Tuesday, August 27, 2013

YOU NEVER WANT TO DO SOMETHING INTERESTING: HOW "YOU'RE NEXT" BECAME ONE OF THE MOST EMPOWERING HORROR FILMS FOR WOMEN

This woman comes from a land where they eat Vegemite by choice. Of course she's tough.
 It has been dissected time and time again on the way the horror genre has misrepresented women both on the screen and off, but whenever a film comes along and represents a female character as something different, we immediately bring praise to the filmmakers.  While this practice is admittedly problematic, the only reason we stress the importance of these "strong female characters" is in large part to the lack of positive female representation.  The "weak" female character has proven to be a safe staple within the horror genre, and somewhat of a requirement in the slasher genre.  Simply put, no one ever wants to do anything interesting.  Witness Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Sharni Vinson and the creation of YOU'RE NEXT.

I wonder what George Orwell would say about this...

We've all seen the advertisements, a majority of us own those damn animal masks, and some of us horror geeks have giant boners for AJ Bowen and Barbara Crampton.  YOU'RE NEXT has been the talk of the horror world for the last few months, and the overall consensus is that the film kicks all sorts of ass. (It does, trust me.) People keep bringing up how YOU'RE NEXT has taken the home-invasion sub-genre and spun it on its head.  Most importantly, however, is the fact YOU'RE NEXT may very well be one of the most empowering horror films for women, ever.
(NOTE: If you haven't seen YOU'RE NEXT, you need to 1) stop what you're doing and see the film and 2) understand that this piece is an analysis and events of the film WILL be spoiled.)

Oh my god, adopt me.

Starting with the matriarch of the family, we have horror demi-goddess, Barbara Crampton as "Aubrey."  While this character on the surface to be following the trend of every other not-exactly-sober mother in a slasher film, Aubrey brings something that few other maternal horror figure has; heart.  Aubrey is one of the most well constructed mother characters because of her undeniable love for her family. Mothers in horror films are often seen as skeptical, heartless, drunk, or cruel.  Aubrey is very protective of her family and showcases this throughout the entire film.  She questions things when no one else will and despite the obvious dysfunction of her children, she dedicates herself to them just the same.  What struck me as the most empowering, is the fact Aubrey actually mourns.  Most horror movie mothers are seen as women flying off the handle with absolutely no control of their lives. They panic and make stupid decisions.  Aubrey on the other hand realizes the situation at hand and mourns for her family. Her true dedication and love for her family is admirable, and unlike most of the mothers we see in horror films.

But bringing home a starving artist was my extent of rebellion!
Aimee, the golden daughter of the family (played by Amy Seimetz) is one of the more minor characters and is killed off early because of it.  The daddy's girl and "princess" of the children appears to do no wrong.  She is immediately shown as the least liked of the siblings, but the most adored by the parents. Her death brings out the strongest reaction from the parental units, but the weakest reaction from the rest of the family.  Her good-girl persona seems to be something she uses to her advantage (overly excited introductions to other people, extreme affection towards her father) but is also something she desperately wants to rid out of her life (meet my starving artist/filmmaker boyfriend wearing the douchiest scarf this side of a Bright Eyes concert played by Ti West, TAKE THAT DAD!) However, she represents an ideal that a lot of women strive to possess. How do we treat ideals, ladies and germs? WE KILL THEM OFF AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE.  Ideals are boring, one-dimensional, and unrealistic.

I may look like Olivia Wilde in TRON, but I will bone you in ways Freud could never interpret.

Wendy Glenn as "Zee" makes for an incredibly interesting female villain.  Most female villains are seen as nothing more than pure evil, while Zee represents the true complexity of the female mind.  Although she is originally viewed as an unenthusiastic familial girlfriend being dragged against her will to a gathering with her dysfunctional potential in-laws, we quickly discover her character is actually quite unique.  It's important to note that throughout the entire first 3/4 of the film, Zee is acting.  She is playing into the roles assigned to her and does them effortlessly. Once the big twist is revealed, Zee is no longer the doting girlfriend. She is 100% handling her instincts and her motives. At this point, her boyfriend, Felix is no longer her motivator. She has done her best to comfort him in his time of need, but her demands are her demands.  She tries to seduce Felix while laying next to the corpse of his dead mother, and when he declines she responds, "You never want to do anything interesting."  While it may be a bit exaggerated, Zee stomps on the idea that women are not sexually aggressive and the idea that women aren't as sexually creative as our male counterparts.  Hate to out my lady friends, but women are just as big of perverts as men. Showing this sexually progressive woman was refreshing to see (even if her kink was a little TOO far for my comfort zone.) This progressive attitude is thanked by being the only female character not murdered by an animal, but instead by her fellow woman. 

