Fall Horror Hits and Misses: It, mother!, and Happy Death Day

Hey all!

My favorite season of Fall is upon us. I make no apology for my love of Fall; no more sweating my makeup off at work, no more shooing my partner away at night because our upstairs bedroom becomes a furnace and his baseline body temperature is already equivalent to the sun, and best of all Halloween makes it socially acceptable to talk about slasher movies and decorate ones house with skulls (two things that take place all year round in our house).

Speaking of horror, Michael and I are 21 days into our 31 days of horror challenge in which we watch a horror movie every night of October. I am going to talk about my favorites (and least favorites) next month, but there are a few movies I wanted to talk about now. We all agree that 2016 was one of the best years for the genre; some of my absolute favorites debuted during that time, but after Jordan Peele gifted us the genius that is Get Out, 2017 seemed to clock out early. After what seemed like a long dry spell, we were gifted with It, mother!, and Happy Death Day.  

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Happy Death Day 

All of these films (aside from mother!, I’ll get to that later) were really solid, my favorite being Happy Death Day so let’s talk about it first! Happy Death Day is like Groundhog Day but with murder. The plot is pretty simple and straightforward; a college student, Tree, is murdered the night of her birthday and must re-live the day of her murder until she solves the mystery. Tree is presented as Basic White Girl who loves drinking and is in a sorority with equally Basic White Girls. The list of people who have a motive to kill her is pretty long. It would been SO EASY for Tree to be the completely helpless blonde girl who is killed in a gratuitously violent and somewhat sexual way like many female victims before her. However, even though Tree succumbs to her killer multiple times, she fights back hard. She plots (mostly alone), plans, and does everything in her power to solve her own murder. This movie does not pass the reverse Bechdel test (there are not more than two named men who talk to each other about something other than a woman) but it sure passes the regular Bechdel test with flyer colors! The one gripe I have with this movie is that is assumes that men who look at gay porn but date women are gay rather than bi. It’s disappointing but not surprising. 

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It

It was my second favorite film from this selection; if you know anything about me you know that It has been a staple in my horror diet since I was a child, both the book and the miniseries so of course I was waiting with baited breath for the remake, which did not disappoint. 2017 Pennywise has been given a terrifying update that only adds to Tim Curry’s unsettling but campy version. The best part for me is that fact that new Pennywise has mannerisms and features that do not look human, like when he opens his mouth to take a bite and his gums and teeth move like that of a great white shark or how he sometimes slithers away. Like Happy Death Day, there were a few choices in It that do not make any sense except to hold up hetero-normative white supremacy such as, in a scene that deviates from the book, Bev is kidnapped by Pennywise, forcing the 7 boys to come together to rescue their damsel in distress (complete with the kiss to awaken her and all. *eye roll*) despite the fact that Bev is by far the strongest character in the group and if anyone was going to be kidnapped, it should have been Stan, the weakest link by far. Also a deviation from the book: Mike, the only black character, is no longer the group historian who fills everyone in on the history of Dery, Maine and it’s series of strange murders; that role has been given to Ben and the result is that the only black friend in the group has almost no role (I didn’t count, but it seemed like Mike’s character didn’t even have enough lines I could count on both hands). 

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mother!

Now onto my least favorite, mother! I don’t have a whole lot to say about it because there are only so many ways I can say “imagine that really pretentious classmate you had in AP English who thought he was the next Hemingway wrote an allegorical movie about the Bible.” I didn’t dislike the film as much as it did absolutely nothing for me, which I think partly comes down to personal preference (I do not enjoy films that aren’t literal, at least partly). And I don’t particularly enjoy movies that make women suffer for no reason; I think there are more interesting ways to play out God’s creation and destruction of a Earth besides exposing Jennifer Lawrence’s breasts while she is viciously beaten and called sexist epithets moments after the same crowd murders and eats her newborn baby. Here are a couple of other thoughts on the film, including a very interesting take on viewing the film through a Jewish lens. 

Overall I am pretty happy with the selection of horror this Fall; I was hella impressed with the Netflix adaptations of Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game and 1922 (both films I’ll cover in my 31 days of Halloween post. Hope everyone is enjoying this most glorious of holidays! 

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Optimism and Queer Love in the Most Unlikely Place: San Junipero

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A few months ago, when the second season of Black Mirror was released on Netflix, I eagerly watched all six episodes and wrote about the first episode, fully intending to go through each one on this blog. Then a giant, moldy, xenophobic cheeto was elected president of this country and suddenly some of the episodes were getting too close to home, in particular the episode entitled “Men Against Fire” which literally made me cry.

Before I became a social worker, the subject matter of the movies and TV I was watching didn’t impact me as much, even as a member of two marginalized communities. But doing the work I do in this political climate means that most of what I watch is going to give me a break from all the crap that’s happening in real life and Black Mirror, as brilliant as it is, does not fit the bill of what I can stomach at the moment. So I took a break from thinking about Black Mirror and watched things like All Cheerleaders Must Die (which was breathtakingly disappointing; it started out so strong, with fully-formed queer characters and what looked to be dude bros getting their just desserts only to end with female characters being tortured and murdered while the trash men got to die instantly without any fanfare).

Even though I am not ready to dive into Men Against Fire yet (though I will because it’s truly the most brilliant take I’ve ever seen on how humans “other” people different from themselves) I decided to dip my toe back into one of my favorite episodes, San Junipero, which goes perfectly with the theme of queer representation I’ve been exploring the last couple blog posts.

