Produced by: Luca Guadagnino, Theresa Park, Marco Morabito, David Kajganich, Francesco Melzi d’Eril, Lorenzo Mieli, Gabriele Moratti, Peter Spears, Timothée Chalamet
Cast: Taylor Russell, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, André Holland, Chloë Sevigny, David Gordon Green, Jessica Harper, Jake Horowitz, Mark Rylance, etc.
Cinematography: Arseni Khachaturan
*** CONTAINS STORY SPOILERS ***
After reviewing The Menu (2022) last time out, here’s another film where food and eating and death are at the very marrow of the narrative. I must confess though it’s very difficult to discuss the excellent hybrid genre film, Bones and All (2022) without giving away the main ingredient within this film. So, I give prior warning that I’m going to have to reveal it in the review. I will state therefore if this film had been called, Fine Young Cannibals, I would not have been surprised in the least. Because the theme of people eating human meat is at the heart of the story.
Bones and All (2022) is not a B-movie zombie film with bloody images of flesh-eating monsters devouring people. Yes, there are some gory scenes to satisfy horror fans, however, this arthouse adaptation of Camille DeAngelis’ 2016 novel, is more subtle and sympathetic to the young protagonists with a yearning for mortal flesh. Here murder and cannibalism occur, but it is represented as a curse for both Maren (Taylor Russell) and Lee (Timothee Chalamet), who struggle with their consumptive urges. Moreover, the feeding on flesh is highly symbolic, representing a sensual and almost religious experience for the couple. As they travel across various States, they grow as characters and people. They also explore their own love and share other people’s bodies, romance bleeding through in the process.
Bones and All (2022) is set in the 1980s. It begins with teenager Maren living with her father (Andre Holland) in Virginia. After hitting eighteen years of age, and causing a particularly nasty event at a friend’s sleepover, she is abandoned by him. Left with a cassette tape explaining her family history, Maren sets out to find her mother, meeting Lee along the way. The two are immediately drawn to each other and while driving set about sating their desire for fresh meat. This causes conflict between the couple as it is clear they are not comfortable with the nasty business of killing. Unlike the pursuing serial-killer-trophy-collecting antagonist, Sully (Mark Rylance). He is a venal force of nature, taking animalistic glee during the sacrifice of his victims.
Bones and All (2022) is directed with glacial majesty by Luca Guadagnino. He expertly blends and cooks the genres of horror, period drama, rites-of-passage, romance and road movie with a well balanced approach to tone. Extracting attractive performances from Chalamet and Russell, their onscreen chemistry is potent and touching. Acting legend Mark Rylance steals the show though as the slithery Sully. Overall, I felt the film could have been cut for pace slightly and the Romeo and Juliet-with-a-twist ending was too tragic for me. I think, despite their cannibalistic needs, Maren and Lee deserved a future together. But ultimately it’s all a matter of taste.
Screenplay by: Harry Bromley Davenport, Michel Perry, Iain Cassie, Robert Smith
Story by: Harry Bromley Davenport, Michel Perry
Produced by: Mark Forstater
Cast: Bernice Stegers, Philip Sayer, Simon Nash, Maryam d’Abo, Danny Brainin etc.
Cinematography: John Metcalfe
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
Being a fan of the horror genre never fails to spring surprises, especially if you also love trashy-B-movie-exploitation-video-nasties too. Because what often occurs is a hidden or buried or previously banned film will reanimate and be located on one of the many streaming platforms we have today. I am both surprised and even more joyous if I find I have never even seen the said film. This is certainly the case with low-budget alien monster film, XTRO (1982).
There I was pressing play via Amazon Prime, thinking it was another schlocky American indie I had missed from yesteryear, only to discover Xtro (1982) is actually a bizarre British film which twists and riffs on the box office hit that was ET: Extra Terrestrial (1982). Xtro (1982), directed by Harry Bromley Davenport, is not a comforting family science fiction drama like its more famous counterpart though. Instead, it is a gory sci-fi shocker with many outrageously violent set-pieces and a budget lower than E.T.’s lunch bill.
