Sunday, July 21, 2013


I just own that shit, man.  I am what I am.  When other people need a cool-down from reality, they have a glut of choices; there's a check-out pass that can last up to 12 hours available at most convenience stores (I mean, 12 hours is debatable, but whatever, I don't actually know how long it would take a normal person to drink a case of beer).  When I need to check out, I prefer slaughter.

I've written before this was a slow evolution.  Probably due to my above-mentioned problem, I didn't watch horror films regularly (or any films, really, excepting maybe Gummo and Apocalypse Now, and that, my imaginary friends, is a whole nother blog post); when your head is full of monsters, you might be a lil hyper-reactive to external ones.  Even if they're just imaginary.  On the other end of the spectrum, no zombie mouth breather is ever going to pack the punch of a sweaty, adolescent meth dealer.  Just sayin'.  So I wasn't a Horrordork, strictly speaking, until well into my very sober twenties.

As I've gotten older and more saturated with horror tropes and themes and bursting blood packs (sp?), I tend not to get very scared.  In fact, the tables have turned, and friends that used to roll their eyes at my squealing will no longer go to the movies with me due to my mocking cackles.  I got through grad school writing papers on one half of my monitor while the other was filled with shrill blood spattering funtimes.  Like I said: it cools me down.

However.  There is a newer development in horror that does not.  It makes me feel like my skin is on fire, actually.  And that is horror films that couple grotesque domestic realities with slasher sensibilities--it's almost as if exploitation cinema has had incestuous, cannibalistic monster-babies with razor sharp teeth and set them loose.  Not that I'm ungrateful; I am grateful.  Gratefully horrified.  But still... I wonder about the changes in depictions of victimhood and villainy--and by extension, women--in horror.

The first film I saw that made me feel this way was Deadgirl.*  For those not in the know: that movie is Jacked. Thefuck. Up.  It's the story of two "teen-agers" who stumble on a zombiesque naked girl in an abandoned hospital, tied up on a discarded bed and covered with a plastic sheet.  That image alone gave me the willies, and it vividly reminded me of the Brittany Murphy character from The Dead Girl (which I initially mixed up with the horror flick Deadgirl, zoning out on Netflix).  The two characters make for an interesting comparison, in a way.

The Dead Girl is a victim.  She makes bad choices, has a painful, brief and tear-jerking life that ends when she meets a serial killer, whose identity is poignantly obscured by both his wife and the circumstances shaping the victim herself.  She's a sex worker and a drug addict (you know the words to the song I'm singing, right?).  Her death is defined by an absence of opportunity and investment, which is reflected in the low expectations/low priority search for her identity and culminates in a devastating reunion with her broken, available-too-late mother.  The movie could've ended up being The Poor Little Dead Girl, but I didn't get that sense while viewing it (thank god).  It works very hard to subtly underline the ways she was forgotten before she even died, which can be excruciating to watch, but in the end, her flaws keep the film grounded.  The abstract construction of her life--as opposed to focusing solely on the (male) killer's perspective and development, which is typically our point of view in these films--creates an arty drama with an ambiguous, pained feeling.  So we're clear, it is not a horror film, strictly speaking.  It is a more nuanced, eerily beautiful, and poignantly cruel portrait of the standard female victim seen literally hundreds of times a day on american television.

Deadgirl, in a way, is an unintentional sequel of sorts to this film.  In fact, Deadgirl is arguably the sequel to every film ever that sensationalizes and romanticizes male murdermonsters while piling up disposable dead girls.

This is probably wishful thinking on my part, of course, but that's what blogs are for.

Critics largely dislike Deadgirl, although there seems to be no consensus as to why.  Some find the film well written but poorly developed visually; some find the subject repellent and the dialogue weak.  Absolutely no one is comfortable with the central premise of the film.  Both  male and female reviewers seem largely pissed that anyone could think young men are capable of so much sexual degradation.

I'm not.  I think it's nice they believe that, actually (and I don't mean that in as condescending a way as it sounds).  Reading those reviews, I knew the people writing them never got naked for money.  They've never been forced to navigate sexual intimacy with a total creep--particularly and most painfully one you love most of the time.  When I watched that movie I was like, "Oh.  Okay."  Not duh, or of course, because--for the record--Not All Men Are Rapists In Waiting.  No need to get hysterical.  But the premise didn't even make me blink.  Any survivor of sexual assault (and just so we're clear, that number is astronomical) might think the same.  I'd imagine a lot of sex workers would also shrug.  The demographic that overlaps in the center is me, and I'm like, "Oh.  Okay.  Totes possible."  I didn't have to work at all for suspension of disbelief, nor did I fist-pump with feminist righteousness.  I hope that makes sense.

The dead girl of Deadgirl is never explained.  She has no name of her own, no clothing to hint at a profession or sense of individualism, no voice to explain what happened.  She is not given the courtesy of even attempted discovery, like our other victim is.  More importantly, the only difference between herself and Brittany Murphy in their introductory scenes is that she moves.  She has also died as a result of someone's horrifying, unknowable motivation, as part of the work of some monster's indiscriminate schemes.  But she moves, and when given the chance, she fights back.  Savagely.  One might even say horribly.

In the beginning, their deaths are all that define who they are; the essential difference, arguably, between a drama and a horror film is what happens after.  Brittany Murphy's character can only live on through the fresh, tenuous bond between her abandoned child and her grieving mother.  Deadgirl gnaws the dick off a rapist and destroys her captors in a blaze of rabid zombie glory.  And that, my friends, is why horror movies make me feel better, in a nutshell.

I think it says a lot that only in the fantastic realm of supernatural horror can rape victims get this kind of bloody vengeance--that the idea of a woman who is a rape victim being able to extract that vengeance can really only be conceived as a work of horror.  There are lots of movies where a man is victimized or assaulted--not sexually, usually--by another group of men; sometimes his female partner is sexually violated as a way of torturing him (her own violation is often secondary to the movement of the plot, in older films, the exception being exploitation flicks, which have their own set of problems).  When he merks the shit out of them in a blaze of glory, we call it a drama, or an action flick.  It happens in horror, sure, but if a woman exacts bloody revenge for rape, it almost always falls square in the horror genre.  Deadgirl takes that trope to the bloodiest extent I can remember seeing, and that makes people squirm.

The film isn't perfect, and I'm not claiming it is, and I hope I am being as clear as possible about the totally subjective reasons I like it.  There are good reasons why the 'victory' at the end of Deadgirl is ambiguous; the not-as-morally-shitty character, after setting her free (too little too late, and not even, strictly speaking, the most merciful thing to do), creates his very own Deadgirl after the love of his life is bitten, recreating the whole vicious cycle.  Maybe that's actually not so ambiguous.  Anyway.  I like it, and the visceral reaction I have watching her terrorize the men who raped her is not ambiguous at all.  At that moment, no matter whatever other things this might say about me, I am a bloodthirsty, fist pumping, self-righteous feminist.     

I don't get that from exploitation flicks, which double as, well, exploitation.  It is the exact opposite of the feeling I had at the end of The Dead Girl, knowing the killer will never be brought to justice.  The Deadgirl gets away in the end, too, but that makes me happy.  I know she might infect me with her rabid rotten teeth, but I think it's more likely she'll run into the other guy first.  And when she does, I'm betting on her.

*Although, upon reflection, I think Lucky McKee's work has always had some of that.  I saw May years ago and it is lauded as a creepshow for a reason, but it wasn't until The Woman--which I saw long after Deadgirl--that I started putting this all together in my brainmeat.  And now I will (of course) have to write about that some other time.