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Yorkie sporting a perfect 80’s wedding dress to marry the love of her life.

SPOILERS AHEAD

 

San Junipero is the fourth episode in the season and the only one with a happy ending. The technology in this story brings people together rather than tearing them apart as it does in every other episode; people who are at the end of their lives have the ability to enter San Junipero, a virtual reality where one can relive the best parts of their youth. It’s here where Yorkie, a shy, reserved woman, meets the outgoing and vivacious Kelly. The two become close and eventually fall into a romance.

I loved the fact that the episode neither fetishized Kelly and Yorkie’s relationship nor presents them as sexless, as is the fate of many onscreen queer people (and for the record, there is nothing wrong with being a-sexual or not being interested in sex; it’s when ALL queer characters are never allowed to have even an implied sex life because the straights are uncomfortable with queer relationships that include sex); Yorkie and Kelly have sex in a way that’s not played up for the male gaze yet there is no question that these two are getting down with each other. I almost stood up and cheered when Kelly confesses to Yorkie during pillow talk that she’s bisexual and had been married to a man. The best part? The show never ONCE implies that: 1. Kelly spending 49 years with her husband makes her less bisexual 2. Kelly sleeping with and developing romantic feelings towards Yorkie makes her less bisexual 3. Being bisexual means you are confused, a cheater, any other horrifying stereotype placed on bi people or 4. That Yorkie, as a lesbian, should have some kind of internal conflict about falling in love with a bisexual woman. Kelly is 10000% bi, it is a non-issue and I am 10000% HERE FOR IT.

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Kelly proposing to Yorkie so Yorkie doesn’t have to marry her male nurse as a beard to get freedom to make her own medical decisions from her homophobic family.

Kelly later finds out that Yorkie is on life support after being in a car accident and is planning on living in San Junipero full time, an option some can choose to do after death, but needs a spouse to override her religious family’s objection to Yorkie pulling the plug on herself. Kelly proposes to Yorkie and Yorkie accepts; the two are married and then must decide whether or not Kelly will join Yorkie in the digital afterlife. At first Kelly is adamant that she will not live in San Junipero full time out of respect for her late husband and daughter (who died as an adult, leaving Kelly and her husband devastated). It really seems as though the two will never live out the rest of eternity in an 80’s dream together but Kelly eventually changes her mind and joins Yorkie in San Junipero where the two drive off together to the Belinda Carlisle’s Heaven is a Place on Earth and we are left with the most warm fuzzy feelings.

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Perfection.

Remembering a Legend in Nelsan Ellis: Lafayette Reynolds and Representation

 

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Yesterday after my fiance and I got back from his birthday trip, I learned the news of Nelsan Ellis’s passing. If you’re not familiar with the actor, he was best known for his portrayal of Lafayette Reynolds in the series True Blood (and True Blood was the only work of his I am familiar with). I am not one to be personally effected by celebrity deaths, but his death has brought me to a point where I find myself reflecting on Lafayette and why he was so important not only to the TB universe, but for queer, POC representation in general. 

In my last post, I covered queer representations in horror and looking back I am really sad and frustrated to see that not only were all my selections were of white women, but that I left out one of my personal favorite characters, Lafayette, whose story and character is so rich (something that is not super common with queer POC in horror) that I feel ashamed that I left him off that list. But this is not the place for me to lament about my super homogenous choices when highlighting the best queer representation, this is about Lafayette.

 It’s hard to know where to even start with a character as complex as Lafayette; he’s so many things to so many people. He’s unapologetically queer in a small southern town. He’s also Black and endures all kinds of abuse from the townsfolk but never let’s his voice (or style) be muted by the ignorance that surrounds him and is never afraid to command respect for himself when he can. What I also really appreciate about him is that he would never judge another marginalized person for being more quiet about the things other don’t understand about them, whether it be race, gender, or the ability to read minds; he understands that the path he’s chosen is his own. Despite the fact that he is later reveled to be a medium, he never crosses the line into the magical negro role ; every time some white person wants to drag him into some shit, he brings a heavy dose of skepticism and tries to avoid getting involved if he can. At the same time he’s a person who cares deeply about his friends, family and partner and puts himself at risk when he needs to for them (but if there’s a way to help without endangering his own safety, he’s doing it whether people like it or not). EDIT TO ADD: here’s a quote that really exemplifies Lala’s rejection of the “helping” role so many POC are placed in- ““Hookah I ain’t in the helping business no more. I’m in the fuck off while I smoke a blunt business, and business is about to pick way the fuck up.”

He is a drug dealer and sex worker for a short time, his way of  surviving capitalism, racism, and homophobia despite what people in  Bon Temps think (because he stopped giving fucks about what others think a long time ago). Still, he is not defined by these occupations as so many in Hollywood are; as he tells Pam after being kidnapped by vampires “Oh, don’t get it twisted honeycone. I’m a survivor first, capitalist second and a whole bunch of shit after that. But a hooker dead last.” He’s smart and knows how to make his way and he WILL call your ass out when you’re being a hypocrite (remember when he showed up at the homophobic senator’s meet-and-greet to remind the good senator about the time he paid Lafayette for sex? GOLD).