OH MY GOD! I WILLINGLY WORE A RUFFLED COLLAR TO A DINNER PARTY!
The snobbish WASPy lover of Joe Swanberg, Kelly, is played beautifully by Margaret Laney.  Kelly is the woman everyone knows and plays nice with even though they can't stand her.  Entitled, selfish, judgmental, and a total prude, Kelly represents that rich girl who lives off of Mommy and Daddy's money and therefore feels like she's better than everyone else.  She completely hits the panic button when disaster strikes and runs purely off of emotion, a very stereotypically "girly" reaction to chaos.  She also serves as the two sided opposite to Zee and Erin.  Zee and Erin both want what Kelly and Aimee have (money and an established life of stability).  This is represented physically by the fact that both Kelly and Aimee wear their hair up (a symbol of a dignified and "put together" lady) while Zee and Erin don their hair down.  Although, Kelly is not perfect as she DOES show the most skin of any of the characters in the film, and does pop pills.  How is this woman thanked for her attitude? The judgmental bitch is thrown like a stone in a glass house -- through a glass window.

Don't let Step Up 3D fool you, she's a bonafide badass.

Most obviously, we were given the most bad-ass final girl this side of Nancy Thompson. Sharni Vinson's "Erin" ushered in an entirely new form of female final girls.  Unlike the virginal final girls that only survived because they fell into the trope of being pure and exactly what society wants women to be, (sexually attainable without having sex) Erin was a strong-willed female character capable of defending herself using a combination of beauty, brains, and brawn.  Remaining cool and collected when necessary but not without the guts to completely bludgeon to death anyone that crosses her.  With the booby trap preparation skills that would make Kevin McAllister proud, Erin understands that in this life, you've got to take care of yourself.  Erin is never once dressed scantily (not that there's anything wrong with that) and she's never over-sexualized. She's merely your everyday woman living the way she chooses.  She's progressive in that she left a TA position (meaning, this is where her mentioned student loans are coming from as this would forfeit any scholarship) to be with the professor she had fallen in love with.  Whether or not Barrett made this intentional, there's also a remarkable feminist analysis of Erin's strength.  I'm about to put on a psychoanalytical/psychosexual hat, you've been warned. Erin is a female fighting a bunch of male animals with incredibly phallic weapons.  In the Animal Kingdom, the alpha male is always seen as a dominant and physically aggressive creature while the alpha female is important for breeding purposes. Erin completely changes the game. While her male animal attackers are shooting arrows at her (reminiscent of the way animals "mark their territory" and determine things to be off-limits to other animals) or trying to insert overly long phallic machetes (hurray for wiener imagery) into her body.  99.99% of the time, female horror victims express pains in sounds that resemble an orgasm.  Erin expresses pain with barbaric wails or subdued sounds of pain, never once does she sound post-coital. This simple action shows that Erin is a woman that is not defined by the male sexuality, but secure in her own identity. *takes off psychoanalytical/psychosexual hat* The "strong female lead" we were promised with the Evil Dead remake and didn't get was hand delivered on a silver platter in the form of Sharni Vinson.  Kudos, Barrett/Wingard. You hit one out of the park for women in horror.

EDIT: YOU'RE NEXT PASSES THE BECHDEL TEST. HOLY MOTHER OF GOD.

Monday, August 19, 2013

YOU CALL YOURSELF A SCREAM QUEEN, EH?

Yeah. Real talk.
Almost a year ago, I wrote a piece called "Where have all the Scream Queens gone?!" at the request of Cortez the Killer from Planet of Terror. A little less than 365 days later and we've found our "Scream Queens," on the resumes of self-proclaimed actresses.  In the article previously mentioned, I made a quick jab at these self-proclaimed actresses with a comment saying, "True scream queens know they're scream queens and I don't need to justify their careers on my website.  This is more so focused to the recent splurge of self-proclaimed scream queens.  I'm sorry, but just because you screamed at a CGI monster in a push up bra in two films...you're not a scream queen (I'm looking at you Jaimie Alexander)."  The sad thing about this self-proclaimed scream queen craze, is that actresses aren't the only ones guilty of this practice.  Horror news sources desperate for hits are putting "JANE DOE ACTRESS: UP AND COMING SCREAM QUEEN" in their titles in the hopes that people will click and read.  It's Journalism 101 to create an eye-catching title, but this "scream queen" phenomenon needs to pump the brakes.

