Category Archives: movies

Women in Horror Month

Enter, you. You’re a writer. You’re a horror writer. You’re a woman.

***

You go to see a new horror movie. It is filled with young ladies in peril, and then in various states of undress (still in peril), and then in various states of dissection (still in undress). The camera fawns over their destroyed bodies. The one who entered the movie broken gets to live. It’s the reward for her suffering. You come home disappointed. “Well, I could have told you it was going to be like that,” your male roommate says. “If there’s a half-naked girl in the trailer, you know the movie’s going to be rapey.”

***

You are an ambassador of your gender, so you better be good: in your writing, in your attitude, in your openness to overture. Someone generous is taking a chance on you, so don’t disappoint, or you’re the last lady horror writer they will ever try. Don’t scare them off.

***

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Women in Horror month comes around and everybody’s a statistician. Editors lay bare their numbers, and many outlets’ submission data does show that women submit fiction less than men, a fact duly blamed on the female writers for not submitting enough. Not being brave. Of course, you as a woman have never applied for a job for which you feel underqualified, and you have never negotiated a raise. In your current workplace, you don’t engage in as much self-promotion as your male peers. This isn’t just because you’re trying to be nice. You know that a good girl follows the rules and waits her turn and doesn’t push her luck, or herself, onto others. After all, you wouldn’t want to come across as too abrasive. You also notice that some of these outlets only ever seem to publish men, so no wonder you wouldn’t have submitted there. You know when you’re not wanted.

***

You write a story that includes some discussion of gender issues. You worry you’re overdoing it. You worry you’re going to be labeled as a writer with a political agenda, mostly because you are a woman writing about gender. If you were a man, you would be writing a story. But you are a woman and you are writing a polemic. You do it anyway.

***

You are invited to an anthology. You hope it is not just because you are a woman, or because you are young, or because you are (half) a minority. But even if it is, oh well. You believe the editors are trying to do the right thing.

***

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Women in Horror Month is here and it’s a giant popularity contest, even more than writing already is: let’s-name-all-the-female-horror-writers-we-can-possibly-name! You don’t look at the lists, because you know you’re still not on them, and that worm of self-doubt that lives inside your brain doesn’t need any more to chew on (why do you even try?), thank you. Then you feel bad and jealous, and bad because you feel jealous. You re-read the manifesto, “In Which We Teach You How To Be A Woman In Any Boys’ Club,” and remember that progress for one is progress for all. Besides, you feel shitty about promoting yourself anyway – how dare you, who the fuck are you? Then you feel shitty about not promoting yourself – you’re a dumb ass and you deserve everything you get.

***

You go to see another new horror movie, a sequel to one of your all-time favorites. You anticipate that it will be terrible, and it is. It has also introduced a brand new rape-and-captivity subplot to explain the origin of all the evil. It’s our punishment for her suffering. The fact that this movie was made is punishment enough. You wonder what it is with blind old recluses and rape these days. The young female lead rests on her side in bed, her breasts lovingly pressed together by her tight white camisole.

***

When you were young, you couldn’t count any women among your favorite writers. You can’t understand any of the female characters you read as humans, let alone as women. The boys in your American Literature class chortle about them, about how their male creators defined them solely by their “easy” sexuality. Your favorite writer in high school admitted that he never writes female characters, because he knows he would be bad at it. He’s kind of right. But you are also bad at it, and you are a girl! Your best friend, another girl, tells you after reading your novel draft, “Either you have a serious problem with women, or do.” And you know it’s you. You were raised on classical British literature and you love big heroic adventure arcs (like paladins, more paladins please) and what’s more, you hate yourself. Then you read The Bell Jar, and that changes everything. Then you read The Haunting of Hill House, and that changes everything again.

***

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Congratulations – you have helped fill an anthology’s diversity quota. Collect $200. You hope your story doesn’t convince somebody never to read another lady horror writer.

