Hostel and Feminism

I am currently watching the direct-to-DVD third installment in the “Hostel” franchise. I didn’t even know there was a “Hostel: Part III” and I think of this as a major failing on my part as I am serious advocate of the “Hostel” films (says the girl who spent hours and pages working on a creative-meets-analytical writing exercise on a scene from the first one.)

Now, I am more than certain that plenty of people have plenty of less than favorable things to say about these films. Eli Roth’s “Hostel” redefined horror and peaked on a completely new wave of the genre, made changes that horror will never recover from. And rightly so. Yes, it’s wildly violent, utterly grotesque, filthy, gritty and leaves you feeling sick to your stomach, and not because of the drilling, hacking and gouging but because of the clever, unsettling construction of the film and more so the grim reflection it casts on our own nature.

Many a critic would point to the dismal things this indicates not only about our selves but also the state of the horror industry. I naturally think they are wrong and that “Hostel” (and even it’s low-fi follow-up) is a neat, sharp, troubling bit of cinema and deserves praise, I would also like to point to a little oddity that really pulls this particular franchise from the abyss.

The classic and acknowledged world of horror is one of institutionalized racism, misogyny and searing patriarchy. In horror movies, non-white characters die first and in stupid ways, women who have sex are done for, men who are vain never last, and the invariable survivor is a doe-eyed ‘final girl’. A sweet, virginal thing, with good morals and a good heart – she is the epicenter of Western virtue, and we know only she can beat evil.

Not “Hostel”. Interestingly, the first and third films focus on the capture and torture of men rather than women. (Because “torture porn” is dominated by “Saw” it seems like an equal-opportunity subgenre, but in reality the majority of torture films which are not “Saw” are about watching beautiful women suffer.) I will note that the second “Hostel” film is about women being tortured, but I get the sense this is to pull in audience, and it’s the only thing beyond coming up with new and gruesome ways to use power tools, that changes it from the first film.

The conceit of “Hostel” is that young men seeking sex and deviant good times are captured and subjected to various forms of gross bodily damage to the benefit of paying clients (in the film, and yes, you, paying audience.) What makes this interesting is that these men are lured into these situations by female sex workers. Prostitutes, escorts, strippers – these lascivious ladies of the night are usually the sort of characters who get popped off almost instantly in a horror. But not here, in fact, here, the men who so enthusiastically seek to treat these women like objects, to engage in the institutionalized abuse of women who don’t matter because of their relationships to sex are punished.

Not only are they punished, but the women are not. They are neither compliant or active, they simply have the opportunity to deliver the nice, white bread men into the clutches of evil. It doesn’t seem fair, until one stops and thinks about the way nice, white bread men are allowed to treat strippers, prostitutes and even any other women in film. As the women lure the men in they are beautiful, porn-staresque babes, flowing locks and perfectly glossy pouts, and once the men are in the facility and facing their torturous deaths, we see the women unmade up. Because they are real people, not just agents of destruction.

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Marilyn Manson.

In the past couple of days I’ve been quite accidentally reminded of Marilyn Manson. It’s not as if I forget Marilyn Manson, a figure that serves as one of the undeniable influences of my life, but he’s not as front and center as he was in my teenage years.

The first instance was in a post on a tumblr, it was a series of comments of people reflecting on how they will one day feel when Marilyn Manson inevitably dies. Immediately I realized that it will probably be devastating for me, in terms of celebrity/entertainer deaths.

The second instance was in using Amazon to search for books about pain and culture, as one does, and encountering this. I was perfectly aware of Manson’s art, but not aware of the title of the book, “Genealogies of Pain”. It sounds like a title I would give a paper, or a section of a paper.

The realization that throughout my life Manson has provided not only a consistent soundtrack to my existence (I continue to buy albums long after it seems the general public has lost interest, download short film-esque music videos, read his writing etc with some fervor.) but also a consistent aesthetic element is remarkable. I realize that I can undoubtedly credit his developing style throughout my life with the development, not only of my intellectual interests, but the style with which I’ve approached them.

The rational which emerged in my teenage years to explain the often idiosyncratic combination of extremities that (still) characterize me, morbid darkness with day-glo, glitter was as if Marilyn Manson and the Spice Girls had a child (this is still very much true, though other influences have gotten themselves involved.)