Critically damned at the time, Xtro (1982), when released on home video in 1983, was subject to a prosecution case in relation to British obscenity laws and labelled a “video-nasty”. Watching it now I have to admit it is quite shocking still, but the practical effects are so gloriously over-the-top they are more humorous than sickening. Having said that there are some memorably gruesome moments involving alien births, crazy clowns, a live “Action Man” doll, weird space eggs, and transformative man-into-monster effects.
The film doesn’t hang about establishing character but propels, from the opening scene of a father playing in the garden with his son, straight into the disappearing parent plot. The father (Philip Sayers) vanishes without a trace and three years later his wife (Bernice Stegers) and son are attempting to repair their lives. Yet, the boy is suffering horrific nightmares when suddenly his father reappears attempting to reconcile. The familial drama within the script itself could have been further developed to some emotional impact. However, while Bernice Stegers gives a decent dramatic performance, the film soon descends into a mix of surreal and insane set-pieces, combined with the father’s metamorphosis into something from another world.
There’s much to like and much to loathe about, Xtro (1982), notably the gratuitous nudity sprinkled throughout. Yet, if you are drawn to exploitational B-movies there is much sick entertainment to be found in the blend of impressive practical effects and creature moments. Philip Sayer and Bernice Stegers keep the shlocky elements of the plot in check with sane acting performances and despite some eccentric writing throughout Harry Bromley Davenport and his team have delivered an out-of-this-world bona fide B-movie cult classic.
Cast: Felissa Rose, Katherine Kamhi, Paul DeAngelo, Mike Kellin, Karen Fields, Desiree Gould, etc.
Music by: Edward Bilous
Cinematography: Benjamin Davis, David M. Walsh
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
Whatever you do please do not read anything about this cult classic horror film from 1983. It has one of the most shocking twists at the end and even on second watch my jaw dropped when I witnessed the final scene. You’ll be tempted to find out but just watch the whole film. It is on YouTube here!
So, if you’re NOT a fan of B-movies horror exploitation films then Sleepaway Camp (1983) will not be for you! A lot of the acting is by first-timers and the director, Robert Hiltzik, is also making his debut here. In fact, he didn’t make another film after this until many years later because he became a lawyer. But the film gained a cult following among horror fans and certainly deserves cult status. It may be badly acted in many scenes and verging on the hysterical, yet it is well filmed and edited on a meagre budget of $300,000. There’s also some fantastically imaginative murder set-pieces, with excellent make-up and prosthetics work employed.
The story centres on the vulnerable teenager, Angela (Felissa Rose), who, having lost her father in an accident when younger, now lives with her Aunt Martha (Desiree Gould) and cousin, Ricky (Jonathan Tiersten). Her Aunt sends Angela and Ricky to Camp Arawak for the summer and due to her quiet demeanour she soon becomes a target for bullies. Ricky attempts to protect her, however, other than a budding romance with another teenager, Paul, Angela finds it very difficult to fit in. When dead bodies begin to turn up due to a number of grisly “accidents”, the kids and counsellors soon find themselves all in danger.
Amidst all the over-the-top acting, Felissa Rose gives a brilliant wide-eyed and subtle performance as Angela. For a film that could be classed as aFriday the 13th (1980) rip-off, her character arc throughout is both fascinating and quite unsettling. Indeed the film veers between being a strange hybrid of summer camp slice-of-life, rites-of-passage and slasher genre films. Yet despite all the uneven tone there is a decent story here with much emotional impact. Amidst all the death the film finds time to address bullying, sexual abuse and adult neglect to minors. Ultimately though, Sleepaway Camp (1983), has some fantastic gore and THAT quite astounding ending!
The horror genre is a fantastic medium with which to explore social, cultural and political events. Thus, with the COVID-19 pandemic still threatening the world’s health, wealth and societal structures, it will not surprise anyone when we get a raft of future films, songs, shorts and television programmes influenced by pandemics, viruses and lockdowns. Yet, there have already been, since the dawn of time, many horror, drama and science fiction films and series which have dealt with the end of the world due to some unknown or man-made virus.
