Monday, April 6, 2015

THE IMPORTANCE OF CASTING WOMEN OVER 50 IN HORROR

In the world of horror fandom we have become obsessed with Scream Queens but rarely do we acknowledge the ones that aren't the ingenues that eventually grow older and seem to fade away thanks to studios wanting younger leads to carry their franchises and remakes. It's important to acknowledge the need for older women in horror movies and to celebrate their efforts and contributions. More often than not actresses over 50 are simply cast as "crazy old ladies" or simply as victims, or set pieces. It's these women that are needed the most on screen as they depict what we choose to ignore the most in society.  We as a society place no inherent value to their experience or the accomplishment of surging as long as they have. Now, when we put that mentality towards horror, we can understand why it has always seemed women over 50 might as well be dead in Horror before they even get a chance to die on screen.

Actress Jill Larson
Adam Robitel's film THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN went largely ignored until it hit Netflix and took over the end of year "best of" lists.  The story follows documentary filmmakers following a woman diagnosed with Alzheimer's but discover something far more sinister intruding into Deborah Logan's life.  One of the many reasons why this film works is due to the fact we're watching an older woman suffering from a disease that many of us have witnessed overtake our family and loved ones.  Had Robitel selected a disease like cancer that effects people of all ages, he could have easily cast the role as a twentysomething; but it would not have been the same film.  Casting Jill Larson as the titular Deborah Logan was an absolutely brilliant choice.  Larson is a veteran actress and with that comes decades of experience and talent.  We're not watching a new actress try and hold her own, we're watching a professional do what they've had years of practice to perfect.  Larson delivers with a level of commitment that would be hard pressed to match by other people working in the business.

Women over 50 have survived and endured far scarier things to get to where they are - children, the Women's Right Movement, even gravity has tried to defy their bodies. Take a pick from the multitude of experiences that temper an older woman's resolve and determination to survive and put that against any cinematic killer. Perhaps women over 50 simply refuse to play victims in real life so it's harder to transition that socially constructed belief to film? God forbid you even depict one with a healthy sex drive too. We can serve audiences more dutifully by portraying women over 50 as they really are. This can serve as the classic formula that Horror has always served; act this way, you survive - don't, and you die. This is an important tool because it shows younger audiences something to aspire to, while bringing in a new older audience with characters they can identify with. Hollywood - please listen - older people like Horror movies too. They enjoy sex and violence like the rest of us, and because of their age, they've probably seen more of it than anyone reading this.

Actress Barbara Crampton
And what of our aforementioned scream queens?  Despite what Hollywood would like us to believe, we all get older.  Creating roles for older actresses not only helps enforce stronger storytelling, but it allows the actresses we know and love to continue working long after their days of believably playing a high school cheerleader have passed.  Case in point: Barbara Crampton.  For many of us, Barbara Crampton was one of our earliest cinematic crushes after starring in films like FROM BEYOND and RE-ANIMATOR.  After taking a slight hiatus, Barbara Crampton re-emerged as talented and as beautiful as ever, but in a new character type.  Crampton's roles in films like WE ARE STILL HERE and YOU'RE NEXT have solidified her strength as a mother figure.

Our genre favorites can still perform as the need for their skills is still desired by ticket buying audiences. We all age. No one has gravity defying looks forever. It's the beauty of sharing that we take on new roles in our lives, as parents, as role models, and it's these new roles that aren't being reflected as much as thy could be in today's genre films. What happens when we say "They're too old" or "They're not sexy anymore" or "I don't think they could handle the action" is when we see desperate measures taken in the form of rampant plastic surgery and other truly horrific treatments. Isn't the prize of surviving a Horror film the chance to live life? Then why are we so afraid of depicting what happens when you do? You get old is what happens. You get wrinkles, you lose hair or what you don't lose turns grey, and all of that is okay! Film freezes a moment of time in our lives that thrives in posterity long after box office revenues are calculated, but that doesn't mean we should attempt to freeze our icons in those roles forever either.

Actress Lin Shaye
One of the arguments often presented has to due with marketability, but to say that twenty-somethings are the only people "marketable" to an audience is just not true.  Case in point: Lin Shaye.  The veteran actress has popped up in films of a wide variety of genres for decades, but she has become a horror genre staple now that she's entered an older age.  Perhaps most interesting is that Shaye's characters have never been overtly "scary old lady" style.  Her roles in films like CHILLERAMA, and 2001 MANIACS allowed her to, well, play.  In CHILLERAMA she tacked on a humorous dialect and played a role that would have normally been reserved for the late Zelda Rubenstein, while in 2001 MANIACS, she was able to manipulate a bunch of Yankee Bros with southern charm.  Most recently, her stint as the leading face of the INSIDIOUS franchise throws the "marketability" argument out the window.  INSIDIOUS is one of the most profitable horror franchises of recent memory, and Lin Shaye is the through line of all three films.  She proves that a horror film can be a financial success without relying on the "hottest star from Vine" to be on the cast list.

Why is it important to cast women over 50 in horror? Why care? Is it because men over 50 are routinely cast now in genre films, well past what older Hollywood would have considered their prime? It's a reflection of what the studio system, filmmakers and ultimately us as an audience place box office value on. Where are the female counterparts to the Liam Neesons, Stallones, Schwartzeneggars, etc? Simply by not including them in the equation factors them out almost completely.  While there's admittedly a problem casting older actresses, the problem is even worse for older actresses of color.  The three examples in this article may all share the fact they're over 50 years old, but they're also all white.  Just some food for thought.  Scary things don't just happen to perky twenty-somethings. We may celebrate in watching a slasher cut down those in the prime of their lives but we as an audience have accepted Hollywood's sliding scale of ageism to change our perceptions of what time of our lives is considered our prime. If you really want to root for a Survivor Girl, look at your mother or even your grandmother and ask, "Why aren't there horror movies with people like her in it?". Your mother has survived the very worst you could throw at her, now let her tackle Freddy or Jason or Myers.

Want tougher? Go with the Grandmother because she survived two generations of this cinema fueled patriarchy.

(special thanks to Zach Shildwachter for helping me write this article. Cancer has dramatically changed the way my brain works, and he was able to help me ensure this article was a bit more coherent.)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

THE GUEST IT FOLLOWS: An Examination of Maika Monroe's Breakout Genre Performances


Seemingly overnight, horror fans were delivered a new goddess in which to pay their respects in the form of actress Maika Monroe.  Armed with girl-next-door good looks and the ability to deliver a sense of authenticity with her performances, Monroe has skyrocketed to the title of "Scream Queen" in the truest sense of the word.  Starting out as a professional kiteboarder, Maika Monroe's breakout role as Anna Peterson in the Adam Wingard/Simon Barrett flick THE GUEST put her on the radar of horror fans everywhere.  Quickly following with her leading role as Jay in IT FOLLOWS, and Monroe has all but solidified herself as the reigning queen of horror.  At 21-years-old, Monroe has successfully captured the post-coming of age characterization often ignored by horror films.  We've all been that age. Eager to start life on our own, ready to tackle the world head on but what usually helps widen up the most jaded and disgruntled youth is when doom and disaster meet them at their own doorstep.  Maika Monroe's "Anna" and "Jay" have both met two extremely different forms of disaster, and tackled them in two entirely different ways.  However, they both share a similar through line; sex.  Typical "final girls" tend to be virginal, sweet, and innocent, but neither of Monroe's characters follow these "rules."  Instead, Monroe represents the modern final girl, armed with 21st century feminism and sex positivity.