***

You and your roommate have seen a lot of horror movies: bad ones, good ones, so-bad-they’re-good ones. You have also noticed that you have never seen male rape depicted in a straight-up genre horror movie. “That would be the worst thing,” your roommate says, shuddering. “As a guy? That would be the most terrifying thing to watch.” You reply, flatly, “Yeah, well, that’s how it is for women, all the time. And we just have to deal. We just have to get used to it.” On-screen, some anonymous woman is crying and afraid.

***

An anthology you are in is accused of reverse discrimination because it is populated solely by female writers. It is accused of having a political agenda (because reinforcing the status quo is never political; only disrupting it): promoting shoddy women over competent men. Other people launch defenses: you have to over-correct to break structural inequality; many anthologies are essentially male-only because no female writers were chosen or submitted to be chosen; it’s important for our society to make sure marginalized voices are heard and the male voice permeates SF/F/H as it is. Meanwhile, you are hit with a soft psychosomatic blow to the stomach. Oh no. What if you are actually shit?

***

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You attend a Superbowl watch party with about 50 other people. When they air the trailer for the next season of Stranger Things, everyone cheers loudly. You are much more subdued. Your coworker leans over and confesses he has yet to watch this show. You say, “Yeah, it’s good. I’m not as enthusiastic about it as most of these guys, because…” “Because you’re a writer,” he guesses. “…Because I didn’t like how it treated its female characters,” you finish. “Like I said,” he says, laughing. “Because you’re a writer.”

 ***

You are lucky. You were supported, by both men and women with more clout and experience and influence and power than you. You try to believe in yourself enough to trust that this support had nothing to do with quotas, nothing to do with anything except your writing. You believe, as good girls always do, that SF/F/H is generally meritocratic – certainly more so than your day job, anyway.

 ***

You have been published since you were 21, and you still feel like an interloper who wouldn’t fit in and wouldn’t have anything intelligent to say. So you are still, mostly, quiet. You find it amazing how confident men are in talking about their work (young men, old men, much-younger-than-you men), how confident they are in talking to older and more established writers, how easy it must be for them to see themselves in their idols. How nice it must be, you think, to feel like the place at the table is already set for you.

 ***

It’s Women in Horror Month, and you read some article asking Where Are All the Women, Are They Just Not Writing?  And you slowly bash your head against the wall.

 ***

Movies Pictured: It Follows; Under The Shadow; The Witch; Darling

Soundtrack: “Sick” – Salem

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In Defense of The Price

I miss high-stakes horror movies.

I miss not knowing who’s going to die. I miss not being able to telegraph the end. I miss protagonists that make bad decisions. I miss last-minute twists. What I really miss are lasting consequences. I miss horror movies where every bet is off save for one eternal rule: The Price.

This is the law of The Price. Imagine that in every horror movie, there is a troll under the bridge who collects the fare – The Price – for crossing over from the so-called normal world, or their ordinary existence, into the world of the dead or the damned or whatever else. Sometimes it’s a conscious decision to trespass across this boundary – a character decides to use a ouija board to contact a dead relative; a character uses a spell to hex a rival – and sometimes it’s not – a character makes a wrong turn down an unfamiliar road; a character takes in an orphaned child. Sometimes it’s a total freak coincidence – a character gets a phone call from an unknown number; a character sees a neighbor being murdered. However it happens, that character has tasted the forbidden fruit of the abnormal world, and now they have to pay The Price.

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The Price can be paid in a variety of ways, but it’s not a blister that heals with a band-aid. Here are some good options: character death; character loved one death; character damnation; character incapacitation (mental or physical); massive character dislocation. And yes, sometimes it’s terribly unfair: all I did was check-in on my brother! But fair isn’t the point. The point is to recognize that that other world is powerful, palpable, and not to be fucked with. Oh yeah, and that life’s not fair. It’s Arcade Fire’s “Black Mirror”:

The black mirror knows no reflection
It knows not pride or vanity
It cares not about your dreams
It cares not for your pyramid schemes
Their names are never spoken
The curse is never broken

I don’t know when I learned about The Price, but I remember the first time I noticed that it was missing: the Anthony Hopkins exorcism movie The Rite, where no one seems to pay any price at all. The Rite really shocked me, because of any horror movie subgenre, the exorcism movie is typically the most brutal, given that it deals with literal pure Evil.