For example, George A. Romero’s seminal low-budget masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead (1968), influenced an eruption of cannibalistic zombie movies after release. Indeed, the wave of undead genre films show no sign of stopping either. It makes sense therefore to focus my latest Shudder reviews on virus-based films and this category is obviously called Viral! Here I review four movies I watched on Shudder which all encompass some form of infection, disease or virus which impacts the living and the dead. As usual, all marks are out of eleven with the highest-rated film first.
ONE CUT OF THE DEAD (2017) – DIRECTED BY SHIN’ICHIRO UEDA
This film has both an amazing story on and off the screen. The budget of the One Cut of the Dead (2017) has been reported to be as low as $25,000. The film went on to be a massive hit in Japan, making over $25,000,000 at the box office there and abroad. Personally speaking, I am not a fan of indulgent one-take movies, but the sheer energy and invention of the initial thirty-seven minute take, followed by the hilarious scenes later, make this zombie-film-within-a-film-within-a-film a terrific watch. The lengthy set-up makes the furious splattering of punchlines in the film’s second half an absolute scream. To think it started out as part of an acting/filmmaking course makes the creative achievement all the more incredible. If you like zombie comedies and films about filmmaking too, this genuinely breathes new life into both sub-genres.
Mark: 9 out of 11
MAYHEM (2017) – DIRECTED BY JOE LYNCH
This office-based killer-thriller-horror-comedy resonated with me, as I myself have been trapped working in the corporate world. Steven Yuen is the jaded business attorney, Derek Cho, working for a law firm that regular screws over the less wealthy. When Derek is framed and fired, he plots revenge. However, his plans go sideways quickly when a nasty virus causes his office to be quarantined. The virus itself doesn’t kill, but it is capable of making people act out their wildest impulses – which tend to involve extreme sexual, verbal and violent behaviour. Mayhem(2017) uses a geographical structure similar to The Raid (2011) and Dredd (2012), where Derek must fight his way up from the ground floor to the corporate suits at the top. Steven Yuen is fantastic in the lead and he is ably supported by movie-star-in-waiting, Samara Weaving. The action, fighting and gore are well executed, and the script contains some great twists in this fast-paced horror gem.
Mark: 8.5 out of 11
THE CRAZIES (1973) – DIRECTED BY GEORGE A. ROMERO
Arguably, one of George Romero’s lesser known films is called The Crazies (1973). The narrative finds residents of a small American town accidentally infected by a darned biological weapon. The subsequent lockdown, quarantine and heavy-handed military invasion causes a small band of townspeople to fight back and attempt escape. As the soldier’s net closes in on them their lives are threatened by both the military and the virus. Overall, watching The Crazies is a dramatic, but chaotic experience. The ideas are strong, but Romero’s story is hamstrung by the low budget, choppy editing and some bad acting. Having said that, The Crazies echoes a lot of the issues our world has been experiencing lately. Although the deaths are more gruesome in Romero’s film and his characters don’t stockpile as much toilet roll as we have.
Mark: 7 out of 11
BLOOD QUANTUM (2019) – DIRECTED BY JEFF BARNABY
As well as providing a portal with which to watch older horror films, Shudder is also producing and buying up its own exclusive productions for streaming. One such release is Jeff Barnaby’s Blood Quantum (2019). Set in 1981, on the Red Crow Indian Reservation in Quebec, Canada, it’s an entertaining addition to the zombie genre, that perhaps would have been better served as a longer series. The story set-up is simple, as local sheriff, Traylor (Michael Greyeyes), is mystified when dead animals start to reanimate. Skip forward six months and a full-on viral assault has caused the dead to come back to life. The neat twist is that the indigenous American population is immune to the disease, but white people aren’t. Traylor and his community fight the dead (and living), attempting to keep safe from those that threaten their existence. Thematically, Blood Quantum (2019) is very powerful. The subtext of racial tension within the zombie genre is dramatically explored. Moreover, there are some explosively gory deaths and decent action. My main issue was with a script that laboured in places, as the film’s pace was slowed by overlong dialogues scenes.