As Anna Peterson in THE GUEST


While THE GUEST is centered strongly around Dan Stevens' Jerry Dandridge-esque "David," THE GUEST is arguably Anna Peterson's story.  Although the audience is introduced to the family as a whole, we are experiencing the film as an outsider or through the eyes of Anna.  We as an audience know that "David" is not who he seems, and Anna is our only ally.  Anna Peterson is the small town rebel we all had a crush on in high school, but didn't say anything to out of fear that she'd kick our ass.  Monroe effortlessly gives us a sharp wit, "can't be bothered" attitude, all while maintaining the gusto of the most bad-ass female horror heroines.  Anna represents for the audience, that time in our lives when we dated someone we knew was no-good, but loved unconditionally.  The age where appealing to our preferred sex was a staple of our personality, and our clothes reflected our identities as boldly as humanly possible.  Life moves on after high school, and that awkward transitional period where we're no longer seen as children, but not respected as adults is perfectly personified with her character.  Anna's sex appeal is subtle, but important.  Thigh high leggings, short skirts, and tousled hair give her a natural desirability, but it's her attitude towards sex that skyrockets her to the modern era.  Her closest friend has sex with "David" and it's not addressed as the "end all-be all" the way most sexual encounters are presented in cinema.  She's shown with her boyfriend denying him sexual advances, not because "she's pure," but because she is a strong woman making her own decisions about sex. We know this because later on when David approaches her in only a towel, Anna is visibly flustered by her attraction towards him.  We've established that Anna is a strong and independent woman both personally and sexually, but what of her villain? Dan Stevens' "David" oozes sex. He's lust on legs. And he's coming straight towards her as Death incarnate.  Sound familiar?

As Jay in IT FOLLOWS


IT FOLLOWS is a film completely centered around sex. The promotional material would make it safe to assume Monroe's "Jay" is a total sex kitten, but she's the polar opposite.  With the exception of the scene we've all seen in the trailerss, Jay is a rather conservative dressing young woman, right down to the infamous trope of the pink dress. However, IT FOLLOWS offers the same exploration of youth being ripped into adulthood with consequences beyond their comprehension. Here, the varying attitudes and stigmas associated with sexuality are put on parade. But as we wait for the villain to pass by in that parade we realize it's been sitting curbside with the real culprit of this sexual indemnity; ourselves.  The character of Jay is the proverbial childhood crush you can never get over, but never falls into the trap of the "manic pixie dream girl."  She's assertive with her own sexual choices, but isn't defined by those decisions.  The monster of IT FOLLOWS is passed like an STD, but we see Jay's horror not as something she's "deserving" for having sex, but we instead root for her survival.  Because for many of us, this is territory we're all too familiar with but never get the chance to see explored on film.  Despite what most films have tried to tell us, sex isn't always this life-affirming experience, but many of us are defined by our sexuality.  Whether we're gay, sexually fluid, promiscuous, abstinent, or made a few mistakes in our past, it's something that many people have difficulty ever looking past.  Monroe's character in IT FOLLOWS is being tortured by something sexually driven, that only she and her other partners can see, but those close to her know that it exists.

still from IT FOLLOWS


And while it may be easy to dismiss both films as cautionary tales to keep it in your pants/don't trust strangers, both beg the question that often goes overlooked by those afflicted by their sexual proclivities - is life worth living after all this trauma? How can someone that's endured these tragedies assimilate into "polite society"? THE GUEST and IT FOLLOWS offer the same bleakness for those that managed to survive to the end. They've only cheated Death, they haven't won. David survives THE GUEST. The shapeshifting being of IT FOLLOWS is still out there. How can you keep on knowing that? Death is coming for Monroe and everything she cares about, and it won't stop. It's been engineered to never let up.

...and to do so to a snazzy fucking soundtrack.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

IT FOLLOWS: An Exercise in Sexuality

(MINOR SPOILERS: YOU KNOW THE DRILL)
“I used to daydream about being old enough to go on dates. I had this image of myself, holding hands with a really cute guy. Driving along some pretty road, listening to the radio. Having some sort of freedom, I guess.”
IT FOLLOWS tells the story of a girl named Jay (Maika Monroe), when after having sex with a prospective boyfriend named Hugh (Jake Weary), is drugged and tied to a chair.  When she awakes, Hugh explains to her that he has been harboring a secret, that a shape-shifting entity has been following him and by sleeping with her, it's going to now follow her instead.  While it would be quick to dismiss this concept as ridiculous, let us not forget that we all once believed that a razor glove wearing, burned face ghost that could shape shift and kill us in our dreams was a solid premise.  The film was released in minimal theaters and did so well, it garnered a wide release.  This never happens for independent horror films, let alone an independent horror film that is earning points solely on its merits (and not because it has a twenty-year fan base backing it up. I'm looking at you, TUSK).


Around the twitterverse and blogosphere, there has been a slight backlash calling IT FOLLOWS a run-of-the-mill "slut shaming" horror film that demonizes anyone that chooses to have sex.  Horror has a pretty terrible track record in terms of the way it approaches female sexuality and sex positivity (how many times have we heard "the slut dies first?"), but IT FOLLOWS should not be reduced to falling into this category.  Jay is a college student, but there are plenty of references to her past sexual history during her high school years.  In one instance, she dismisses having sex with a previous partner because "it's not a big deal."  She's right. It's NOT a big deal that someone had sex in high school.  For a line like this to happen in a film, a medium that has an entire subgenre dedicated to young men trying to lose it before high school graduation, this "minor moment" is extremely important.  While Jay is being terrorized for having sex, the film never puts her in the position of being at blame or deserving of her terror.  We root for this girl, we want her to overcome this monster, and by us knowing she can save herself by "passing it on," we almost want her to run around and screw everyone on the planet just to stay alive.  The film makes the audience genuinely crave a sex scene not for titillating arousal, but for survival.  Sexuality is an evolving and detrimentally important aspect of human nature, despite the fact it's almost always a misconception presented to teenagers that it's one of the most "special and sacred things two people can do."  It can be special and sacred, yes, but it doesn't have to be...and we're not bad people for having sex simply because it feels awesome.

This is where it gets complicated and why David Robert Mitchell's script is something deeper than a surface-level metaphor for STDs.  IT FOLLOWS exercises the way an audience perceives rape culture.  The film sets us up to view everything from Jay's point of view, so we feel the things she feels. Hugh, on the other hand, is presented as a huge jackass for knowingly passing on to Jay this curse.  He's vilified almost immediately for doing EXACTLY what we will later spend the entire duration of the movie hoping Jay will do.  Meaning, when Hugh has sex with her and she delivers a monologue about the way we as children glorify what we believe dating will be like when we're older, we're smitten by her honesty.  As the sound effects kick in and we notice that Hugh is up to something, we fear for her.  We as the audience are meant to identify with Jay, and since we wouldn't want to be cursed with a scary sex monster, we don't think she deserves it either.  We completely lose the perspective of, "Hugh is just trying to survive too, man."  Instead, we focus solely on Jay and wanting her to overcome everything.   Jay isn't presented as a bad person for trying to pass this thing on to unsuspecting people, but we demonize Hugh for doing the same thing.  This is 100% rape-culture, but it's the inverse of what audiences are used to being force fed.  The blame is in the right place, the perpetrator, but once Jay goes from "prey" to "predator" we have a difficult time transitioning how we feel towards her as a character from "victim" to "villain." Had the film followed Hugh instead of Jay, we would feel the same way about her that we do about Jay's "victims" of Greg (Daniel Zovatto), the men on the boat, and resident "nice-guy," Paul (Keir Gilchrist). The patriarchy hurts both sides, folks.

And what of our resident "nice guys finish last" character of Paul?  Paul started out as our "Duckie" from PRETTY IN PINK in this storyline, but shifted into Oskar from LET THE RIGHT ONE IN.  A boy so dedicated to his female crush, he is willing to live a doomed life alongside her, even if she's only with him to save herself.  It could have been easy to make his character a giant metaphor for "only have sex with the one you love and all of your problems will be solved!" but...he's not. The "It" following Jay cannot go away, and that's refreshing.  This "it" puts all sexual encounters on an even playing field.  It doesn't matter if you love someone, just "like" someone, or if you're having meaningless sex, it's all the same.  The act is always the same, the intention behind it is what changes our interpretation of said act.  In the same regard, we're meant as an audience to view Paul as this selfless hero willing to give himself over to share the burden of this horror, but he's ultimately just found a loophole to get what he's wanted for years: Jay.