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I initially thought that not paying The Price is symptomatic of a movie being part of a franchise, as in The Conjuring series, where no one seems to ever be of any serious risk of anything other than having the fear of God put into them, presumably to keep Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson headlining a universe of Psychic Superhero movies. But horror franchises have been paying The Price for years, and that in fact The Price has jumpstarted various creative detours compelled by the deaths of primary characters (Nightmare on Elm StreetHalloween, and Friday the 13th all killed their original final girls.)

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So now I think it’s something else: now I think there is a strange reluctance to make horror movies that are “too dark.” I think maybe we want updated versions of the original don’t-go-into-the-woods morality tale: if you do go into the woods, if you’re a good person you’ll figure out how to defeat evil and walk away unscathed. That’s some bullshit, folks. Not only does it: (a) not reflect the reality of how bad things actually happen, (b) represent a pretty self-defeating morality tale – so it’s okay to go into the woods, eh?, but it (c) sucks all tension out of what is supposed to be a tense experience. Oh gee whiz, wonder if this nice little American family with three little kids is going to survive the haunted house!

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Some bullshit.

Because The Price isn’t really about trespassing unseen boundaries. The Price is about that great price we all must pay for being alive, being human, being part of a cruel civilization – the guilt of knowing you are sitting comfortably in your home while terrible things are done to people no different from you halfway across the world; the fact that tender hearts are the most vulnerable; the knowledge that you are alive and well because your ancestors made cold-blooded choices that victimized other people – or else they were the victims, and did terrible things to survive; the sinking feeling that someone knows what you did that summer. To quote another song, this one “Courage (for Hugh Maclennan)” by The Tragically Hip:

the human tragedy
consists in the necessity
of living with the consequences
[of actions performed] Under pressure

That’s The Price, my friends, and we all must pay it.

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Horror movies that are all about The Price pictured above: 1) The Ring; 2) The Exorcist; 3) Candyman; 4) Pet Sematary; 5) Retribution [Sakebi].

 

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a walking study in demonology

In responding to accusations that her character Amy Dunne in Gone Girl perpetuates misogynistic stereotypes, Gillian Flynn says:

the one thing that really frustrates me is this idea that women are innately good, innately nurturing. In literature, they can be dismissably bad – trampy, vampy, bitchy types – but there’s still a big pushback against the idea that women can be just pragmatically evil, bad and selfish … I don’t write psycho bitches. The psycho bitch is just crazy – she has no motive, and so she’s a dismissible person because of her psycho-bitchiness.

And also, in explaining her predilection for writing villainous women in general:

I particularly mourn the lack of female villains — good, potent female villains. Not ill-tempered women who scheme about landing good men and better shoes (as if we had nothing more interesting to war over), not chilly WASP mothers (emotionally distant isn’t necessarily evil), not soapy vixens (merely bitchy doesn’t qualify either). I’m talking violent, wicked women. Scary women. Don’t tell me you don’t know some. The point is, women have spent so many years girl-powering ourselves — to the point of almost parodic encouragement — we’ve left no room to acknowledge our dark side. Dark sides are important. They should be nurtured like nasty black orchids.

As someone who is writing her own female villain right now, I would like to suggest a few of the noteworthy “bad girls” that came before her and helped to inspire her – female villains that are authentically scary, violent, and arguably evil (I’m generally uncomfortable throwing around “evil,” despite writing in horror). They’re also so enrapturing that you just can’t look away. Clearly, there are many other types of female villains – the Bad Nurse, the Vain Actress, the Jealous Wannabe. The girls on this list, and the one I’m writing, are what I’ll call Superpredators.