Writer(s): William Bridges, Kate Trefey, Paul Dichter, Curtis Gwinn
Cast: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, Sadie Sink, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Maya Hawke, Cara Buono, Joe Keery, Cary Elwes and many, many more.
Number of episodes: 8
Original Network: Netflix
**CONTAIN MASSIVE SPOILERS**
When Season 1 was released, Netflix’s phenomenally popular sci-fi-rites-of-passage-comedy-adventure-drama proved an excellent nostalgia-fest. Indeed, it evoked the 1980’s perfectly in design, sound and look, wearing Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, John Carpenter and George Lucas influences, not so much on its sleeve, but as a whole darned fashion show.
Written and directed by the Duffer Brothers, it centred on the search for a missing child in (where else) Indiana, an ultra-dimensional netherworld and a telekinetic kid called Eleven, who’s on the run from a nefarious US Government facility. Archetypal characters such as embittered drunken cop (David Harbour), distraught nutty mother (Winona Ryder), Gooniesque geeky teens all try and track down their missing friend during eight episodes containing weird and monstrous moments throughout.
I thought Season 1, while full of great design, style, suspense and mystery, was over-rated. It was still a fine work of entertainment but I found the story seriously padded out and stretched. While Season 2 is more generic it was a marked improvement as we got more pace and action. Season 3, though, is even better in terms of story-lines, pace and humour. Some may lament the move away from the mystery and darkness of Season 1, but Season 3’s humour, action and romantic sub-plots are turned right up to Eleven (pun intended).
Furthermore, amidst all the teenage romance crap, there is some fantastic gore and visceral monster goo on show. The Mind Flayer nemesis is an absolutely fearsome creature creation and way more convincing than the cartoon Russians. So, overall, I think this was my favourite season as it didn’t take itself too seriously. It just went for pure adrenaline and mind-bending chases and fights throughout. I didn’t even mind the John Hughes-style soppy romances.
Lastly, Season 3 isn’t perfect as it often verged on parody. This is notable in Episode 8, where we get a viral-bait version of The Never Ending Story (1984) theme song. Quite frankly, it was tonally inappropriate given the kids were being hunted down by Russian soldiers and an inter-dimensional monster at the time. Aside from this crime against genre occurring Season 3 is great because it featured a cavalcade of film references and homages. Well, let’s be honest, they basically stole a load of ideas from other movies.
So, rather than do a traditional review I will mark Stranger Things (2019) – Season 3, and then pick a TOP TEN movie homages or steals that featured prominently as a fun meta-bingo review. Obviously, I’ve probably missed loads out, so, if you care, let me know which ones.
Mark: 9 out of 11
TOP TEN META-REFERENCES IN STRANGER THINGS (2019)
RUSSIAN BADDIE — THE TERMINATOR (1984)
BILLY AND TOWNSFOLK ‘DOUBLES’ — INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956 / 1978)
THE MIND FLAYER – THE BLOB (1958) / ALIEN (1979) / THE THING (1982) / TREMORS (1990)
STEVE AND ROBIN’S “WILL THEY, WON’T THEY ROMANCE?” — ANY JOHN HUGHES FILM!
THE BLACK WATER VOID – UNDER THE SKIN (2013)
USA VERSUS RUSSIA — RED DAWN (1984), RAMBO 2 (1985) & ANY COLD WAR FILM!
BILLY’S DREAMS — DREAMSCAPE (1984) / NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)
ELEVEN’S TELEKINETIC POWERS — CARRIE (1976), THE FURY (1978) & SCANNERS (1981) ETC. . .
KIDS ON A MISSION TO SAVE THE TOWN/WORLD (AGAIN) — THE GOONIES (1985)
FANTASY OLDER WOMEN DYNAMIC — RISKY BUSINESS (1983) / WEIRD SCIENCE (1985)
Cast: Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier, John Magaro, Pilou Asbæk, Bokeem Woodbine etc.
Cinematography: Laurie Rose and Fabian Wagner
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Inglourious Basterds anyone? More like inglorious mutants!