Now, it's already been discussed how Jay is never presented as the villain in this film, and that's precisely why it needs to be debated. If anything, Jay is a much crueler character than Hugh because while drugging her and tying her to a chair is a problem, he at least warned her what was coming. Hugh prepared her and did the responsible "contact your sexual partners" sort of informing and Jay did not. Jay willingly gave the "it" to three dudes on a boat to give herself some time.  While this can be excused as desperation, it is very reminiscent of the way drug addicts "get their fix." In this instance, the "fix" that Jay is seeking is the comfort knowing she has a small amount of time to not look over her shoulders. This sweet, albeit temporary relief is something she craves and does not consider the long term effects of her actions on others.  Now, she does pass the "it" to two other friends (Greg and Paul) but because these friends offer themselves to her, we therefore see her as an innocent party.  It was consensual, they knew what they were getting themselves into, and we can't view her as the villain.

Jay is, at heart, a kind and empathetic soul. She cares about her friends and her family, but she doesn't take the selfless role we want from her, she instead acts just as terribly as Hugh, if not worse. Does being burdened with an awful sexually contracted legacy mean she should be forced to live on an island? No. Does it mean she should warn people before boning that she has an awful sexually contracted legacy that will follow her partner? Yes. Yes she should. 

IT FOLLOWS isn't perfect by any means, and it's actually a bit problematic at times, but it forces us to look at sexuality in horror films from an entirely different perspective.  Ultimately, I hope that someone is inspired by IT FOLLOWS and fills in the cracks the film left behind.  I am not on team "OMG BEST MOVIE EVER" but I am on team "This is going to scare the squares and make us discuss something we never take the time to talk about."

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

FILM REVIEW: SPRING (2014)

This is how you do a poster. Gorgeous

If you're not ride or die for Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, you're missing out.  The duo's debut, 2013's RESOLUTION, was one of the most inventive horror films of the year.  After watching their sophomore film SPRING, these two prove that they aren't one-hit wonders, and that they are bonafide film making powerhouses.  SPRING follows Evan, played by the incredible Lou Taylor Pucci (EVIL DEAD, CARRIERS), retreating to Italy after the mother he's been caring for passes away.  While on his trip, he meets Louise (played by the effortlessly gorgeous Nadia Hilker), and is immediately captivated.  Unfortunately, unbeknownst to Evan, Louise is harboring a secret that is both horrifying and dangerous.

Right off the bat, Justin Benson continues to prove that he's one of the smartest screenwriters working in the genre.  RESOLUTION completely spun some of the most famous genre tropes on its head, and SPRING breathes new life into the "American in a Foreign Country" sort of storyline.  In terms of gender analysis, I'd argue that Evan's character is a feminist, and his actions are completely atypical from the traditional male horror characters.  Evan is a male character that the audience can genuinely enjoy watching, and his journey is one we actually care about following.  This film very well could have been a run of the mill "fell in love with a vampire/ghost/monster/zombie" film, but it's not. It's truly in a league all its own and it's the breath of fresh air this genre has been craving.  The timing of SPRING is downright impeccable, because it never feels rushed or monotonous.

The bones of SPRING are made out of an extremely well structured story, and Benson's writing grows stronger with every installment.  In terms of the actual "horror" the mythology about Louise is clearly inspired by familiar creatures, but her transformation remains very unique.  It could have been incredibly easy to just ape off any number of the body horror/creature films of yesteryear, but SPRING still manages to maintain true to itself. SPRING may be getting comparisons to H.P. Lovecraft, but it's definitely from the mind of Justin Benson.



The "Richard Linklater meets H.P. Lovecraft" comparison merely scratches the surface of what SPRING has to offer, but it's an admittedly fair description.  Benson and Moorhead have successfully crafted one of the most aesthetically beautiful horror films of recent memory.  In addition to directing, Moorhead also worked as cinematographer and he has an exquisite style that really allows the audience to travel to whatever world he's shaping for us.  Much like our leading lady, SPRING felt somewhat otherwordly at times, and yet I wanted to wrap my arms completely around it.  By marrying the elements of horror with the audience pleasing "romantic dramedy,"  SPRING is one of those films that horror fans will come across, and it will speak to them on a level that slashers or found footage cannot ever match.  SPRING is a peculiar film, and will more than likely confuse many audience members, but for those that it speaks to, it will resonate within us for years to come.  Benson and Moorhead are proving to be an unstoppable force, and SPRING is going to help push them forward.

SPRING will be available in theaters and VOD nationwide this Friday, March 20th.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

WOMAN OF THE WEEK: NATALIE JEAN

In independent cinema, creators often wear many hats in order to make a film come alive.  However, a sad truth is that when a man is directing/writing/acting/producing, it's always praised as some impressive feat, while women who do the same are almost always targeted solely for their acting work, regardless of the other jobs they had in creating a film.  Why? Because people consistently focus on the appearance of what a woman does, and not the realities.  Normally I reserve Wednesdays for my "Woman of the Week" segment, but I saw a post on social media today that forced me to break my own rule and feature an outstanding woman in the horror genre that deserves all the praise I could possibly give. 


I first met Natalie Jean a few years ago at the Cinema Wasteland convention, when Adam Ahlbrandt was showing his feature film CROSS BEARER. Alongside him was his FX artist and co-producer Doug Sakmann, along with co-producer/star Natalie Jean.  I was immediately impressed by her.  I was first drawn in by her radiating beauty, but it was when she began to speak about her job as a producer that she had me hooked.  Last April I was fortunate enough to become closer to her on a personal level, and this girl is the real deal.  Her performance in THE CEMETERY was one of my favorites of 2014, and there aren't many women out there hustling the way Natalie Jean is hustling.  Talented, passionate, driven, intelligent, stunning, and relentless, Natalie Jean is everything I love about independent cinema and women in horror.

Yes, Natalie Jean is a model and an actress, but she's also a decorated stunt woman, and extremely talented producer.  With credits that include films like Darren Aranofsky's BLACK SWAN and Starz' series THE CHAIR, Natalie Jean isn't some random chick who covered herself in blood for a shoe-string budget film.  Director Adam Ahlbrandt is starting to make a name for himself in the independent horror circuits with his films CROSS BEARER and THE CEMETERY, but over and over again...Natalie Jean (the star AND one of the producers of both of these films) is never given any sort of accolades for her work other than being a "hot actress."   Rue-Morgue magazine recently did a feature on Ahlbrandt's films, and yet again, the star and co-producer was thrown aside as some random actress and nothing more. Well, Natalie Jean finally had the strength to speak up about a problem that most women in the industry keep mum about.

From her official instagram account @thenattiejean:

"Congrats out to Adam and all involved for the great writeup in Rue Morgue this issue, you deserve all of it and more.

To Rue Morgue (and any of the other reputable circulations I've encountered side-stepping the roles of our chicks) one of the unnamed gaggle of 'detestable, low-life cock-sucking coke-snorting strippers', as you phrased it, is called Heather and I played her. Beyond playing Heather in Cross Bearer and Andrea in The Cemetery, I also co-produced- and at many times solely produced- both features. From March of 2011 through March of 2015 I've developed these little monsters from the ground up, often performing the work of a full production team- happily, it's something I happen to be pretty alright at. When some of the other producers bailed entirely I began draining all the cash I'd made into them, until that ran out & I had to sell my car and my stunt equipment, then abandon my apartment in Los Angeles and move to Pennsylvania to fund every pickup, insert, and piece of ADR, then run every shoot from tits to tail until they were done to satisfaction. This was followed by pouring even more cash & time into promotions, film festivals, and conventions, until it rendered me homeless. Still, I worked from my cherished Macbook hobo-style seven days a week, eating meals from Wawa with nickels and dimes & falling farther into the aether of stress-induced madness. I gave up a good three years of my life, royally screwing my burgeoning stunt career in the process, and putting all my own projects on hold.