Merricat Blackwood, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson

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It’s to Jackson’s credit that you don’t quite realize it at first, but Merricat is a mass-murdering little psychopath who kills nearly her entire family for no reason and allows her older sister to take the blame. She exhibits no remorse and no regard for anyone except herself (and maybe her cat) – even her “care” for her older sister is ultimately an attempt to resist any undesired change in her life regardless of the cost she inflicts on others. She’s completely lacking in empathy – completely absorbed by her own logical system, a self-made witchcraft – and completely fine with that.

Tomie, Tomie, by Junji Ito

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Tomie was also born bad to the bone, but she’s more demon than psychopath. Always appearing as a beautiful, conniving high-school girl, Tomie breaks up relationships, ruins friendships, and inspires murder. Inevitably, she always winds up on the wrong side of somebody’s knife, but Tomie is unkillable – an eternal embodiment of the cost of desire. I’ve always thought there was something very bold about Ito’s decision to make his demoness both unquestionably evil at the elemental level and also a perpetual victim of horrific, very human violence.

Beloved, Beloved, by Toni Morrison

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Beloved was the first female character to scare the shit out of me, because Morrison writes her so incomprehensibly alien, so “not right.” She is clearly dead yet clearly corporeal, and imposes an oppressive gloom over a makeshift family that is already struggling uphill to stay together. Like Tomie, Beloved reflects the evil of human society and the darkness of the human heart. Her ultimate childishly selfish objective is to drive everyone else away from her mother using whatever means necessary so she can have her mother to herself – and, apparently, to consume and destroy life.

Daisy Buchanan, The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Daisy is oft-dismissed as an ineffectual non-character, but I consider her a non-violent, slothful psychopath. Daisy is vapidly selfish, does not demonstrate capacity to feel for anything except objects (over-the-top melodramatic performances aside), and I think there’s a compelling alt-reading of this book in which she murders her husband’s mistress in cold blood and manipulates her brutish oaf-husband to have her cloying lover killed because he’s begun to inconvenience her. The fact that none of the male characters see this is demonstrative of how well she’s learned to game them.

Callisto, Xena: Warrior Princess

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Try as I might to root for bad-ass and rather boring Xena and idealistic jokester Gabrielle, it was unstable, evil, hyena-laughing Callisto, a female mix of Heath Ledger’s Joker and Apocalypse Now‘s napalm-and-surf-loving Kilgore, who always stole the show. She was such a shameless fiend. Callisto wasn’t born bad – she was driven mad by watching bad Xena kill her family. Like any classical supervillain, Callisto is completely warped by her desire for vengeance over Xena, which she also frequently mistakes for a desire to be Xena.

Katie Featherston, Paranormal Activity

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It’s hard to pick just one female horror spook – they are all over the place, and are usually the angry victims of a patriarchal society – but I went with Katie, the demon-possessed heroine/antagonist of the Paranormal Activity series, because her transformation from relatable girl-next-door to a non-human uber-monster is so shocking and tragic. Katie is also the victim of the patriarchy, having been saddled with the demon by her brother-in-law, and despite her unthinking post-possession brutality, the PA series loves her like Scream loves Sidney Prescott – she’s the bleeding heart of the franchise.

Maybe it’s because I’m absorbed with horror that I think there’s no shortage of evil women. The horror-related question I’m asked most often by friends is “why do all ghosts seem to be women?” and no matter how you answer (I have several stand-by explanations, and I’m sure there are many others), there’s no avoiding the very close relationship that women have with evil, or at least the dark, in horror. Things are different in political fiction – there are some morally corrupt Mata Haris, the Bond Girls who are on the wrong side of Western civilization, but they’re the women Flynn would dismiss as vamps. A lot of political novels have either one female character – a love interest or ingenue, flat with goodness – or no female characters (except a revolving door of prostitutes). It’s easily argued that politics and governance are a man’s game, but real life shows that women can very easily be political villains, no matter whether you think that’s Margaret Thatcher or Jane Fonda. Lady Macbeth aside, I’m not sure fiction has quite reached its full potential on this front. But I hope my girl Carly will be a worthy contribution.