I love a good B-movie horror film and I love a good B-movie war film! So, I’m still confused as to why I missed this one at the cinema first time round. It was released in November 2018 in the UK, so perhaps I was still in London Film Festival mode? Perhaps it fell through the cracks after a busy October cinema-going? Perhaps the marketing wasn’t strong enough over here? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps?
Anyway, I caught up with it on Sky Cinema via the television box and I immediately regretted not seeing it on the big screen. The film is set in June 1944 during the Allied invasionof Normandy. The operation was called Overlord and part of the WWII D-Day push to defeat the dastardly Nazis. It opens superbly, in mid-flight, as a fighter bomber carries American soldiers about to parachute into enemy territory. Safe to say aeroplane food, crying children and lack of leg room are the least of their worries.
The explosive, noisy and destructive opening sequence sets an incredible pace. Also, the body count starts to stack up too as we land in occupied France. Not so much a dirty dozen as a filthy four remain after the landing carnage. The ragtag quartet consisting of nervous rookie, Private Boyce (Jovan Adepo), tough-guy Corporal Ford (Wyatt Russell), mouthy Private Tibbet (John Magaro), and war photographer Private Chase (Iain De Caestecker), are joined by French civilian fighter, Chloe (Mathilde Ollivier) in battling the Nazi hordes. Their mission is to take out a Nazi radio tower, but we get a whole lot more than the usual WWII battle sequences. Something horrific is lurking in the church where the radio tower is.
While the film essentially deals in genre archetypes the narrative pace, action and suspense really get the heart racing. Moreover, the cast commit to the action and bloodshed with impressive abandon. What I liked was, with relatively unknown actors cast, it meant there was suspense in who would or wouldn’t survive. So, in a film full of surprises this added another layer of tension you wouldn’t get in a star-driven film. Nonetheless, the real asset of the film is the monstrous soldiers born out of the sinister minds of the Nazi Doctors. These are some real nasty pieces of work! Indeed, director Julius Avery revels in representing the bloody carnage these experimental creatures bring. You can’t beat a good old Nazi monster baddie! Well, you can! In all sorts of fleshy, fiery and visceral ways!
I recognised Wyatt Russell from other films and TV shows, and he was great. Russell exuded all the tough qualities his father Kurt has shown down the years, but he gave Corporal Ford a steely edge all of his own. Jovan Adepo and John Magaro impressed as chalk and cheese soldiers, initially clashing but subsequent gaining respect for each other. Adepo’s Private Boyce grows from frightened rabbit to resilient hero over the course of the film. Meanwhile, Game of Thrones scenery-chewer, Pilou Asbæk, begins with quite a subtle portrayal of SS Captain Wafner. Yet, by the end he is on gloriously over-the-top form as the most mutated of all the Nazis.
Ultimately, this is a mid-budget B-movie genre gem. It has lashings of action, blood and gore. It also combined war and horror genres really impressively. I would have liked even more gore and a bit more backstory regarding the Nazi experiments, but that would have probably ruined the surprises. Also, it’s definitely not one of the most original films you will see as there are major echoes of many soldiers-on-a-mission war films, the video-game Wolfenstein and also From Dusk Til Dawn (1995) too. But, with Wyatt Russell, Mathilde Ollivier and Jovan Adepo impressing in the cast and Avery directing the hell out of the explosive action and bloody fighting, I had a great time watchingOverlord (2018). It’s just a damn shame I missed it on the big screen when first released.
Produced by: Jason Blum, Ian Cooper, Sean McKittrick, Jordan Peele
Written by: Jordan Peele
Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex etc.
Music: Michael Abels
Cinematography: Mike Gioulakis
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
Orson Welles is reportedly quoted as saying, “A movie in production is the greatest train set a boy could ever have.” Thus, Jordan Peele proves this point with an unstoppable cinematic train ride in Us (2019); that while threatening to career off the rails on occasions, proves to be a thrilling work of horror-meets-social-satire entertainment.