I don't tell a lot of people these things (until now I guess). I never say shit when a guy is given credit for producing these movies, or when I'm tossed off as a nameless grab-and-stab whore in a review. No, because even though I am one of two people without who those films would not exist, I am deliriously grateful for all the love from the fans, for the film brothers who've stood up for me without me asking, to my family for not disowning me, to the colleagues who opened their doors when I had nowhere to go. And I would do it all again. But I shouldn't just take it. No gal in my position should. I should defend what I can do, what I will do, what I have done. So in honor of Heather, the non-coke-snorting, non-dick-sucking, not-whore character who means so very much to me, I invite all transgressors to eat one heaping spoon of pig shit, a modest fraction of the shit I've eaten over the last four years. Thanks! 


Oh if only that article would have come out during 'Women in Horror Month'. To dream.
"


Here's the thing. Natalie Jean's story is unfortunately all too common.  Our genre claims to be one that treats women as equals, and that's simply not true.  I've personally seen dozens of horror news outlets forget to mention Natalie Jean as a producer in their reviews for THE CEMETERY and CROSS BEARER, and that's a despicable shame.  Women in Horror Recognition month ended three days ago, and we already have respectable news sources being less-than-stellar to female horror creators.  However, many women keep tight lipped about their treatment in fear of looking "difficult" or "unappreciative" or "bitchy."  It's a ridiculous unspoken standard that many of us have to deal with every single day, and we're all expected to just deal with it.  

Now, I can already hear the other side of the argument.  "If she wanted to be taken seriously as a producer, maybe she shouldn't post the photos that she does."  I'm sorry, but this is a completely sexist and slut-shaming statement that needs to end.  Natalie Jean is a producer, yes, but she's also a MODEL.  Heidi Klum is one of the most respected creators on the planet, and she's posed in far less than what Natalie Jean wears in her photos.  Why can't Natalie Jean be a dynamite producer in addition to a super sexy model?  Why can't she be a cut throat and intelligent producer while accepting challenging acting roles?  The whole "virgin/whore" dichotomy that society (and horror films) likes to encourage is absolutely the problem.  Natalie Jean's role as a stripper in CROSS BEARER has no bearing on her ability to be a producer.  However, that's all anyone focuses on.  Forget the fact the credits state that she was a co-producer, all any news sites want to focus on is a character she played rather than the job she accomplished.

Yesterday, Bad Ass Digest posted a moving article from screenwriter Todd Farmer about how he went from Hollywood screenwriter, to living in his car in a pretty short period of time.  Everyone has been talking about how strong and inspiring Farmer is for allowing the public to see this side of him and the obstacles he's overcome...and yet Natalie Jean has done something similar and she's reduced to being compare to a character she played in a film, as a "detestable, low-life cock-sucking coke-snorting stripper."  I greatly respect Natalie Jean as a performer, but it was her bold statement speaking out against an injustice that many of us face that earned her the right to join the ranks of Woman of the Week.  Way to go, lady.

Friday, February 13, 2015

UNEXPECTEDLY FEMINIST HORROR FILMS: FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980)

(NOTE: This edition of UNEXPECTEDLY FEMINIST HORROR FILMS is a modified version of an earlier article on Day of the Woman: "Pamela Voorhees: The Most Obvious Plot Twist of All Time.")


Before everyone's favorite hockey mask wearing mutant son began terrorizing Camp Crystal Lake, his Mommy Dearest was the original slayer of sinful counselors.  The cable knit sweater wearing killer was a mother scorned, hoping to avenge the unnecessary death of her precious son Jason.  Pamela Voorhees was dealt a rather difficult hand.  Enduring a pregnancy at the age of sixteen while residing in a trailer with a verbally and physically abusive man, her son would later be born hydrocephalic, forcing her to home-school him while she herself was still a child.  When you really put it into perspective, she had a child at sixteen without the assistance of MTV or her parents. 
 Sixteen year old girls are some of the most self-absorbed individuals on the planet, and she was responsible for raising a deformed and learning disabled child.  Jason was her entire world.  Growing up without the support or interaction with anyone other than his mother would cause a lot of psychological issues for both Jason and Pamela, and it was after his death that she began to hear the voices telling her to kill those responsible for his untimely demise.  We know this now after twelve movies, a series of novels, a line of comic books, and countless other forms of media.  But what about the original FRIDAY THE 13TH?  Without any of this back story, finding out the killer in the film that started a franchise was actually a woman was shocking for its time and still remains as one of the most "Oh shit" reveals in horror history.  While using a female reveal as a shock treatment is not the most equal of treatments, the fact that the killer remains genderless (aka-equal) until the final moments helps make FRIDAY THE 13TH unexpectedly feminist.



Flashback to good ol' 1958 when the "Camp Blood" killings started to take place, we're given a very slight, but very clear sign that the killer is a woman.  We see our unsuspecting, horny camp counselors sneaking away with the intentions to make the beast with two backs.  Their moments of passion are being spied upon by an unseen force, that makes itself known and then kills the two lovers.  When the two kids notice the figure, they immediately resort to claiming their innocence rather than showing their fear.  Right away, we know that these two personally know their assailant.  The fact that they weren't afraid of physical danger gives the impression that the two are backing away from either an adult or higher-ranked female.  Humans respond differently to adults in power depending on their sex.  We worry that our mothers will yell at us and that our fathers will take a belt to our asses for being disobedient.  Or, if we want to go by the famous Margaret Atwood quote, ""Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them."  Definitely so for 1958 before the "don't beat the children" PC way of mind came to fruition. Historically speaking, in 1958 men of authority were allowed to physically punish those beneath them, while women were in a position of trying to be doting and compassionate.  It isn't until the knife is shown that either of the counselors show any sort of life-determining fear.  However, the films of this time hadn't really ever shown a female killer, so the audience assumes the person behind the killings is a man.

The first casualty of the Camp Crystal Lake re-opening belonged to kitchen helper, Annie.  She doesn't even make it to the camp when she meets her maker.  Although the 1970s/1980s were a time where hitchhiking wasn't viewed nearly as dangerous as it is now, Annie isn't an idiot.  When she is first given a ride closer to the camp, she's in the car with a man.  The things they talk about are a bit more gruesome and sarcastic (the camp's history, mild banter about intelligence) but she gets in the car with this stranger after given the sense of security from the other diners that he's an okay guy.  Once he drops her off, she's later catches a ride from an unseen individual driving a jeep.  Once she gets in the car, her demeanor completely changes.  She becomes more smiley (if that's even possible) and begins talking about children and her dreams.  The person in the car clearly looks like someone that would agree with her discussion of "I don't like when people call them kids" or she wouldn't bring up the conversation.  Not to mention, her body posture completely changes into a far more relaxed position in the vehicle compared to the closed off position she previously held while in the truck with the man.  It isn't until the unseen driver begins speeding that she looks anything but calm.  After jumping out of the vehicle and being chased through the woods, she even pleads with her captor and keeps a very calm and solemn voice.  It sounds very similar to the way children cower in fear towards their mothers, rather than aggressively panic from their fathers.  Yet, audiences are still convinced the killer is probably a big, scary, man.  Anything men can do, women can do?