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welcome to the bestiary

One of the many things I adore about NBC’s Hannibal is the feathered stag that haunts Will Graham and sometimes evolves into a stag-man.  I have a huge soft spot for the recurrent use of animals as symbolic, otherworldly entities in horror – i.e., not as monster bait, nor necessarily as the monster itself, but as a sort of gateway, sometimes a hallucinatory one, between the normal and paranormal world, or between the mundane and the sublime.

Hannibal_Stag_zps46309a7cClearly, I like stags for this purpose – I did write a story about a Stag-Man, after all – as they strike very evocative poses and call to mind a strange combination of beauty, royalty, sacrament, and ultimate victimhood (the ridiculous idea of Bambi as King of the Forest).  Any sort of animal horn is probably going to immediately ping your cultural spidey-sense, whether you think of the Abrahamic Devil or something older, like a bull-god.  Much like the stag, you hit that weird sweet spot between an image that looks very powerful but is intended to be sacrificed.  The Conspiracy captures this quite well, when one of the guys trying to break into a secret society finds himself wearing a very ominous-looking bull mask that marks him as the “quarry”:

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But you don’t have to stop there.  Twin Peaks does this with owls (they are not what they seem), so well that I actually am rather frightened of owls now.  It’s a shame, because I used to like owls.  The video for the song “The Owl,” by I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness, doesn’t help.

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Candyman does this with bees.

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Ju-On does this with cats.

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The Omen does this with dogs (all kinds of dogs, but the skeletonized jackal in the remake is the worst IMO).

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The Disney movie captures precisely none of this, but Kipling’s The Jungle-Book has one of the greatest ambiguous animal conduits into the unknown of all time – the “ghost”-tiger Shere-Khan. I’m sure Shere-Khan himself was inspired by the great man-eating tigers that were the bane of British India’s attempts to lay railroad tracks.

Buldeo was explaining how the tiger that had carried away Messua’s son was a ghost-tiger, and his body was inhabited by the ghost of a wicked, old money-lender, who had died some years ago. “And I know that this is true,” he said, “because Purun Dass always limped from the blow that he got in a riot when his account books were burned, and the tiger that I speak of he limps, too, for the tracks of his pads are unequal.”

“True, true, that must be the truth,” said the gray-beards, nodding together.

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Our Horror Heroines, Our Selves

It’s Women in Horror month, and when I think of “women in horror,” I think of one of my go-to answers for why I write horror: because I think there’s a lot more room in horror for the kind of female characters I love to watch – three-dimensional ones, complicated ones, damaged ones, Good and Bad and Ugly ones.  Therefore, I present a chronological list of some of my favorite women in horror movies – from my junior high idols and beyond.  A note: There aren’t a whole lot of traditional final girls on this list.  Another note: It is pretty shameful how few non-white women are on this list as well.  Dear horror industry, work on this.

Daphne in Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island

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She’s the pretty airhead in the cartoons, but Daphne really comes into her own in Zombie Island, where she’s the grown-up host of Coast to Coast with Daphne Blake, in an insecure “It’s Complicated” relationship with Fred, and incredibly brazen and frankly, kick-ass.

Trish in Jeepers Creepers

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Trish was the first final girl I felt like I could relate to – she was prickly, mopey, tomboyish, jokey, outspoken, and has her heart broken by a political science student. A great mix of toughness and weakness, with also-great hoop earrings.

Clarice in Silence of the Lambs

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The FBI and its criminals are a man’s man’s world – little orphan girls from West Virginia better have a lot of grit to get ahead. I hugely prefer Jodie Foster’s Clarice, but it’s in Hannibal that you learn the great truth about Clarice: that she’s a deep-roller, baby.

Caroline in The Skeleton Key

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This is when I started to actually see myself in the day-to-day of grown-up female characters. I loved that Caroline goes clubbing, has tattoos, wears a lot of black – and is trying her best to do the right thing, despite her failings and uncertainties.

Selena in 28 Days Later

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The punk-tastic Selena undergoes some of the most important realizations in 28 Days Later: that there’s more to life than just survival, that there will be no more films, that some things are worth waiting longer than a heartbeat for.  But she was way smarter and stronger than I thought I could ever hope to be.

