Sunday, February 26, 2017

Women in Horror: Tomie

This volume is the complete collection of Tomie manga. Tomie starts out life as normal teenage girl who became pregnant in an affair with her teacher. When she tells him in a private moment during a class field trip, he starts to argue with her and another boy who had a crush on Tomie and overheard, causing Tomie to fall off the hill to her death. The class decides to cut up Tomie's body and drop the pieces around the city to save their beloved teacher from being blamed for murder. The girls keep watch while the boys strip to cut her up, but find that Tomie is still alive. The teacher murders her without hesitation and they go along with their plan, having each of the 42 students scatter pieces of her body. After the pieces were discovered and a funeral took place, Tomie returned to school as if nothing had happened. I thought this was her origin story, but she may be much older than this.

Tomie is an interesting supernatural figure that's hard to define. She's basically a succubus with incredible regenerative powers. Her attitude is aloof, vain, and jealous. She goes after men with her charm and her supernatural thrall until they fall in love with her and shower her with gifts and rich foods. Then she ridicules them and rejects them for someone else. Alternatively, men can become obsessed with her and she uses them as her puppets to do her bidding. When under her thrall, men have the urge to cut her into pieces either because of their great love or hatred of her. Only two men in the entire anthology resist her, but they eventually succumb in the end. Even women can be driven crazy by her either to become her or to commit acts of murder in jealousy. Every piece of her can regenerate into a new Tomie or infect someone to become another Tomie. Her regenerative powers accelerate when someone adores her, even if her body is cut up or charred. As a result, Tomie is basically immortal and it's hard to say how many Tomie's are running around.

Each chapter is usually a stand alone story, but near the end there are a couple of extended story arcs. The story that showed that Tomie was much more than a ghost was the second one, where her mutilated body is brought into the hospital and harvested for a kidney. The kidney in the girl's body grows Tomie's fully formed adult head first and then starts to grow the rest of her body. The girl gains Tomie's regenerative power and beauty, but also slowly turns into her by the end of the story. Most of the stories are about men or boys that fall in love with her and murder her, but there are some interesting variations. One has a little boy love her as a mother, lose his mind, and kill for her, denying his real family. Another has an elderly couple desperate for a daughter shower her with love and everything she could every want, but she still tears their relationship apart and she ends up in pieces. Another has a cult dedicated to her to give her everything she wants until they annihilate her and each other. Other stories involve multiple Tomie's trying to kill each other, her meat being mixed into sake to sell all over, and a couple raising her as a grotesque baby that set fires around the city to make her happy. No one escapes Tomie's curse completely. If by chance they survive, their lives and/or their sanity are ruined.

The story of Tomie brings to mind many stories of women being killed due to rejecting a man's romantic advances. These crimes are still commonplace. Tomie is the kind of woman men hate: one who is using them for financial gain and then rejects them after all of their efforts to woo her. They view Tomie as an easy target for rape or murder, but she almost always comes back for her revenge. One of the Tomie's line the struck me was "I have the right to choose you know." This is the root of why so many men hate her. She isn't a puppet to be controlled or a dispenser that gives out love or sex whenever they want. These men don't like that she's a person with her own will, even though she's so much more. This horrific anthology was a blast to read because I never knew what insanity was coming up next. In the horror genre, tropes are hard to escape, but Tomie is always surprising. At least once a chapter, a huge, detailed panel shows some horrific tableau like tiny Tomie's eating men underwater or the eldritch horror of Tomie's gigantic true form. I highly recommend this series if you aren't too squeamish plus the new hardback anthology is gorgeous and well made.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Women in Horror Mini-Reviews: Trouble Every Day and Consommé

* Trouble Every Day

* spoilers *

Americans and newlyweds Shane and June Brown travel to Paris for their honeymoon. What June doesn't know is that Shane desperately needs to find a neuroscientist to cure him of a terrible disease that puts his new bride in danger. Trouble Every Day is a slow film that essentially goes nowhere. It follows two couples: Shane and June, Léo and Coré. Shane frantically tries to find Léo while keeping June in the dark. June enjoys Paris as a tourist and stays rather oblivious until near the end. Léo is struggling to find a cure for a bizarre disease that forces the afflicted to eat their lover when they have sex. Coré is afflicted and locked in the house when her husband is gone. She typically gets out to brutally murder and eat men while having sex with them. Béatrice Dalle is amazing as Coré, magnetic, manic, and above all deranged. After her feeding frenzy, Coré loathes herself and her life that forces her to murder. She is no longer the gleeful hunter away from the sex and murder. Almost all of the scenes of sexual and cannibalistic violence are committed by Coré surprisingly enough, considering that sexual violence usually targets women.  

There's something about Shane that I simply didn't like. Maybe it's Vincent Gallo's vibe, but he seemed sleazy to me. I didn't want him to succeed and I wanted him to disappear. He constantly badgers the lab where Léo used to work, making them not want to even talk him. They finally give him Léo's address and he finds Coré covered in blood, lighting the house on fire. She attacks him and he leaves her dead to return home with no cure. June becomes upset after Shane rejects her and opts to masturbate in the middle of their lovemaking. He turns to a maid the film had previously followed through her day to day life for sex and bites her to death in the most brutal scene of cannibalism in the film. The fact that he bites her clitoris off really disturbed me, especially when Coré's attacks had not been as brutal. The film ends as it began with no cure and no hope. I like parts of Trouble Every Day. Béatrice Dalle is always amazing and Claire Denis' direction is unique. I can definitely see its place in French cinema especially in reference to the new French extremity movement. However, as a whole, it's disappointing and goes nowhere. There are long stretches of time that feel wasted.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

* Consommé

* spoilers *

A woman has a fight with a man and leaves her apartment in the middle of the night. She's automatically assaulted by street harassment including a guy telling her to smile and then calling her a bitch when she doesn't, a car that followers her and then lingers, and then finally a man who drags and kicks her into an alley to rape her. These scenes are intercut with future scenes of the woman waking up with bruises and cuts and feeling nauseous. Just when I thought it would end predictably, she turns and attacks him with a guttural cry, ripping into his flesh with her teeth. She bites of his ear first and makes a feast of his face. The film ends with her throwing up the ear and some flesh, flossing her teeth and brushing her teeth.

