Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Hallowthon 2015 Anthology: For the Final Girl in all of us

Will here: Happy All Hallow's Eve-eve-eve-eve, gentle readers. There are a hell of a lot of horror movies out there and a lot of the same things to be said about most of them: exploitation cliches with sexualised violence against women, weak women predated upon or protected by strong men, and people of colour treated as expendable for shock value.  Racist stereotypes as a source of villainy.  Sex corrupts the young and then they get murdered while the pure girls maybe survive.  We could do a hundred posts and they would all look basically the same.  To save everyone time, here we present the SS&S Hallowthon 2015 Anthology, with myself and the blogqueen offering you some brief thoughts on a score of better- and lesser-known horror films, in case you seek assistance picking something to watch this weekend.

Erika here: Also a warning, a lot of these are movies I saw more than five years ago, so I may have not noticed or forgotten some of the more messed-up aspects of some.

(Content: misogyny, racism, gory violence, and sexual violence.  Fun content: the greatest documentary of our time, and VAGINA DENTATA.)

Erika - As we all know, the greatest documentary of our time. That aside, I think Peter Venkman should get slimer'd. Not that he would notice as he is made of slime. Seriously. Fuck that guy.

Will - Oh my god Erika this isn't a documentary MOVING ALONG

Evil Dead
Will - Not the original with Bruce Campbell, but the remake from a couple of years ago.  Much less terrible than I expected.  Don't know if I could call it 'good'.  Teens isolate themselves at a cabin in the woods--not for a weekend of drinking and sex, but as an intervention to get their addict friend clean.  Everything goes horribly wrong because one guy decides to read aloud from a book that literally has 'don't say these words' written in the margins in blood.  Gory as hell, a huge amount of bodily mutilation, and a literal rain of blood in the last scene.  Not as inherently misogynistic as I would have expected--the original Evil Dead is famous for the 'tree rape' scene, which was exactly as gratuitous and voyeuristic as it sounds (the tree even ripped open the woman's shirt for the audience's benefit).  In this version, the victim does get bound by an animated tree, and some kind of monstrosity spews out a demon eel that slithers up her skirt, but the whole thing is incredibly gross and violating (and a key plot moment) rather than played to arouse.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Erika - When I first saw this movie, I went in expecting it to be awful. I was very very wrong. It was magical. It's campy and cheesy and Abraham Lincoln kills vampires with an ax. Horses are thrown. Love yourself. Watch this movie.

Will - The only caveat I'd add is that this is a very White Savior kind of historical revisionism along with the vampire revisionism.  Abraham inherits his mother's sense of equality ("As long as any of us are slaves, none of us are free", which...) and stands up for it his whole life.  Vampires are responsible for the transatlantic slave trade and they throw in a line specifically to note that Africans were getting 'sold' to white people by other Africans, in that way that really defensive white people always want to make sure that we all know that we're all culpable, really, and I mean I don't even see race so why do you have to make such a big deal about it--et cetera.  So there's that.  On the other hand, Anthony Mackie plays Lincoln's best friend Will Johnson and, upon learning that they're going to fight vampires, jumps right in with deadly efficiency.  Lincoln required an extensive training montage, but Johnson is just like "Oh, are we doing superhero stuff now?" and goes into bullet time.

Erika - My old roommate, Devin and I got back from the bar late one night and weren't ready to crash yet, so we booted up Netflix and found this. It's about a Good Christian Girl who is attacked by reams of sexual predators and defends herself with her vagina teeth. She doesn't escape the non-stop sexual assault, but her teeth give her agency to fight back. Either way, it features a doctor, horrified, shrieking "VAGINA DENTATA" and I don't know what else you want from a movie.

Repo! The Genetic Opera
Erika - It's more an aesthetic than a movie, and not a great one. The music is tragically lacking, but has Anthony Head who is a surprisingly decent singer and makes up for a multitude of sins. Strangely, he isn't even in the best number of the movie. Also Paris Hilton's face falls off.

Will - Worth seeing if you don't mind some gore.  I guess it's supposed to be an indictment of the modern American healthcare system and the encroaching forces of capitalism?  But if I get into dissecting that for analysis, we'll be here all day.  Sarah Brightman as Blind Mag is magnificent and probably a wizard.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Erika - I thought I was buying the first one when I bought it, not the (older) re-make. It's the first time I have bought the wrong movie and gotten a better one than I hoped for. This movie terrified me. It manages to be high tension and super creepy without using jump scares or gore. It's just, it's just a really well written and done. If you like getting your pants creeped off you, but like, not in a sexy way, check it.

Practical Magic
Erika - When scrolling through Netflix with Will trying to figure out what to put on this list I suggested this one. I hadn't seen the movie in like, ten years, but I remembered enough to think there was something to write about. I was right. Not that that should surprise anyone. This is a movie that is about women, and women loving and trusting each other to overcome anything. They also kill the same abusive boyfriend twice.

