Tuesday, 6 December 2011

"From Deep Space, The Seed Is Planted"

Philip Kaufman's 1978 remake of the sci-fi flick Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the original being from 1956, is a big favourite of mine. Not only has it got a young Goldblum and Donald Sutherland with a ridiculous perm and moustache, but it achieves what perhaps more scary movies, sci-fi or otherwise, should aim for; chills and horror without blood and gore.

To paraphrase my old buddy Sigmund Freud, the Uncanny is that which ought to have remain hidden, but which has come to light. Freud being who he was and more importantly interested in the things he was, this is obviously going to end up being about genitals in some way (who says critical theory is boring!?). One of man's biggest fears (if we ignore for a moment the castration and all that – we'll get to that soon enough), according to Sigmund, and the ultimate in uncanniness is being buried alive. But not for any of the obvious reasons, such as suffocating and suffering a slow and painful and claustrophobic death. That would be silly. The reason why this scenario appears to men to be one of the most horrific and uncanny scenarios possible, is because it would remind the victim of the experience of being in his mother's womb before being born. It's been too long since I've actually read this stuff for me to go into any greater depth at this moment, but my point is this: pre-birth, and birth, and maternal insides and genitals, are pretty creepy! Theoretically speaking of course, but I'm always speaking in theoretical terms.

So what could be creepier and more uncanny than seeing yourself, as a grown-up, being born from an alien pod which represents your mother's uterus? Probably not a lot. The alienness of said uterus, and vagina (oh yes, they are quite visual) would of course symbolise woman's Otherness because in case horror films have taught you NOTHING, women are like, well icky.

As Barbara Creed (amongst many, many others) points out (specifically in her essay on psychoanalytical views on horror films, Horror and the Monstrous-Feminine: An Imaginary Abjection (1986)), there is a significant tradition across various academic fields for pointing at the ways in which a woman is different from a man in order to explain why she is "shocking, terrifying, horrific, abject". To illustrate this, Creed brings up examples which should be well known to anyone with a slight interest in the topic of psychoanalysis (extremely simplified here by yours truly):

  •  Fear of castration, caused in the ever so fragile mind of a man upon seeing a woman's genitals. (Freud 1927) The man, poor thing, is unable to fathom that there are actually different sexes and that everyone isn't exactly like himself, so assumes that the woman is in fact a castrated man. He then fears, in his unconscious at least, that the same will happen to him, which leads us neatly onto the next example:
  •  " 'The toothed vagina' - the vagina that castrates". (Freud) Also known as vagina dentata, this phenomenon has finally even had an entire horror film dedicated to the topic; Teeth (2007). Basically; vaginas, and thus women, are really scary and if you (the universal "you", ie. male) don't watch out these scary women will steal your manhood.
  •  The phallic mother, according to Sigmund "a motif [which is] perfectly illustrated in the long fingernails and nose of the witch". I take this to be a representation of a controlling and authoritative woman who is percieved as threatening because she might "take over" the masculine qualities of men. A less gory version of the vagina dentata, then.

In light of this, what can be said about the uncanny terror of Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Well, for a start, it could be argued that the whole scheme with the alien pods which produce clones of human beings is merely an extension of Freud's three horror scenarios as outlined above. What they all have in common is an immense fear in the man of losing his masculine authority – more or less physically or symbolically, depending on which theory you pick as your favourite. In Invasion…, we see what could happen if these fears were to come true; repoduction without any male input (he he). Sure, the alien plants send out those weird, furry feeler things to get a "blueprint" as it were from both men and women. But the men are not required to take any active part in the process. It is the alien pods, which as I have mentioned are pretty obvious representations of female reproductive parts, that do all the work and take all the initiative – it all happens outside of the control of the man. As if that wasn't bad enough, the clones claim to have it better than their fully human, half male predecessors! What on earth would Freud say? Actually, he probably wouldn't say much, as he would have been busy having a heart attack (I love you, Sigmund).