There are mentions of "fires" at the beginning of the film, and psychologically speaking, women who commit arson are almost always motivated by revenge.  Moving through the film, we see other characteristics that showcase Mama Voorhees to clearly be a female killer. All of the male "slasher" killers were all big fans of the "slash and dash" method of killing, but instead of just slash and dashing up her victims, Mama Voorhees was very calculated.  All of her kills were carefully constructed and executed perfectly.  There were no victims stabbed once and running to hide in closets with clothes hangers.  There was no opportunity to escape her carnage.  Once she had you in her sights, she was taking care of business.  It's the idea of planning and plotting that we normally see with final girls like Nancy Thompson using for survival, but instead used in to take out the victims of Pamela Voorhees. We don't often see this behavior from male killers, but we definitely see it from Pamela Voorhees.  The only time she ever "slips up" is when she gets too distracted talking about her baby boy and why she couldn't let the camp re-open.  If she wasn't so entranced with the love of her son, Alice never would have escaped.  Perhaps my favorite tactic used, is when she even went as far as impersonating the voice of a child in order to lure out one of her female  victims, knowing that she wouldn't be able to ignore a crying child.
Someone never listened to TRAPT...
Considering this was one of the first times we were introduced to a "final girl" character, the audience, male and female, is viewing the film through the lens of Alice, a woman.  Meaning, all of the characters are forced to identify with her struggle, regardless of their own gender.   "But, but, all of the women who die in FRIDAY THE 13TH are punished simply for not being good girls!"  True, but all of the men who die in FRIDAY THE 13TH are all murdered for the exact same reason.  This isn't a film where only promiscuous females are murdered, promiscuous males are murdered just as quickly.  Like most slasher films, FRIDAY THE 13TH is a morality tale, but the archetypal stock characters seen in latter slasher films hadn't been established quite yet.  The male counselors and the female counselors are all on an even playing field, and I'd predict that had a male character been the "moral" one instead of Alice, he would have made it out alive just the same.  It may have taken until Part 4 for a male to be the sole survivor, but FRIDAY THE 13TH was heavily inspired by John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN, and it was almost a standard to have a female victor over a male villain.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

UNEXPECTEDLY FEMINIST HORROR FILMS: JOHN CARPENTER'S 'THE THING' (1982)

John Carpenter arguably created his masterpiece with THE THING. Although it remains within the science fiction subgenre, THE THING also falls within the same realm as a monster movie or a body-horror film. Considering the main antagonist of THE THING, is non-human and the rest of the characters are male, many people forget that THE THING is also a great example of feminism.  By definition, feminism the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.  Emphasis on EQUALITY.  The patriarchy (or a male-dominated society) doesn't just hurt women, it hurts men.  John Carpenter's THE THING is an excellent film to analyze masculinity in a patriarchal society.

The story of John Carpenter's THE THING follows a group of Americans studying in the Arctic tundra that come across a group of Norwegian soldiers chasing after a dog.  After the Norwegian helicopter traveling to destroy the dog explodes, the Americans take the dog as their own without any explanation as to why the Norwegian’s were chasing the dog in the first place.  Shortly after, the Americans investigate the Norwegian’s base camp only to discover the mutated remains of what appears to be two individuals.  Simultaneously, the dog they have brought to their camp mutates, attacks the other dogs, and attacks the crew coming to destroy it.  The Americans find themselves in the midst of an invasion from an alien capable of imitating other life forms and attacking anything that attempts to stop it.

The men in THE THING can safely be assumed to be very masculine characters.  As many of them are soldiers or working for the military, their livelihoods alone give the impression that all of these men would identify as masculine.  However, not all of the men in John Carpenter’s THE THING are completely devoid of feminine qualities.  In the original screenplay, Bill Lancaster’s character descriptions note that many of the male characters aren’t completely alpha-males.  An alpha-male is defined as the individual in the community with the highest rank.  In order for there to be a hierarchy, there must be a system of classification. For instance, the character Blair is described as “sensitive”, Palmer is said to have “slight sixties acid damage” and Norris is suffering from “an incipient heart condition”.  With Lancaster choosing to showcase these men as imperfect and vulnerable, it allowed for a ranking system.  To contrast from the vulnerable men, the character Childs was described as “Six-Four. Two-fifty. Black. A mechanic. Can be jolly. But don’t mess.”  These words clearly showcase Childs as the epitome of an alpha-male character, leading the audience to immediately associate him as a leader, and a force to be reckoned with.

RJ MacReady, the undisputed leader of the film is originally seen isolated from the rest of the group in a shack.  This action shows that MacReady is the lone wolf separating him from the rest of the pack, establishing his dominance through distance.  Speaking ethnologically, alphas may achieve their status by means of superior physical prowess and/or by way of social efforts and building alliances within the group.  This sort of classification would lead Childs towards being the alpha-male, but as MacReady doesn’t follow through the traditional norms, it allows him the potential for achieving alpha-male status.  At this point of the film, the exposition alone has already set a hierarchy that would normally remain unchallenged if it were not for the intrusion of the “thing”.  The male community remains unfazed after interacting with the Norwegians, as the American male community was associating with a Norwegian male community.  This further emphasizes the sociological definition that masculinity is not barred by cultural differences.  The men are comfortably living in their hierarchical stasis with no real need to try and change their positions.  Once the “thing” is presented into their environment, the hierarchical positions begin to change drastically.  As previously stated, many times alpha-males will attempt to gain status by violent means.  The question remains, why would the “thing” act as such an impacting variable?  If masculinity is a direct response to femininity, and the struggle for alpha-male status is a power struggle for men when their positions are questioned, it would only be assumed that the “thing” is of a female species.  The male gender is a control in this environment, and only violent responses in an attempt to gain alpha-male status occurs once the presence of a female is known.  At the very beginning of the film, the first sign of aggression shown in the film is from MacReady, after he loses a game of digital chess, voiced by a woman.

The alien “thing” is a shape-shifting creature capable of absorbing the body and creating a perfect imitation of whatever it has absorbed.  This is clearly an attempt to showcase the idea that women are a constant threat to the male status quo.  Women can "absorb" an aspect of a male, and produce a similar life force.  Simply put, it's a giant metaphor for childbirth.  Without this invasion from the female alien, the men at the camp would be living in nothing more than a monotonous lifestyle in the frozen tundra.  It takes a woman to threaten the very livelihood of these men and cause a rift into their common activities.  As the men struggle to determine who remains human and who is nothing more than an alien imitation, violence is used almost as a currency.  For example, when MacReady is accused of being the “thing”, he secludes himself (yet again) in a room filled with explosive devices and a brightly lit flame.  He threatens to blow up the entire base camp if anyone tries to kill him or hurt him.  MacReady is not only defending his status as a human, but also maintaining his role as alpha-male by use of ultimate force.  The threat of extreme action through violence is enough to force the rest of the men to accept defeat, and back down.  In a patriarchal society, brawn is almost always valued higher than brains, which keeps MacReady at the top of the totem pole, and the rest scrambling to align themselves under his leadership.
Once MacReady has gained control of the men and established himself as the alpha-male, it is only a matter of time before the rest of the men begin to battle for higher power positions.  In the infamous “blood test” scene, MacReady has tied all of the men to a couch and has taken samples of their blood, to which he will apply heat in an attempt to force a reaction from the “thing”.  The character Clark resists and tries to use violence to take down MacReady, only to be shot and killed in defense by MacReady.   With his authority established over the other male characters, MacReady then asserts his male authority over the female “thing.”  Before testing the blood he says, “When a man bleeds, it’s just tissue; but blood from one of you things won’t obey.”  This statement can be argued as MacReady drawing a parallel to the menstrual cycle of a woman, in that women are able to bleed consistently for days at a time while menstruating without dying.  To put it simply, the blood doesn’t obey the “laws” of nature.  This female alien is showing its variability with its blood, forcing the hostile response of the male counterparts.  While the remaining men sit on the couch, they begin to use different tactics to assert their masculinity in the hopes that MacReady will release them.  Childs uses a guilt tactic by calling MacReady a murderer, in a sense, emasculating him by pointing out his inability to use reasoning behind his actions.  Alas, his efforts are useless as MacReady fails to remove any of the men unless their blood is proven to be "right."  Again, his ability to withstand ridicule keeps him in the powerful male position.
Towards the end of the film, the final battle between MacReady and the alien occurs.  Once the alien transformation of Blair rises from the ground, as if being “birthed” by Mother Nature, MacReady fights back with a phallic object, a stick of dynamite, to destroy the beast.  His overtly masculine role is confirmed by this action, showcasing that his successful means to destroy a female creature, was by inserting something in her that resembled the male genitalia. Throughout the film, the assertion of male dominance between the characters is done through violent measures.  In a constant battle for alpha-male status only to be taken by MacReady, John Carpenter’s THE THING delivers a startling look at the way men behave when within the confines of other men, and the struggle for power between men in a patriarchal society during times of crises in response to a threat of a feminine nature.  Examining the expected gender roles of men and the disastrous results it causes makes THE THING an unexpectedly feminist movie.  Had both the men and the female "thing" been presented as equals, we wouldn't have had a conflict...or a movie.