I loved that True Blood didn’t ignore his queerness or his Blackness and still lets him be a fully realized, three dimensional character who is not sexless or a-romantic, as is the fate of many queer characters in TV and film. We get to see him evolve over time; he confronts his relationship with his mother; his partner, Jesus, dies and he has a realistic grief response; he has to make an impossible choice about whether or not to turn his cousin (who has a very complicated and tumultuous relationship with vampires) into a vampire to save her life.  He never stops adapting to his surroundings and his reactions are always realistic and evoke.  emotional investment from the audience. 

And of course none of what made Lafayette special and amazing would have been possible without Ellis. He truly did well by Lafayette and his talents will be missed. I leave you all with the clip of Lafayette kicking the asses of some disrespectful rednecks, because Lafayette will not be disrespected. 

EDIT: I’ve been coming across some quotes in the last few days and here are some of my favorite of  Lafayette nuggets of knowledge:

  “Oh Damn, white folks is just all fucked up.”

 “It ain’t possible to live unless you crossin’ somebody’s lines.”

 “Every man, either gay, straight, or George motherfucking Bush, is terrified of the pussy.”

“Don’t blame the Ferrari just cause your ass can’t drive.”

 

Mister Babadook Comes Out: Queer Representation in Horror

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Happy Pride fron Mister Babadook!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard the internet buzz about Mister Babadook, terrifying Australian ghoul and now a surprising queer icon There are a couple of different accounts as to how the Babadook gained his title; I’ve heard that it started as a fan theory on tumblr and that the movie was classified under the LGBT section on Netflix (and really, these origin stories aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive). Wherever it came from, I am kind of living for this. I am always here for queering things up at all times for no other reason than because we can. I am also down AF for anything that will cause horror bros to loose their shit and if there’s anything that will do just that, it’s a a popular horror monster being co-opted by people horror bros don’t want to share their toys with. Is a queer Babadook without it’s problems? Obviously not; way too many people think it’s cute to say “the B in LGBT stands for Babadook! lolol!” Yeah, we don’t find that funny. 

I thought this was a great opportunity to share with you my favorite queer horror characters, few and far between as as they may be. Historically, horror has had a real problem with including LGBTQ+ characters in a way that doesn’t turn them into dangerous villains or first victims. There’s definitely more LGB representation, but we’ve still got a long way to go for our trans and non-binary fans. So with that said, here are some of my favorite queer horror icons:

May

May will always have a special place in my heart for it’s portrayal of the main protagonist and how it deals with her queerness. May is the story of a lonely girl who goes to really extreme means to make a friend. She has never dated before but meets Adam and they start dating. After things fall through with him, she begins seeing a co-worker, Polly, who is unapologetic AF about her queerness. What I love about Polly is that she is a lesbian who is not afraid to be as femme as she pleases and there’s no “you’re too pretty to be gay!” bullshit in the film. There is also not a lot of fanfare about May and Polly dating, they just date. Of course May, a bi person, is the antagonist and *SPOILER* Polly is a victim. However, they don’t use May’s queer identity to explain her actions (AHEM, Sleepaway Camp, I am looking at you). 

Sick Girl 

Sick girl is part of a TV series called Masters of Horror and is directed by Lucky McGee, who also directed May. Sick Girl is about a relationship between a bug-loving entomologist named Ida and Misty (and a huge bug named Mick). What I appreciate most about this episode is that Ida and Misty’s queerness is presented the way hetero romance is presented on-screen; it’s normal, realistic, and doesn’t need extra attention drawn to it. Plus Angela Bettis is a queen. 

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This movie got all kinds of things wrong, namely sexual assault (when this film first hit Netflix, the synopsis described a brutal rape in the film as a “one night stand.” That description has been changed, thankfully.) with just a touch of biphobia. Samantha is becomes an unfortunate carrier of a strange disease after she is drugged and raped by a man at a party. Her partner is a real fucking peach who accuses her of cheating, implying several times that it’s inevitable because Samantha has been with men before. Biphobic fuckery aside, 99% of the film focuses on Samantha, who doesn’t say offensive shit like that and who is presented as a human being who happens to be queer…and also a zombie.

The Moth Diaries

I am not going to lie, I low-key hated this movie. It was slow AF and boring to boot. The only redeeming quality here is the amazing queer love triangle going on between Rebecca, Lucy, and their mysterious new classmate, Ernessa, which goes down at the boarding school they all attend. What would have made this film good would be if they actually acknowledged Rebecca’s sexuality rather than heavily hinting at her feelings for Lucy, however I enjoyed their ode to the Lesbian vampire sub-genre of horror without all the objectification. 

Jennifer’s Body

I am not sure if two female characters making out once in a film would qualify them as queer characters, but Jennifer’s Body gets an honorable mention because it’s campy and I love it and Jennifer, who puts the moves on her best friend, Needy, is played by a real-life bi person, so that’s nice 

Alien

It was pointed out to me at Crypticon that fans of the film have discovered an interesting tidbit about Lambert; on her ship log information, it reveals that she is actually trans and has undergone gender reassignment surgery. Again, it’s not a plot point that gets discussed at all, but the filmmakers could have done all kinds of offensive shit with a trans character in 1979 and the fact that most people don’t know there is a trans character in Alien speaks volumes. 

I know I am probably missing quite a bit of quality movies with quality queer characters in them, but those are some of my favs in movies I’ve actually seen (feel free to point me in the direction with more of this!). I’ve noticed a theme with these choices, and that seems to be that with only one expectation, the only LGBTQ+ representation here is for the L and occasionally the B. Lesbians and women who like women are kind of the staple queer characters in horror which is alright, I guess but I would love to see a little more variation, esspecially with regard to trans and non-binary characters. 