Furthermore, one of Creed's central themes is the role of the abject in horror. If I might be so bold as to quote Wikipedia, seeing as no one's going to mark this, the abject is "exists in between the concept of an object and the concept of the subject, something alive yet not". [my italics] Creed mentions traditional monster figures such as vampires, ghouls, zombies, and witches as examples of "bodies without souls", and even werewolves as an example of a "collapse of the boundaries between human and animal". In Invasion…, the thing threatening to collapse the boundaries of safety is not animal, but alien. Thus, we can say that there is a collapse of the boundaries between, or the very categories of, human subject and Other. The problem here of course, lies in the customary definition of the "universal" (a term which loses even more of its meaning in confrontation with aliens) human subject, which again and again turns out to be a very small part of the human population. Women, for example, traditionally speaking have no place within the definition of subject. So once again, what we are dealing with is a male ("universal") fear of losing control; women, aliens, Others are threatening to take over authority. The boundaries that are collapsing might as well be between the genders.

Creed says:

"the concept of a border is central to the construction of the monstrous in the horror film; that which crosses or threatens to cross the "border" is abject. Although the specific nature of the border changes from film to film, the function of the monstrous remains the same: to bring about an encounter between the symbolic order and that which threatens its stability".

She goes on to list different kinds of films with different kinds of borders to be crossed; human/inhuman in one category, genders in another (and even "normal and abnormal sexual desire" as a third category). What I'm suggesting here is that in seperating the categories in such a way, Creed is missing a vital point. The same threat could easily be represented in an infinity of different ways, without changing the fact that the threat itself does not change because what is being threatened remains the same. The "symbolic order" which is so loved by several psychoanalysts is unflexible at best, yet it continues to inhabit one of the most dominant roles of all in popular culture.

Meanwhile, the way I see it, one important question remains. Creed touches upon it, though she formulates it in a different way from what I would prefer: "Is it possible to intervene in the social construction of woman as abject?" Luckily, seeing as this is my blog, I get the last word: once we have identified the problem as being not necessarily the representations of women as abject, but of the never changing symbolic order which is being forever threatened, what can we do to turn this insight to our advantage?

But ahh, had it only been that easy – because I just outlined an "us" which would necessarily define a "them" and thus construct even more borders and boundaries to be threatened and defended. Such is life, perhaps?

Saturday, 30 July 2011

When slashers become reality.

Dear readers,

although this blog is (as you'll know) irregularly updated at best, there is a reason why it's not being updated currently.

As most of you will know, things have been all but normal and peaceful in Norway for the past week.

For those of you who don't know, I am a Norwegian who's lived most of my life in Oslo. I returned here about a year and a half ago after having studied abroad, and had the pleasure of falling in love all over again with the city of Oslo.

After the massacre which took place last Friday, I've had absolutely no urge to watch slasher films, most of which obviously include innocent teenagers being slaughtered.

I'm always the one to insist, when friends call me a weirdo for finding pleasure in watching these types of films, that they have nothing to do with reality and are only shallow entertainment. At the moment though, that kind of shallow entertainment seems to have come a bit too close to reality.

I just need a brief break from all of this, and I will return to the world of horror/slasher films soon, as they can almost be described as one of the big loves of my life – and I will return to update this blog as sporadically as ever. But I ask for your understanding in that I cannot bring myself to watch, or write about, slasher films in this specific situation.

H x

Friday, 17 June 2011

Black Christmas and the Dread of Difference

In a previous post on this blog, Looking through Gary Gilmore's Eyes, I discussed the fairly widespread use of what has been called the I-camera; that is, when a scene is being filmed as if through the eyes of one character, to let the audience see just what that specific character is seeing. In horror films, it is inevitably the villain's eyes through which we are invited to look. I argued against the idea of I-camera as forced identification and linked it rather with the Derridean idea of horror in seeing yourself seen.

Upon watching Black Christmas (1974) for the first time quite recently, it struck me how much more meaning there lies in the act of watching, and the knowledge that you are being watched, in horror films.

The use of I-camera or "forced identification" probably goes further than just pointing out how essentially different the "evil" character is to normal people. The fact that it is always someone watching from the outside as seemingly normal people engage in completely normal, everyday activities – before this character ends up killing them all, or at least trying to – is a way of demonising difference. Once the quality of "difference" is marked as truly monstrous, it is not a terribly long way away to judge those who are different as equally horrible.