Scream Queen Danielle Harris got her start in horror and returns to the genre frequently (but has plenty of non-horror credits to her name)
When a journalist names an actress a "Scream Queen" when she has not yet deserved the title, it becomes problematic for a number of reasons. First off, you're putting an insane amount of pressure on what is presumably an up-and-coming face in the acting industry.  A lot of women that we name "Scream Queens" are just getting their start, and horror is the jumping off point for the careers of a large amount of actors.  It's the actresses that remain in the horror industry that we tend to refer to as "Scream Queens." This isn't to say that they can't branch out and play in other genres, but the "Scream Queens" we know and love tend to return to the genre that gave them their start.  By naming a girl a SQ at the start, you're either pigeon-holing her into only making horror movies, or you're giving her the pressure that she's obligated to perform in horror.  Believe it or not, not everyone wants to be in a horror movie. Call a girl a SQ and you put her at risk for being typecast as a horror actress for the rest of her career. That's not really fair, is it?

You think you're on JLC's level? Really?
Another issue is that calling an undeserving actress a SQ also takes away some of the prestige from the women who worked very, very hard to earn those titles. Think of it like little league sports.  If every kid gets a trophy, the 1st place trophy doesn't feel quite as sweet.  It's celebrating mediocrity and it's drawing false parallels. Self-proclaiming the SQ title immediately means that you consider yourself to be just as deserving of the acclaim as the universally accepted SQs.  I'm sorry, but do you honestly believe that your mixed-review performance in an independent film that only has 5,000 hits on YouTube puts you in the same category as someone like Jamie Lee Curtis that perfected the art of the "Final Girl" and has her name attached to multiple horror franchises including a little known film called HALLOWEEN? It's absolutely preposterous. I don't care how many times you call yourself a SQ on your twitter profile or attach it to your name in a press release, if you didn't earn the title, you have no place using it. If you went to medical school, no matter how great you thought you were, you wouldn't walk around calling yourself the Surgeon General because it's not a title that you've earned.  So why the Hell do people think it's socially acceptable to throw around titles like "Scream Queen" and attach them to any woman who has ever flashed their tits in front of a man with a knife?  If that was the case, every butcher's wife in New York can call themselves a "Scream Queen."  Acting isn't just some hobby, it's a serious business and the careers for many individuals.  Tainting a title that many people dream of someday having bestowed upon them by slapping it on as a catch-all for any actress in a horror film is just plain wrong. The title of a Scream Queen is earned, and until you've paid your dues...see the title as something to strive for.  We don't give out trophies here, they must be deserved.

Friday, August 16, 2013

I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE 2: NOTHING LIKE PROFITING OFF OF RAPE CULTURE

I have been avoiding this topic like an open container at a frat party, but seeing this poster has officially compelled me to finally give my two cents on the topic of I Spit On Your Grave 2.  I'll start this article like I start most of mine on the topic of ISOYG, with the reminder that this website gets its name from the original title of ISOYG, which was Day of the Woman.  The original 1978 film was a groundbreaking (and arguably misunderstood) look into the rape revenge subgenre of horror films.  Many people view the original film as exploitative, but the original I Spit On Your Grave was Meir Zarchi's attempt at working through his own personal anger towards the unnecessary violence he had witnessed firsthand towards women.  He has publicly stated numerous times that ISOYG was meant to serve as social commentary.  He forces audiences to witness the truth of how gritty and terrible rape is, and never gives the audience the luxury of looking away. To put it simply, he puts audiences in the same visual seat as a rape victim, and forces us to understand the cruelty and brutality behind this dastardly action. The original was also one of the first films to showcase rape victims as anything but a victim.  He showed an outlet for the rage that often sits within the hearts of survivors of rape and personified these feelings by letting his protagonist act upon those urges. I could write for days on this subject, but I've recently tackled this topic in a contributing article for a book that I will speak more about on a later date.

Fast forward to the remake. As much as I don't like the idea of remaking the original film (because this film was remade for the sake of being remade and NOT with the intent of sending a message) I understand why it was done.  The industry was at the peak of its remake craze and how else could you pack a punch more than remaking one of the most infamously brutal films of all time?  Look, I don't like the fact they remade the original, but I understand why it was done.  The remake is a step up cinematically with it's technical skills, but the script and heart of the original was completely lost and if I see one more comment praising the lead actress for looking "so hot" while she was nude, I will crack some skulls. She's being raped, you fucking perverts.