Crypticon 2017: In Which I Had Too Much Fun to Remember to Take Real Pictures

You know when you procrastinate about doing something and eventually you start having stress dreams about it and one of those stress dreams is you actually doing the thing you’re putting off and it’s so vivid that you actually believe it’s done until someone asks you “why didn’t you clean the litter boxes???” and at first you’re like “uh I did tho?” but after thinking about it, it dawns on you that you didn’t actually change the cats’ litter boxes because it was a dream? Yeah, that was pretty much me writing this post. I work with kids in public school and since the school year is coming to an end, my work schedule is completely topsy-turvy, which contributed only slightly for this delayed post….mostly I just forgot I didn’t do it. 

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Michael and I showing off our boss Stranger Things/Aliens T’s. I say “our” but in reality both these T-shirts are his. 

This was my third year at Crypticon, Seattle’s annual horror convention. In the past, I had only gone one day but this year, we decided to get a weekend pass and stay in the hotel the convention was being held in. Last year we made the grave mistake of only planning on going to panels, back to back to back. It was really not a sustainable way to go about it so this year we took a different approach. Since we didn’t really care about any of the guests (unlike last year, when horror icon Tony Todd was the guest of honor and I was almost dead) so our main objectives were panels, films, and the vendor room, but broken up enough that we could get through most of the weekend. I think we were pretty successful at doing more than we did last year…except for taking pictures. I did a really bad job at that this year. I literally took one or two pics, mostly of our hotel room (did I mention my love of hotels?) which turned out to be an expensive shit hole, but that’s neither here nor there. What were the highlights of the weekend? I am glad you asked!

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I was a BIG fan of the catalog art this year.

Panels 

Last year, we saw what felt like one million panels so this year we reduced that number to ones we only really wanted to see. Since there were a lot more short film blocks we were looking forward to, some panels we thought might have looked interesting (Star Trek and Horror) took a backseat. 

We did go to three: Mental Illness in Horror, Gender and Transgender in Horror, and Black Representation in Horror. All three of them really were amazing; I was worried that the first two panels wouldn’t have have people with mental illnesses/trans/non-binary people on them but they both did! Our favorite by far was the Black Representation in Horror, which was nothing but amazing, talented Black women who had some really smart shit to say about horror (along with a badass powerpoint presentation with gifs that I need in my life). 

Short Film Blocks.

All in all, we sat through three short film blocks; one was AMAZING, one was so-so, one was fucking garbage. I don’t want to be a negative Nancy, but I was very disappointed that filmmakers in the Northwest apparently don’t know how to make a film that’s not rife with lazy, boring misogynistic horror tropes. One film (with an ableist af title that we saw literally right after the Mental Illness in Horror panel) was about a dude who blacked our and accidentally killed annoying people when they were being really annoying. The only problem with this? The only person he kills is his date…after she rejects him….on their seventh date….one can see how the “Danny only murders people when they’re being annoying ” plot falls apart when you realize he’s been on SEVEN dates with the same annoying girl and fails to kill her until she’s like “nah, I think I am done dating you.” No shade, but it was trash. 

Vendors

So much cool art, we could barley handle it! All together, we bought six pieces of art (for under $40). You can see some on my Instagram. Such a talented bunch! 

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Day 2, checking our of our hotel room ( the second one we stayed in after we discovered the balcony door in the first room didn’t close).

We ended up checking out Saturday and heading home that night. We’re old and three days of horror partying is just too much. Maybe next year? 

Hannibal: A TV Show About White Dudes That I Watch for the Serial Killers

Recently, I discovered that all three seasons of the show Hannibal are on Amazon Prime. Pretty much every person in my life, from my fiancé to my very own mother, have watched this show and enjoyed it. I decided to give it a go, seeing as how I love the Thomas Harris universe of Silence of the Lambs/Red Dragon/Hannibal.

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Oh Hannibal, you people-eating rascal.

 

Firstly, I really want to point out the positives. I find myself liking this show very, very much. Though the characters remind me a little of soap opera stars rather than real people, I am okay with that. This is a highly stylized, highly dramatic show where Will Graham’s theatric tortured genius does not feel out of place. The plot really sucked me in and I was hooked pretty much from episode two. At first, I thought this show was a prequel to Red Dragon, but when I realized it was actually a re-imagining of the universe, I came to appreciate it that much more.  Since this is a horror blog, it’s not shocking for me to say the kills in this show are amazing spectacles and I love them. I personally think that Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal is slightly superior to Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal (though both performances are top-notch).  Right now, I have just finished season two and I cannot stop watching. Now that I am more halfway through the series (I was crushed to learn Hannibal lived a mere three seasons) I can say there are more things I like about this show than I dislike, but the two things I dislike the most are pretty important for me to talk about.  Keep in mind, I have only watched season 1 and 2 (Michael recently discovered the magic that is the first 3 seasons of True Blood, so I got a little side-tracked) so my commentary is based on just these seasons.