Monday, February 2, 2015

UNEXPECTEDLY FEMINIST HORROR FILMS: EVERLY (2014)


THERE ARE MILD SPOILERS. IT'S AN ANALYSIS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
 
EVERLY is arguably not a horror film, but because it contains some elements of real-life horror, a ton of kills, a lot of blood, and comes from one of the horror genre's biggest fans, I felt it necessary to include as part of this year's Women In Horror Recognition month blog series.

Promoted as "DIE HARD in a room," director Joe Lynch's thrilling shoot-em-up flick EVERLY would seem on paper to be just another run-of-the-mill misogynist action/horror film.  The story follows the titular Everly, a prostitute who works for a brutal criminal overlord named Taiko.  When it is discovered that Everly is being traitorous (by trying to bring down his organization) he promises that by the end of the night (sometime around Christmas) she will be murdered.  He sends his men to torture, rape, and kill her, but Everly does everything in her power to fight back, and try and make it out alive.  Prostitution, violence, rape, and torture are some of the quickest "go-to" storytelling tactics in a woman-hating film, but EVERLY is unexpectedly an incredibly feminist film.

First of all, EVERLY is pro-women of color (WOC).  Originally, the titular role was supposed to be played by Kate Hudson, but replacing her with Salma Hayek completely changes the racial dynamic amongst the hispanic Everly and the Japanese men that she works for.  Throughout the course of the film, Everly speaks in her native tongue and the men that encounter her celebrate her ethnicity without ever fetishizing her.  We are introduced to a gaggle of other prostitutes; spunky white girls, a "Milf-esque" white woman, a strong independent black woman, and our stereotypical "unique" woman in a colored wig.  All of these women are examples of the archetypal roles given to sex workers, and despite many of them falling under the Western ideal of beauty, Everly is consistently praised for being the most desirable.  However, her desirability is never addressed as being due to her "exoticism," therefore, meaning her Mexican heritage isn't being fetishized.  While this may not have been intentional in the script, the casting decision of Hayek added this layer to the film.  Much like George A. Romeo's casting of Duane Jones in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, picking the best actor for the role offered representation for a minority without making the character token.  This. Is. Important.  It's one thing to write a role specifically for a person of color, but it's something entirely different to have a role that could have been played by anyone, and deliberately casting a person of color.  A study from Martha M. Lauzen in 2013 covering the Top 100 films of the year showed that only 5% of the female roles were played by Latinas.  Joe Lynch casting Salma Hayek as a titular role is not only incredibly smart when selling a film to foreign audiences, but it's also a powerful statement in an industry that barely supplies work for non-Caucasian women.  Not to mention, Everly is played by Salma Hayek...a 48 year old woman.  This. Is. ALSO. Important.  Unlike what Russell Crowe has to say about roles for women over 40, there are plenty of older actresses that are able to play complicated and interesting roles that aren't the ingenue.  EVERLY is not an ingenue, but she is a dynamic and powerful role (with sex appeal) played by a woman that is pushing fifty.
EVERLY is also pro-sisterhood.  For whatever reason, Hollywood has a tendency to believe that once a woman pops a human out of her body, that is officially the only thing she can ever do.  Everly is a complicated woman with an even more complicated past.  However, Everly is still a mother and the women around her respect this.  When we're introduced to the other prostitutes, we see that the sense of camradarie that these women share that is vastly different from the bonds between the male characters.  The women talk to each other like people and support each other to the best of their abilities.  Even when Taiko is doing everything he can to turn these women against each other, they all express remorse for their actions...and showcase a moral code that exists merely because they're "sisters."  Not to mention, the defense and respect these women have for a sense of motherhood.  The men are ruthless and mean in terms of Everly's motherhood, using her daughter as a bargaining chip, while the women draw the line and understand, innocent daughters do not deserve to suffer because of the mistakes of their parents.  On a purely familial level, we also get the opportunity to meet Everly's mother and Everly's daughter.  The bonds of womanhood are tested among 3 generations.  These women switch roles often between protector and protected.  While Everly is our protagonist, she's still someone's child, and we all need our mothers.  There truly isn't another bond like motherhood, and Everly's mother proves this.  The unconditional love is something that cannot be matched or beaten by even the toughest thugs.  It's only fitting that Everly's daughter meets her mother in a bloodbath and is essentially reborn.  Yes, it's a vagina metaphor. Deal with it.

Perhaps what is most surprisingly, is the angle of pro-sex workers in EVERLY.  Before I go any further, I want to specify that "Pro" in this discussion means "not against."  Think of it like being pro-choice.  Pro-choice means "if you have an abortion, you're not a scumbag that deserves to rot in Hell" NOT "we should kill babies for fun."  In the same way, being pro-sex workers doesn't necessarily mean, "everyone should start selling their bodies" but merely, "if you are a sex worker, that doesn't make you a bad person."  On a basic level, the prostitutes are the toughest, because they're all in for themselves vs. the gang mentality of the men.  Before it's discovered that these women are not prostitutes, but victims of human trafficking, they are still never regarded as "sluts," or "whores."  Even those that refer to these women as "whores" are immediately reprimanded and made to look like the bad guys.  Never once are these women "slut-shamed" for their line of work and never are they made to look like they deserve any of the carnage brought to them.  If anything, this film is anti-trafficking and pro-woman because although these women are victims of a heinous situation, the audience is seeing everything through the lens of a woman who herself, is also a victim.  We identify with these women and we empathize with them, anyone that says otherwise is immediately seen as a monster and we crave punishment for what they've done.

There is a big difference between a misogynist film and a film that has misogynist characters.  EVERLY is the latter.  Violence against women does NOT equal misogyny, it's a matter of presentation.  Much like the rape-revenge films of the exploitation era (but without being exploitative), EVERLY sends a message that women are not fragile and delicate flowers that need saving, but rather that the people who believe this to be true, are the ones that will be punished.  It's a pro-female action film with feminist undertones that doesn't pander to its audience, and it points the finger of blame to the responsible villains without ever making our female lead look like she deserves what she's getting.  EVERLY is unexpectedly feminist, and totally kick-ass.

EVERLY is available on VOD services and will be available in theatres soon.  
Joe Lynch and Adam Green's podcast THE MOVIE CRYPT has the exclusive list of dates and theatre locations.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

AN OPEN LETTER TO ALICE ROBB: THIS IS WHAT IT REALLY SAYS IF YOU LIKE HORROR MOVIES

still from THE BABADOOK
 Dear Alice Robb,

I'm more than positive that you have no idea who I am and until a few hours ago, I didn't know you either.  From what I've gathered from your contributions to The New Republic, you seem to be a woman after my own heart.  We have a lot in common, Alice.  We both like social justice posts, we enjoy psychoanalyzing the media's influence on society, and we like writing about gender equality.  However, you've recently written an article in response to THE BABADOOK titled "What It Says About You If You Enjoy Horror Movies."  My facebook timeline has exploded today with people posting in anger, frustration, and heartbreak about your article.  But, it was my dear friend (and fellow horror enthusiast) John Squires who wrote a heartfelt response to you that compelled me to hop on top of my soap box and do the same.  I'm sure I won't be the last one to do so, and it is with the utmost sincerity that you avoid googling yourself for a few days unless you desire being actively educated in a world you truly know nothing about.

I could very well turn this entire piece about how I am living proof that your article is untrue.  Not only am I a female, but I'm an active philanthropist, a rape survivor social advocate, I work with children for a living, probably one of the most painfully cautious people I know (my idea of "thrill seeking" is not checking the star rating on a Netflix film before clicking play), and I watch approximately 90% of horror films by myself--without the assistance of a male companion.  It would be quick to use my life experiences to disprove everything that you've written, and I could very easily pull hundreds of biographies from horror fans that also don't fit the mold of this picture you've painted. However, I'd much rather talk in a language you speak.  Statistics and numbers.

