Regular readers may have noticed the recent lack of posts. The reason: I’ve spent the last several weeks moving cross-country with spouse and puppy in tow. After several days of ten hours behind the wheel, we finally arrived in Oregon early this week and have been recuperating ever since.
Now that I have landed in the cool, lush Pacific Northwest, I am reflecting upon four years as a Texas resident with mixed emotions. While I certainly detested the dominant conservative views of the state’s populace, I appreciated the brash Texas culture that combined so many influences. I come away from the state with a greater appreciation for western cloths, country music of the Townes Van Zandt variety, spicy foods, and the greatest contraction ever, “y’all.” The place rubbed off on me, and I know that I’ll think back fondly on the many friends I made, SXSW dayshows I attended, bars I frequented (Hole in the Wall!), and daytrips to float the Comal taken over the past four years.
I feel especially blessed to have been in Austin at a time in which horror fandom flourished. I doubt that this blog would exist had I not cultivated my interest in the genre through coursework in media studies, conversations with like-minded friends, and late night b-movies at the Alamo Drafthouse. Because of the Terror Thursday (now Terror Tuesday) series, I saw such gems as The Stepfather, The Hidden, and Silent Night, Deadly Night along with some duds that shall remain nameless. I even saw a few of the genre’s famous faces at special screenings, including Eli Roth, Herschell Gordon Lewis, and Joe Bob Briggs.
Most exciting to me was seeing the production of such movies right before my eyes. The fall that I arrived in Texas, Quentin Tarantino and crew were filming Death Proof in a neighborhood adjacent to my own. I actually spotted Tarantino at Jo’s Coffee Stand while looking for apartments in Austin. I reacted by quickly walking past, calling my brother so I could tell someone, and then walking back to the coffee shop to get a closer look. Later, I saw the trailer park of stars and crew assembled on South Congress and witnessed some of the shooting of the film in Guero’s Taco Bar, an early favorite of mine as I became acquainted with the area. Jungle Julia billboards dotted major streets in South Austin, and my bus trips home from UT would often include a drive past shooting locations. The next Spring, I scored tickets to see the regional premiere of Grindhouse with some friends, and we all met up at one of the film’s prominent shooting locations, the Texas Chili Parlor, before the screening. There, we ran into a group of roller girls (The Putas del Fuego), decked out in evening wear with beauty pageant sashes. We learned at the screening that the ladies of the league were honored guests. Better company for such an event I cannot imagine.
What I discovered the longer I lived in Texas was the way in which Grindhouse merely elaborated upon an established connection between the state of Texas and the horror genre. Only after moving to Texas did I discover one of the greatest modern horror films of all time, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. That film’s director and co-writer, Tobe Hooper, taught at the University of Texas’s Radio-TV-Film Department, where I worked on my master’s. He shot the film outside of Austin, capitalizing upon the dry, central Texas terrain to give the film a desolate feel. Horror films continue to use this kind of setting to illicit the same feelings of isolation in viewers.
So, while I may be thrilled to be back home in the Northwest, I will always reflect back upon my time in Texas as particularly formative. It may not have been New York in the fifties or San Franscisco in the sixties, but for me, Austin was the right cultural scene at the right time, and it made me into the horror fan that I am today.
I visited my buddies in Austin for the last time this week before moving my shit out to the Pacific Northwest next week. We had some good meals, listened to some terrific music from Austin’s freshest bands, and best of all, had a lot of good conversation. Still, one of the most fun activities of the weekend was watching Jason X while we stayed at my friend Curran’s place. Curran and his partner Masashi own a ridiculously large collection of horror videos and dvds–they best me in terms of horror fandom hands down.
When faced with the wide array of choices, we decided to watch a Friday the Thirteenth installment I’d never seen: Jason X. I’d caught some of the film on television (back when I had cable) but had not viewed it in its entirety. I found the film to be just as schlocky as expected, and hence, a pleasurable viewing experience.
Jason X (2002), by the way, stars that irrepressible, hockey-masked villain, Jason Voorhees, in the tenth installment of the series. In this version, a company attempts to transport Jason to a research facility to better understand his ability to survive any form of execution. Of course, everything goes wrong, and Jason and incredulous scientist, Rowan, both succumb to freezing after a cryogenic tank breaks. Nearly five hundred years later, a group of researchers discovers the two frozen beings and takes them aboard a funky looking space ship (more on that later) where they thaw out and all hell breaks loose. It’s like Alien meets Terminator meets…well, Friday the Thirteenth.