I remember vividly my first exposure to Manson, the song was Dope Show it was reviewed (Why? I don’t know.) in an English teen girl magazine I’d occasionally get in Lusaka. It was 1998, I was 13, an impressionable age. Granted, I’d been exposed to far more shocking media before Manson arrived in my world. I asked my father to buy me one of Manson’s CDs the next time he went to South Africa for business (media was very limited in Zambia in the 90s, due to demand.) My father got me “Portrait of an American Family” (Because who wouldn’t let their 13 year old listen to this…thanks, Dad!), an album that was almost excruciating for me to listen to at first, I was so used to the bubblegum pop I’d been consuming since 1996. I kept trying, the late 90s was a time of incredible fame for Manson, and his cultural value as the most shocking, rebellious, confusing thing going was too good to resist. Seemingly overnight I moved from a distinctly Spice Girls influenced aesthetic to something much darker. I was neither alienated, miserable, or depressed, but something about his man, I was instantly able to identify with.

It was only a few years later when I read his autobiography, “Long Hard Road Out of Hell” (the book was released in 1998, I didn’t see it until 2002 (media is like that in Africa) that I really began to understand the connection, by which point my aesthetics, ideologies, and interests had already really firmed up with his music (among others, I should give ample credit to Rob Zombie, Korn, Rammstein and Cradle of Filth – all of whom I appreciated the highly aesthetic style of.) Manson’s rejection of normative religion, dislike of convention and insistence on doing whatever he wanted really resonated with me as a mildly grumpy 17 year old. I really wasn’t a sad or angry teenager, mostly concerned with how my behavior affected people around me, I have always enjoyed raising some eyebrows and provoking a reaction.

I always have and do to this day feel very unalone because of Marilyn Manson, very comforted. As if even when I’ve felt completely at odds with everything around me, entirely unsure of how express what I want or define who I want to be, that there is at least one person I would have no trouble explaining myself to. I suppose this is the true value of influence, the artists who allow the listener/reader/viewer to feel connected, to feel as if their work is valuable. I’ve always felt like Manson was somehow useful to me. Now, in the face of my own work, negotiating bodies, violence, gore, torture, pain and the aesthetic pleasure of it all, I know with complete certainty that his ongoing aesthetic projects are useful. It’s a chicken/egg argument, I don’t know if it all makes sense and ties together nicely because I grew up listening to this stuff, with his continuous experimentation directing my own development, or whether I’ve simply grown into an adult insistent on not “out growing her childhood” (This is a whole other topic, I don’t “outgrow” things, I make them useful in different ways.) and as result have found ways to keep his work relevant to me. Either way, I find myself endlessly inspired, amused, delighted by the on-going changes and shifts of his, seemingly endless, career.

 

 

 

A Poem for My Thesis

[I am half-heartedly participating in Poem Month, writing a poem everyday. Granted, I haven’t written poetry recreationally in a long time (I haven’t even written poetry academically in ages.) but it’s been fun. I’ve written a couple I quite like. This was what I generated today after Shann mentioned I should transform an impassioned Facebook status into a poem. The past month has been surprising, but perhaps that means I’m at last at a space where I can write a poem now and again for fun.]

[I’m on the verge of finishing my Master’s thesis. It is, at it’s core, about film aesthetics and economics and the media it works with is the New Gore of the early 2000s and New French Extremism. I’ve spent months now watching really harrowing, troubling torture scenes and working them through my thesis. I’ve become enamored of my project. It’s been a really wonderful process, and one which has really shown me what I want from my career. This is a poem to my thesis.]

Dear Thesis,

I feel as if we have spent
so many long hours together,
You have become to me,
a lover.

We’ve spent so many nights together
the hours disappearing into each other –

and over our many months of romance,
I realize now,
I want to be with you forever.

I want to ensconce myself in your luxuries.

I want you,
you are the style I have always dreamt of,
your topic is one so dear to me,
I could weep from love.

I want our time together to be eternal,
To wake up each day and to only think of you
of your sentences uncurling and flowing over the edge of my desk
oozing with passion from the spaces in-between the keys.

You are the voice of everything I have wanted.
Even on our worst days, you are still great.

I never want worries beyond you,
my precious torture porn paper.