Remember this tagline? Oh yeah, that happened.
I digress. The remake was received with mixed reviews, but the majority seemed to find the film only successful because it was a better "made" film than the original.  Fair enough. I get it.  With the announcement of a sequel to that abomination, I am officially disgusted.  The first remake was made to make a profit off of the "hot ticket" crazes in the film industry. Okay, that's a smart business move, and that makes sense.  The sequel? Are you kidding me?  The first film didn't garner enough positivity to constitute a remake and the only thing "hip" about rape right now is the fact that the American government has skyrocketed their heads up their asses in terms of how to deal with women's reproductive rights and society's ever present idea that women who have sex are sluts and rape victims "deserve" it.  I'll even give the remake props in that it did somewhat capture the essence of the original, and sent a message about rape.
Hi. I like to make money off of a tragedy that affects 1/3 women instead of sending a message.
This film is doing nothing more than profiting off of rape culture.  They're using a crime that is still misunderstood and a silent epidemic as a "shock" tactic.  People thought the original was exploitative? Hell no. THIS is exploitative.  The original was made to be social commentary, this remake/sequel is being made to make money.  Good sequels are made to follow the storyline that couldn't be wrapped up in the original film, bad sequels are made to milk the cash cow left behind by the original.  This film is nothing more than trying to make a quick buck off of the very real tragedy that millions of people both men and women walk around with every day. This is a crime that leaves victims breathing, but unable to forget what they've endured...and instead of doing something strong willed with this knowledge and opportunity, they're trying to profit off of it.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

THE GAME CHANGER OF CINEMA: HOW THE INTERNET AND SOCIAL MEDIA AFFECTS THE HORROR FILM INDUSTRY

At any given moment, I am interactively connected to people all across the globe.  Instagram, twitter, facebook, linkedin, tumblr, blogger, wordpress, YouTube, and snapchat have given me the opportunity to communicate with a multitude of individuals from all different walks of life that I would never have be able to do without the aide of the internet.  the internet has undoubtedly shaped the way we live our daily lives, but it has also given us tools to pursue our dreams that generations before us could only write about in futuristic fantasy novels.  Is it wonderful that I can hear a stupid comment Rush Limbaugh said and know that there are millions that agree with me on his idiocy?  Yes.  But what gives me more pleasure is the fact that the internet has helped develop a community of like minded individuals to encourage and help (sometimes financially) lovers of film follow their dreams.  Considering just about everyone is on some form of social media site, it begs the question, can you make a movie in the digital age without it?

President Wolfman!!
The obvious answer is of course, "yes."  Of course you can make a movie without the aide of the triple w. (that's 90s slang for WWW or "world wide web," probably.)  However, if you want your movie to be SEEN, it's almost impossible without the aide of the internet.  Getting into festivals can be pretty difficult.  Not only can it be very costly, but getting into a festival doesn't guarantee that your film is going to get picked up, or reviewed, or even seen.  You very well could have a film screened at some bogus time slot and no one ever sees it.  Coming from someone that has attended a decent amount of festivals in their lifetime, there are a buttload of amazing films (both short and feature) that I have seen at festivals and have ONLY seen at festivals.  I can't share a film with my friends or promote them to watch/see it, because it was only available at a festival.  It sucks. Do you have any idea how much it sucks not to be able to show every single person I've ever met in my life PRESIDENT WOLFMAN?  That's right, you don't understand, because I can't friggin' show it to you and you are therefore unaware of its genius!  If a film does a festival run but nothing more, it greatly limits the audience size for viewing pleasure.  Don't get me wrong, I love me some film festivals, but I think their purpose is now nothing more than a way to maintain a sense of prestige in an industry that is constantly watering down content to be more marketable rather than showcasing artistic integrity.  There, I said it.  Seriously, what does your laurel even mean anymore?