In the excellent collection of essays on horror films and gender, The Dread of Difference, editor Barry Keith Grant writes in his introduction:

In 1986 Constance Penley wrote that "science fiction film as a genre –– along with its evil twin, the horror film –– is now more hyperbolically concerned than ever with the question of difference". Certainly she is correct in her observation about the genre's concerns, although her use of the temporal qualifier ("now") is perhaps somewhat misleading, for such treatment has tended to characterize the genre throughout its history.

I think that this goes further than just being limited to gender issues, although that is what Grant (and normally myself) is preoccupied with. If that's where it stopped, Black Christmas would simply be about a group of sorority girls who are afraid of one man. While it would be useless to claim that that outline is not part of what is happening (plot: a group of sorority girls are being stalked and slashed, one by one, by an unknown man), it is a lot more interesting to think in broader terms with this one. It is the fact that someone is watching from the outside that is the source of the horror in this film, as in countless others. Someone who is not like "us" (that is, the sorority girls or whatever group of mostly average people we are meant to sympathise with in any given slasher film), and who can only ever hope to watch from the outside as we carry on with our normal, somewhat dull, activities.

I struggle to think of any kind of successful film plot in which some kind of irreconcilable difference does not play an essential part; and it's no wonder, because what conflicts would there be without difference? And could an interesting story ever be told without some kind of conflict in the core? Possibly not. That does not mean, however, that the kind of demonising of difference which takes place in so many horror films is unproblematic.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

From revenge to rape, and back again. Part 2

A couple of days, huh. (I got caught up in, amongst other things, writing an essay for university about clerical celibacy. Bizarre shift of focus there.)

Right. Let us briefly stop by the 80s before moving closer to the present day: in 1981, The Evil Dead was released upon the world, and plasticine would never be the same again.

Now, dear readers, I must admit that I've only seen this film once and the order in which things happen are a bit unclear to me at this moment. However, what I am sure of is this: a girl gets raped by the forest. That's right, not just IN the forest, but the forest itself rapes her. It's pretty special, to say the least. (Check out this spoof video if you will.)

Now, what I don't remember is if it's after this that the girl turns into a zombie? I kind of hope that it is, because that would open up for some pretty interesting interpretations, going along the lines of how rape and its consequences seem to be commonly represented in a lot of Western culture. As I mentioned in Part 1, in some films the experience of being raped appears to be almost likened to death. In this case (if the girl does indeed turn into a zombie after being raped by the forest... If you want to leave a comment and refresh my memory, it would be very welcome), it appears to be worse than death. Mari in The Last House on the Left got to walk quietly into a lake and then get shot (I can't believe I just made that sound like she was lucky to die in such a way) – this one (again, if my memory serves me) has to go through being a zombie as well, an evil dead, a truly terrifying shadow of a person. Her friends fear her and hate her, though at some level recognising that it isn't really her. If this is the case, one could take this as a comment on how some cultures or societies might respond or relate to a person being raped: I have no exact sources here but isn't it true that some people might end up viewing the rape victim differently? In societies where chastity is a virtue, is not a rape victim often seen as unclean? In this case, she is seen and represented as truly monstrous.

But this isn't just any kind of rape. I am unsure what exactly to make of this scene, but the connections with nature and aggressive sexuality (if it can be called that when it's a tree doing it? Do trees have sex drives...?) are worth considering. The first connection that struck me is that of female sexuality and nature – which is often enough represented by women as witches who are closely connected to nature, and so on. (Should you want to read more about this kind of thing, I'd suggest these two essays: Elizabeth Reis, Damned Women in Puritan New England and Sarah Ferber, Ecstacy, Possession, Witchcraft. Both can be found in The Witchcraft Reader. For the supposed naturalness of female sexuality, Thomas Laqueur could be one place to start.) I've kind of discussed this elsewhere too.

The other connection is almost exactly the opposite, in a way, and concerns the male sexuality. Kind of the same arguments are sometimes made on this side of the scale; abouthow the male sex drive apparently is such a strong force that the men just cannot control themselves. If we were to follow this kind of logic to its unpleasant conclusion, it might look like women are kind of expected to put up with being sexually assaulted. Sadly, this isn't even too far from how some people actually seem to view things. (See, for example, the recent Canadian outrage resulting in the Slut Walks.)