I feel our time slipping by so quickly,
all too soon it’ll be April 18, then May 2.

What then, my love?

Phd.

Why Write:

In the past week something pretty significant has popped up on my radar.

Firstly, I was directed to this article.
and I read it and become concerned, as the days went by, I read a few other articles, like this one and this one. I also gathered information from Eli Roth’s ever reliable twitter. What this all has to do with is the fact that Angel Sala, the director of the Sitges Film Festival is being charged with child pornography as a result of including Srdjan Spasojevic’s A Serbian Film among the films being screened.

Now, if you choose to read these articles, I encourage you to tread carefully, if you choose to watch this movie – I advise further careful treading – it is not a pretty picture.

In fact, it’s a horrible, monstrous, grotesque film – full of sights that cannot be unseen, and thoughts that will turn your stomach. It is also one of the films I’ve chosen for my thesis. I’ve seen the film, and will have to watch parts of it many times over, I can’t say I’m really looking forward to it. But then I don’t always enjoy the moments of agony I watch closely.

I’ll be maybe one of the few people to think this, let alone admit it, but I really enjoyed A Serbian Film. I’m not saying I approve of the content, but I’ve learned that a lot of films are no fun at all, and that is where their greatness lies. I admire filmmakers who will not flinch under the watchful gaze of morality and include in their films whatever they want. I admire films that actually are willing and brave enough to go to whatever terrible lengths they can. I don’t believe in censorship, I understand why this film hasn’t gotten US distribution and why when it does it will be edited to death.

I don’t think this is right. I really don’t think it’s right that an important and admirable member of the film community is being persecuted for showing the film.

Film doesn’t need to be beautiful, it doesn’t need to be acceptable, it doesn’t need to be enjoyable. Some cinema hurts, some of it is horrible and agonizing. Some of it is pure torture to watch, watching some of it isn’t fun, it isn’t cool, it’s just endurance.

And this point, I know all about it.

However, this film deserves to be released, the filmmakers deserve credit, it deserves it’s place among a wide array of extreme media. A Serbian Film does not look like your everyday horror movie, it goes to lengths I never thought I would see on film. It is painful and searing and excessive. Not everyone wants to see this, a lot of people will protect themselves from media like this, protect their children – but cinema is about vision and art – and there should be no boundaries as to what can be put on screen, and certainly no punishment for people who choose to screen or watch this media.

What this has done is allowed me to understand why I’m writing my thesis. I’ve sat through a lot of horror movies, I’ve watched difficult, gross, gory, painful scenes. I chose the most horrible, disgusting, abject movies I had ever seen. Some of them I love, some of them are so hard to watch – but I have chosen them for study, I am looking at them more closely than I think anyone other than their makers have. I wonder everyday why I chose to do this, and the reason is now clear.

I don’t believe in censorship, I don’t believe in hiding scary, troubling, complicated movies. I think there’s merit and power in A Serbian Film, as well as in my other selections. I think there is a beauty to these films, if not in their content, in their construction, in their aesthetics – it is in their ability to exist, despite censorship and judgement.

Excuses, Excuses.

I used to update this blog all the time, I feel excessively guilty that I haven’t been. Sadly, my life is full of a million different things. Of all of these things, the one which is preventing me from blogging in a regular way is my thesis. Ah, my thesis. I’m currently in a mood where I am telling myself that my thesis is pretty excellent regularly. The reason for this is that I am writing the first chapter, which I am not altogether sure is any good.

My thesis is about horror movies (surprise!), specifically, it’s about recent extreme, gore, and torture films. Torture porn. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure when I developed all these strong thoughts and feelings about torture films. It happened sort of accidentally. I guess I always thought I would write about vampires, but alas, vampires feel so overplayed these days, that despite the fact that I am “into” vampires, and know a lot about vampires – it didn’t seem like a worthy thesis topic. So somehow, while muddling through things I found myself making some off-hand, and probably off-color (if anything can be said about this thesis, it’s that it is often rather off-color. I use words like “erotic” is VERY off-color ways.) comment about Saw and 9/11. I’m not sure how it became a thesis, but it did. I just started talking about it one day, and spent the whole of last semester talking about it, talking and talking. I ended up talking about it for hours a week, to my thesis adviser, who I do not think was my adviser at the time, in fact I think it was probably a pretty weird thing to start randomly talking about, whatever.