The film centres on an everyday normal family of four — the Wilsons: Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), Gabe (Winston Duke), and their two children — as they visit their summer home by the beach. Haunted by a scary incident in a hall of mirrors when a child, Adelaide is afraid to return to the beach where it occurred, until her husband’s goofy enthusiasm wins her over.
Events begin to turn and twist askew when their son, Jason, seems to go missing for a while. Even though he returns, paranoia and fear sneaks into Adelaide’s psyche. Things become even stranger when a mysterious family of four appear in the Wilsons’ drive in the dead of night. This is when the true face of horror surfaces and a pulsating home invasion and prolonged chase sequence ensues.
Peele has clearly seen a lot of horror films. As such the early scenes build tension perfectly with: stormy weather; a strange drifter with biblical sign haunting the boardwalk; creepy hall of mirrors; the choral soundtrack reminiscent of Rosemary’s Baby (1968); the son, Jason wearing a Jaws (1975) movie t-shirt; the flock of seagulls on the beach echoing Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963); and so it goes.
Such horror tropes build a huge wall of tension so effectively it’s almost a relief when released during the big doppelganger reveal. Subsequently, the blood-letting ensues in some meaty fights and exchanges involving weapons, such as: baseball bats, metal pokers, ornaments and golf clubs. The doppelgangers themselves are clearly a reflection of the self; twisted visions of humanity turning against the characters, as they literally become their own worst enemies.
The cast are expertly marshalled by Peele, as he gets doubly great performances from all the actors. The logistics of shooting doubles must have been tough, especially so many at a time. The featured cast are very good, notably Winston Duke as Gabe Wilson. He offers some light, comedic and physical humour amidst the gore. Meanwhile, Lupita Nyong’o steals the show in the dominant twin roles of Adelaide and the nefarious Red.
It’s Adelaide’s personal journey of double/split identity which provides the spine of the film. As she fights to save her family she must also literally battle the demon inside and outside herself. This thematic is the most powerful of the film for me, as Nyong’o’s acting is full of emotional resonance.
Perhaps, not as successful, when compared to Get Out, is the attempt to marry the personal conflict to the socio-political landscape. While Peele’s first film was an overt satire of slavery and white America oppression and exploitation, Us’ targets are intellectually more ambiguous and open to interpretation. I mean take your pick from: class, capitalism, consumerism, race, de-politicization, narcissism, over-population, split personalities, government conspiracies; and over-arching fear of ‘the other’.
These and many more themes are on Peele’s radar, as is his overall critique of the United States (U.S. = US – geddit!). That they don’t quite gel coherently is not a criticism but a positive indictment of his ambition. Conversely, while I felt the underlying power of Peele’s call-to-arms and desire for human unity in Us, one could argue the fire, smoke and mirrors of these ideas subtract from the power of the families’ personal struggle. Moreover, what is the solution to the government copying us or burying our doubles underground? Is it to kill the others and hold hands in unity? Who knows? What I can say is such naive idealism in horror has never been so entertaining.
After the success of the slavery-soul-swapping and genre bending thriller, Get Out, Jordan Peele has tasked himself with trying to top that fine movie. Well, if Get Out was the starter, Us is the main meal. In fact, one could argue the film is so full of ideas that it threatens to fail due to sensory overload. However, Peele is such a multi-talented storyteller he skilfully delivers, wholly thanks to great writing, masterful film production, an exceptional soundtrack and an incredible cast.
MY BLOODY VALENTINE: ALTERNATIVE VISIONS OF LOVE IN THE HORROR GENRE
“Love is giving something you don’t have to someone who doesn’t want it.”
― Jacques Lacan
I continue to write articles for the excellent So The Theory Goes website and here once again is a slightly more academic approach to film analysis. You can read it here or below.
An eternal question in our society still remains: what is love? Is it the joining together of two people forever committed to a relationship built on respect and trust? Or is it the emotion you feel for a family member or person you have bonded with over time? Is it nature’s way of tricking us into the act of pro-creation? Perhaps it’s an abstract and emotional concept created by a higher power to ensure we act positively? For some it could be a dark force which enlivens obsession and stalking and violence or maybe it’s a marketing delusion forced upon us by greedy advertisers, florists and chocolate vendors? Maybe it’s simply all of the above!?