Evil Dead is not a typical rape-revenge film, so it might seem weird to have included it here. However, I simply found it impossible not to include it because of this particular scene. Also, the fact that there is a rape, but no kind of revenge inflicted upon the rapist (in a way, there isn't one) certainly helps to build up my argument which is hinted at in the titles of these two posts. I believe there has been a sort of a boomerang movement when it comes to where the focus has been placed in this sub-genre of slasher films which are built around a very simple plot: a person is raped, and wants revenge. In a way, the fact that there is no direct revenge being exerted in this film speaks volumes in itself. The rape is a spectacle, the rapist is near non-existent and impossible to punish for its deeds. The rape victim is defeated and turns monstrous as a result.

Fast forward to the very beginning of the 21st century, and it's a thoroughly new breed of rape-revenge films that makes its appearance. (I apologise for being unable to offer any examples at all from the 90s – I've never much cared for the 90s and as a result of that, am completely uneducated about anything that went on in that time.) In 2002, cinema audiences were exposed to a French, multi-award winning take on the sub-genre, which includes a brutal, 9 minute steadicam shot rape scene. This is certainly not for the faint-hearted, and although the rape scene itself is as brutal and upsetting as any such scene in earlier films, I still feel that the main focus has shifted onto the revenge by this point. This is mainly due to the reverse chronology technique which is used to tell this story: the beginning of the film makes you familiar with the results of the furious search for revenge, and it takes some time before you are even made acquainted with the motif for revenge. This is also assisted by turning to the older plot structure of having someone other than the rape victim take care of the revenge part of it. In this case, it is the victim's (Alex') boyfriend and her former lover who track down the alleged rapist.

This is very notably a new time of filmmaking. The decision to bring rape-revenge films into the mainstream is almost as bizarre as the existence of the phenomenon itself. But this doesn't have that same feel of being genre that most of the traditional rape-revenge films do: it isn't dodgily shot on a $30 budget, for a start. The characters are believable and it genuinely hurts to watch Alex's rape, as well witnessing her boyfriend's quest for revenge. Furthermore, this film actually includes scenes that depict a happy couple (Alex and her boyfriend) having sex and behaving much like a normal couple. This is rare for a film with this type of focus, and I suppose one of the things that make it so horribly effective.

I have mentioned Hard Candy (2005) on here before. It's one of those really annoying films in the way that I didn't enjoy watching it, but it's very useful for making certain points. Just so that you won't have to watch it, here's what happens in Hard Candy: the girl who played Juno agrees to meet up with someone she's been chatting to online, whom we realise is a tricksy, grown man (while she herself comes across as a very sweet, impressionable young girl), played by the guy who's Lynch in the A-Team movie. They go back to his and it turns out that she's the one to have him fooled all along, because she is convinced that he is responsible for several girls of her own age going missing, and she has very clear ideas about what he has done to them. And of what she is going to do to him. So the man never gets so far as to take any kind of advantage of the girl; instead, she ties him up and physically abuses him for a while and gets him to admit that he did indeed abduct and sexually abuse those other girls (I don't remember if he actually killed them or not. But he probably did). In the end, through all sorts of psychological manipulation in addition to the physical punishment, the girl gets him to hang himself before the police arrive at his house.

Hard Candy is, I would argue, a rape-revenge film with no sex scenes. There is not a single sexual act taking place for the duration of the film. In this respect, it's almost the opposite of Evil Dead: all revenge, no rape. Except, we learn that there have been rapes that we have not witnessed.

(She does, you know.)

The whole film, despite its gross-out bits (pun possibly intended?) is a very clinical affair. The same cannot be said for the even more recent Swedish affair The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009). Before we go any further, however, I am forced to, yet again, express my utter disproval of this translation of the film's original Scandinavian title, which would be Men Who Hate Women. Gives it a bit of a different feel, doesn't it? As with Evil Dead, for the purpose of this post I am really only interested in one scene in this film. It can be watched here (no English subtitles), but I must warn you, it's pretty upsetting.