You first stated that horror fans lack empathy.  In 2013, a tragedy occurred when there was a bombing at the ever-populous Boston Marathon.  I'm sure I don't need to go into the gritty details of how gruesome, gory, bloody, and horrific the day was.  Hell, you've actually written a piece about the "irony" that Boston is the hub of explosion detection.  During your research about the Boston bombing, did you ever once come across an event called BOSTON STRONG hosted by a guy named Adam Green?  Probably not, but I'll educate you.  Adam Green is a prominent horror filmmaker working today and the mind behind the ultra-gory HATCHET franchise, the psychologically terrifying FROZEN (no, not that FROZEN) and the horror comedy show HOLLISTON.  Green is also a Boston native, so the bombings truly hit him close to home.  This horror fanatic should have lacked empathy, as you stated, and with all of this gore and carnage being plastered by the media, you'd think he'd have found this "thrill seeking" as you also claim horror fans to be.  Here's where you're wrong.  Adam Green took it upon himself to try to better the situation the only way he knew how.  Adam Green held a 3-day event of film screenings, celebrity meet & greets, and an auction with items supplied by Dark Sky Films, Blumhouse Productions, 1492 Films, and Anchor Bay Films (all prominent horror film distributors) as well as personal donations from Wes Craven (NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, SCREAM), John Carpenter (HALLOWEEN, THE THING), Eli Roth (HOSTEL, CABIN FEVER), Tyler Mane (ROB ZOMBIE'S HALLOWEEN), Dee Snider (of Twisted Sister fame), Oderus Urungus of GWAR (Rest In Peace), Rob Zombie (HALLOWEEN, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES) & John 5, Zach Galligan (GREMLINS, WAXWORK), artist Alex Pardee, Chris Columbus (HOME ALONE, GREMLINS), Sid Haig (THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, SPIDERBABY) and Mick Garris (HOCUS POCUS, THE STAND).  All of the proceeds went to the One Fund to help those affected by the Boston Bombing.  The BOSTON STRONG event managed to raise $15,000 for the One Fund.  Mind you, this was 100% an event geared towards horror fans and filmmakers.  Talk about lack of empathy.

The second thing you noted about horror fans is that we're more likely to be aggressive or thrill seeking.  First of all, you cited studies that in some cases are almost thirty years old.  Do you remember how the world was 30 years ago?  The 1985 study you used to prove we're "thrill seekers" was published closer to when homosexuality was still considered a mental illness than it is to today.  Here's information from a study conducted in 2012.  Research done by Dr. Mathias Clasen suggests watching horror movies is great for our DNA.  We as humans use memories to help us deal with scary situations, but our day to day environments usually don't put us in a scary situation.  However, watching a horror movie is an emotional stimulator, and it triggers our DNA to respond accordingly.

"As the brain senses danger it produces additional energy directed at the activeness of neurotransmitters – glutamate, dopamine and serotonin. As a result, the body remains in a state of combat readiness for some time. Another interesting factor is that a potential threat signal passes through the brain, specifically through the hypothalamus. Since the hypothalamus deals with the glandular system, it initiates the release of  adrenaline which causes the release of opiates which in turn creates an anesthetic type effect. This causes the phobic reaction to shut down and trains the brain to have a similar reaction in real life situations. In a sense, watching a horror movie is almost like a training ground for the body and psyche." --Collective Evolution

You can call it "thrill seeking" all you want, but horror fans are merely just training themselves to be better prepared mentally to deal with the things that happen in our lives that could be, well, scary.

You also claim that most horror fans are men simply because more women reported being afraid.  Just because you're scared of something doesn't mean you're not a fan of it.  I'm a horror fan and I have been for my entire life, but I still jump in the theaters and pretend to be looking at the screen as my heart pounds when I'm really looking directly above the screen to avoid any scary moments.  That doesn't make me any less of a fan.  I watch horror movies because I enjoy that feeling.  I love the adrenaline rush, it's fun. Sorry, there I go getting personal again.  You did cite an article from 2014 showing that women are catching up to men in film attendance, but even there...you're wrong. Here's an article from 2006, showing that women have been attending horror films more than men in the target demographic.  That would mean we've been doing so for almost a decade.  If that isn't enough for you, I'd like to introduce you to Women In Horror Month.  Did we know we have our own month?  Boasting over 12k fans on Facebook and celebrating its 6th year anniversary next month, Women In Horror Month not only celebrates all of the incredible contributions women have made to the genre, but it also hosts a world-wide blood drive.  Horror fans all across the world donating blood to save lives? What was that about lack of empathy again?

Your final statement is that horror fans are most likely men, accompanied by a frightened woman.  Here is where I am going to get personal, and quite frankly, a little stern.  If the statistics I posted above showing that women outnumber men for horror movie ticket sales doesn't disprove your outdated source enough as is, I'd like you to sit back and realize what a backward sense you have on this genre.  The movie that triggered your entire post was a film called THE BABADOOK which, as my friend Johnny already stated for you, was directed by a woman.  This year, in addition to THE BABADOOK, there were films like HONEYMOON and A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT all over horror sites' top 10 lists (usually in the top spots) that were also directed by women.  I don't know about you, but I highly doubt these "frightened women" needed a man by their side to create some of the most genuinely horrifying films of recent memory.  By using your old and dated statistics, you're allowing yourself to be part of the problem that perpetuates the idea that females are weaker and frailer than their male counterparts.  As someone who writes about gender studies in pop cultures as you do, I'm disappointed that you didn't look a little harder to see that you had the chance to champion the gender that still isn't treated in society the same way as our male counterparts.

Ultimately, I'm sure your article was nothing more than click-bait and this angry response means you've done your job.  However, you need to understand that as a mouthpiece for the public, your words have weight.  For the misinformed, people that read your article are going to continue to believe that horror fans are the angry and evil creatures that Fox News wants to believe we are the next time a mentally ill kid kills someone that just so happened to like horror movies.  Don't continue to be part of the problem, educate yourself and be the change we so deserve to see from the media.

Sincerely yours,
BJ Colangelo

Thursday, December 18, 2014

THE 14 BEST FEMALE HORROR PERFORMANCES OF 2014

As 2014 winds down and we all reflect on the horror films of the last year, I find myself thinking a lot about spectacular performances in addition to films.  My Top 15 of 2014 is posted over at Icons of Fright, but I wanted to use Day of the Woman to focus on something a little different.  In my opinion, this was an incredibly strong year for female characters in horror.  With audiences rejecting stereotypical and archetypal characters and instead favoring characters with a bit more depth to them, actresses in a majority of the horror films of 2014 were allowed to do more than just get naked and die.  Submitted for your approval, these are my fourteen favorite female horror performances of 2014. 


14) Melanie Papalia in THE DEN
THE DEN is about a woman studying the habits of people who use a "Chat Roulette" like website called "The Den" who witnesses a brutal murder online and is quickly thrown  in a nightmare in which she and her loved ones are targeted for the same grisly fate as the first victim.  Papalia is in every single second on this film, even if she is not the general focus. We as the audience are voyeurs, witnessing Papalia's reactions/motivations/feelings/encounters through a computer screen.  There are moments that feel as if she's looking right at us, and Papalia is in every frame of every second of the film.  Papalia gave an honest and engaging performance that helped prevent this film from being just another throwaway indie film.

13) Allison Egan in HER NAME WAS TORMENT
Allison Egan has become somewhat of an indie darling, appearing in many of the films of director Dustin Mills. An unnamed woman who has a distorted voice and a blurred face in the shown footage was arrested for committing twenty-seven murders, but deemed unfit to stand trial. Oddly, twenty-four of her victims remain unidentified.  It's almost as if, as the psychiatrist interviewing her describes it, "this woman was a ghost killing ghosts."  The psychiatrist interview footage is cut with footage of this woman, usually in some form of undress and wearing a mask, torturing her victims.  Egan is pretty much fully nude in a majority of this film, but it never once feels forced or pornographic.  Her face is never shown, and her real voice is never heard, but Egan still manages to give a strong and captivating performance.