The woman is surrounded by male toxicity from whoever is yelling at her in her apartment to the random strangers that harass her to the one that decides to try to rape her. Her simply leaving the house seems to be an affront to these men. The man who tells her to smile and then calls her bitch is the typical reaction for a guy who is attracted to a woman and then has to insult her when he's soundly rejected or ignored. The other forms of street harassment are more invasive like the car following her every move. I'm sure the rapist expected an easy mark out by herself, but she most likely killed him for his trouble. I love the image in the end of her flossing his flesh out of her teeth like its a minor inconvenience and then going on with her day. She doesn't let harassment or attacks stop her from doing what she wants. She may be bruised and a little cut, but alive and ready to face the day. For a 5 minute film, it says volumes.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

* Sorry about the weird colors in the post. Copying and pasting accent marks was not a good idea. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

Women in Horror: Podcasts

Here are some more podcast episode to meet all of your Women in Horror needs.

* Nightmare on Film Street: Women in Horror: You're Next vs. The Descent (Head-to-Head)

Jon and Kim pit two excellent, female driven films against each other. First, they introduce Women in Horror Month and talk about female directors like Mary Harron, the Soska Sisters, and Karyn Kusama plus films like Carrie, Alien, Ginger Snaps, American Mary, and Silence of the Lambs with a bonus tangent about Bettie Page and slutshaming. They discuss You're Next and The Descent at length with some new insights to me. One reigns supreme over the other, so listen and find out which.

* Faculty of Horror episode 47: Caved In: The Descent (2005)

Alex and Andrea unpack The Descent, one of my favorite films, and talk about the nuanced characters, how they change throughout the film, the two endings, and a little bit about the incredibly unnecessary sequel.

* Final Girls Horrorcast Episode 21: Pregnancy Scares! Shelley and Antibirth

Aimee and Carly compare two pregnancy horror films Shelley and Antibirth. One is quiet and slow burning while the other is weird, but interesting and fun. They have almost completely different opinions from me and it's nice a hear a different perspective.

* Buffering the Vampire Slayer Episode 2.07: Lie to Me

Jenny and Kristin watched the seventh episode of the second season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer called Lie to Me. They talk about everything from the varying degrees of convincing lies told in the episode, the fashions, the growing relationships between the characters, and of course, the patriarchy. It's also a rare episode where the Cordelia jingle is not played. Listen to the very end for their song about the episode.

* Women in Caskets Episode 46: Sister Act

Dawn and Jen tackle A Tale of Two Sisters with writer Lilah Sturges, famous for Jack of Fables. They go through the original Korean folk tale and compare it to the film plus they show all the tropes and the way those tropes are subverted or maintained. My favorite part is where Lilah points out the quiet moments between the sisters that make their relationship beautiful and believable.

* The Girls in the Back Row Episode 63: A Tale of Two Sisters

Tab may be sick, but she along with Kate also review and analyze A Tale of Two Sisters for their Korean horror month. They offer an alternative view of the ghost plus observation that I completely missed. For instance, Kate shows how Suyeon is a shadow of Sumi and maybe not how she was in life.

* The Rants Macabre Episode 109: New French Extremity

Darren and Mindy join forces with Dawn and Jen from Women in Caskets to talk about mixed reactions to High Tension and Martyrs. They start with an interview with Alex West about her book Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity.

Did I miss some of your favorites? Comment below!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Women in Horror: Reaction to XX

One of the most disheartening things to see is the idiotic comments about the XX anthology film. I see some of the horror community branding it as gimmicky, meaningless, and unnecessary. There are not many women directors making mainstream films because it's hard for women to rise as directors in the entertainment industry in general, let alone in horror. I loved the film and I felt it took some typical stories and gave them a feminine twist from feminine perspectives. Some don't like it due to the content and that's fine, but many can't even point to specific things that they dislike. So many decry the film because they blatantly don't see how these films are any different than those made by men and therefore it shouldn't exist.

One in particular cited VHS, the anthology film, as featuring women but it wasn't critically acclaimed because they didn't use it as a gimmick to get viewers. What he, and many others, don't realize is that portrayal of women is extremely varied and often is misogynistic in horror films. VHS is particularly misogynistic. I reviewed it a few years ago in a mostly inarticulate way, but my sentiments are the same. The women in that film are succubi, murderers, or hapless victims with little to no character development or relation to the audience. We aren't really meant to relate to or sympathize with most of these women, making them soundly other. The wrap around story featured a woman's shirt being forcibly pulled up to reveal her breasts numerous times in an incredibly exploitative way. It was completely unnecessary to the story and just there to give the assumed male audience their diet of expected breasts in a horror film. I am unhappy that VHS is seen as the epitome of anthology films when it literally made my skin crawl to watch it. I find it incredibly frustrating that people think inclusion of women in film is enough when so many of those portrayals are either simple or insulting.