Lisbeth Salander is very brutally raped by a man who is somehow her guardian and is meant to provide her with money when she needs it. Only, he wants something in return as well. The first time this happens, Lisbeth is forced to perform oral sex on him. She goes back not long after in an attempt to frame him; she's hidden a camera in her bag which she places on a chair by the man's bed. But where she was expecting "only" having something rather unpleasant inserted into her mouth, the man instead knocks her out, handcuffs and ties her to the bed, and full-on rapes her. However, Lisbeth goes back yet again and gets her revenge by providing him with a rather unflattering tattoo.

So there is rape, there is revenge, and it is even told in a linear form! Like some of the women in the earlier films I've discussed (namely Jennifer in ISOYG and Mari's mother in Last House...), Lisbeth also attempts to use sex as a means of getting revenge over the person who has assaulted her – but it doesn't exactly work out in her favour, this time. So when she goes back the final time with the tattoo equipment, she keeps her clothes on and uhh, her mouth shut. (Sorry.) Of course there is a certain element of risk in presenting viewers with too "cool" a revenge – no doubt, these events do contribute to Lisbeth's status as heroine, and you don't want young impressionable minds to think that this is the way to go. Physical revenge should be no more glorified than rape, or any type of violence that appears in violent films. But that isn't really the point of this post.

Maybe the biggest difference between The Girl Who Played With Fire and the earlier films like Last House on the Left and I Spit On Your Grave, and even Evil Dead, is what part the rape and the revenge play in the film. No longer is monstrousness, insanity and/or death the only possible outcomes of a movie rape.

Looks like that's it, for now.

Stay out of trouble.


PS: Here is an article entitled 'The Rape of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo'.
PPS: Issue 11 of Paracinema Magazine contains a section on rape-revenge films, as well as a feature on Frankenhooker and lots of other fun stuff. It's nearly sold out, get your copy while you can! I've certainly got mine.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

From revenge to rape, and back again. Part 1

This post has been a long time coming. And not only because it's a long time since I've posted anything. I've been trying to make sense of the rape-revenge sub-genre ever since I was introduced to it (once again, credit goes to Carol Clover). Maybe not even so much the genre or the movies themselves but something to say about them. Can anything sensible be said, that isn't already said elsewhere?

For those not familiar with the phenomenon: a rape-revenge film is exactly what it sounds like. A person (typically a woman... I'm not aware of any examples where a man is the victim. If you know of any, please comment below) is raped brutally, seemingly unprovoked. She is then left for dead or at least assumed unwilling or unable to do anything about the situation. Her hatred builds up and drives her to perform hideous acts of revenge. Sometimes, the person executing the revenge is not the victim herself but rather someone close to her (especially, of course, in the cases where the victim is actually killed), such as a boyfriend or parents. The rapist(s) is often killed. There are variations, as you will soon enough see, but that is the standard outline.

Not strictly speaking the first of its kind, I Spit On Your Grave (1978) has certainly come to be the defining movie of this bizarre sub-genre.

There was a remake of this film released last year. In 2009, there was a Norwegian rape-revenge film called Hora ('The Whore'), which made all sorts of claims about being the first Norwegian grindhouse film and other things besides, and as far as I am aware it never said anything about being a remake. It was, though. This made me think, again, about what this genre actually is. Can it even be said to be an actual genre, a type of film, or is it just basically one film and endless remakes and variations?

In this post I will try to provide you with a kind of history of the evolution of the rape-revenge film. In some cases, it will be debatable whether the films I'm talking about are actually rape-revenge films at all. Debate away! I've mainly just picked films that help to illustrate my point. Which is hinted at in the title of this post.

Ready? Let's go!

For many reasons, the brutal visual representations of rape have not been around for many decades. Censorship rules and standards of what might be socially acceptable have, as you might be aware, not always been the same as they are today. Movies have always included stories more or less about sex though, and women scorn, and bitter, hateful vengeance. Look, if you will, to the 1958 classic Attack of the 50ft Woman:

When an abused wife grows to giant size because of an alien encounter and an aborted murder attempt, she goes after cheating husband with revenge on her mind.
Here, the theme of female revenge over a male object is brought into horror, and even sci-fi, terrain. Granted there is no hint at an actual rape, I'm sure you could interpret a rape into it if you really wanted: maybe the alien raped Mrs. Archer? Maybe it was a forced marriage that could on some level be likened to rape? Maybe it was just what is popularly referred to as "emotional rape"? Who knows. The revenge motif is clear, and we're talking a real physical type of revenge.