MILD SPOILERS

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I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I didn’t notice how white this show is until now; even though one of the main characters, Jack Crawford, is played by Lawrence Fishburne, he is the only main character who is not white and still alive. There have only been two other more prominent secondary POC characters: Jack’s wife Phyllis “Bella” Crawford and FBI forensics agent Beverly Katz, and both women at this point in the show are dead or dying. Honestly, this bothers me because this show had no problem changing the demographics of the some of the more well-known characters in the films; Jack Crawford in the films is white and reporter Freddie Lounds is a man in the films, a woman in the TV series. Given that the show took small steps to mix up the cast, it doesn’t really make sense to me as to why they would stop at changing the race of only one character (it does make sense; I know its racism).

The second problem I have with this show has to do with how they treat women*; put bluntly, the women in this show are not good at their jobs and the one or two who are competent are punished for it. Dr. Alana Bloom develops romantic feelings for not one, but two men whom she is professionally attached to and allows her feelings (and eventually a sexual relationship) to interfere with her judgment (which tbh is never that great). I know the show is trying to show the audience how slick Hannibal is, fooling just about everyone so of course Dr. Bloom would be no exception. I didn’t have a problem with this until after she sleeps with Hannibal and digs her heels in a little more about how he couldn’t possibly be the Chesapeake Ripper while the men around her are slowly starting to figure Hannibal out (and eventually concoct a plan to catch him while Alana remains in a state of denial until she is literally shoved out a window). Why the Alana/Hannibal sex sub-plot? Hannibal could have just as easily drugged Alana without perusing a sexual encounter with her; she still would have provided him his much needed alibi without calling into question her professionalism (and for the record an adult having casual sex with another consenting adult is 1000% okay and in no way damaging to their integrity but when a licensed professional has sex with a colleague in the midst of several federal investigations, that’s when their professional integrity may be compromised). Alana having a sexual relationship with Hannibal and then going on to defend him without question makes her look even more foolish to us, the audience that knows what Hannibal really is and I don’t like that because I gather from this show Alana is supposed to be smart and good at her job.

The show gives the same treatment to Miram Lass, a secondary character; she’s not very good at profiling and just a pinch racist, tbh. The two women, Freddie Lounds and Beverly Katz, who are good at what they do, are either brutally murdered (Beverly) or arguably the most unlikable character in not only the TV show but the entire Hannibal universe (Freddie). Abigail Hobbs is a two-dimensional surrogate for the projections of Will and Hannibal. Hannibal’s psychiatrist, Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier (played by the amazing and perfect Gillian Anderson), is actually a pretty good character but her role is very small.

Now, these examples on their own are not a deal breaker for me and honestly wouldn’t be so problematic if the men in the show have similar challenges; Hannibal has gotten into Alana and Miram’s heads and it’s understandable why they would not be able to identify him as the killer he is. The problem is the women are the slowest to wise up, even when the men face similar manipulation from Hannibal; Jack Crawford, a man who heaps praise on Hannibal for most of season one and who is also unquestionably manipulated by him, knows something is up. Will Graham is the first person to make Hannibal, even though it’s safe to say he suffered similar psychological torture from Hannibal. Maybe there’s an argument that can be made about the level of psychological manipulation and abuse Hannibal heaps on the women in the way he doesn’t on the men (while he really fucks with Will’s head in season 1, he keeps Miram locked in a well for like 2 years) and why this is done purposefully by him but it’s certainly not addressed in the show.

Again, I want to emphasize that I really like this show; there’s so much right with it! The acting! Those amazing visuals! The incredible story lines! That food styling, tho! Season 2  didn’t blow my socks off; the Will/Hannibal circle jerk that made up 82% of the plot really didn’t do it for me the way it did for other fans, but the variation of serial killers that made up season 1 really hooked me.  I am really excited for the gang to go to Italy to try and catch Hannibal and how Frances Dolarhyde (my favorite serial killer in the universe) will play into season 3. With that being said, I can’t ignore the white male supremacy this show gently nudges on us (probably unknowingly because that’s just the culture we live in). I will still watch intently and hope that some streaming site snatches up the rights to this show for a fourth season, maybe with better, more fleshed out femme characters and not so many white faces?

*This post is very binary because cable TV is sadly very binary.

White Fragility in Horror

 

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From wikiHow*. According to the haunted house sub-genre, hauntings happen to white families 100% more than black families

If you’re a horror fan and have been paying attention, you probably noticed that Jordon Peele’s debut film Get Out is absolutely slaughtering it at the box office right now; this 4 million dollar film has raked in over 100 million dollars in its opening weekend alone. That’s almost unheard of for Blumhouse and it sends a strong message that horror fans are ready for films with more meat (no pun intended).

Of course, humanity’s soul-crushing stupidity is on point as usual, so OF COURSE there are people coming out in droves screaming about “reverse racism” (not a thing) and “white hate” (not a thing in this movie) and generally just being huge dicks about a brilliant movie that, donuts to dollars they have not read about let alone seen for themselves (and for the record, I think MOST of these people are not horror fans). You don’t really have to look hard for these dumb opinions; you can go into literally any comments thread on any page about Get Out and it will not take you long to find the “movies should entertain not address political issues. They’re separate for a reason,” and “society is blinded with being politically correct.” (both of these comments are real, word-for-word comments taken from a post on Bloody Disgusting’s FB page. No joke). There are a whole LOT of (white) people who claim superficially that politics (issues that do not effect white men) should stay out of movies because movies, especially horror, are for escapism. Unless of course we’re talking about any movie of any genre that has white men saving the day from non-white men. Then it’s a-ok!

