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.

Film: “The Woman In Black”

Can it really have been about a year since I reviewed a film? I have watched several dozen films in the past year, including an installment of “Twilight”, the searing end of “Harry Potter” and “Shark Night” – did none of these films move me to writing? Apparently not.

Today, however, I went to see “The Woman in Black”, arguably the first time we’ve seen Daniel Radcliffe do anything on film since the end of “Harry Potter”. A gothic period piece, set in a dismal, marshy village and a dilapidated, but rather sprawling house. The film is interestingly partially produced by Hammer (known for some of the greatest looking women, fake blood and Dracula movies ever made in the 1970s). Hammer films have generally been considered over-produced, campy and frivolous. They are also generally of a relentless, powerful horror style, one which is comfortable adhering to genre conventions and making a more traditional horror film. “The Woman in Black” is no exception.

I think it’s safe to say that I am very familiar with horror films, I do not scare easily. That’s not to say I don’t get scared, I don’t respond (film is significant, I am affected by it.) because I do. I squeal, weep, laugh, etc. etc. I generally walk away from most horror offerings more interested and invigorating than truly freaked out. Over the course of my life very few movies have honestly frightened me. (TV productions of “Alice Through the Looking Glass” and “The Shining”, “13 Ghosts” and “Mirrors” being the short list.)

“The Woman in Black” honestly frightened me.

The story is about a young widower, with a four year old son. In order to preserve his career, he takes a job out in the marshy northern countryside, he has to go to the decidedly creepy, empty home of a recently deceased character we never see and sort through their shamefully disordered papers in order to get their true will. He has to actually go there because the town lawyer is being completely unhelpful. Immediately upon his arrival, everyone our hero, Arthur (Dan Radcliffe) encounters seems to want him to leave. Eventually be finds himself at the terrifically scary house, beyond a marsh that floods with the tide, and thus isolated for most of the film, though, he has a little scruffy dog with him some of the time. He experiences haunting phenomena and visions of a woman in black mourning attire. As his time in the town goes on, two young girls die in unpleasant accidents, and the townspeople become ever more convinced he should leave. They ostentatiously blame him for the deaths of his children, as he continues to sort through letters and uncover the superstitions of the town, the house and the visions he keeps having.

Eventually, Arthur (and the audience) discover that the town is plagued by the untimely deaths of children as a result of the spectral woman. The ghost is a woman who’s son was taken from her, and adopted by her sister because of his mother’s presumed insanity. After this, her son drowns in the marshes and his body  is never recovered, as a result his mother hangs herself in his nursery. She also vows never to forgive her sister for taking the boy or for his loss. The curse which haunts the town is that when she is seen, a child dies. (A classic: you took my baby, and now I’m taking yours) Of course, being that Arthur is messing around in the house – Arthur sees her a lot. This ability to sympathize with and connect to this entity is fueled by his own troubled visions of his wife (an angelic blonde, lady in white) It becomes apparent that his son is coming to join him in the village, so in an effort to appease the woman’s trouble spirit and thus protect his own little boy (who is portrayed by the most beautiful, cherubic child I have ever seen.) Arthur finds her son’s lost body, and reunites them in the grave – he does so with the help of a gentleman in the town who lost his own son as a result of the woman in black and who’s wife is a sweet, but troubled medium.  However, this fails to do the trick and the narrative ends with sufficient unpleasantness to make the audience feel honestly uncomfortable.

The film is incredibly atmospheric, making extensive use of light, flickering candles, the gloom of the gray village and the gothic mansion, as well as the setting in 19th century England during the height of spiritualism. A moment in history where the business of the dead and the interaction between worlds is both recognized and widely acknowledged as possible. The film isn’t violent, or gory – but dark, and menacing. Filled with the kind of seeping discomfort that encircles you and follows you out of the theater. The honest-to-God heebie-jeebies. 

One of the most interesting things about this is, naturally, seeing Daniel Radcliffe be someone other than Harry Potter. He is as impressive as anyone would think, and is almost unrecognizable compared to his early time as Harry. The character is at least 26 or 27 (married, lost wife, four year old child, lawyer…at least 26), and while it’s pretty routine for actors in their mid-20s – 30s to play characters in their early 20s, and for actors up to 25 to play teenagers, Radcliffe, who is ONLY 22 (wtf have I been doing with MY life?!) successfully portrays someone much older, without seeming ridiculous. He’s also much more understated, Harry tends to do a lot of moping, whining and gnashing of teeth, but of course, from book three forward that’s how Rowling wrote him. Things that may have seemed like they were the run over of someone reaching adulthood on screen, seem much more to be characteristics of Harry than Dan. It’s also easy to forget who he is, which is generally difficult with very famous British screen actors – it’s only the most exceptional people who get lost in their portrayals, and that is evident here.