By 1972, things were naturally different. For a start, Wes Craven was in business. And in The Last House on the Left, he is introducing one of his favourite themes: teenagers rebelling against their parents. With added rapists.

Two girls get raped in this film, and the representation of the two rapes are quite different. The first rape is that of the tougher girl, Phyllis, and is not very graphic at all. You hear some noises and Phyllis telling them to 'stop it', but overall it almost seems as if it was a far worse experience for her when she was forced to 'piss her pants'. The rape of her more innocent friend Mari is far more exhausting on the viewer, and the experience of being raped is here pretty much likened to death. Mari is being stabbed in the chest almost while she is being raped (but I think the stabbing takes place just after the other kind of penetration), blood spurts out, she screams and cries and begs for her life. After being raped, Mari gets up, covers herself up and walks into a lake. She is then shot. It seems almost that death is the only possible consequence of being raped.

It is Mari's parents who punish the brutal gang for their crimes after they realise she has been killed. Maybe this is another "mother and father know best" kind of thing? Coming from Craven though, that would be a bit strange (see: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), The Hills Have Eyes (1977), The People Under the Stairs (1991), the Scream films, etc.). Interestingly (though a bit of an aside), one of the men repsonsible for Mari and Phyllis' rapes and deaths, dreams of Mari's parents taking out his teeth. Apparently this can represent 'a fear of rejection [or] sexual impotence', or a loss of 'childhood innocence'.

Although Jennifer in ISOYG is the victim of that film as well as the avenger, she certainly has common traits with Mari's mother. As opposed to Mari, they are both fully adult women, who do not hesitate to use sex as a way of getting back at the ones who have somehow hurt them. In both films, the men do not seem to have any doubts about the legitimacy of the women's approaches – maybe believing themselves to be that irresistable, or in Jennifer's case that they have somehow changed her mind about them; that deep down, she must have enjoyed the rape(s).

I realise I have not really paid much attention to the rape scenes themselves. If you have not seen these films you will just have to take my word for it: they are there, and they are quite graphic. Indeed, 'the length of the rape sequence, the prolonged physical and mental anguish suffered by the victim' were among the reasons why ISOYG was originally refused classification. (Here is a link to the Video Nasties documentary.)

In order to prevent this post from getting so long that no one will want to read the whole thing, I will pause here and get back to you with a part 2 within a couple of days. There will be quite a leap in time in terms of films being discussed as well, so this is a good place to take a break.

Oh, and while we're all here: it is now possible to be become a fan of Tits And a Scream on Facebook! I set it up so that I can share funny links and film clips and stuff, and still keep this blog as "clean" as possible. See you there, guys n gals.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Norwegian Ninja

Hello dear readers (or those of you who have randomly stumbled upon this site whilst searching for pictures of alien tits etc),

1) I've written a thing about Norwegian Ninja for the hub site over at Cult Labs. Not only should you read my post (obviously), but you should definitely have a look around the site and the forums as well, it's a cool place. Norwegian Ninja will be out on DVD on April 18.
 (PS: It took me a while to spot the pretty subtle scroller (is that an actual word?), but it is there, just on the right hand side of the top blog post – scroll down for plenty more, including the post signed by yours truly)

2) I will actually update this blog soon as well – I've got a SMASHING post about the evolution of rape-revenge films up my, umm, sleeve. Until then, have a good weekend, and remember, kids: It's only a movie.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Highlights from the search keywords section

I absolutely love being able to see what people are actually searching for when they stumble upon my blog. Some people do actually search for relevant things, but here's a small selection of my personal favourites:

- looking through titts
- alien tits
- girl with three tits
- charlotte gainsbourg castrates herself video
- final girls tits
- lovemaking
- gary gilmore titties

Granted, none of these are very surprising... They all brought a smile to my face, though!

Keep up the good work, everyone.