Studies by Helen Fisher of Rutgers University propose that we fall in love in three stages involving a different set of chemicals. They are: lust, attraction and attachment. Indeed, the events occurring in our mind when we fall in love are akin to mental illness. Chemicals such as: testosterone, oestrogen, dopamine, serotonin all conflict and combine to change our emotions when we’re attracted to someone. Further studies show that when choosing a partner we are at the mercy of our subconscious and inner sexual desires as proffered in psychoanalytical studies.
Love and sexual desire are a big part of everybody’s lives whether it’s the positive or negative and indeed the continuance of the species is very much reliant on it. Moreover, love or the lack of love has provided the springboard for millions of stories, films, plays, songs, poems, slogans, TV show and adverts! Conversely the horror film genre, while not synonymous with romantic love, often explores the darker side of relationships and sexuality. Indeed, as a cultural phenomenon the horror genre is wholly malleable in its narrative omni-presentation; criss-crossing literary, theatrical, dance and televisual culture offerings.
Horror intends to elicit a physiological reaction through stress and shock while presenting: monsters, ghosts, aliens, the fantastic, the supernatural, murderers, bloody gore, kidnappings, mutilation, witches, zombies, psychopaths, natural and unnatural phenomenon, demons and many more aspects which draw on our inner, societal and global fears. But what of love and how is it represented in the horror genre? For this article I would like explore notions of love and sexuality within horror cinema. I will draw on genre, gender, feminist and psychoanalytic theories and how they can be applied within the chosen films. So, if you want an alternative to the usual Valentines-clichéd-cosy-rose-petal-drenched-chocolate-card-Love-Actually-type-movies, then these films are ones you should consider.
AUDITION (1999) – DIRECTOR: TAKASHI MIIKE
It would be unfair to label Miike’s gory shocker a simplistic example of ‘torture porn’. It is in fact an incredibly scary and inventive revenge satire. In her highly influential essay, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Laura Mulvey commits the powerful theory that cinema is coded via the “Male Gaze”. According to Mulvey, “. . . pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female.”
Yet, while beginning with this dynamic, Audition turns it around with the female anti-heroine Asami reversing the gaze on her male contemporaries. What starts as one man’s attempt to find a wife, via his own creepy version of the casting couch, is turned into a violent proto-feminist-carve-up-par-excellence as Asami cuts and slices her male victims with vicious aplomb.
DEAD RINGERS (1988) – DIRECTOR: DAVID CRONENBERG
Freud’s work on the unconscious, dreams, repression and psychosexual stages is, of course, incredibly influential on both psychology, psychoanalysis and film theory. His concept of the unconscious feeding our everyday and the idea that repressed emotions drive our motivations is none more prevalent than in Cronenberg’s exquisite Dead Ringers.
In this psycho-incestuous-ménage-a-trois-love story, twin gynaecologists portrayed by Jeremy Irons, literally split and repress their identities in order to “romance” the same women. The film is a masterwork and encapsulates many of Freud’s theories relating to the Id, ego and superego; while the doppelganger theme also looms heavily over a dark, psychosexual and twisted narrative.
HAROLD & MAUDE (1971) – DIRCTOR: HAL ASHBY
While not technically a horror film as such Harold and Maude is a wonderful off-centre, gothic love story. The eponymous anti-hero cannot connect with his family and the world at large and through constant fake suicides he tortures his mother to the point of breakdown. It is only when Harold (Bud Cort) meets an eccentric older lady Maude (Ruth Gordon) does he begin to find some maturation. The film could be argued to embody many of the Freudian aspects of the Oedipal Complex.
Trevor Pedersen opines, “The Oedipus complex, in narcissistic terms, represents that an individual can lose the ability to take a parental-substitute into his ego ideal without ambivalence.” Indeed, through his unconventional relationship with Maude, who represents both love and death, Harold locates a maternal replacement, friend and platonic lover who brings him out of his depressed state.