As a person who loves the horror with all my heart, it makes me frothy with rage that the  genre as a whole is very white and very male. Racial diversity in horror is very limited; many times, there’s a weird colorblind thing that happens in mainstream horror movies that don’t have all white casts; there are black/brown character, there are even prominent black/brown characters, but race is usually not mentioned in any way (and they die, of course). As noted on Black Horror Movies, if there’s more than one non-white person in a cast it runs the risk of being considered a “black movie” (with the exception of some ensemble casts, but even then the black character must die).

I don’t understand these dynamics when I think about horror as a subversive and divergent from the mainstream; so many horror fans and people who make horror consider themselves or at least their interests to be outside the norm yet here we are embracing white supremacy, the most mainstream concept known to man (even if it’s subconscious or unintentional; being idle about troubling racial troupes and the startling lack of diversity in the genre is upholding white supremacy).

But why? Why can’t the genre bring itself  to break away from the narrative of the “all-American family” as white (this topic is explored on Black Horror Movies. Seriously, you need to visit this blog, it’s amazing)? Why can’t a final girl be black on a regular basis? Why are white people so freaked out by seeing the blatant, in-you-face racism onscreen in Get Out yet have no trouble watching the black-people-die-first trope over and over and over again?

I feel like horror is making some strides in the right direction; we’ve got a much wider range of directors, producers, and writers and some of what we are seeing onscreen is changing. Clearly the financial success of Get Out is signaling a change in what horror fans want, but I don’t feel like it’s enough. I’ve mentioned before but as a horror fan that does not meet the straight, white, male demographic I am always beyond excited when I see a movie that overcomes desperately overused tropes around gender and race, excitement that is followed by a mini brain explosion when I read the chorus of “this movie is dumb! Keep (insert any identity that falls outside of cishet, white, maleness) out of it! It’s just a movie blah blah blah PC bullshit blah!” from too many fellow horror fans.

So horror fans, let’s regularly support filmmakers of all races, sexual orientations, gender identities, abilities ect by actively seeking out their films and paying for them at the box office. Let’s stop whining about movies with a social message as if it’s a totally new thing that the “PC police” are pushing onto filmmakers (it’s not). Let’s call out lazy sexist, racist, transphobic tropes with such regularity that filmmakers stop using them. White horror fans: if you feel something that looks like guilt when watching a movie like Get Out, that’s an opportunity for you to reflect on your own experiences and maybe learn something about someone who is not you. Possibly even change any problematic aspects of your behavior (because we do or say problematic things at some point in our lives). Sometimes we have to admit our favorite gems are racist/sexist/ableist/transphobic, and that’s hard; I still love the movie High Tension but I can’t ignore the ableism in it. We can make some space for everyone at the horror table; it’ll make the genre we love better. But we have to first acknowledge that some people are missing and make an effort to correct that.

*Link to the wikiHow page, because WordPress is testing me today and won’t let me add this in the actual caption.

Get Out: A Brilliant Portrayal of Racism Carried Out by “Good” White People

Last week, Michael won us advanced screening tickets to go see the movie Get Out (thanks to Crypticon!) Sadly, I had to work late and we both wanted to support this movie, made by master comedian Jordan Peele, financially because we both want to see more non-white (and non male, cishet) filmmakers in horror. 

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Amazing art by Jermaine Rogers 

So tonight we bought tickers and settled in. I am struggling right now to put into words how brilliant this movie is. There was not a single part of this movie that wasn’t captivating, tense, funny, or just plain creepy. In addition to being one of the best horror movies I’ve ever personally watched, it also makes an incredibly powerful statement to the kind of tension people of color (POC) feel navigating white spaces (aka the larger American society). 

I am not sure if I want to put spoilers in this post, but I don’t think I can describe the utter genius of this film and not talk about certain details….so spoilers it is! 

The first scene of this movie sets the tone of the film; we see a black man alone in a very middle/upper class looking neighborhood; already there is tension, but it’s not coming from the white residents, who are usually the ones to fearfully lock their doors or cross the street at the sight of a person with brown skin. In this case, the fear is coming from the man walking alone in an unfamiliar neighborhood at night, an experience that might put most people on edge a bit. In this case, this man (still unnamed) has a very good reason to be afraid; within minutes he is kidnapped by a man in a white car wearing a knight’s helmet. 

After this scene the focus is on Chris and his girlfriend Rose. They are going to her childhood home where Chris will meet her family. Chris is nervous because on top of the usual stress of meeting a significant other’s parents for the first time, he also has to navigate meeting his white girlfriend’s white parents as a black man while said girlfriend is seemingly oblivious to the forms of subtle racism he will face from her family as she assure him that her dad voted for Obama, therefore he can not possibly be racist. 

We don’t have to wait long for the first round of micoaggressions; after hitting a deer with their car a police officer asks for Chris’ license, even though he was not driving the car. While Rose becomes outraged at the officer’s obvious bias, Chris remains calm and hand the officer his ID, clearly already familiar with how to interact with white police officers in a way that will cause him minimal harm. 

 

SPOILERS BEGIN NOW AND IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THIS MOVIE DON’T READ THE SPOILERS, YOU’LL THANK ME LATER

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Once the couple arrive at the house, that’s when shit starts getting weird; at first Chris handles being asked “what sport to do play?” (one of the ONLY questions he is asked about him as a person) very well, like a man who’s had to live with white people “othering” him his whole life. But then he notices black employees around the house acting very strange. Chris is then hypnotized against his will by Rose’s mother to “help” him quit smoking. Later at family party, we see the man who was kidnapped in the first scene of the movie, acting like a pod person. At said party, we see a twisted auction where Chris is unknowingly sold to the highest bidder. We know something is very wrong.

