Tag Archives: horror on screen

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.

the exorcist

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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Black Mirror [review]

I’ve been thinking lately about the difficulty of writing political fiction, especially speculative political fiction. The main pitfall of political fiction is highlighted by Anthony Burgess in his foreword to A Clockwork Orange: “too didactic to be artistic.” I disagree with Burgess that A Clockwork Orange suffers from that problem, but I’ll leave that entire conundrum for another time. Watching the British TV show Black Mirror drew me to another issue: political realism. This is actually the primary problem I have with most YA dystopias – I just don’t believe that this terrible, unequal, totalitarian society could possibly exist or function long enough for a revolution to need to take place. As Ben “Greasnin'” Platt on Something Awful once said, “I’d like to think I’ve got a pretty huge willingness to suspend disbelief. Hell, I watched Dragon Ball Z for years and enjoyed the fuck out of it. But somehow this just asked too much of me.” Yes, there is North Korea… but that’s the exception that proves the rule. There are many, many more examples of “soft authoritarian” regimes that provide room for rich and fantastic stories – I grew up in one.

Black Mirror is a Twilight Zone-esque anthology series exploring near-future technological/social media horror scenarios created by Charlie Brooker. Netflix put up the first six episodes and the American digital media got very excited about “the best show you’ve never seen,” so I decided to check them out. It’s a very well-acted and well-directed series, generally sleek and elegant and nuanced. I was also surprised by how blatantly political the show is – out of six episodes, four revolve around politicians or the power structure as a whole.

The National Anthem

“The National Anthem”: The royal princess is kidnapped, and the ransom video goes up on YouTube – either the Prime Minister has sex with a pig on live TV, or the princess dies. It’s a tense and interesting exploration of how a completely democratic society – at least, a government that is completely kowtowed to public opinion – would deal with this situation, and I appreciated the very sympathetic portrayal it gave to the Prime Minister. However, I cannot imagine a society in which such a ransom demand would be entertained. Perhaps I say this because I have never lived in a monarchy? I also can’t imagine a society in which the decision would be determined solely by public approval ratings. Polls matter, yeah, but a nation is more than the sum of its parts. And a state is way more.

15 Million Merits

“Fifteen Million Merits”: Strong “statement” episode, if you buy the premise that the outdoors have been destroyed and the only way to power the remaining sad claustrophobic world is through pedaling bikes all day. This is the only episode that focuses squarely on that least sexy of social topics – economics: you must pay to skip the advertisements that enclose you in your little shiny prison cell, you spend your “merits” buying useless digital accessories for your useless digital persona. And at night, when you’re not jerking off to pay-for-porn, you’re watching an X-Factor type show where your fellow bike-riders try to sing their way off the bikes. Very grim, very bitter (I almost want to say hateful), and a little overly-telegraphed (didactic?), but it gets points for elaborate and punchy world-building. This is the kind of story that would get nominated for Hugos if it was written down, but wouldn’t work nearly as well without visuals.

The Entire History of You

“The Entire History of You”: Episode 1 that has nothing to do with politics. No qualms on the political realism spectrum here – this is basically life now, except with embedded “grains” that let you play back everything you see. The whole marital angst over infidelity thing isn’t really my cup of tea, and I can see why Robert Downey Jr. feels he can sell this to Hollywood, but characters and dialogue are convincing in their banal flaws and weaknesses. To be honest, if there’s an episode that I felt didn’t belong in Black Mirror, though, it’s this one.

Be Right Back

“Be Right Back”: Episode 2 that has nothing to do with politics, and by far, this is the stand-out episode of Black Mirror for me – admittedly, this hit me right in the nerve. Lead actress Hayley Atwell, aka Agent Peggy Carter, is extraordinary as a woman overcome by grief when her partner dies in a sudden crash. Because her partner was a social media addict, however, he has left behind enough bread crumbs for software to create an alter version of him who can talk to her, responding as the software thinks he would. This reminded me very much of Her, which I thought was great (but “Be Right Back” is better), as well as the Rachel Swirsky story “Eros, Philia, Agape.” Uncliched, very realistic, harrowing as hell. I straight-up cried several times.

White Bear

“White Bear”: If only they had hired a different main actress, I would have loved “White Bear.” But I hate watching hysteria, and the main actress is very much of the scream/cry school of dramatic acting. That aside, “White Bear” is a very clever little episode-within-an-episode about voyeurism and by-stander rubbernecking. The critique of the “angry mob, hungry for justice” is solid. I actually even liked the internal episode, but that may be because I really enjoy the techno-transmitted zombie-ism featured in indie horror movies Pontypool and The Signal. This is where I realized that Brooker’s overall statement about the hazards of technology is this: while empowering “the masses,” it turns people into sheeple, and sheeple into… well, carnivorous, brutish, and surprisingly easily amused sheeple.

Black Mirror - The Waldo Moment

“The Waldo Moment”: If there were any doubts about Brooker’s aforementioned statement, “The Waldo Moment” bludgeons them to death with a hammer. This is a downright Burke-ian episode about a cartoon bear that starts off as a talk show gag and ends up a joke candidate running for office, beloved for his profanity and apolitical irreverence. I actually had to wonder if this was a jab at Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert (a pretty poor one, if so). Despite some good moments about the role of corporate funding in political campaigns, the episode was disjointed and not particularly interesting. The “apocalypse” ending was laughable in its un-reality, and judging by the rest of the episode, I don’t think there would have been a satisfactory explanation for this turn of events.

So in sum, in Brooker’s world, people are incredibly stupid (especially in crowds), technology will make them dumber, and politicians will either find themselves utterly hamstrung by the whim of the mob or will find a way to channel that mob’s demand for entertainment into something useful. Not the most radical message, and fairly curmudgeonly for my taste – I unabashedly love the Joker’s social experiment on the ferries in The Dark Knight (“what were you trying to prove, that deep down, everyone’s as ugly as you?”), and hated that this sentiment was overwritten in The Dark Knight Rises. But Black Mirror deserves credit for complicating the message with astute depictions of consumerism and corporate financing, and keeping its characters very well-rounded. I would simply question whether people are as ugly – or as influential – as Brooker thinks.

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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”:

TheConspiracy_Tarsus

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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“bad houses hate our warmth and our human-ness”

Title quote from one of my favorite monologues on haunted houses, in Rose Red (which itself is heavily inspired by The Haunting of Hill House).  The speaker is, of course, a ghost who embodies the “bad house” in question.

The Paris Review has a great essay on the modern economic context of haunted houses.  It touches not only on economic crisis but Jentsch’s (“where one is unclear as to whether an object or figure or a person is inanimate or somehow alive”) and Freud’s (“Uncanny is what one calls everything that was meant to remain secret and hidden, and has come into the open”) definition of the uncanny, as well as a place the author calls the Happy Murder Castle.  It’s a winning combo that digs into the psychology of horror:

The Happy Murder Castle was disquieting, uncanny, possessed of an uneasy sense I’ve rarely felt in any structure; I’ll admit there are times I’m tempted to call it “haunted.” We tell ourselves ghost stories perhaps because we truly believe in the paranormal—or perhaps because we just need a word, a term, a story for that vague feeling that would be too silly to admit otherwise.

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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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