XX, on the other hand, has women as fully fleshed out characters that are relatable and imperfect. I am a little disappointed that the majority of the films focused on motherhood, but that's my only real critique. Other than that, I found the films so much different than the usual horror fare. Oftentimes, they took known stories and put their own fresh spin on it. I hope this means that more women directors will tapped to create films in bigger studios. So many make their films independently to preserve their vision like Anna Biller, director of The Love Witch. I hope XX is only one of a growing trend of women helming horror films that will hopefully grow to other genres as well. I also can't wait for Jen and Sylvia Soska's remake of Rabid and their mysterious original new project that they've mentioned on their social media. I know haters will be numerous for women director's work, but they can't stop progress.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Women in Horror: Gerald's Game

* spoilers *

Jessie Burlingame and her husband Gerald go to their secluded cabin in western Maine to take a romantic weekend together. Recently, Gerald has been spicing up their lovemaking with tying Jessie up that eventually led to handcuffing her. She is growing tired of the game and it makes her feel demeaned, but she goes along with it to make him happy. When they get started, she reaches her limit and demands to be released. Gerald, even knowing her protests are real, pretends to assume it's part of their game and goes to force himself on her. She responds with a double kick to the stomach and groin that leaves Gerald writhing on the floor. He has what looks like a heart attack and dies, leaving Jessie with both hands handcuffed to the bed, the door ajar, and the keys across the room.

Jessie is a typical wife with a typical husband. They've been drifting apart for years and both have regrets about their life as they near middle age. The light bondage in their lovemaking was the first fire they had seen in a long time. Unfortunately, Gerald chose to try to take advantage of her vulnerable position even after years of marriage together and I had no sympathy for his fate. However, Jessie is now trapped with no one expecting her. It could be a week before anyone thinks to look for her. Her world suddenly shrinks. Things across the room, including the keys to the handcuffs, may as well be in another universe as there's no hope of access. Her entire world centers around getting a cup of ice water for a little bit because it's an attainable goal and a necessity. She is at the mercy of anyone or anything that walks into the door.

Jessie isn't alone, not really. In her mind, she has a variety of voices giving commentary, advice, insults, doubts, or raving more and more as time passes and her panic, thirst, and hunger grows. The first voice that makes itself know is the Goodwife of Goody Burlingame, This hyper feminine voice tells her to keep the peace, keep her feelings buried, and go with the flow. She is the voice of what's socially acceptable, even encouraging her to let her husband rape her to keep her normal life. It turns out this voice is the one of herself at age 10, struggling to cope with her father sexually abusing her. That event happened to coincide with the solar eclipse, so her traumatic event seemed to even take the sun away. She had never really processed her feelings about it and kept quiet about it to preserve her family and her parents' already struggling marriage. Through this new traumatic experience, she returns to the eclipse to remember what happened and process her feelings. Looking back, her father had obviously planned it in advance and had taken advantage of Jessie's guilt and confusion to keep her quiet. These feelings, driven by the Goodwife, kept her in an unhappy marriage and isolated from people who cared about her.

The other voices are not as complacent as Goody. The second voice is that of her college roommate Ruth Neary. She is the exact opposite of the Goodwife, brash, direct, and above all honest. Real life Ruth knew Jessie was hiding something and wasn't afraid to push her for the truth. Jessie reacted by abruptly leaving and finding new housing because she didn't want all that stuff to resurface. Ruth's voice is one of the most vocal and gives her much needed reality checks even if it's harsh. Another voice is that of her ex-psychiatrist Nora Callighan who is less vocal, but gives her ways to center herself, calm down, and also unpack her feelings about the suppressed abuse. The real Nora helped her, but got too close to uncovering her past, causing Jessie to push her away as well. The other voices are UFOs that have depraved, weird things to say. They only serve to derail Jessie and keep her from acting with fear.

The horror of the book gets under your skin. She's vulnerable to anyone or anything that walks into the unlocked house. The first thing is a dog that eats pieces of dead Gerald. The second may or may not be real. She calls him a Space Cowboy and sees him only at night. His looks are grotesque with exaggerated features, abnormally long arms, and a box full of bones and jewelry. He smells like death and doesn't speak. Her biggest motivation to escape is this nightmarish creature. The biggest failing of the book is the epilogue type ending that tells you what happens after Jessie escapes. Her attempt to lie about what happened to the police is incredibly dumb especially when the evidence all points to the truth. It would have been scarier to keep the audience wondering if the Space Cowboy was real or not. It's my main criticism of Stephen King in general that he can't just leave things to the imagination and overdefines things at times. The only awesome part of the ending is the hope of Jessie getting on with her life and contacting Ruth to hopefully rekindle their friendship.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Women in Horror: The Stylist

* spoilers *

Hair stylist Claire is working late at the salon, waiting for her last customer. She's obviously had a hard day and looks forward to going home and relaxing. Her co-worker leaves just as her client arrives. The client appears to be a high powered business woman eager to look perfect for a work function to finally get the promotion she so sorely deserves. The woman relaxes with a glass of wine and Claire goes to work. After her hair is finished, the woman falls asleep as Claire expects. Claire slices the woman's scalp off and sets it aside. The woman suddenly wakes up, panicked and in pain. Claire tries to soothe her in an odd way and kills her when she won't calm down. Claire takes the scalp home to her basement with her collection of other scalps. She lights her candles and puts on the scalp like a wig. Her neck has a rash that is usually hidden by her hair and it obviously pains her to look at it. The film ends as she pretends to be the woman, imitating her words, smiling, and crying into the mirror.

The Stylist is surprisingly deep for it's short length of about 15 minutes. Women are pressured to look beautiful and compare themselves to other women. The business woman is successful and ambitious on top of her beauty. Claire is envious of her power and confidence and maybe of her money . She seems to not consider her own beauty or success as a hairstylist. What she perceives as her flaw is hidden from everyone else. It could be that one part of your body that you just loathe or try to minimize and hide, but it may not necessarily be a physical attribute. The rash is largely symbolic of that nagging voice that always tells you you're not good enough or pretty enough, that inner fear and timidity underneath the facade. Outwardly, Claire seemed confident and put together. Inside and alone, she is unsatisfied, envious, and above all unhappy.

