with Psycho, a kind of telepathic connection occurs between child and mother, this time with the mother taking on the child’s persona. In such cases, the close (too close?) bonds between parent and progeny come under scrutiny.
Of course, some mothers get a bad wrap in horror for the opposite reason: Nancy’s mom in A Nightmare on Elm Street, for instance, is presented as a neglectful alcoholic whose desire to protect her daughter from the truth of Freddy’s existence may have caused more harm than good (to be fair, fathers also behave in misguided ways throughout the series).
Perhaps the most terrifying kind of mother in horror is the one who uses her reproductive power for evil. Such a mother embodies the montrous-feminine, which I have discussed at length in previous posts. While there are many of these types, the mother from The Brood stands out as a prime example. In that film, Nola undergoes psychiatric treatment called “psychoplasmics” in which patients manifest psychological symptoms physically. For Nola, who fights over custody of her daughter Candice, the therapy results in her ability to give birth to deformed children and through telepathy (once again!) send them out to do harm to various people who have wronged her in some way. Here’s one such scene:
You’ll never look at kids in snow suits the same way again! The climactic scene shows Nola giving birth to these creatures (described as “the children of her rage”) in quite a grotesque fashion. Below is a clip from Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movies, describing the film’s affect:
In the end, Nola is vanquished, but the concluding shot implies the Candace has inherited her powers.
It goes without saying that such portrayals present a problematic image of motherhood. In the process, mothers get blamed for the horror that takes place on screen because they have mothered excessively. Fatherly equivalents do exist especially in more mainstream genres, but such paternal figures seem far fewer in the horror genre than their maternal counterparts. The reason: horror’s interest in notions of the body makes motherhood particularly–dare I say it?–pregnant with possibilities.
***Note to readers: The subject-matter discussed in this post is probably not appropriate for most people, but it should especially be avoided by children and those about to sit down to a nice big meal. Really, if you’re easily grossed out, go no further.***
Up front I will admit that I have been avoiding writing this post for several days. Since I first heard about The Human Centipede in my “Gender and Horror Film” class last week, I have been dreading having to write about it. But what self-respecting horror film enthusiast goes silent on a movie that some suggest breaks boundaries in the horror genre?
For those of you who haven’t heard, The Human Centipede depicts the demented plan of a German surgeon to create the eponymous creature. The doctor explains to three hapless victims trapped in his basement that they will be connected surgically from mouth to anus to create one digestive system amongst them. The trailer below shows the explanation of this conjoining:
Immediately upon hearing about the concept, I felt totally disgusted. Just the idea as described by my professor made me queezy, so much so that I continued to think about it long after class. I was so bothered that I thought the best thing to do would be to watch the trailer, thinking that the trailer might make the idea more, I don’t know, palatable? Of course, it didn’t–it only made me more consumed by the idea, especially with its trailer’s claim that the film is “100% Medically Accurate.” I hate to admit it, but I even resorted to falling asleep while watching TV to avoid dealing with these thoughts.
My response to The Human Centipede dispels a couple of common misconceptions about horror fans. Often times, critics have depicted horror fans as a callous type, only interested in observing violence with a detached kind of pleasure. I’ve heard of this fan, but never really known anyone who fits the description. Most fans of the genre that I know tend to be highly empathic types, possibly just as sensitive to suggestion as those who avoid the genre.
What distinguishes the horror fan from the horror phobe is that fans take pleasure in fear while phobes do not. Isabel Cristina Pinedo, whom I have mentioned before in relation to this issue, compares watching horror films to riding a roller coaster: both experiences occur within a controlled environment where spectators can assume physical security in which to simulate their dangerous scenarios. She calls this “recreational terror.”
Of course, even the hardened genre fan has limits; for me, The Human Centipede is akin to bungee jumping or sky diving, neither of which I have tried. In both cases, I’m still weighing whether the “thrill” is worth pursuing in light of the associated “risks.” But unlike the aforementioned stunts, The Human Centipede poses an ethical question for me: do I want to want to watch it? To be fair, some have suggested that the film takes great pains to avoid depicting explicit contact, but implication doesn’t seem to have mitigated the nausea factor for some reviewers.
Almost a week has passed since I first learned about the movie and the shock has worn off somewhat. It’s almost more disturbing to me that I’ve become acclimated enough to the idea that I can actually think about it without gagging. I guess in a small way, my response to The Human Centipede explains why humanity functions in spite of the terrors that it creates–eventually, we get used to these ideas so that we can get on with our lives.