12) Naya Rivera in AT THE DEVIL'S DOOR
I don't know about you, but I love it when a supporting character steals the film.  I've always been a big fan of Naya Rivera's work (SANTANA LOPEZ 4 LYFE), but she really proved her talent as "Vera" in AT THE DEVIL'S DOOR.  She doesn't appear right away, but she completely blew me away.  Her character endures a rollercoaster of emotions, and Rivera performed them all with honesty.

11) Kristi Ray in PIECES OF TALENT
Many disillusioned actresses find themselves in"the opportunity of a lifetime" when they cross paths with an independent filmmaker, but Kristi Ray as "Charlotte" in the indie darling PIECES OF TALENT knocks this character type out of the park.  She delivers a naive innocence that still exists in a post-9/11 world. Her character dreams of something better, and Ray delivers it with an air that feels genuine.  Perhaps most refreshing is that Ray is a true romantic interest, but she doesn't have the over saturated "American Apparel" look that dominates starlets of the box office.


10) Kristina Klebe in PROXY
PROXY is a film that boasts multiple strong performances from female leads, but Kristina Klebe as Anika Barön really nailed what she was given.  Klebe's character was arguably the most stereotypical, but she breathed new life into the "bitter lesbian bully" archetype.  The camera loves Klebe, and I was drawn to her in every moment she was on screen.  Her anger felt pure and her delivery was downright scary at times.  She completely wore her despicability on her sleeve, and her willingness to throw herself into a character so...unlikable and cruel was admirable.  Klebe nailed it.  The other female leads (Alexia Rasmussen and Alexa Havins) were also fantastic to watch, but Klebe (for me) stole the show.

09) Paz de la Huerta in NURSE
I don't know what planet Paz de la Huerta is from, but I want to visit there and come back refreshed and with a new view of the world.  NURSE could easily be excused as a shitty film, but I found it to be hilariously genius.  It walked the line between "campy brilliance" and "bottom-feeder trash," but never fell over to one side.  Whether or not Paz' delivery was intentional is irrelevant, because she was incredible.  The delayed inflection of her voice, the awkward body language, and the huge hair all skyrocketed her into one of the most wonderful female villains in a long while.  I loved it and I loved her.

08) Natalie Jean in THE CEMETERY
Natalie Jean is known in the indie world for her work in Adam Ahlbrandt's films, but she's also an accomplished stunt woman.  She managed to combine both her skills as an actress and her impressive abilities to move her body in Ahlbrandt's flick, THE CEMETERY.  Natalie Jean opens the film as a fully functioning member of society, and despite almost all of the characters being wholly unlikeable, she's the only one that I liked.  Jean is the first to feel the effects of whatever is plaguing this mysterious cemetery, and that's when she really begins to shine.  You actively start to root for her as a villain. The prowess she commands on screen is commendable given she speaks less than 1/4 of her screen time.  Covered in practical effects, she made them work for her and she allowed herself to completely transform into a monster.  In all honesty, I wasn't too hot on this film as a whole, but Natalie Jean's performance made this underground film enjoyable. 


07) UNDER THE SKIN
Scarlett Johansson has been smarter and smarter about choosing her roles recently, but her performance in UNDER THE SKIN is perhaps her strongest yet.  She plays an alien stalking men in Scotland, and uses her beautiful human appearance to lure in her prey.  The "siren" story is one that has been done numerous times before, but Johansson's portrayal feels authentically out of this world.  There's definitely a difference between someone acting a character and becoming a character, and Scarlett Johansson definitely became alien in this one.
06) Amy Seimetz in THE SACRAMENT
Amy Seimetz has been one of my favorite performers for quite some time now, and her dedication in THE SACRAMENT is no exception.  She plays "Caroline," our brainwashed point of reference for those living in the commune known as "Eden's Parrish."  Considering the real-life horror roots of THE SACRAMENT, we as the audience quickly realize what is about to take place, and can predict her fate long before it ever happens.  She's such a charming and interesting woman, despite our understanding that she's the catalyst for everything bad that is inevitably coming to our protagonists.  Her final moments are downright devastating to watch and as much as you want to hate her, she's so likeable that you immediately just feel sorry for her.  Seimetz truly is a tour de force.
05) Essie Davis in THE BABADOOK
The success of Jennifer Kent's masterful debut comes in large part from the dynamite performance delivered by Essie Davis as "Amelia."  There is nothing quite as strong as a mother's love for her child, and Davis completely embodied the maternal energy required to make this film as horrifying as possible.  Davis had to be over-worked, tired, obligated, and still showcase a genuine love (and fear) for her child in order for the film to work, and it does.  Mothers aren't always June Cleaver, and Davis presents Amelia the way that most women are...complex.  The relationship Amelia has with her child is one that is impossible for an outsider to truly understand, and her constant conflict between what is expected of her to feel towards her child and what she actually does feel for her child, is painted all over Davis.  Davis has some major acting chops, but her role as Amelia was flawless.

04) Rima Te Wiata HOUSEBOUND
Morgana O'Reilly's "Kylie" may have been the lead, but it was Rima Te Wiata's performance as her mother "Miriam" that really stood out in the New Zealand hit HOUSEBOUND.  Miriam was funny, endearing, chatty, and incredibly sincere.  No matter how awful things get, Miriam always tries to look on the bright side.  It's her incessant positivity contrasting with the cynicism of her millennial daughter that kept this storyline feeling fresh and fun.  I lived for whatever unintentionally funny quip was going to come spewing out of her mouth following some bitter side-comment from her daughter. She's so endearing that she almost blends into the background and that's why she's so good. The character could have easily been played over the top, but that would have dominoed the entire film. As absurd as things get in this film, it all feels completely normal for someone like Miriam.


03) Anna Walton in SOULMATE
Anna Walton is absolutely superb as "Audrey" in Axelle Carolyn's SOULMATE. Tom Wisdom played opposite and while he was giving it his all, Walton completely outshined every other performer in the entire film.  That isn’t to say the secondary characters weren’t any good, but Walton was such a pleasure, it made everyone else look mediocre in comparison.  The opening sequence is particularly grim, but Walton handles the extreme subject matter with ease.  Her turmoil feels genuine and she expresses her pain with a rawness that never once feels forced.  As the mood of the film shifts, Walton's progression feels believable and I was with her every step of the way.

02) Jill Larson in THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN
Larson is no stranger to playing creepy old women characters, but she broke new ground with her performance as the titular Deborah Logan.  Wearing minimal makeup and without being covered in computer effects, Larson possibly the most convincing possession victim in horror history.  Her dedication to this character is responsible for almost the entire film's creepiness, and the progression of her Alzheimer's stricken character is something of cinematic beauty.  This very collected woman quickly turns into a monstrous creature and every moment is horrifically haunting.  There's a moment towards the end of the film which is easily the scariest thing I've seen all year, and Larson absolutely dominated the scene.

01) Alex Essoe STARRY EYES
My favorite horror film of 2014 was Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer's STARRY EYES and it was due in large part to the stunning performance from Alex Essoe.  Every moment of the film is haunting and harrowing, gorgeous and grotesque, fun and frightening, insightful and irresistible.  Alex Essoe is required to carry the entire film on her shoulders as Sarah, and her ability to shift from vulnerable to vindictive was downright mesmerizing to witness. Sarah is forced to deal with physical demons but the most horrific creatures are the ones that Sarah has residing within herself, that she must face on her own.  The character of Sarah physically and mentally embodies the horrifying and painful lengths that actors are willing to go to secure a place in the limelight, and by doing so, the dedication from actor Alex Essoe guarantees herself a spot as an iconic female horror character. 
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