The scalp removal and murder of the business woman can also be linked to real life. Women sometimes tear other women down to build themselves up. Envy and unhappiness can make people lash out at others to feel superior, especially when social pressures and feelings of inadequacy are involved. Claire hurts the woman and steals what Claire views is her source of beauty. However, when Claire puts it on, she's a grotesque parody of that woman. Even her voice sounds fake on top of having another woman's bloody scalp on her head. Trying to copy another person and trying to take what makes them special never works out. Each person has different things that drive them and make them unique, as much as society tries to make us think that one type of person is better than another. To go against that is to turn into that same grotesque parody of someone else and be just as miserable as Claire is at the end of the film. Even though her actions are violent and terrible, they are motivated by her inner dissatisfaction that she isn't perfect or the societal ideal. Her process is very practiced and almost ritualized, showing that she has done this many times before.

The Stylist shows how nuanced and apt horror films can be. I think a lot of women can either relate to Claire or know women like Claire. I loved how Najarra Townsend portrayed her. It would have been easy to make her some sort of raging, psychotic person, but there was an accessible vulnerability to her. The ending in particular is so well done. The manic voice of her pretending to be perfect juxtaposed with her very real tears gives that nuance that makes a difference. The Stylist is a short worth your time, currently available on Shudder.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Monday, February 20, 2017

Women in Horror: Rosemary's Baby

Newlyweds Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse move to a quaint but rich New York apartment building populated with equally quaint elderly people. Rosemary is a housewife and Guy is an actor trying to gain traction in show business. They are idyllically happy as only newlyweds can be, just starting out their lives together. The first indication that something is wrong is when Minnie and Roman Castavets ward commits suicide. Rosemary meets her in the laundry room and they had a pleasant conversation, so the tragedy comes as a shock. Terry was a drug addict living on the street until the old couple took her in, providing everything for her in a rare act of generosity. The Castavets befriend Rosemary and Guy, inviting them over for dinner and taking them under their wing. When Rosemary becomes pregnant under suspicious circumstances, she is convinced that her neighbors aren't so friendly, but is she crazy or are her neighbors plotting something?

Rosemary is a waifish, beautiful woman with aspirations to be a good mother and devoted wife. At the beginning of the film, she is deliriously happy with her new home and her new husband. She's quite childlike and satisfied with her husband's decisions without question. When they view the apartment, Rosemary begs for Guy to get the apartment like a child begging a parent for a toy. Her life is falling into place until she experiences a nightmarish dream where she is raped. She awakens covered in scratches and her husband claims to have raped her when she was asleep in order to conceive. His offhand admission is insane and he doesn't even recognize it as something to be upset about. This is the first inkling of any opposition from Rosemary. She protests a little, but doesn't make a solid stand against him, returning to complacency.

Rosemary becomes pregnant from the union and asserts herself with a short pixie haircut. Guy immediately and harshly the only thing she's actually chosen for herself. Meanwhile, she goes to Dr. Sapirstein, an obstetrician recommended by the Castavets, who provides her with "natural" remedies instead of vitamins. Her first three months of pregnancy are hellish with severe pain, weight loss, and cravings for raw meat. When she has a party, she realizes how potentially serious her condition could be when her friends are shocked at her condition. Rosemary realizes how isolated she has been with only Guy, the Castevets, and their approved doctor trying to convince her that she is fine. This also rings true today when it's well documented that women in pain or distress are distrusted often by medical professionals. Her friend Hutch volunteers to look into the tannis root she's being fed, but he falls into a coma before he can tell her.

When she suddenly gets better, Rosemary forgets all about any doubts she had about her neighbors or her doctor and becomes absorbed with her pregnancy and preparing for the baby. When Hutch dies, she finally receives his findings, which outs Roman as related to a known Satanist. She jumps to the conclusion that her neighbors, Dr. Sapirstein, and Guy are part of a cult that want to hurt her baby, which isn't so far fetched due to their efforts to isolate her from her young friends and other professionals. Rosemary sneaks out of the house and goes to Dr. Hill, her previous obstetrician, with her concerns that sound insane to him. He placates her and then calls her husband to come pick her up. This moment really illustrates how Rosemary has no agency no matter how hard she tries. Everyone around her treats her like a stubborn child who doesn't know what's best for her. She only seems to gain agency because she wants to protect her child, but is smacked down again and again.

Rosemary goes into labor and wakes up to find everyone around her saying that her child died in childbirth. She's convinced it isn't true and doesn't stop snooping until she finds her baby surrounded by her neighbors and Guy as they hail Satan. It's revealed that Satan impregnated her in exchange for a boost in Guy's career. Guy is one of the biggest scumbags in movie history because he treated his wife as an object to be borrowed and used. He never gave a thought for her as a person; he felt like he owned her and he considered her ordeal rather minor in comparison to what he got in exchange. The Castavets and their Satan worshiping friends are no better as they use the young and fertile as objects to further their goal, going against the natural order. Terry's suicide shows that they've tried this before and their generosity had a dark, exploitative side. The film ends with Rosemary accepting her monstrous child and working with the cult. I personally hated this because Rosemary's journey to realization essentially means nothing. She is satisfied to stay a puppet to her husband and the cult with no agency.