So what’s going on? Well, once upon a time an old white man’s feelings were hurt after he lost an Olympic race to Jesse Owens in the 1940’s and made the decision to dedicated his life to kidnapping black people and using their bodies as a result. Not making them slaves, literally taking their bodies (which he has deemed “superior”) and using them as his own, because while black people are “genetically superior” their autonomy does not matter. This family auctions off black men and women and the winner will transplant their consciences into the unfortunate black victim. It’s cultural appropriation on steroids. Black people are not human to this family (which includes Rose. Surprise! She’s not a basic white girl who is just slightly ignorant but well meaning, turns out she’s a deeply entitled racist who has taken white privilege to a whole new level) they are meat, bodies in prime condition that can be used by rich white people however they please. There is a scene of older, rich, white Americans literally auctioning off the lives of unwilling black human beings as their ancestors did hundreds of years before them, all while patting themselves on the back for not being “real” racists (the families patriarch would vote for Obama a third time, after all). We see this de-humanization from the beginning; Rose’s family doesn’t ask questions that would help them get to know Chris as a person, instead opting for questions that are invasive and uncomfortable (“tell me about you mom’s death,” or “tell me about your smoking habits,” for example). He’s not a person even then, he’s a body. In this context it’s because we know these people don’t want anything but his body but interactions like these happen all the time, often with well-intentioned but ignorant white people asking questions that reinforce stereotypes.

After this film was released, I saw comment section after comment section with complaints from white people claiming this film was racist against white people. It’s telling that a narrative from a black man’s perspective would be considered racist by defensive white people who are not willing to do the work of confronting their own biases and acknowledge that the microaggressions in this film happen every day to real, living, people and often by people who would never consider themselves racist. Their criticisms (many of which I am sure have come from people who have not actually seen the film at all, let alone read about what inspired it) are proof that films like this need to be made. We need more POC in public spaces, telling their own stories because when white people try to tell these stories, the narratives change to appease white guilt. 

Using Mental Illness in Horror: Maybe Don’t Turn Sufferers into Literal Monsters.

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If you don’t want spoilers, skip this post. It’s got lots of them. Also content warning for kidnaping, sexual assault, and talk of ableism.

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First I want to define ableism because it might be helpful for context. Ableism is defined as:

… effective discrimination against people with disabilities in favor of people who are not disabled. An ableist society is said to be one that treats non-disabled individuals as the standard of ‘normal living’, which results in public and private places and services, education, and social work that are built to serve ‘standard’ people, thereby inherently excluding those with various disabilities. Source 

If you are active in the horror community, you probably know a movie was released recently called Split, a film by M. Night Shyamalan Michael and I won tickets to an advance screening and I was hoping the twist would make this movie not the ableist shit show I was expecting. That did not happen. Split is about a man, Kevin, suffering from Dissociative identity disorder (DID), previously known as multiple personality disorder (MPD) who kidnaps, sexually assaults, and imprisons three girls and ultimately kills two of the three.  Honestly, there’s not a whole lot more that happen in this movie; there are certainly some tense moments in which the girls try to escape and we see interactions with a completely incompetent therapist who doesn’t believe in Duty to Warn but when you get right down to it the entire story can be summed up with “mentally ill man is dangerous.” There is very little backstory to Kevin (other than a glimpse of his abusive upbringing) but 99% of his characterization is based on his mental illness. There is one scene in which Kevin is not having a psychotic episode and it lasts for about 45 seconds. The only thing we know about this man is that he is suffering from mental illness and that mental illness makes him a menace. He is the antagonists of the story  like so, so, so many people with mental illness are in pop culture. This is a problem because there is already stigma in our society against people with physical, mental, and cognitive disabilities and any media depictions of these individuals as dangerous or less than human (as Kevin is in Split) compounds that stigma.

Sadly, most of the horror community I’ve been exposed to consists of white men so there’s not a lot of deep analytical commentary on issues like ableism in horror. When it is brought up, people do not thoughtfully take in the information they’re given. The usual response is “it’s just a movie! No one really thinks people with multiple personalities are like that!” or the old “you’re being too sensitive!” Basically anything to take credibility away from the critic and absolve themselves of guilt. But guys, I am telling you now that problematic elements in film should not be ignored, even if we enjoy those movies. 

 

So not long after we saw Split, Michael and I then stumbled across a film on Shudder called They Look Like People. The premise is somewhat similar to Split; a man, Wyatt, suffering from schizophrenia tries to navigate life. Now, this was a horror movie so hearing that premise you might think  this film is also ableist. I am happy to tell you it’s not! In TLLP, the villain of the film is schizophrenia, NOT Wyatt. The man himself is a fully actualized human being; he has friends whom he cares deeply about, he has a sense of humor, he is just a person. The way his mental illness is depicted is frightening, but the audience is not frightened of Wyatt, like we are afraid of Kevin in Split, we’re frightened of the images and sounds and loss of reality that can come from schizophrenia. We are frightened with Wyatt. 