Will - Also there are two love spells used in this movie and I have a variety of questions as relating to consent and mind control whenever that sort of thing happens.  But I'd say the movie leans toward the idea, not that the targets are compelled to adore each other, but magically made intensely aware of all the things they could love about each other and lets things flow from there?  That's not textual at all, I admit.  Great scenes with women coming together to support each other in dire circumstances, even when they otherwise don't get along.  Like most things in life, needed more not-straight people.

Rosemary's Baby
Erika - Which is scarier? Being impregnated with the literal spawn of Satan (without fun Devil sex but with the extra challenges breast feeding) or having everyone in your life teaming up to gaslight you about it? Well, in this movie, you don't have to choose!

Human Centipede
Erika - I did not want to see this movie when I saw it. I didn't really know what I was getting into, which added to the glee of those with me as they cackled at my unprepared horror. Devin and his twin Doug decided this was what they wanted to do for their birthday, so my gift to them both was having to explain to my father what it was. Neither of us have forgiven them for this. The movie actually isn't as gross as you think it will be. It's gross, and it's fucked up, but the worst of it happens off screen. If you were thinking of seeing this movie but afraid of explicit gore, it's not that bad?

Will - I have literally cut people off midsentence to keep them from explaining the premise of this movie to innocent bystanders who didn't know better.  Thus do I earn my place in the Elysian Fields.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Erika - I do not remember being introduced to the soundtrack of this movie. I just... always knew it. I have fond memories of my Father dancing around the kitchen in his underpants, making breakfast, singing "Sweet Transvestite" with all he's got (and my Dad is a very enthusiastic singer). The only copy of the soundtrack we had was on a tape, so after switching to CD there were a few years where I kind of forgot about it until my Discman died and I went digging through my old tapes. I was walking across the street when I realized what, exactly, most of these songs were about. I didn't get hit by a car, but not be as wide a margin as I would like to claim. The soundtrack alone is worth the watch if you've somehow not already seen this campy, sexy(?), parade of absurdity.

Will - The blogqueen tried to make me watch this a couple of years ago, but I was exhausted and she made me go home halfway through because sleeping through Rocky Horror is on her list of forbidden acts, along with wearing socks (Erika- Only to bed) and giving her husband ideas.  So when I did actually see it all the way through this summer, it was at a local theater with a shadowplay cast and a lot of call-and-response from the audience.  I'm not convinced that actually made it any harder to understand what was going on.  This is a weird movie and the terms 'transvestite' and 'transsexual' are both waaay out of fashion now, and while I'm all for more LGBT characters in cinema, there's a lot of coercion and dubious consent here.  I get why it's an iconic film (and apparently they're remaking it with Laverne Cox as Dr Frank-N-Furter) but I was not as enchanted as I hoped.

The Loved Ones
Erika - I don't even know where to start with this movie. I'm not squeamish but yikes. Gore, psychological horror, sexual horror, incest, I just--if you are looking for a movie that you will sit back and say "Wow, that was super fucked up in more ways than I have seen any one movie be fucked up in" then this is the deeply fucked up movie for you.

Garden State
Erika - What's more horrifying than a whiny entitled privileged white dude and his fantasies of a manic pixie dream girl who will fix all of his problems? Great aesthetic and soundtrack too.

Will - The most subtle psychological thriller of our generation.

All The Boys Love Mandy Lane
Erika - This should be called "Mandy Lane needs some better fucking friends" because every single one of them is awful. (Okay, the lone black guy (Bird) doesn't totally suck.) Also: unnecessary sexualized violence. I am not saying sexual violence, but the first girl is killed after giving a blow job by getting a shotgun rammed in her mouth as if she were giving a blow up before having her head smashed through. It's a slasher flick that fancies itself clever. I will give it credit that I didn't see the whole twist coming, and it makes some interesting visual choices.

Will - It's a very aware movie that becomes less cliche as it goes, both in narrative and cinematic styles.  Could have done with a little more character exposition, since the motivations driving the whole murder spree are never given very clearly, and unlike most slashers that actually matters.  There are enough hints given that you can piece something together, but a lot left up to interpretation, and I'm never sure if that's intentional or if the filmmakers just thought they were so clever that they didn't need to say more.

Shaun of the Dead
Erika - Since the saturation of the zombie market, Shaun of the Dead is an especially nice reprieve. It's clever and genre savvy without feeling "wink wink nudge nudge tee hee this is a zombie movie" with actually developed characters. Could stand to have more women and POC and fewer white dudes, but it's at least sort of a horror movie so I guess I can only hope for so much.

Will - Probably the best we're going to get in terms of 'ordinary people face the zombie apocalypse'.