It may shock you to know that Jason X does not presume to be a serious entry into the horror genre, but revels in poor acting, lame dialog, and the worst CGI since Jaws 3-D. Here’s the trailer:
Here are ten things about Jason X that will keep you laughing from beginning to end:
1 Writing – Much of the film’s attempts at comic relief rely upon the lowest form of humor: the pun. After one unfortunate victim becomes impaled upon a large drill, one of his comrades says, “he’s screwed.” One character cries out, “this sucks on so many levels” when (surprise, surprise) being sucked out of a ship after Jason punches a hole into the outer wall. Some of the kills seem built entirely around the punny line that follows.
2 Animation – The film uses CGI to create the world of outer-space, but apparently the $11,000,000 budget couldn’t buy much in the way of quality. The ships portrayed look completely ridiculous, like someone tried way too hard to come-up with something unusual.
3 Costuming – Along the same lines, the characters wear the most ridiculous, lurid clothing throughout the film. The odd textures, colors, and layering fail to evoke a consistent style of the future, except in that the ladies tend to bare midriff and/or cleavage. This still gets at what I’m talking about it:
4 Kink – The film also uses kink as a source of humor. Android Kay-Em 14 dresses like a dominatrix when facing off against Jason, but my favorite thing: a sex scene between a female student and male professor featuring a pair of tongs used to twist the teacher’s nipple. As a orgasms, he cries out: “you passed!”
5 Weird Science – The film portrays a future in which limbs can be reattached in a jiff and bodies frozen for four-hundred years merely need be covered in ants to reanimate. Yes, ants. This technology also benefits Jason, who despite being shot up into a chunky paste by Kay-Em 14 inexplicably reemerges as a cyborg. The script makes few attempts to explain how this technology works, which actually seems more honest to me even if it makes for perplexing entertainment.
6 Characters – Besides the final girl, Rowan, everyone else in this movie is pretty unsympathetic. Both annoying and idiotic, you will not mourn the loss. The Professor Brandon Lowe, who learns that Jason will likely snag him a lot of money, exudes the same kind of sleaziness that Paul Reiser did in Aliens but without the subtlety. One death after another feels like it belongs in the Darwin awards.
7 Kills – The kills are ridiculous: getting sucked into space through a grate; dipping a girl’s face into liquid nitrogen and shattering it; the famous sleeping bag kill with two simultaneous victims. Ugh.
8 Plot – The twists and turns prove to be both imaginative and nonsensical. Why, for example, do Jason and Rowan’s bodies lie untouched for nearly five hundred years?
9 Action Sequences – The face-off against Kay-Em 14 proves more hilarious than heart-stopping due to the silly stunts:
This clip highlights the final hilarious thing about Jason X
10 Acting – Sure, the writing stinks, but the delivery is worse. The actors frequently overact, miss their beats, and provoke unintended laughs.
I could easily come up with more hilarious things about the movie (the score, the ending, etc…) but that would ruin my whole X/10 parallel. Besides, the many surprises along the way may be the most entertaining thing about Jason X, and what kind of fan would I be to give all of that away?
Previously, I posted about how highly I anticipated Splice, a sci-fi/horror film written and directed by Vincenzo Natali and starring Sarah Polley and Adrian Brody. A friend tempered my high expectations by telling me that some reviewers panned the film, but I went to see it last night anyway with hopes that the film would prove strong. I am happy to report that Splice may be this summer’s Drag Me to Hell, in terms of high quality, provocative, mainstream horror. You simply must see it.
For those who missed my previous post, Splice follows a couple of scientists, Clive and Elsa (Brody and Polley, respectively) tasked with creating animal hybrids in order to extract proteins for gene therapy. They succeed in developing strange, penile like creatures for this purpose, calling the pair Fred and Ginger. Riding the high of their success, Clive and Elsa propose an even more radical experiment involving the incorporation of human DNA, much to the dismay of the executives of their company. Despite orders to refrain from using human DNA, Elsa and Clive move forward with the project in secret with plans to abort the egg once it proves viable. The egg, however, grows more rapidly than expected. In an intense scene, Clive and Elsa extract the creature from it’s fetal tank. The animal ages rapidly starting out looking like a fleshy tube with a bulbous appendage at one end and becoming more human-like as time passes.
With wide set eyes, chicken-like legs, and a tail with a stinger, the creature (which Elsa names “Dren”) looks uncannily human, yet behaves with the unpredictability of an animal. As Dren grows, she becomes more difficult to hide from other workers in the lab and Clive and Elsa decide to move her to a secluded farm house where they keep her locked in a barn. Meanwhile, the “Fred and Ginger” project takes a disastrous turn when Ginger changes sex and the two kill each other in front of the company’s shareholders. The couple must develop the proteins demanded by the company using DNA samples. Elsa extracts DNA from Dren, successfully reproducing the protein demanded by the company.