They Look Like People humanizes it’s character suffering from mental illness while Split turns them into literal monsters. If we’re trying to dismantle the idea that people suffering from mental illnesses are broken, dangerous, sub-humans we can’t have only one dominant narrative in pop culture that tells us they in fact are broken, dangerous, sub-humans. That’s just not how representation works. 

*Note: I have not, nor have I ever experienced any kind of disability. I benefit from able-bodied privilege and I fully acknowledge this. If you want to seek out information about how ableism effects people, it’s best to go to the people with that lived experience. 

Dumpster Fire of 2016: A Pretty Shitty Year for Humanity, A Really Great Year for Horror

A funny thing happens when you are in the vortex known as “the last year of grad school”: time makes no actual sense. One minute, you’re celebrating the New Year with friends and family, mentally putting together your list of the year’s best horror and thinking “I have plenty of time to compose and post this!” and then you wake up one morning and it’s January 22nd and there is no favorites list to speak of.

Let’s all pretend I am not writing this embarrassingly late in the game, shall we?

Guys, 2016 was a pretty amazing year for horror. The craft of filmmaking displayed in the gems of 2016 was taken to another level; incredible cinematography, completely out-of-this-world acting, plots that were original and engaging, lots and lots of nostalgia, and most importantly films that were made for a larger audience beyond the cishet, white men who compromise a large swath of horror fandom. 

These are my personal favorites. I want to say right now that they are not all the perfectly intersectional feminist dreams that I always pine for but most if not all of them are as free of problematic elements as possible; none of them have overt misogyny and they all pass the Bechdel test. HOWEVER there is a serious lack of representation in all other areas; most of these movies have all white or damn near all white casts, there is one queer character, one disabled character, and one immigrant character in 10 films (and the queer/immigrant character overlap in the same movie so not exactly a triumph in inclusive filmmaking.) I am not calling out these films to say they’re bad or shouldn’t be watched but it’s so important to highlight the lack of intersectional inclusion in every aspect of pop culture. Now that I’ve gotten that disclosure out of the way, onward!

10. Lights Out

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I am not going to lie, I had some really high hopes for this movie, mostly because the short it’s based on rivals some of the greatest horror films of all time and it’s like 45 seconds. It did not live up to the short film, but it wasn’t a bad movie. I could have done without the ableism but it had it’s moments (the first kill was actually amazing). This is a movie I can see watching when I want to veg out and not think too much. 

9. The Conjuring 2

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This is another movie that wasn’t super over the top amazing but it was fun. Sometimes fun is the goal. I need a repertoire of films that are nothing more than mindless fun and that’s where this film will go.

8. The Boy

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This movie will always have a special place in my heart because it’s the first movie Michael and I saw together. Like my last two picks, The Boy isn’t anything to write home about overall but there is some real suspense that I liked and it’s a fun movie to break out when you don’t want to think too much. There is one exceptional thing about this movie and that is the twist ending. This twist is so completely out of left field that even Michael, who can guess the plot and twist in every movie we watch by the first few minutes, didn’t see it coming. It was amazing. 

7. Hush

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I really enjoyed Hush. The home invasion sub-genre has quite a few entries so this movie easily could have been more of the same. Also the protagonist being deaf could have become an ableist shit show yet it didn’t; though Maddie’s deafness is indeed a liability for her in the situation she’s in, it doesn’t define her. If anything she is hyper aware of how her deafness limits her ability to fight back and she acts accordingly. The film strikes a balance between acknowledging the challenges Maddie faces because of her disability (not just in fighting for her life, but in other realistic aspects, like dating or communicating with hearing people) but also makes sure we know Maddie is a capable, talented writer with close friends and family who isn’t a great cook. She’s a person, first and foremost not a diagnosis. Characterization aside, Hush is a really well made movie. 

6. 10 Cloverfield Lane

10 CLOVERFIELD LANEThere aren’t many films that can put three people in a bunker for 90 minutes and not loose your attention but 10 Cloverfield Lane was one of them. I think 90% of this was John Goodman’s spectacular acting (seriously, he KILLED it; is he a slightly unhinged kidnapper or a savior in the apocalypse? The answer isn’t obvious until the very end.) It wasn’t a true sequel to Cloverfield, it was something better; a peak at another story in the same universe. I loved it. Fun fact: the young actor in the bunker in this film was the killer in Hush. This dude can act.

5. Ghostbusters

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Was this technically a horror movie? Don’t care. It was magical

4. Holidays

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I really like horror anthologies; some of the best horror is presented in short story format (see above re: Lights Out) and Holidays was a hidden gem on Netflix that I really enjoyed. The film presents each Holiday in order (Valentines Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Halloween, Christmas, and New Years) and the stories were deliciously twisted. My personal favorites were Valentines Day and Halloween. 

3. Blair Witch

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Super tense, diverse (ish) cast, really great kills, and nostalgia to boot? Yes, please. 

2. The Witch

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I went back and forth for a long time with my top two because it’s really hard to choose; let’s consider them a tie? The Witch was honestly the only movie this year that was FLAWLESS and I don’t say that lightly. It’s a period piece about early American settlers who isolate themselves from society because of religious squabbles and some really bad shit happens. The isolation and paranoia become so strong you start to feel it yourself. The costumes?  FLAWLESS. Acting? ZERO FLAWS. That ending? NO FLAWS TO SPEAK OF. 

1. The Eyes of my Mother.

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Would I even see this movie again? Probably not. Is it one of the greatest films of 2016, possibly one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen? Without a doubt.