Tag Archives: It Follows

MY BLOODY VALENTINE:  ALTERNATIVE VISIONS OF LOVE IN THE HORROR GENRE 

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.

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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.

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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CONCLUSION

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.

SCREENWASH REVIEWS: FEBRUARY 2015

SCREENWASH REVIEWS: FEBRUARY 2015

Ola!   Hope you’re well. Here’s another wash-up of movies I saw in the month of February at the cinema, on Blu-Ray or streamed via Netflix et al.  In alpha order.

***THERE BE SPOILERS AHEAD***

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE (2014) – SKY MOVIES

This sequel/sidequel is an adequate facsimile of the muscular and far superior original adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300. It’s a teenage boy’s wet dream with bloody ultra-violence and often-topless Eva Green’s war-whore Artemesia taking centre stage amidst the carnage. Once again the Greeks and Persians go to battle but this time at sea as greased-up, muscle-ripped men-in-pants knock the crap out of each other. Eva Green aside this film lacks the star quality of the first one as well as a consistent narrative as it takes an age to establish its cardboard characters prior to the well-orchestrated battles.

CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) – AMAZON PRIME

I’ve said this before but Lucio Fulci’s films are horror classics and should be given more respect in my view. They have creepy music, horrific images and tense atmosphere that are the stuff of nightmares. If surrealist genius Luis Bunuel had directed horror films they would have resembled Fulci’s oeuvre. With a dreamlike narrative City of The Living Dead unleashes hell when a priest commits suicide in Dunwich causing a series of memorable horror moments including characters: being buried alive; throwing intestines up through the mouth; bloody-eyed zombies wreaking havoc; brains impaled on a lathe and many more horrible deaths.

CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE (2009) – NETFLIX

This stupid but highly entertaining movie-come-live-action-videogame once again has Jason Statham getting up to all kinds of shenanigans to keep his ticker (in this case an electric heart contraption) going or he dies. Cue the killing and torture of gangsters aplenty in a high-octane offensive speedy comedy-actioner.


DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014) – BLU RAY

Eric ‘Chopper’ Bana finds another functional film on his CV as director Scott Derrickson fails to reach the horror heights of his previous film Sinister (2012) in this cop-meets-exorcist thriller. Some decent scares along the way and Sean Harris is excellent as the man-possessed, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.

IT FOLLOWS (2014) – CINEMA

IT FOLLOWS is a very good film with great music and well-constructed composition of shots plus a really good central premise. So, basically a curse is passed sexually between suburban teens and if you have it an entity hunts you down to a grisly death. I very much enjoyed it and felt very tense throughout. The problem is there’s so many bad films around when a good one comes along the critics go crazy for it. In short: a fine teen frightener compared to much of the crap around but it was too subtle especially at the end when I wanted a bloodier finale. However, the Director is definitely one worth following.

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2014) – CINEMA

Having seen four kind of serious Oscar-worthy films in January I watched the spy-action-comedy-Bond-parody KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2014) finding it bally brilliant fun. While I like some of the more serious comic book adaptations this is a blast from beginning to end with jokes and violence aplenty. Pitch perfect pace and delivery by cast and crew as the script hybridizes kitchen sink, action and spy genres. I was especially pleased they didn’t squeeze out the bloody action and make it a 12A as the Marvel, DC and Peter Jackson films have done in the last few years. THAT scene in the “Church” is a case in point and is certainly one you won’t forget in a hurry. To quote the parlance of our age: “The film is well sick, bruv!”

 

JOE (2013) – NETFLIX

Nicolas Cage is outstanding and on very restrained form as the working class lead of this depressing character study. It shares similar traits with MUD (2012) where McConaughey’s criminal bonds with local kids but this is a whole different beast as it features: alcoholism, dysfunctional families, inner rage and general abuse against humans. Overall, existential despair prevails in a genuinely gruelling experience that very much haunts the viewer.

ONLY TWO LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (2013) – BLU RAY

Jim Jarmusch’s elegant vampire film is so slow-moving I ended up finishing it the day before I started watching it. Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton are the best thing about this character study about the inertia of immortality. I enjoyed many of the rock and music references and the subtext of virulent human blood killing off the undead but it was too ponderous overall to recommend to anyone. For hard-core Jarmusch fans only.

OUT OF THE FURNACE (2013) – NETFLIX

A terrific cast including: Bale, Harrelson, Saldana, Defoe and the always impressive Casey Affleck feature in this steely drama. It centres on two brothers (Bale and Affleck) just trying to get by in a run-of-the-steel-mill Pennsylvanian town. Tension comes from Affleck’s gambling losses which culminate in his taking up bare-knuckle fist fighting to pay off debts. Woody Harrelson chews up the scenery as the dominant nemesis and while some of the narrative turns don’t quite fit it’s pretty gritty and Bale is on good form as the brother trying but failing to maintain a normal existence.

PREDESTINATION (2014) – CINEMA

I think most time-travel films are paradoxical by nature and holes can always be found in the logic but as a time-travel/thriller genre film Predestination worked really well providing an intriguing gender-political angle too. The nature of the loner and finding love for others and oneself was also an interesting theme plus the inevitability of fate was there in the subtext too. It may completely fall apart on subsequent viewings but for the running time it offered a lot more than many other star-driven, big-budget movies. Even though I enjoy seeing stuff blown up on screen I do love a brain-twister too.

Thus, if you like any of the following: TimeCrimes (2007), Looper (2012), The Adjustment Bureau (2011), Time After Time (1979), Back to the Future (1985), The Terminator (1984), Doctor Who etcetera… then do watch this one. It’s a fine low-budget time-travel film starring Ethan Hawke and breakout performance from brilliant Sarah Snook.


ROCK ‘N’ ROLLA (2008) – SKY MOVIES

Guy Ritchie’s big budget upgrade of Snatch (2000) is a shiny and stylish gangster folly full of British talent including: Tom Wilkinson, Toby Kebbell, Mark Strong, Tom Hardy, Gerard Butler and Idris Elba; with Thandie Newton keeping the testosterone levels down in a decent knockabout bit of fun.

SELMA (2014) – CINEMA

This is political storytelling of the highest order with David Oyelowo brilliantly portraying one of the greatest humans that ever lived: Martin Luther King. Tom Wilkinson is also superb as political rival Lyndon B. Johnson as the two lock horns over King’s pursuit of the equal rights vote for African-Americans. This is a moving story of injustice and violence at the heart of America’s recent past as King and his brothers and sisters fight the good fight for one of the most basic of democratic rights. Lives were lost and blood was shed but above it all Martin Luther King is shown to be a majestic force in the righteous fight which culminates in a ground-breaking march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama, 1965. I was very ill watching this but it is fantastic filmmaking with sterling performances and an in depth examination of a vital part of American history.

THE VILLAGE (2004) – SKY MOVIES

M. Night Shymalan’s recent films have been panned and bombed at the box office and very much lost the plot. Some might say that that the rot set in with The Village but I really like this movie. I like the design, colour, pace, acting, direction, horror, romance and central premise. Arguably it hangs by a thread in regards to plausibility but on a re-watch it was genuinely tense and had so much atmosphere I was captivated by the whole narrative. Joaquin Phoenix and Bryce Dallas Howard shine as two lovers trapped in the village by the threat of strange beasts and the elders who know an incredible secret.

My Top Three Bestest Films that I enjoyed for February were (in alpha order):

  1. KINGSMAN
  2. PREDESTINATION
  3. SELMA