Well, I’ve talked about it a lot, I’ve discovered I am chock-a-block with opinions about torture, and bodies, and blood, and gore, and ratings, and politics (?) and sex, and France, and America and so on. Now I have to write all of this down, in a sensible, coherent (not in the manner that I use to review films.) style. This is really difficult. It is more difficult than I ever would have imagined. But, regardless of these difficulties it now must be done. Some days I am so excited about it, I want to sing about it from the hills, tell all the world about things like the erotics of torture, and some days I wish gnomes would come in the night and write it for me. I hope the gnomes do a good job, and read what I already have as to mimic my off-color, metaphor-heavy style. Though, frankly, if gnomes come I won’t read what they write, I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to question magical gnomish writing.

film: SAW 3D

With only a little trepidation I went on the afternoon of Halloween to my local cinema and saw Saw 3D, alone. Which always make me seem endlessly creepy. Let me put it this way: Saw 3D is truly a thing of beauty.

I’ve enjoyed all the Saw films, to perhaps an uncommon and unhealthy level – but this was everything I could have wanted. The violence and destruction was truly top-notch and I must really tip my hat to the magnificent effects crew on this film. It features some spectacular returns to some classic traps (the reverse bear trap/jaw ripper, how I have missed thee!) as well as some great new ones. I would love to delve into grisly detail of what my favorites were, but I would hate to spoil it for any of you who are just desperate to get in there and gorge yourself on destruction.

I truly think that a lot of the charm of Saw (and its “torture porn” brethren) comes from the sheer inevitability of the devestation. You know they aren’t going to make it, you know that the victims are going to be sliced, diced, speared, shredded, cooked, disemboweled, beheaded, and eviserated in glorious technicolor right before your eyes, you know there’s no way they have the fortitude to survive their fates (if they were the sort of people who could survive Saw traps, they wouldn’t be in Saw traps). It’s also fantastic because I think when violence, destruction and devestation reaches this level, it takes on a surreal, sublime quality. Piranha 3D did a similar thing, elavating the gore to point where it becomes a symphony of destruction. Beautiful.

The film pays a lot of attention to the notion of the survivor. The narrative is built around who has survived traps in the past, which lead me, for the first time to think about how I would manage a Saw trap. The notion of terrible, self-inflicted bodily harm is enough to make even more squidge in the theater. Even me.

Also, I cannot ignore that this film was rendered in ultra-trendy Real 3D. Now, horror is a genre perfectly fit for 3D. In life, there’s very little as grand as feeling like you’re about to be splattered with grotesque amounts of human blood. Saw does a good job, the 3D isn’t excessive, it works when it needs to work. Not once did it make me feel headachey or woozy.

A true delight.

Film: Piranha 3D

[Apparently, today there’s a weird issue in the middle of this text…just read around it.]

Another triumphant foray into recent horror cinema abounds!

After much intense discussion, I finally found myself settling in with a Coca-Cola big enough to swim in and my trusty Raisinettes to watch Alexandre Aja’s latest offering Piranha 3D. Now, first let me orient myself. I love Aja, I wrote a very intense paper on his last film, Mirrors in my first semester of graduate school and find him to be one of the few directors who take horror to the intense, disgusting and perverse conclusions I so desperately yearn for. Furthermore, I like seeing movies in 3D. I am childlike in my enthusiasm for 3D films, I gasp, lunge and cower with ferocious reliability.  I am also incredibly terrified of things that live in the water and could kill me. This is pretty irrational: I grew up in a landlocked country, I am a strong swimmer and I have researched dealing with and avoiding all creatures who fall into this discription extensively. That said, my childhood was haunted with stories about people being “taken by crocs” on Lake Kariba or on the shores of the Zambezi river and their mangled, half-eaten, water-logged corpses washing up weeks later and once I saw a Portuguese Man o’ War on the beach while on holiday when I was seven. Needless to say, I am NOT down with Shark Week.

Naturally, I had to go see Piranha 3D. What could be better than a movie about thousands of maniacal little fish eating everything in sight in a crazed, pack mentality for a wProxy-Connection: keep-alive
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er phobic horror fan?