Joe Lynch's Truth in Journalism
An area to examine is the technology boom that everyone celebrated.  Everyone champions a new era of filmmakers based on the technology of cameras, editing software, and all of the accessories that comes along with it.  What people ignore is how that new content is then distributed to new audiences.  It's great that everyone has Final Cut Pro, but what do you do when you're done editing?  Thanks to YouTube, Vimeo, and elsewhere, distribution now relies on audience's interest rather than that of a distributor.  Which, ironically, is what film festivals hope to attract.  To put it simply, even your middle man, has a middle man.  Sudance, Cannes, and SXSW are the "household names" that are even beginning to fade.  I can't tell you what film won the "top prize" at any of those festivals recently, but I can tell you that the Internet went absolutely stir-crazy over Joe Lynch's Truth in Journalism when it was released on YouTube last week.  We as a society have begun to change our tastes in terms of consumption.  Instant gratification gives way to prestigious packaging.  You could argue that we have shorter attention spans and become more morally debased in terms of our entertainment, but the reality is that we're more savvy in the media that we consume. It's the reason we're watching so many things through video on demand services and staying home to watch an entire season of Hemlock Grove on Netflix in one sitting.  It's the reason we're jumping with excitement over anthology horror films like V/H/S/ and craving highly buzzed films like YOU'RE NEXT after seeing our idols nerdgasm out about it all over twitter.  We don't even need reviews anymore, we just need one person on twitter to tell us something is cool, and we believe it.  With VOD services and online streaming platforms, what is the reason for me to even leave my home?

Katharine Isabelle in American Mary
Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to say that the theatrical experience is obsolete, because I disagree completely.  There is nothing and will never be anything quite like the magic of the movies.  Was it worth it to shell out the extra twenty dollars to see Pacific Rim in IMAX?  You bet your ass it was.  Do I want to bash the skull in on the person who continually tries to play Candy Crush on their phone in front of me in a dark movie theater? You bet your ass I do.  However, a good majority of the films I review for Day of the Woman or Icons of Fright are sent to me through filmmakers ONLINE or through mailed DVDs. I don't get to sit in a theater at a festival to write a review, I get sent a disc or a link with a password.  A large amount of the people who are telling you to go out and spend your money on movies, aren't even going to see the damn movie in the theater themselves.  I will never, ever, ever, EVER, promote not going to the theater, but there are so many incredible films that I've only gotten the opportunity to watch because of the internet.  It is because of these VOD services and legal downloads (seriously, don't pirate movies, asshole) that films like American Mary were given a chance to be picked up by distributors and showed the world The Soska Sisters (and transitive property, got them the See No Evil 2 gig).  It's because of these opportunities, we didn't have to wait to see V/H/S/2 despite living somewhere other than a major metropolis.  I hate to say it, but without the internet, there would be a lot less movie watching going on.  

The sweet tradeoff is with this connectivity, I can now reach out to a lot of these filmmakers, and so can you, unlike anytime before.  You can tweet at Wes Craven and tell him how his films changed your life. You can reblog the incredible smut off of Adam Wingard's tumblr to get an insight of how his mind works, and if you want any updates on Everly, the best place to look is on Joe Lynch's instagram feed. How cool is that? #verycool. Look, the internet is turning into Skynet whether we like it or not, my suggestion is that we learn to embrace it and mold it into a tool that we can utilize to benefit ourselves and our filmmaking, rather than completely turn against it like an angry toddler.  Movie theaters will never go out of style, but not supporting e-content and VOD is only going to hurt independent filmmakers, and those that aren't fortunate enough to attend festival screenings. Then again, well, that's just, like, my opinion, man.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

IZZY LEE'S "LEGITIMATE RAPE" KICKS MISOGYNY IN THE BALLS

Izzy Lee's disturbing short film, Legitimate Rape combines horror and politics in an extremely unsettling manner.  Opening with quite possibly the most infuriating quote ever uttered by a politician, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down," Izzy Lee takes Todd Aikin's moronic statement and completely spins it on its head.  The short film follows a Senator seated with some form of alcohol watching a sexy striptease from a woman clad in rope.  As she undoes her "constraints" with the aide of the Senator, his drink seems to hit him a bit harder than it should, and he passes out.  What starts out as a beautiful metaphor for the way women are constantly paraded in a male dominated society while congruently forced to exist within the strict confines of misogynist rules. (I'm speaking generally, of course.) immediately shifts left into a wild experiment with body horror.  Men cannot get pregnant. Period. If a man is raped he will not ever experience something growing inside of him without his consent.  This isn't to say that male rapes are any less traumatic or less important, but the fact of the matter is that men wouldn't ever need to have their bodies "shut that whole thing down" because they cannot get pregnant. Well, Izzy Lee tries to symbolically show the bodily violation of a female that doesn't have a body "shutting that whole thing down" but from the male perspective.  It's a little sexy, a little gory, but it delivers a message loud and clear.  Rape. Is. Rape.
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