Marlena in Cloverfield

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Me and Marlena, we are basically the same. Surly, aware of Superman and Garfield. Go to a goodbye party for someone we don’t really know, try to avoid dumb-ass with the camera, end up with a bunch of suicidal douchebags, save said dumb-ass from a giant monster-bug, get attacked by monster-bug, explode in a bloody mess. Just another Saturday night.

Lisa in Silent Hill

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I actually never played Silent Hill, but I watched this fan-video focused on Lisa Garland as a good, helpful nurse who doesn’t realize she’s actually a monster – and, upon this realization, transforms into her “true form.” Lisa blurred Good Girl/Bad Girl.

Sarah and Juno in The Descent

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Speaking of Good Girl/Bad Girl, Sarah and Juno destroy that dichotomy. Sarah starts out depressed and deadened, grieving her husband and daughter; Juno is a risk-taking force of nature whose motto is “Love Each Day” – the same as Sarah’s dead husband. But Juno’s not a villain, and Sarah’s not sweetness and light. They’re fighters and survivors… with intense emotional lives too.

Tomie in Tomie

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Tomie’s a Bad Girl who steals other girls’ boyfriends and refuses to die, a subtler precursor to Megan Fox in Jennifer’s Body… but I dare you to try to empathize. She’s a simultaneous victim and manifestation of misogynistic lust, and as such spends her existence being repeatedly killed.

Laurie in Trick ‘r’ Treat

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The runt of the litter, the ugly duckling, the late bloomer – Laurie’s clinging to a romantic ideal that even she knows can’t last, since being herself hasn’t gotten her very far, while her beautiful sister’s set her up with a literal man-child.

Helen Lyle in Candyman

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I watched Candyman after the trauma of college, and my heart immediately went out to Helen. She’s a sharp student who I suspect married her anthropology professor and is now trying to prove herself by writing a dissertation to “bury” the Ol’ Boys’ assumptions. A little over-eager and a little blind, Helen is the original queen of kicking hornets’ nests.

Katie in Paranormal Activity

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I’m still disturbed by my love for Katie, who spends most of the Paranormal Activity series being a possessed demon-vessel, but what I love about her character is her transformation from Normal but Traumatized Girl into an omnipotent villainess. It’s a transformation she suffers because her brother-in-law sees her as expendable – but payback’s a bitch.

Ji-oh in Whispering Corridors 1

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Parents, if you want your daughters to emulate any character on this list, let it be Ji-oh. She endures an abusive school system with strength and self-awareness without compromising her kindness for others. She also makes paintings of horrible deaths to get them out of her head, and I know how that goes.

Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks

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My actual idol in Twin Peaks was Audrey Horne, but Audrey Horne was in a romantic drama; Laura Palmer was in a horror movie. She was another Good Girl/Bad Girl blur, a fire-walker, a girl you want to pin down as a teen queen, a slut, a victim – but Laura made a choice most of her neighbors wouldn’t have had the strength to commit to. Laura was a bad-ass.

Helen in “New Year’s Day,” ep. of Fear Itself

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I’ve written about Briana Evigan’s Helen before: she wakes up hung-over on New Year’s Day with dim memories of the night before – only that she went to the party of the man she loves who she believes loves her back – into a broken, burning city. Suffice it to say that this bundle of raw nerves hit real close to home.

Shelby in “The Spirit Box,” ep. of Fear Itself

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If Helen’s my picture of relatable dysfunction, then Anna Kendrick’s Shelby is my picture of relatable competence. Shelby’s dad thinks she’s “like a satanist or something,” but she’s got a heart of gold – she’s just a little bit weird and a little bit witchy, trying to stave off the wreckage caused by her mother’s death.

Sidney and Gale in the Scream series

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I didn’t actually watch any of the Scream movies until I watched the final one in theaters, and I was way more impressed than I expected to be – especially with bitchy, stone-cold reporter Gale and sad, reclusive survivalist Sidney. I love that the Scream series makes room for not one but two very different heroines, and that they’ve been enemies as well as friends. Oh, and Dewey’s pretty cool too.