Rosemary's Baby is a well made film that is rightfully a classic. However, I find the actual story so disappointing because of Rosemary's final decision. It's important that it critiques society and their treatment of women, but the ending kind of seems like it's supposed to a happy one because Rosemary gets her baby. I also find Roman Polanski deplorable as a person. He has had a life of tragedy, but it doesn't excuse sexually assaulting a teenage girl and escaping his he received as a result. I was always very against watching his films because of this, but his Apartment trilogy is also universally lauded and influence so many films even today. It's a complex and uncomfortable issue that everyone processes differently.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Women in Horror: XX

 XX is a horror anthology directed exclusively by women with 4 short films plus a connecting short interspersed between them.

* The Box, directed by Jovanka Vuckovic and based on a short story by Jack Ketchum

Susan and her husband Robert have an idyllic life and wonderful children Danny and Jenny. Susan and her children ride the train home after a day of ice skating, hot chocolate, and licorice. They happen to sit next to a man with a shiny red present that piques Danny's curiosity and he asks about its content. The man shows him and he's never the same after that. Danny refuses to eat at all and goes days without eating. Slowly, the condition passes to Jenny and then Robert, until Susan is the only one unaffected in her starving family.

The Box is my favorite segment because of its tense and uneasy atmosphere. When Danny and the others get sick, they simply refuse food. No tantrums or any emotion, just a simple statement of "I'm not hungry." Susan is at a loss for what to do. After 5 days, they take Danny to the hospital. Both men in the short, the doctor and Robert, seem to blame Susan for the condition and make pointed comments. The doctor demands why they didn't come sooner and Robert silently blames Susan as if it was her sole decision to wait. Later, Robert doesn't understand how Susan can eat while her children starve. Susan doesn't have an explosive reaction like Robert does when he screams at his son to eat pizza. She's able to take care of herself and keep her emotions in check, but others see it as being emotionally cold and uncaring.

This story illustrates that no matter how hard you work to make your family safe, how perfect your home is, or how good of a parent you are, your family might still be in danger from outside forces. The thing in the box is never identified because it doesn't matter. This unknown object destroys her family anyway. Her anxieties about it go inward instead of outward, resulting in a horrific dream where her family eats her while she smiles. This shows that she would give anything to heal her family, even her life, but nothing helps. The Box is chilling in its content and its lack of firm answers.

My rating: 5/5

* The Birthday Party, written and directed by Annie Clark and co-written by Roxanne Benjamin

Mary is frantically getting ready for her daughter Lucy's birthday party, straightening things and making sure everything is just right. Carla, Lucy's nanny, notices that Mary's husband David came home, but Mary doesn't believe her until she finds his dead body in her study. Now Mary frantically tries to find a place to hide his body while hiding from Carla, Lucy, and random people who come to the house.

Melanie Lysnkey embodies Mary and her anxious need to make everything perfect. Mary is obviously very concerned with appearing perfect and having everything in order, but above all of that, she loves Lucy. Lucy's birthday party must be perfect because it would be incredibly traumatic for her to see her dead father on her birthday. Mary dodges everyone to cover up the body and comes up with the most ridiculous solution. I seriously laughed at length when watching it because of the surreal, darkly hilarious situation and exaggerated reactions of the characters. Behind the humor, Mary truly shows her love for Lucy and David. Appearances mean a lot to her, but she decides to hide the body rather than shower, dress, do her makeup, or further beautify the house. Lucy means more to her than her OCD tendencies or her neverending journey to perfection. She also puts aside her own feelings about the death to keep the day normal for her daughter. Mary is also truly horrified and distraught over her husband's death and even takes the time to give him a tender hug that shows how loving their relationship was. Despite all her efforts, the party doesn't go as she would have liked.

My rating: 4.5/5

* Don't Fall, written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin

Gretchen, her girlfriend Jess, her brother Paul, and her friend Jay go on a hike in a fairly unknown area. While rock climbing, they find ancient paintings on boulders where Gretchen gets stung by a bug or something. That night, Gretchen undergoes a monstrous transformation and brutally attacks her friends and loved ones.

This was my least favorite of the segments because it was the most straight forward and didn't feel like it fit in with the rest of them. However, it was an enjoyable creature feature with a wonderful transformation scene and moments of suspense and gore. One aspect of the horror is unknowingly disturbing ancient evil that will take its revenge. Another aspect is in the human side. Gretchen is often the butt of jokes because of her timid nature and fear of heights and bugs. The others view her as weak and they goodnaturedly (to them) tease her. The monster is symbolic of Gretchen tiring of the teasing and fighting back (of course in an overexaggerated way). Don't Fall is gory fun, but pales in comparison to the rest of the stories.

My rating: 3/5

* Her Only Living Son, written and directed by Karyn Kusama

Cora is a single mother raising her rebellious teenage son Andy in an odd way. They typically move frequently to avoid Andy's father and live their lives in peace. Andy's rebellious ways reach dangerous levels when he nails a squirrel to a wall, tears the fingernails off of a classmate, and comes home covered in blood. Then his father comes to collect him.

Cora through most of the story is a lot like the frazzled mother from The Babadook. She doesn't want to acknowledge that something is deeply wrong with her son or address his abhorrent behavior in any way. Her actions approve of her son's behavior as she covers up evidence and cleans up his gruesome messes. Cora is forced to confront what her son has done at school in a meeting with the principal. This scene is significant in a couple ways. Cora sees her son's violent acts completely for the first time instead of seeing the aftermath. She's understandably horrified. The reaction of the school is to praise Andy and label the attacked girl as overreacting. This moment on one hand shows that there's something deeper going on and on the other hand brings to mind real life moments of white boys getting little to no punishment for acts against girls due to privilege. The fact that the girl is a minority and female means that she's denounced as emotional and unreliable. The whole scene was shocking to watch.