Erika - A movie that started off so strong and then went so wrong. It starts off with some psychological horror and cat-and-mouse type stuff between a grown woman and her adopted 9 year old daughter, with the 9 year old being the villain. Because if horror movies have taught me anything it's that children are creepy as fuck (and people wonder why I don't want any). Like many disappointing horror movies, it starts off clever and then takes a sharp turn into standard slasher horror right at the end.

The Witches of Zugarramurdi (English title: Witching & Bitching)
Erika - This is a weird movie. Weird in a good way, but weird. A group of robbers are trying to get away after their first heist but they get grabbed by a coven of cannibal witches who are trying to bring about the apocalypse. The basic theme and morals of the story are that women are evil and unstable, while men are immature and useless, but mostly well-meaning.

Will - I'm generally not one for gross-out humour, 'battle of the sexes' plots, or MRA talking points.  Especially screw that one guy in the first seen who's like "the judges always favour women in custody cases" because that's not even slightly true.  On the other hand, this has canonically bisexual secondary characters who become a happy couple, which probably makes it more progressive overall than 90% of Supernatural episodes, or Steven Moffat's portfolio.

Erika - Almost all of the weird-ass movies on this list that I saw in theaters I saw at the same weird local theater and I hope everyone has one of those. This was a movie that I actually regretted seeing there though. Again, one that is best described as "weird" but I wouldn't say "good weird". If it had been a half hour long, I probably would have loved it but it was just so long. Still, if the premise of "A homicidal car tire with psionic powers goes on a rampage and also acts as its own framing device" catches your attention, it's probably worth checking out.  Just maybe be willing to skip through a bit.

Will - I actually like this movie.  Not even as 'I guess among horror movies it's bearable'; I legitimately enjoyed it, which was a huge shock the first time because I have always hated standard-issue slashers.  The thing is that this one came before most others and didn't use their bloody cliches.  The daylight scenes are at least as unsettling as anything that happens in the dark.  The horror has less to do with jump scares and more to do with an emotionless implacable force randomly deciding to kill all your friends.  It also pretty much codified the final girl who faces the monster and lives.  That said, when your villain is 'an escaped murderer from an insane asylum', it's not like we're going to get anything like a thoughtful film.  Pure id.

Erika - When a husband and wife duo of "too-cool-for-school" scientists are told to stop their research on genetically engineering creatures, they cross lines of ethics, morals, and pretty much everything that gets in their way when they continue in secret and start splicing in human DNA as well. This movie starts off well. It challenges boundaries and ethics and social expectations and largely tries to be high minded about it even when getting into deeply uncomfortable territory. Which is what made it so terribly disappointing when it turned into a monster flick in the last few scenes and gets rapey.

Erika - I have found the formula for good Lovecraft reading: read his shorter short stories. That's it. Otherwise he spends forever building up and up mundane circumstances to like, a paragraph of weirdness that overall is unsatisfying (I'm looking at you, Rats In The Walls).  But the shorter ones tend to get to the weird stuff sooner, and feel like a bigger payoff without as much puttering around. All that to say, I haven't actually read Re-Animator. The Husbeast has, and he tells me it's super racist, which isn't terribly shocking. The movie is not. It is however incredibly sexist. The treatment of the lone female character is awful, she's stripped of agency, objectified, and assaulted. It does a better job getting to the weirdness more quickly than Lovecraft's writings often do, but the whole movie was a bit of a let down for me. The aesthetics are kind of fun but beyond that I don't have much nice to say about it, and a lot of negative. This is the only one on the list I am straight up telling you to skip.

Will - This is simultaneous not a Vampire Movie and also the best vampire movie I've ever seen.  A couple of two-century-old women are permanently on the run for reasons the mother refuses to explain to her daughter.  There are decapitations and literal waterfalls of blood and a Dangerous Romance between a frail human and the immortal vampire who won't risk hurting an innocent.  There are positive depictions of sex workers and their work, and a sort of thematic crescendo that we should all be able to agree, whether living or undead, that the most important thing to do is defy and destroy the violent institutions of patriarchy.  (On balance, this is an ultra-white movie and there's a fair about of offscreen rape-as-backstory, so it's not all sunshine and murder-daisies.)  Basically the anti-Twilight.  I recommend this movie to anyone who doesn't find the subject matter unwatchably disturbing.


So that's our selection of judgments for this year--feel free to add your own in the comments if there's something else in this vein that you wish more people knew about.  Also, expect more judgments of creepy stuff in the weeks to come, as Will finally gets around to marshalling his thoughts on the undying saga that is the Supernatural series, and the X-Files revival in January 2016 spurs some talk on the amazing Dana Scully and how weird it is that no one seems to talk about how super racist this sci-fi classic really was.

Erika has written far enough ahead that her posts should run uninterrupted through the next month in spite of NaNoWriMo, so enjoy those.  Will insists that he has got his side covered as well but he is not a reliable source.  Happy Halloween, folks.

No comments:

Post a Comment