India in Stoker

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Yet another young woman dealing with the death of a parent (there’s a theme), India’s wise beyond her years, one of Twin Peaks’ ultra-sensitive “Gifted and the Damned.” She’s also wobbling between sanity and insanity, an impassive glacier punctuated with moments of extreme aggression. Don’t approach this Five Alarm Horror Heroine until you think you can take her.

Mia in Evil Dead [2013]

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I love what the Evil Dead remake did with the “little sister” character. Now a recovering heroin addict, Mia spends the movie first controlled and condescended to by her supposed friends, then possessed by a demonic spirit, and finally – finally – able to take back her body and defeat her evil self with a chainsaw. She’s like Katie, but redeemed.

All of Sarah Paulson’s characters in American Horror Story

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First, she was a tennis-playing socialite-turned-medium. Next, she was a muckraking journalist put through hell and turned to stone. Finally, she was a meek and can’t-we-all-just-get-along headmistress of a witch academy afraid of her own potential. My love for Evan Peters notwithstanding, Sarah Paulson’s unsteady and conflicted heroines are my favorite part of American Horror Story. Good-hearted and blind Cordelia is my sentimental favorite, but this gif of Lana wins everything.

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my kind of scream queen

I’ve always thought horror to be one of the more welcoming milieus for women, despite looking like a landscape that’s not welcoming to anyone (and American horror movies unfortunately remain unwelcoming to American minorities).  There’s a lot of room for subversion in horror – even the most formulaic slashers value “final twists.”  The Final Girl may have started off as an emblem of chastity but she’s evolved over time – as I hoped to show in my story “And When She Was Bad.”  You don’t have to root for the heroes and heroines of horror – indeed, there might not even be any.  Villains – including female villains – often have wildly sympathetic back stories.  Realistically, this probably comes from the need to get the audience excited about bloodshed, but I like to think it stems from our recognition that “all cats are grey in the dark,” as The Cure says.  Either way, that’s a petri dish that supports a diverse variety of human personalities.  

I was listening to “Ghosts” by Ladytron today, which got me thinking about the surprisingly-good Sorority Row movie, and it turns out that the star of Sorority Row, Briana Evigan, was in one of my favorite Fear Itself episodes, “New Year’s Day.”  In Sorority Row she plays the “good sister” of the sorority who nonetheless finds herself in the crosshairs of a patriarchal code when she chooses her sorority sisters over her boyfriend.  In “New Year’s Day” she plays a depressed twenty-something who wakes up during the zombie apocalypse and crosses the city to get to the apartment of the guy she’s in love with, under the false impression that he likes her too — among many other false impressions.  That’s a pretty hilarious coincidence, and it got even better:

Evigan was the tortured artist of Linkin Park’s “Numb” video.

So she’s also in a bunch of dance movies.  The subdued, hard-drinking, glum tomboy “I love you because you are so real”/”That’s just because she can’t afford fake ones” thing works well.  Which I guess is the long way of saying that her characters remind me of me, and contrary to what you may have heard lately, seeing yourself “represented” on screen/page is extremely satisfying.  Not because you get to live vicariously through this character you identify with – God knows things don’t end well for Briana Evigan in “New Year’s Day” – but because you think, “hey, look, I’m not a freak, I’m a part of this society too, and I don’t have to be X to be considered a realistic human being.”  

Sometimes, it’s the small things.

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bait and bleed

Inspired by Paul Tremblay’s revised post on his blog, and just in time for Halloween: a list of some of my favorite scary scenes from horror movies.  Not all of my favorite movies made the cut – some, like Paranormal Activity, didn’t leave me with one defining scene, and others, like Lake Mungo, Paul already mentioned (and he’s right!).

CREEPYPASTA
Named after the formulaic, viral, irresistible little “copy+paste” stories, these scenes have that friend-of-a-friend, urban legend overtone.  Mostly occur early in the movie.  They elicit that sinking feeling of “oh no” because you know exactly where this is going, and it’s nowhere good.  See also: jump scares.