This seems to be similar to the film The Omen, but with Damien all grown up. Followers that worship him start popping up randomly and are sometimes even people who they've known for years. Andy struggles with his inherent evil and his free will to do good. Previously, Cora had tried to protect Andy by withholding vital information from him and it affected him anyway. The ending has their boundaries finally going down and sharing with each other in a beautiful scene. It's a powerful segment about motherhood and the anxiety of raising someone monstrous despite every effort to do the opposite.

My rating: 4/5

The anthology is framed by a stop motion story directed by Sofia Coabout a walking house with doll part features seeking something to make a mechanical girl come to life. It's unnerving and beautiful at the same time and keeps with the overall theme of motherhood. The story is clear even though no words are uttered.

Overall rating: 4/5

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Women in Horror: Women in Caskets Podcast

Women in Caskets is an excellent podcast hosted by Jen and Dawn who cast a critical eye on the horror genre through a feminist lens. They aren't afraid to call out misogyny or toxic tropes or lazy writing. Their podcast are always refreshing to listen to especially with so many dudebro, overmasculine horror podcasts out there.

* Women in Caskets episode 45: The Love Director

Jen and Dawn interview Anna Biller, director of feminist film The Love Witch. It's a 60's throwback visually with a modern feminist critical view of society mixed with some modern technology. I've seen the film and the insight into Anna Biller's vision changed my view of the film. Because Elaine is so narcissistic, her true view of things is sometimes hard to see, but Biller's explanation of the scene with the cake was a significant one that changed my assessment of the character.

* Women in Caskets episode 2: Last Woman Standing

Jen and Dawn describe the final girl, her origins, and her role in film from the origins of the slasher genre to today. They cite Carol Clover's Men, Women, and Chainsaws because it lays out the slasher formula right from the beginning to show where the final girl started. Jen and Dawn go a step further and categorize the subcategories of final girls typically seen in other horror subgenres as well. The final girl falls into these tropes: noble virgin, genre savvy heroine, warrior woman, wounded warrior, and protector/mother. They describe final girls throughout film history and describe which tropes they fall into. It's a great place to start if you aren't familiar with these tropes.

* Women in Caskets episode 21: "The Gift" that Keeps on Giving

Jen and Dawn hear about an awful twist in the film The Gift that involves a woman being raped and then being lied to so she won't even know about it and use that as a jumping off point to talk about how rape is used in horror films. It's usually a lazy shorthand for making someone horrible and making that rape more important to the male character rather than the woman it actually happened to. This also ties in with the Carol Clover book, but this podcast points out the more misogynistic elements of rape revenge films. Films critiqued include the originals and remakes of The Last House on the Left, I Spit on Your Grave, and The Hills Have Eyes plus The Gift and American Mary.

* Women in Caskets episode 13: The List

Jen and Dawn give a top 10 list of feminist horror films for a jumping off point if you aren't familiar with the genre. They have caveats for each film and no film is perfect, but they describe how and why the films deserve to be on the list and how each film can be problematic. The only film I hadn't seen on the list was The Host (2007 Korean film not the Stephenie Meyer one) and I Spit on Your Grave, which put them on the top of my watch list.

I haven't listened to all of their episodes yet and other ones look very promising like Episode 20: Merry Black Christmas Pt.2 covering the original version, Episode 22: Taking a Bite Out of Sex Ed covering Teeth, and Episode 32: Subverting "the Final Girls" covering the movie The Final Girls. Check out their awesome podcast, especially if you are interested in looking at horror in a different way.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Women in Horror: Under the Shadow

* spoilers *

Under the Shadow tells the story of Shideh and her daughter Dorsa's lives in 1980's Iran. Shideh is an outsider in many ways in this society. The film opens with Shideh begging to return to university to become a doctor, but getting denied due to her political activism during the Iranian Revolution. Her progressive views and willingness to fight for them puts her at a disadvantage and she's stuck as a housewif when she doesn't want to be. In her apartment building, she's the only woman who drives. In the sanctuary of her home, she wears more comfortable clothing, watches movies and workout tapes on her contraband VCR, wears more revealing workout clothes, and vents her anger and frustration. Outside of her home, Shideh has to be properly covered and act demurely enough to escape notice. She is essentially forced to keep her true self suppressed in a reactionary society that would doel out grave consequences if she didn't.

Her husband Iraj doesn't suffer as Shideh does. He chose to continue with his studies instead of protesting or fighting and currently practices as a doctor. This is a source of tension between the two because he has everything she wants because of his gender and his choice to do nothing during the revolution. His assessment of her not being able to return to her schooling is "it's for the best," which is so incredibly rude especially from his place of privilege. He is not supportive at all and seems only self serving. He is drafted onto the front lines as a medic, but hides the notice from Shideh. When she isn't happy with that, he twists her words to mean she doesn't love him or Dorsa. He commands her to stay with his parents even when she made it clear that she can take care of Dorsa herself. His actions and words constantly undermind her and go against her wishes. He obviously agrees with his society's view of women through his actions even if he doesn't explicitly state it.

War is ever present in Shideh's everyday life. Explosions are heard while she's at the university and gunfire and alarms are typical occurances. Everyone places tape on their windows so they won't shatter when explosions got off nearby. It gets closer every day until an unexploded missile becomes lodged in the ceiling of her apartment building. In an incredibly tense scene, Shideh administers CPR to a medically fragile man a few feet away from this missile that might explode at any moment. A crack forms in their ceiling that gets bigger and bigger, threatening Shideh's sanctuary that she's made for herself and her daughter. To me, this danger is much more present and dangerous than the supernatural djinn. The very real war that threatens their lives provides much more terror and tension throughout the film. It also acts to isolate them as more and more of their neighbors leave until it's just Dorsa and Shideh alone.