Great movie – I do not expect to sleep easy tonight!

 

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.

Film: The Rite

I should be working on my thesis, I have a chapter due on Tuesday. I’m not concerned. It’s like a paper, and you know, it’ll be done and it’ll be awesome.

In the meantime, Paul and I finally went to the movies again…I insisted we go and see The Rite, because I go and see all the Anthony Hopkins movies.

I really liked The Rite, it was about exorcisms, which I am very into. I was “lucky” enough to brought up with just enough old world religion to find demonic possession scary. So basically, this is what we have –

Also, I spoil movies like it’s my job – so, you know, sorry.

The Rite

A young guy works as a mortician (which was one of my Mom’s dream jobs – mortician or butcher, make of it what you will.) more so, he’s from a line of morticians. He’s not a happy mortician so he decides to go to…seminary. Michael goes off to seminary, and does pretty well. After four years of work, he decides this whole Catholic priest gig might not be for him, and tries to leave. He writes an email, and the next day he witnesses a tragic car accident, in which a vehicle hits a bicycle, the woman on the bike is dying and asks him to administer her last rites, which he does (despite not being a “real” priest yet, he’s got the spiritual know-how). Just when we think this will turn him around and he’ll become a happy priest, he gets sent to Rome to participate in a new program to train up lots more exorcists, because there are literally demons going apeshit.

Now, Michael is very personable, and very good looking, and is made out of doubt. Anyway, long story short, he gets sent to learn from Father Lucas, who is an old priest who lives in a ramshackle home, surrounded by partially feral cats and performs “unorthodox but effective” exorcisms. As usual Anthony Hopkins is awesome, and it’s probably just me, but sort of hot. So he lets Michael observe and help out with an exorcism, of a young, pregnant girl who is apparently possessed. It’s the usual possession gig, contorting, lewd statements.

Michael doesn’t believe, he think she needs psychiatric help because he realizes her pregnancy is the product of abuse and incest (not unreasonable, apparently possession and psychiatric trouble look uncannily similar.) Eventually, the demon wins the game. He also gets to observe the exorcism of a young boy who claims to have nightmares of a red-eyed mule kicking him, and he’s covered muley looking bruises. Lucas breaks his pillow and retrieves a tiny frog (now those of you with a good background in demonology might be getting close to figuring out what we’re dealing with…cats…frogs…if you’re not, don’t be hard on yourself.)

Anyway, Michael’s dad dies, the boy predicts it, and the next thing we know, he’s having dark visions, and suddenly Father Lucas is possessed. For real.

Naturally, it falls to Michael (because everyone at the Vatican has mysterious popped off on holiday) to find his faith and deal with it (with the help of a beautiful, female reporter.) I think we all know what happens, Goodness prevails, but not before Anthony Hopkins gets to be really awesome and possessed, more lewd comments, blaspheming, crude gesticulations, upturned crosses – it’s fantastic, classic, exorcism related fun.

I really like all this contorting, vomiting stuff, but again, I have to ask – why? Why are demons doing this? I understand, every soul counts. I’m not arguing with Satan’s business plan, I mean it obviously works like a charm. We eventually find out that the primary demon making trouble is Ba’al, he’s kind of a big deal. The first and principal king of Hell, in charge of the entire Eastern area, it’s a corner office job for a demon.

“Hey Ba’al, buddy, you wanna job this week?”
“Oh, sure, Satan, what do you have in mind?”
“Well, I have this pregnant teenager, and an eight year old, who really could use some tormenting.”
“Really. An eight year old and a pregnant teenager.” *pause* “seems kind of…like grunt work…”
“Oh” *sigh* “Well, it’s in Rome, you picky bastard. You could pester some priests.”
“Ugh, I don’t know, I’m so busy, and tired all the time, being First King of Hell…”
“Get out of here, I’m the fucking Dark Lord, bugger off and stop complaining.”

It just sounds like it sucks. Also, I maybe the degree with which one can make mischief while possessing a body is more limited than we imagine, because frog generation, pallor, spitting, and shouting obscenities is less than I imagine. Maybe Hollywood is making out like it’s less dramatic than it is, maybe in real life, demons are dismembering, raping, pillaging – making serious trouble. I just don’t know. Either way, The Rite was excellent. I read one review that said it started off well, and then went “too crazy”. Yeah, that’s sort of what horror movies do, the climb towards a dizzying climax of grotesque. It did a good job.

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.