But work seems the least of their worries. Rather, the film’s final third revolves around tensions amongst Dren, Clive, and Elsa. Dren rebels against the mother figure Elsa while Clive and Dren become closer. The emotions between Clive and Dren quickly become sexual, and Dren successfully seduces him. Elsa walks in on a freaky intra-species sex scene, one of the film’s more shocking moments. Soon thereafter, Dren appears to grow sick and die; however, Dren rises from her fresh grave, transformed into a male. After killing Clive’s brother and one of the executives sent to investigate, Dren attacks Elsa and rapes her. Clive impales Dren, but Dren kills Clive with his regrown stinger. Elsa, however, finishes the job by smashing Dren’s head with a rock.
Months later, Elsa makes a deal with the company to enter phase 2 of the Dren project. The now clearly pregnant Elsa agrees to carry her baby to term despite the personal risks and ethical implications. The film ends without reassurances, fading to black with the image of a female executive embracing Elsa.
This last image of an older woman holding a younger woman draws attention to the mother/daughter dynamics central to the film. From the time of Dren’s birth, Elsa relates to her like a mother to a child, protecting Dren from danger and, as she grows, teaching her new skills and praising her for her accomplishments. Along with skills, Elsa passes along lessons of femininity, giving Dren a Barbie-like doll, adorning her in dresses, and as she matures, teaching her how to use make-up. These lessons in femininity contrast Elsa’s own accounts of her relationship with her deceased mother. Elsa tells Dren that she hid her doll from sight because her mother would not allow her to play with dolls; Elsa also explains that make-up was forbidden because, her mother said, it “debased women.” Elsa’s mothering of Dren, then, contrasts her mother’s approach.
I interpreted these generational differences in terms of second-wave feminism and third-wave feminism. In other words, Elsa seems to be lashing back at her mother’s strict definitions of female empowerment by embracing a more traditional notion of femininity. This clash reminded me of a terrific article by Kathleen Karlyn about the ways in which the Scream series grapples with mother/daughter relationships in very similar terms. Elsa uses Dren to rework issues unresolved between herself and her mother, which becomes particularly interesting as Dren matures into a sexual being. In one of the film’s most disturbing sequences, Dren nearly kills Elsa after being scolded for killing a cat; Elsa then proceeds to knock Dren out and restrain her, removing her clothing before cutting off her stinger. Clive later states that he believes that Elsa channeled her motherly impulses into Dren because as a scientist, she believed she could have greater control in an experimental setting–the scene confirms this suspicion, with Elsa referring to Dren as a subject and specimen, reinforcing an illusion of scientific objectivity. In short, Elsa struggles with memories of her own controlling, abusive mother, channeling similar impulses into her relationship with Dren with disturbing effects.
Dren’s relationship with Clive proves just as interesting. Clive struggles with the moral and ethical implications of the project from the very beginning, regularly insisting on terminating Dren but ultimately relenting at Elsa’s behest. Yet, Clive ultimately reciprocates Dren’s advances, in part because she physically resembles Elsa (a fact that leads Clive to conclude that Elsa contributed her own DNA for the project). Thus, Clive (like Elsa) conflates his desires for Elsa toward Dren. Splice, then, portrays parent/child relationships as complicated by transference.
Ultimately, Splice depicts a heterosexual couple producing a monstrous (but sympathetic) being, resulting in the kind of dysfunctional family unit described by Freud a century ago–we even get a primal scene in the film. I expect that such an outcome would please the late Robin Wood despite Dren’s queerness (see my review of Orphan for more about Wood).
Of course, Splice does exhibit flaws, particularly in terms of dialog and mise-en-scene. Elsa’s repeating of the phrase “What’s the worst that could happen?” failed to illicit the laughs intended. The whole self-proclaimed nerdiness of the characters seems contrived, especially since Elsa and Clive initially dress like hackers in a late-nineties computer thriller. I expect that some folks (the true nerds) will scoff at the liberties taken with science, but in a fantasy film, I tend to let this slide.
The fact of the matter: Splice held my attention from start to finish, unnerving me and leaving me with much to ponder. I can’t make that claim about most of the films I have seen this past year. Can you?
Apologies for the dirth of posts–my spouse and I traveled to Oregon to visit his family for a week and their dial-up connection made it impossible to post. It actually was a nice vacation from the internet, but I did feel a bit neglectful.
I’m working on some longer pieces, so at the moment, I would encourage you to take a look at an interesting article on Salon.Com. It’s called “The Meaning of Torture Porn” and it discusses the Saw films, The Human Centipede, and the I Spit on Your Grave remake, among others. In the process, writer Thomas Rodgers interviews Thomas Fahy, editor of a new anthology called The Philosophy of Horror. Exciting, fascinating stuff–even if it’s the hundredth article on the topic, it never seems to get old.
***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.