The djinn is an uncommon supernatural creature and it's mythology is unfamiliar to me. In this film, djinn's can possess people after stealing something of they treasure above all else. This information comes from a mute boy who lost his parents in war and from an elderly neighbor. Shideh scoffs at this, but Dorsa can't find her beloved doll Kimia. Mother and daughter are pitted against each other when Dorsa thinks Shideh stole Kimia and Shideh thinks Dora destroyed her work out tape, which was the only release for her stress. After a frightening encounter with the djinn, Shideh runs outside without being properly covered and is shortly after arrested. She's given a warning, but shamed for going out looking so inappropriate. This was a surreal scene. Discounting the djinn, it's a war zone at this point and the state of her clothing seems very low on the priority list. It serves as a reminder within the supernatural elements that the oppressive society has their values and will enforce them no matter what.

At first, I thought the djinn was underdeveloped and cartoonish looking. I didn't realize that it's form was a chador, a cloth to cover the head and upper body of women leaving the face exposed. The djinn is a supernatural embodiment of the oppressive society and the real life horrors. It turns people against you who love you and takes the things you treasure most. For Shideh, her treasured item was a medical text book that was a gift from her mother. It represents her hopes and dreams to be a doctor that were taken from her and made impossible. Dorsa's beloved item is Kimia, but in the future, her career might be unreachable for the same reason. The end of the film has the two escaping, but the djinn still has the textbook and Kimia's head, showing that they aren't truly free and will continue to be held back and denied if they live in Iran.

Muy rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Women in Horror: Men, Women, and Chainsaws

Men, Women, and Chainsaws is a film theory book that I've heard referenced since I've been getting more interested in gender and horror. I couldn't get it for years because it was out of print and/or super expensive, but now it's reprinted and accessible. I was daunted at first because I know from literature that theory books aren't always the most entertaining read, but the majority of the book is easily readable and engaging. Carol Clover lays out the formulas for three different horror subgenres and references numerous films (mostly in the 70's) to support her claims as well as other film theorists, Freud, 17th and 18th century views of gender, among others.

The first chapter, focuses on the formula for slasher films. The villains are typically frozen in development in some way like Michael Meyers or have some sort of muddled sexuality like Leatherface. Most of them have an overbearing mother or some sort of obsession with their mother like Norman Bates. Their choice of weapons are knives and chainsaws instead of guns. Their victims can be male or female, usually young adults, but the final one is always female. This final girl is more aware of her surroundings, less distracted, and usually romantically unavailable. Clover theorizes that she's more masculine so the male audience can relate more to her than the other more feminine and frivolous teen victims. Sometimes the final girls only survive by sheer chance, but others survive due to fighting back. Clover calls her the victim-hero because she suffers through the whole film watching her friends die, being hunted, and knowing that she's being hunted. Looking at this formula in the present, I see plenty of films that follow it, but in recent years, many break out of or mock this formula like Tucker and Dale vs. Evil and Cabin in the Woods.

The second chapter illustrates the formula for possession films. The person (or thing in the case of Christine) possessed is almost always female because they are more vulnerable to the supernatural and underneath all their decency, they still could become witches. They are usually possessed by male entities and act in horrific ways outside of how women should act, like grotesque sexuality and foul language. These possession stories are never actually about the women being possessed, but about what that possession means to a man in the situation. I don't think I realized this was a feature in every film in this subgenre and it makes sense why it's one of my least favorites. The women are violated and essentially raped, only to serve as a journey for the man on the outside rather than one for that woman. A prime example is The Exorcist where Reagan and her possession serve as a spiritual epiphany for Father Merrim in his crisis of faith while Reagan remembers nothing of her ordeal. I haven't seen a whole lot of change in this genre in recent years. The possessed tend to be more violent rather than sexual, but the possession as a vehicle for male character and plot development still happens all the time.

The third chapter focuses on rape revenge films, which is a genre I'm honestly not very familiar will. Clover talks about how along with the gender conflict, a country and city conflict that goes along with that. The country folk are poor, unhealthy, uneducated, and unemployed. They might also have sexually depraved relationships with animals or their own family members. They blame their improverished situation on city people due to industrialization destroying nature and big businesses crushing their smaller businesses. The city people are either women or considered feminized men. The country people attack and violate city people for revenge, only to have those people come back to exact revenge as well. The lower versions of rape revenge films have women exacting their own revenge, which gives them agency and power. It also often criticizes the justice system that rarely works in favor of these rape victimes. The more celebrated versions like The Accused have the justice system come out in their favor and obscure that criticism. The remade versions of these films seem to be glossier versions that don't bring anything new to a modern audience. Although these films can be exploitative and uncomfortable to watch, I have renewed interest in watching them because of Clover's analysis.

The last chapter is about meta horror films. More obviously meta films like New Nightmare, Scream, and Cabin in the Woods hadn't been made yet, so Clover's focus is the film Peeping Tom. Mark films his female victims while he kills them, making the audience view the scene through his eyes. He recreates scenes reflected from his own abusive childhood. Clover puts forth that this film critiques the masochistic viewer looking at the sadistic filmmaker's violent production. This chapter as a whole is more scattered and less focused, mostly because of the state of meta horror at the time. I would love to see her or anyone else take a second analytic look at these same (plus more) genres and analyze how they have changed or stayed the same.