Candyman: The Babysitter
Just like “don’t go in the attic,” “don’t say his name five times!” (go to 1:00)

The Ring: First Death
The opening sequence of The Ring is a master class of the urban legend.

Paranormal Activity 3: Sheet Ghost
The babysitter dressed up as a sheet ghost before putting the girls to bed.  Then she went to do her homework.
 

NIGHTMARE
Long psychedelic scenes where you, and the helpless protagonist, get thrown into elaborate nightmarish and bizarre worlds and you’re like, “yes, this is scary,” and then five minutes later, “why isn’t this goddamn over yet, are you serious right now?!”

Silent Hill: Bathroom
Rose is relieved that the HazMat squad hasn’t found her hiding in the bathroom with a corpse in the last stall.  Then the screaming starts.

The Night Flier: Dwight Renfield
Dees has been chasing a serial killer that flies around in a Cessna killing people at small airports.  Then he catches up to the guy at an “empty” airport.

MONSTERS IN YOUR HEAD
Pseudo-hallucinatory, dreamy, and deeply personal.  Something Evil’s coming for you, just you.  I noticed after the fact that almost all these are Stephen King movies: dude knows how to tap into the twisted, ugly little thoughts/memories we all have and can’t stop picking at.

Pet Sematary: Zelda
Like most Americans, Rachel can’t handle talking about death, having been traumatized by the death of her sister Zelda.  Well, guess who shows up when shit goes down.

Twin Peaks: Bob
No introduction necessary (or provided).
 

HARD EVIDENCE
Found footage is probably my favorite type of horror movie, because it’s so naturalistic, chock-filled with creepy details, and a great slow-build.  The best found footage scenes are like the Fatal Frame video game – you’re playing detective, “trying” to find the ghost even though you don’t want to, and armed only with your ability to stand witness.  Like the world’s worst “Where’s Waldo.”

The Descent: Night Vision
The cave spelunkers are lost, people are seeing things out of the corner of their eyes, and now they’ve found a lot of bones.  So turn on the night vision goggles.

Noroi: The Woods
The premise of the brilliant movie Noroi: The Curse is an investigation into a series of mysterious, cult-related deaths.  The entire thing deserves to be watched and savored, but here’s an incomprehensible taste.

Inland Empire: Laura Dern
Is that her?  What is she doing?  Why is she running?  Oh she’s coming closer— I must warn that it took me about a week to burn this image out of my head.

NO EXIT
These, for me, are the scariest types of scenes of all.  They are happening now; they are happening to you, in waking life; you cannot snap out of it, you cannot put the photo down.  You think it’s over; it’s not.  And you’re reminded of this fact constantly.  These usually come after the movie’s shaken your hand and introduced itself and the stakes (usually with a CREEPYPASTA).  By the time you get to these scenes, you know: This is it.  Welcome to your new reality.

The Sixth Sense: Tent
Cole sees dead people, and he has coping mechanisms.  For example, he’s got his tent.  His tent keeps him safe.

The Eye: Elevator
Blind violinist Mun gets a corneal transplant that unfortunately lets her see dead people.  This movie’s got two great early jump scares, but this is the famous scene that stopped people from taking elevators.

Kairo: Forbidden Room
So scary, it’s been written about by the A.V. club, twice.

Ju-on: Security Camera
When asked for the scariest scene of the original Grudge, I could easily just post the entire movie.  But I’ll pick this one because the first time I saw it, I only watched about 10% of it (I had my eyes closed starting with the opening credits).  This is a scene I actually did watch, and my best friend told me later she thought it was one of the scariest parts.  Ironic!

Mulholland Drive: Diner
This is David Lynch as a Horror Director at his finest.  It’s daytime.  A guy’s sitting at a diner, telling his friend about a nightmare he had… about someone behind the diner.
[blip.tv http://blip.tv/play/AZLlYgI?p=1 width=”550″ height=”443″]
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