IT FOLLOWS (2014) – DIRECTOR: DAVID ROBERT MITCHELL
Mitchell’s low budget psychological horror gem contains many of the hallmarks of the ‘slasher’ subgenre which can be enshrined with the general trope, according to scholar Robin Wood, that teenagers, invariably female, are hunted down for their promiscuity. What makes It Follows such an intriguing anti-date movie is that we never see the actual evil force propelling the murders.
Maika Monroe’s heroine, Jay, finds herself in a chain of deathly sexuality which she can only break through further intercourse. Jay therefore becomes an epitome of what Carol Clover calls ‘The Final Girl’ in her marvellously titled book, Men, Women and Chainsaws. Ultimately, It Follows subverts the ‘slasher’ tropes with a symbolic metaphysical force rather than a physical monster, as the “killer” ultimately represents sexual hysteria, guilt and the malevolent force of youthful sexual abandon.
LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008) – TOMAS ALFREDSON
Ever since Bram Stoker’s classic novel Dracula was published we have welcomed, with fear and excitement, the vampire into our culture. Stoker’s Count Dracula was viewed as an inhuman force of destruction; as well as a metaphoric representation of sexual fervour. The vampire character is never more mesmeric and complex than in Let the Right One In. This is a sophisticated rites-of-passage-romance where a teenage boy, marginalised by his peers and family life, falls in love with a young female vampire.
However, the girl is clearly older than her looks, as the narrative bears the hallmarks of a Freudian sexual awakening for our protagonist Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant). In Eli (Lina Leandersson) Oskar finds a combination of: maternal protector, platonic companion and potential sexual partner within a complex psycho-sexual drama with hints of latent paedophilia. Of course, despite these sensitive themes under the surface, the film ultimately triumphs as a beautifully rendered story of innocence, love and friendship.
PSYCHO (1961) – DIRECTOR: ALFRED HITCHCOCK
Arguably one of the greatest horror films of all time is Psycho. From a Freudian and psychoanalytical perspective, it is an absolute goldmine. The story begins with an robbery by Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) but twists into something altogether nightmarish when she hides out at the Bates Motel. The manager Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) takes a shine to Marion, only for his “mother” to murder her. Norman’s character is the archetypal representation of the Oedipal Complex. Having killed both his mother and her boyfriend some years before the guilt he feels causes him to “become” Norma Crane in order to disassociate him from his crimes and absorb her identity.
Marion causes Norman’s sexual feelings to arise thus Norma/Norman suddenly appears to repress these desires by murder. Charles E. Bakeland opines that if an individual is unable to reconcile a love-hostility-identification relationship with parents there will be strong desires which will weigh negatively on their relationships. This thematic dynamic makes Psycho’s narrative a psychoanalytical minefield as Norma/Norman battle over her/his mind, causing havoc for those characters they come into contact with.
TEETH (2007) – DIRECTOR: MITCHELL LICHTENSTEIN
In his excellent book Genre, Stephen Neale argues horror monsters are predominantly defined as male with women as their primary victims. He continues with the idea that, “… it could be maintained that is it women’s sexuality which constitutes the real problem that horror cinema exists to explore.” One such film which reverses these notions in the excellent body horror film Teeth. Mixing body, horror, comedy with coming-of-age movies the main protagonist is a Christian virgin called Dawn (Jess Weixler). During a sexual assault by a college boy she fends him off via “Vagina dentata”; barbed teeth in her reproductive organ.
Played for shock and humour the story presents valid confirmation and subversion of Laura Mulvey’s proposal that women’s absence of a penis threatens male castration and therefore must be disavowed. Offering impressive gender satire within the sexual revenge narrative, Jess’ character refuses to be assimilated by the patriarchal order and comes of age within both her body, personality and sexuality.
In my view many of the films mentioned above demonstrate the horror genre is rich with possibilities in regard to representations of love, romance, relationships and sexuality. Through theories relating to psychoanalysis, feminism and genre theory we can begin to dip beneath the surface of the darkness of love and humanity. Both masculine and feminine sexuality and identity are constantly in crisis and under threat of death and disease, demonstrating that the path to true love is never straight but more often than not, wholly twisted.