I will preface this further by saying, I do not get scared. I am hardcorProxy-Connection: keep-alive
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And I watch a lot of horror movies. I watch them late at night, in the dark, all alone with the door unlocked and then I go to bed.  I am a badass and nothing scares me.

Except sexy teenagers being nommed to bits by angry little fish.

Wow. This movie is impressive. It’s impressive because it skillfully pays tribute to creature features of yore, it drives the plot into a tree at the end and you barely mind, there are lots of scantily clad girls, and a lot of them get their legs eaten off. Awesome.

The narrative revolves around Lake Victoria, where thousands of the aforementioned sexy teenagers and scantily clad girls have a rambunctious and awesome spring break week long bonanza. Unfortunately, while party week is happening there’s also a dollop of deep earth indigestion and an earthquake occurs, thereby creating a passage between a giant subterranean lake and the lake on the surface…a perfect passage to unleash thousands of prehistoric piranhas. Also, there’s some kid (Jake) who’s mom is the town Sheriff. Jake has a crush on a cute local girl, and is foolishly trusted by his mother to babysit is two alarmingly blond siblings. Mom, being the Sheriff and all is like “stay away from the lake, srsly, there’s something going on.” She fails to mention that she are her trusty sidekick found the horrifically mangled body of Richard Dreyfus. Never a good sign. Anyway, there’s some this and that and the next thing we know Jake is on a boat with two ridiculously hot girls, Jerry O’Connell (what?) and a cameraman. They are kind of a “Girls Gone Wild” sort of set up and are out to film some action during party week. Jake is their “guide”, oh, and for unknown reasons Jake’s cute local crush is with them. There’s some champagnge, some body shots, some hot girls very nearly getting eaten, but not quite…

Whatever, when will someone get eaten?

Well, no sooner had I thought that very thing when a massive school of angry piranhas descend on the harbor of the town where all the teenagers are gyrating, getting crunk and you know, being kids and just go…nuts. Now, I love gore, I love blood, I love watching people being torn limb from limb and I have never seen this before – it is truly a thing of beauty to watch so many nearly naked bodies being destroyed, decimated. I would have been satisfied if this gloriously gruesome bloodbath went on for like ten to fifteen minutes. Oh no, hold on to your Sour Patch Kids, this shredding, beheading, bubbling fish-friendly buffet of blood goes on for like 45 minutes. I didn’t time it, it may have been longer. They’re in the water being eaten alive, they’re out of the water, oh noes the flotation device can hold their moronic weight back in the water, rawr, more eating! The highlight reel of all of this is the topless girls who’s on a parachute being pulled by a boat – she’s in the water, out of the water, giggling, wiggling, in the water, out of the water…no lower body and Eli Roth (as amusingly perverse wet t-shirt host) not getting each by piranhas, but getting his head smashed to goop by a boat.

What is most amazing about all of this is the sheer level to which Aja takes it. It’s not one or two or even twenty people being attacked, it’s dozens of people. Which means that’s dozens of people in and out of make up, having huge bloody piranha wounds applied, lots of people being coordinated in and out of the water. It’s really a feat in film making to make a gore scene of this size, realism and sheer ongoing momentum and power.

There’s also some action on the boat with the “porn crew”. Most of this “plot stuff” is pretty forgettable, and I’ll be honest not hugely important, the characters are amusing and likeable, but that’s about it. However, eventually after many many gulps of tequila Jerry O’Connell does end up in the water, while his lovely naked associate is just eaten to pulp, he gets hauled out of the water and his legs are basically bony, fleshy shadows of their previous selves…he goes on and on about how “they took my penis”. It’s the only time the piranhas are really address, accused or personified in this way which is really interesting and it’s also interesting because we actually get to see them eating the (digital) penis.

Piranha 3D is the exact kind of movie I love horror movies because of. I like the big scares and big effects. I like the gore and the excess. I think it’s interesting and important to look at these films for what they are, horror movies do not need to change the world, they need to entertain and to thrill. This movie does it’s job, it’s beautiful and fantastic. Aja truly has a wide skill range, able to skillfully handle complex, dynamic material as he does in Mirrors as well as something as campy and effervescent as Piranha 3D really speaks to a directors talent.

Though, I do not recommend this film if you had sushi for lunch…