Men, Women, and Chainsaws has an illuminating look at horror genres still alive and well today. Clover has some strong arguments and views films and subgenres. I don't always agree with her rationales or citations. I don't agree with Freud's psychoanalytic theories and I don't think a single sex model (where men and women are essentially the same gender) is an accurate representation of cinema. She talks a lot about how cameras and weapons of various types are phalluses that the final girls then take for power at the end of the films. In some cases, like the sexually charged scene in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 between Leatherface and Stretch, I can see how it would be considered to be that, but I think it's overreaching at times. Overall, this film theory book offers a solid breakdown and analysis of different subgenres and how men and women are treated in them.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Women in Horror: Upcoming Films Part 2 + Updates

* The Blackcoat's Daughter

The Blackcoat's Daughter AKA February looks atmospheric and creepy with missing parents, devil worshipping, religion, boarding schools, and gossipping teenage girls. So many of the screenshots look artfully beautiful and eerie at the same time. I'm anticipating impressive perfomances from Emma Roberts, Kiernan Shipke, and Lucy Boynton. I've heard things both good and bad about it, but I have high hopes. This film hits limited theaters March 31.

* Personal Shopper

Personal Shopper has a woman looking for signs from her twin brother who passed away. In the meantime she works as a personal shopper to someone who looks rich and famous. It seems like she may have gotten a response, but not the one she wanted or expected. Kristen Stewart is a controversial actress mostly because of her Twilight fame, but I'm willing to give her a chance. I enjoyed her performance in American Ultra. US release for the film is set at March 10.

* Wish Upon

Wish Upon has a teenage girl find a music box that gives her seven wishes. They seem to actually come true to terrible results. The wish for someone to rot seems to be the most the gruesome. The wishing box is a fun design and the music it produces is appropriately eerie. This film seems to capture the drama and brutality of the teenage experience. I'm in! Set to release June 30.


* Shudder is getting into theatrical releases for the first time and acquired the rights for Prevenge to hit theaters in Los Angeles and New York after it screens at SXSW.

* XX is in theaters near me at the Frida Cinema in Santa Ana and the Laemmle in Santa Monica. Check out the site to see if it's playing near you!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Women in Horror: Pet

* spoilers *

Pet starts with Seth, an Animal Control worker, who is lonely and shy. He sees a beautiful waitress named Holly and succeeds in royally creeping her out, causing her to soundly reject him. Instead of leaving her alone, he researches her extensively online and obsessively follows her around. A series of cringeworthy and awkward situations follow as he tries to apologize to her and continues to hound her. After stealing her journal, he breaks into her house and kidnaps her, taking her to the Animal Control office and locking her in a cage. Seth is the quintessential "nice guy" who insists that women go for bad guys and complain about being friend zoned as if his female friends owe him sex. This pathetic, delusional person can't understand why woman he deems himself worthy of wouldn't want him.

At this point, I assumed I knew what was going to happen. This type of women in captivity films aren't varied much and typically end the same way. Seth first defines the boundaries for Holly, which is so ridiculous since he kidnapped her from her bed. He claims his intention is to save her, but her scantily clad and vulnerable state in a cage would state otherwise. One of his grievances against her is that she's a different person in public than in her journal. Literally everyone is a different person in public than how they are inside. He seems to be angry that she isn't as perfect as the idealized woman he imagined in his head. His whole power trip and attitude are infuriating and are in no way justified, even when Holly's true nature is finally revealed.

On the surface, Holly is a normal woman with uncommon beauty and kindness. Underneath, her thirst for killing has been growing ever since she killed her best friend Claire in a fit of jealous rage. It continued to grow as she killed homeless people she figured no one would miss. Holly feels in control and powerful when she kills people and can't stop. Claire is still with her as a sarcastic voice guiding her through and commenting on her life. If Seth really wanted to stop her and help her, he would have called the police instead of committing numerous crimes. Holly isn't helpless and uses her considerable power against him even trapped in a cage. At first, it's a struggle of dominance that goes back and forth, but Holly is determined to survive and has an advantage over Seth. He thinks he's in love with her, so he craves her attention. He also craves control which he forcibly has over her but doesn't have over his own life.

Holly proves to be a force to be reckoned with even demoralized and in captivity. She uses her emotions as weapons against him. Seth assumes he has her all figured out and assumes she's a basically good person whose motivation is guilt. She exploits that plus his love for her to the fullest. In a key scene, Seth's co-worker finds Holly. In a brilliant, unexpected move, she stalls him from freeing her and makes Seth think the only option is to kill him. Seth is forced to dispose of his friend's body by chopping it up and feeding it to the dogs in the center, a gruesome chain of events. He is forced to commit an act that brings her joy, but only leaves him with disgust and misery. This punishment is even better than escape to her.

Seth's lies about his co-worker's disappearance are falling apart around him. Holly exploits his desperation by not responding to him at all, taking away any comfort or sense of control he had from her. His life spinning out of control pushes him over the edge and he agrees to cut off his finger to show his devotion for her. She grabs the knife and threatens to kill herself if he doesn't let her loose, a genuis move since his mental fortitude is already at its breaking point. The film ends with Holly and her boyfriend Eric when she discovers proof of Eric's continued infidelity. Instead of succumbing to her murderous rage, she visits Seth, showing signs of torture and mutilation, in a cage of his own stored in a storage unit. This ending is perfect. Seth's show of power gets turned on him and he's victimized and exploited in the same manner she was.

I had pretty low expectations going into Pet and it had surprise after surprise. The ending is completely unexpected. The story calls to mind real life fears of women being kidnapped, stalked, or attacked where women feel powerless. Holly completely turns it around and shows strength in the most powerful of situations. I'm not sure if Seth was supposed to be relatable, but I found him to be a worm of a person with very little to admire or root for. I found Holly's strength in such a hopeless situation much more inspiring despite her alternative view of morality. Ksenia Solo is pitch perfect and subverts so many expectations as Holly.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins