Saturday, August 30, 2014

i have been stabbed, shot, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted and burned

Before I get into the topic for today, the first recap of the new iteration of this blog:

(By the way, here are links to all six recaps of the first year—the Groundhog Day year:

Day 62 – for your information
Day 121 – how else could you know so much?
Day 180 – it would be great to stay for some of the other events
Day 240 – it’s your choice. so what’s it gonna be?
Day 300 – round and round and round we go
Day 363 – and you’d be an expert)

Phase Two of this blog began with a week of The Ring. Day 1 (366) – seven days established the new format for the blog while, in trying to generally review The Ring I got stuck on the “message” of the movie regarding television. That topic continued into Day 2 (367) – i hate television and into Day 3 (368) – how far down do you think it goes? Then, I got into the “anti-romanticization” (though I didn’t coin that term yet) of the small town in Day 4 (369) – everything sheltered, protected and comfortable. Day 5 (370) – she just wanted to be heard mostly deals with the physical appearance of Samara in The Ring in relation to the Japanese original and Japanese ghosts. Day 6 (371) – pick a card, any card uses tarot cards to explore the story and characters in The Ring. And finally, Day 7 (372) – before you did you see the ring breaks down the screenplay structure of The Ring.

The next film was The Sixth Sense. I began with a basic review in Day 8 (373) – that isn’t magic. Day 9 (374) – you have to add some twists and stuff deals with the twist ending of The Sixth Sense and the existence of characters and stories beyond the boundaries of a particular film. Day 10 (375) – used to tell you bedtime stories is mostly sidetracked by Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water in introducing the presence of mythology in The Sixth Sense which really gets discussed in Day 11 (376) – only he who is pure of heart, specifically references and allusions to Arthurian legend. Day 12 (377) – listen to them references Groundhog Day, Siddhartha, The Sixth Sense and tarot cards to explore the times in life we get stuck. Day 13 (378) – a part of themselves gets printed on those things deals with the role of video and audio recordings in The Sixth Sense and finally, Day 14 (379) – de profundis clamo ad te domine measures both Malcolm Crowe and Cole Sear as Christ-Figures.

The third film in Phase Two was The Blair Witch Project. I started with day 15 (380) – she keeps leaving shit outside your door is a brief (I was sitting at a picnic table behind my tent while camping at the time of writing) review of the film coupled with photos of the stick figure men I made and left around our campsite. Day 16 (381) – this is a very important book deals briefly with watching the movie while camping before moving on to some of the supplemental material, particularly the book The Blair Witch Project: A Dossier. day 17 (382) – have you heard of the blair witch? gets into the detail of the Blair Witch legend and also the “real-world” Bell Witch of Tennessee. Day 18 (383) – you’re still doing your documentary thing deals with some behind-the-scenes details as well as the supplementary documentaries, Curse of the Blair Witch and The Burkittsville 7. Day 19 (384) – it’s not quite reality deals with the tropes of the found footage film. Day 20 (385) – it was like a woman is both an indictment of Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 and of sexist gendering in either Blair Witch film. Finally, Day 21 (386) – write us a happy ending deals with several potential interpretations of the final scene of The Blair Witch Project.

The fourth film was Scream. I began with Day 22 (387) – like something out of a horror movie is a brief introduction to the hypertextuality of the film. Day 23 (388) – it’s all a movie. it’s all one great big movie deals with the commentary track with Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson. Day 24 (389) – some stupid killer stalking some big breasted girl who can’t act starts exploring the subtext of the slasher film (the psychosexual fury of the killer, the virginal Final Girl, etc.), which continues into Day 25 (390) – i’m not randy, delving into masculinity, femininity, hegemony, patriarchy and violence, and into Day 26 (391) – nice solid R rating on our way to an NC-17, linking horror to pornography, and Day 27 (392) – my mom moved out and abandoned me, which gets into the so-called breakdown of family values and the conservative worldview of the slasher film. Finally, Day 28 (393) – watch a few movies, take a few notes offers some last thoughts on Scream and slasher films (for now).

And, then there was Groundhog Day again today. And, the topic is obvious given how many words have been spent on it lately. Phil as figurative slasher, Rita as Final Girl…

First of all, it hasn’t even been a whole month since I last watched this movie. I must say that a) don’t think I have missed it and, on the other hand, b) it seems like only yesterday I was watching it. I guess it takes a long time for a year-long experience to wear off. If Billy Loomis is killing people over his mother leaving a year ago and Sidney is still barely dealing with her mother’s death a year ago and Malcolm Crowe has been ignoring most of his day to not recognize his only ghostliness for a good chunk of a year (I realized as I went to use him as an example that we don’t actually know how long he’s been dead, not specifically), if those Montgomery College students’ footage can be found after a year and spark a story we’re still following decades later, I think it is safe to say that one year is a big deal, and trying to get over it quickly—well, that’s just silly.

I do keep finding myself just watching the movie, though, making it hard to type. I’ve got Clover (1987) open to the left of my iPad but the TV is to the right. The right keeps winning my attention.

Anyway, Phil Connors, (figurative) slasher killer. Clover tells us of two types of killers:

In films of the Psycho type (Dressed to Kill, Eyes of Laura Mars), the killer is an insider, a man who functions normally in the action until, at the end, his other self is revealed. Texas Chain Saw and Halloween introduced another sort of killer: one whose only role is that of killer and one whose identity as such is clear from the outset. Norman may have a normal half, but these killers have none. (P. 196)

Phil Connors is clearly more the Norman Bates type than the Michael Myers type. For two acts, he is one kind of guy, then in the third act, his “other self is revealed.” Clover describes the second type as “usually large, sometimes overweight, and often masked... recognizably human, but only marginally” (ibid). Phil is none of these things... well, he is recognizably human, and given his sarcasm and his sardonic wit, maybe he is marginally human, but not in the way Clover means.

Now, recall this bit from Harold Ramis’ second revision of the Groundhog Day script (which I have quoted more than once):

RITA
I see. You know, Phil, you can charm all the little P.A.’s at the station, all the secretaries, and even some of the weekend anchors, but not me—not in a thousand years. (Ramis, 1992, pp. 40-41.

Rita also calls “The whole secretarial pool... a Phil Connors recovery group” (p. 70). This description of Phil doesn’t make it into the movie, but it is not inconsistent with what we know of pre-loop Phil. Phil’s womanizing doesn’t go as far as the “psychosexual fury” of Clover’s killers, but it certainly positions Phil as a man driven by his sexual desires and clearly unable to satisfy them. In Rubin’s original script, Phil describes one of his projects once he’s inside the time loop:

PHIL (V.O.)
Of the sixty-three eligible women in Punxsutawney, only forty-nine have so far been—accessible. The last few are proving more of a challenge. (Rubin, 2012, p. 37).

Phil is systematically working his way through the women of Punxsutawney. By the time we get to the final film, we only see a little bit of this process—Nancy Taylor, high school crush; Laraine, French maid costumed date; (and for a long shot) Florence Lancaster, nice old widow Phil at least kisses once if nothing else. Structurally, these women function like the victims in a slasher film. Nancy not only puts out on the first date but is open to a marriage proposal—far from the virginal girl who gets to make it to the end of Phil’s story. Laraine is seen so briefly that all we have to remember her by are two details: 1) she is dressed like a French maid, a specifically sexualized costume in our culture and 2) she is submissive to Phil in that she calls him not by name but by the hypermasculine nickname Bronco.

(In a nice coincidence, I wrote that last line and then the movie theater scene began.)

Now a stretch. More than a few times (on the IMDb board for the film, for example) I’ve seen the suggestion that Ned is a) gay and b) is either pursuing his high school crush or trying to Phil Connor Phil Connors. That is, he’s lying about knowing him in high school in order to get him back to his place and see what kind of noises Phil makes when he “gets real excited.” Combine the implications here with Phil’s hugging Ned late in the film—and Ramis’ description of Ned’s response as “homophobic shock”—and, well, I would have to suggest Ned as another one of Phil’s “victims.” Each of the people he interacts with on the way to Rita, his Final Girl, are victims. They aren’t, of course, victims of violence but of something... else.

Rita’s line from Ramis’ second revision continues like this:

RITA
Not if I was dying and your breath was the only cure; not if having your child was the only way to preserve the human race. Just get it out of head because it is NOT GOING TO HAPPEN! (p. 41)

Talk about virginal. Clover (1987) tells us the Final Girl is “intelligent, watchful, levelheaded” (p. 207). It’s notable that in earlier drafts Rita follows Phil along as he performs all his chores on the final day of the time loop because, as Clover explains, “By the end, the point of view is hers.” We certainly are a little bit separated from Phil’s POV on that last day; we are not privy to all the information he has gathered since his string of deaths. We watch, as Rita does in the earlier drafts, amazed at each feat. And, amazed to see that Phil has changed.

The thing is, that third act transformation doesn’t fit the killer’s story per se. The second act ended with the big confrontation between Phil (the killer) and Rita (the intended victim), and she defeated him. Since most of the deaths here are not literal (though, arguably each resumption of the day is a little death for Phil and each new day is like a sequel/remake), Rita doesn’t kill him. But this is the point in the film that brings Phil to more literal death. Act Three, then, is what happens after the final reel of a slasher film, if you let the killer live. His psychosexual fury is doused and he moves on to better pursuits. Imagine Jason Vorhees or Michael Myers turning to the piano or Freddy Krueger trying his hand (and glove) at ice sculpting... or Leatherface for that matter—he’s already got the chainsaw.

One last thing: Clover insists that the ending of the slasher film is the Final Girl becoming more masculine as she turns against her attacker. In Groundhog Day Rita becomes more masculine by buying Phil and going to his place not because he has tricked her into going there but because she has chosen to. Benesh (2011) calls Rita “the ‘feminine mirror’ of the male protagonist” (p. 117). This fits right in with Clover’s interpretation of slasher films.

Or maybe this is every film that involves men and women together in one storyline, the horror film, the romantic comedy, the romantic drama—the male must push his way through woman after woman until one women gets him to change, feminizing him so that doesn’t just act on his sexual instincts.

Today’s reason to repeat a day forever: though it may be wrong, to kill a whole lot of people (figuratively) until I find my Final Girl.

watch a few movies, take a few notes

...in the Scream trilogy [“hypermodernism”] can be identified in two ways: (1) a heightened degree of intertextual referencing and self-reflexivity that ceases to function at the traditional level of tongue-in-cheek subtext, and emerges instead as the actual text of the films: and (2) a propensity for ignoring film-specific boundaries by actively referencing, “borrowing,” and influencing the styles and formats of other media forms, including television and music videos—strategies that have further blurred that once separated discrete media. (Wee, 2005, p. 44)

So, there’s that. I’ve covered most of what’s said there, but given more time, I would love to get into the specific references, say, to other movies. Also, given the movie right now is in the early scene of Sidney alone in her house (she’s about to fall asleep and when she wakes up is the night the killer(s) call her) and I kind of want to deal with set decoration, oddly enough—there is an interesting old fashioned aesthetic going on that house, a pot belly stove in the corner for example. I’d like to really get into the function of slasher film villains (or horror film villains in general) in focusing all of our larger fears into something more tangible, more fathomable. Gill (2002) argues, “the brutal murderer of adolescents in [the slasher film] serves a bizarrely apotropaic function: his savage presence wards off the far more unsettling circumstance of unknown evil, of personal guilt and social indifference” (p. 17). Gill is specifically referencing A Nightmare on Elm Street but the same applies to any slasher film. Freddy, Jason, Michael, Leatherface, or whomever—each one serves as an apotropaic focal point...

Not everyone knows that word, so, from Merriam-Webster:

apo•tro•pa•ic \ˌa-pə-trō-ˈpā-ik\

adjective

: designed to avert evil - an apotropaic ritual

Origin: Greek apotropaios, from apotrepein to avert, from apo- + trepein to turn.

First use: 1883

Anyway, a fictional evil distracts from a real evil, so to speak. If we can sit in a theater, or a living room, and be afraid of a horrible monster like Jason Vorhees in the Friday the 13th films or even Billy Loomis in Scream, and see him bested in the end, we needn’t fear the real threats out in the world. And, the fact that movie monsters tend to represent (at least in some fashion) specific real-world fears helps. Building on what I said yesterday about the breakdown of the family, Derr (2013) argues,

From the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, America feared the things hiding in the dark. The monsters under our beds were the invisible but menacing power of the Soviet Union, stagflation that kept us suspended in economic limbo, the possible disintegration of family structure and repeated energy crises [note: the killer family in Texas Chainsaw Massacre are ex-factory workers] which undermined our sense of our country as a superpower. Naturally the horror films of those decades were about faceless terrors that might jump out at us at any moment...

And, moving forward, past Scream into torture porn, Derr continues:

But today our fears are of the terrible things happening right in front of us—chemical weapons, gun violence and sexual abuse—over which we seem to have no power. Not surprisingly, this decade’s horror movies have focused the camera on the act of violence itself.

Derr makes an interesting point. Additionally, we had the “war on terror” in full swing by the time Saw came out. But, I think it’s worth noting that the other type of horror film that has been around in the past decade—supernatural horror (demon possession-type stuff), having a resurgence of late—stems in part from the same cause. A faceless killer we don’t fully understand and can barely fight—that’s the possessing demon and the foreign terrorist. I would love to do a study comparing the state of a) the economy and b) American hegemony (or at least our impression of it) to trends in horror films. The zombie film was birthed in Cold War fears. The slasher film was a response to the sexual revolution and all that came along with it. Torture porn has come a war without boundaries and a faceless enemy. For a few examples. In the 90s, when horror wasn’t doing so well, our economy was, and with the Cold War won (or at least ended), we were on top of the world. Scream comes into play when we don’t have too many big fears to deal with. It’s an exercise in de-/re-construction of a genre come when we had the time for that sort of thing.

Really, the practical elements of what make Scream what it is—that is what I haven’t seemed to have time for. So many words written about slasher films more generally and horror films even more generally, and I’ve hardly written in regards to the specifics of this film, the unique elements of what makes it great.

The entire script is clever but there are extra clever moments in the film, like maybe Stu and/or Billy might not ever actually lie about killing certain people; I’m not sure how they’d do with a lie detector test, being psychotic killers, but it’s an interesting detail nonetheless. Another example: The killer (Stu, this time) says to Sidney over the phone: “Poor Bill, boyfriend. An innocent guy doesn’t stand a chance with you.” There’s an extra level to the text here in that Sidney has already been responsible for putting an innocent man (Cotton Weary) in prison.

And so many more little details.

I hadn’t even intended to watch this film, by the way. I started the new format with The Ring specifically so I could title the first new entry seven days. Then, some of my research directly referenced The Sixth Sense and The Blair Witch Project and, to a lesser extent, Scream. I had actually wanted to watch four movies that didn’t relate to one another in the first month of this iteration of this blog, then focus on blocks of movies for future months. I hadn’t intended a month of horror. I must apologize ahead of time, in that there will be another month of horror (including A Nightmare on Elm Street which will inevitably involve a direct expansion on yesterday’s topic) in October, for Halloween. But, the next four weeks will be very different. And tomorrow—well, that will be special.

For now, the Groundhog Day Project will be leaving the darkness behind for a bit.

Works Cited

Derr, H. (2013). A Feminist Guide to Horror Movies, Part 4. Ms. Magazine. http://msmagazine.com/blog/2013/10/23/a-feminist-guide-to-horror-movies-part-4/

Gill, P. (2002). The Monstrous Years: Teens, Slasher Films, and the Family. Journal of Film and Video 54:4. pp. 16-30.

Wee, V. (2005). The Scream Trilogy, “Hypermodernism,” and the Late-Nineties Teen Slasher Film. Journal of Film and Video 57:3. pp. 44-61.

Friday, August 29, 2014

my mom moved out and abandoned me

“Monsters in movies are us, always us, one way or another. They’re us with hats on.” - John Carpenter

Everybody in a slasher film has some sort of family issue. It may be minor—Annie’s dad being a shouter in Halloween—it may be major—Sid’s mother sleeping around and breaking up at least two marriages in the process in Scream—but it’s there. The killer will have his own family issues—Michael Myers’ being left with his irresponsible sister is both a failure on the part of his parents, arguably, and on the part of his sister, for whom sex with her boyfriend is more important than familial obligations.

The slasher film, I’ve said before, could be taken as a response to liberal developments in American society going into and, especially, out of the 1960s. September 3, 1967, in the Los Angeles Times, Reverend Ross Greek called runaways “a national crisis” (Houston, 1967, p. F1). And the biggest danger was exposure “to the three-letter hazards of pot, LSD, STP and sex” because none other than the hippie movement (ibid). Black (2012)—yes, me, but this one was published—details the “moral battleground” of the 1960s, the sexual revolution giving youth the notion that they had, well, choices, with parents and authorities blaming everything from the counterculture to drugs to the pill (and not being entire wrong on every count there) for those choices. The Los Angeles Times ran a three-part series on “the American family in the nuclear age” in 1964, suggesting there was a “Puritanical-Freudian tug-of-war” over “America’s sexual morality” (Callan, p. C1). A study published in the New York Times in 1967 found “Permissive sexual activity... highly correlated with mental illness” (Janson, p. 41). Whether or not Dr. Seymour L. Halleck, who conducted the study, was onto something, the idea was already a sort of common knowledge around the country. Youths were stepping outside the boundaries set by society and that meant something was wrong with them.

But, I’ve already written on that subject. The point is that there was a conflict between what young people were doing and what they were supposed to be doing, well, probably since young people existed, but in the 1960s in America, it became a big topic. While the specific roots of the slasher film are put on Psycho in 1960 (which does not involve teenagers), the slasher film didn’t really become a thing until the 1970s, after the sexual revolution has gone through several iterations, the women’s movement had had its heyday, and advancements in contraception (i.e. the pill) made premarital (and extramarital) sex less risky. Meanwhile, the divorce rate had gone up and marriage had been “redefine[d]... as something optional” (Black, 2012, p. 22). Monster movies in the post-World War II era invoked nuclear age fears, horror films in the 1960s and especially the 1970s invoked fears over the dangers of the youths of the nation, as I said above, having choices—doing drugs, having sex, and basically ignoring the traditional rules for life in America (those traditional rules had probably been rewritten every decade, but the same conservative worldview that inhabits the slasher film is really good at pretending the current standards have always been and always will be.

So, essentially, the slasher film emerged as the nuclear family had been left behind for something more malleable, and young people were going wild. Ultimately, on some level, slasher films are all about family, or really the breakdown of familial bonds and intrafamilial security. That is to say, if the family unit were secure, then those young people would not be out of the home, rebelling, and they wouldn’t be available to be killed. Derr (2012) argues that horror films “suggest that changing family structures—even when change is for the better—can scare the bejeezus out of us.”

Case in point (before I fully make my point), Scream: Casey dies because she is home alone, and her boyfriend was coming over as well. The conservative morality of the slasher film tells us that, just like the Halloween example above, this is a failure of parental obligations and a moral lapse on Casey’s part as well. As soon as we’re introduced to Sidney, we learn that her father is headed out of town for the weekend, leaving her home alone. After the town institutes a curfew, what do the teenagers of Woodsboro do? They have a party. And, conveniently to the plot, but also vitally important to the subtext, Stu’s parents are gone.

The conservative world of the slasher film, where sex is punishable by death, finds its foundation in nostalgia for a time when parents were available to look after their kids, and they didn’t even have to because the suburbs were safe enough that you could just leave the door unlocked and play in the street. Gill (2002) argues that the danger in the slasher film explicitly applies to the children of the suburbs—even if they are often killed while camping in the woods. You may not remember all the details but most of the “campers” in the Friday the 13th are not out camping in tents. They are at summer camps or at lakeside cabins, or out paintballing, or on a senior trip. These are middle-class kids, the kind whose parents had moved out to the suburbs in the 50s. Gill writes:

The suburban haven, away from the dangers of the city, not only fails to protect its children, it has become the breeding ground of living nightmares unknown to urban landscapes. (p. 16)

I’m reminded of a counterpoint to this—Candyman, which takes place in the projects but invokes very few of the staples of, say, slasher films. Sex doesn’t kill. Asking Candyman to show up kills. Effectively, making the choice to live in the projects kills you. The suburbs are supposed to be safe. Leave it to Beaver and Brady Bunch safe. The thing is, just like in Scream, parents are generally absent and/or useless

(Not necessarily just when their kids are in mortal danger, mind you. Gill, obviously agreeing with me, writes:

If the roots of these myths [that children of divorce will inevitably be messed up, for one example] are in stresses introduced into the late-twentieth-century American family by the intensified prevalence of divorce, the result in these films is a world emptied of the family as a resource for coping with growing up. The self-absorbed parents of these films, whether divorced or together, provide no useful knowledge, no understanding of their children’s needs or fears, no viable models for negotiating the world, and certainly no protection from that world. (p. 19)

In the films, out of the films, parents are not as available for their kids as we want or expect them to be. But especially in the films. Even before the killer arrives on the scene, the parents are simply not doing their job. Gill says slasher films “covertly engage an odd nostalgic yearning for a traditional family and traditional family values” (p. 20), but I think that nostalgia is neither particularly odd nor in any way covert. In fact, as I’ve cited the conservative worldview of the slasher film several times already, I argue, that nostalgia is a fundamental piece of the slasher film.)

so the suburb becomes dangerous. Gill writes:

Slasher films show teenagers in peril, with no hope of help from their parents. Mostly these parents are generally too busy or too involve in their own problems or pleasures to help. Even caring, concerned parents are impotent; often they are hapless and distracted, unaware of their children’s problems and likely to dismiss or discount their warnings and fears. (p. 17)

Finally, Gill (2002) says, “The danger is within, the films seem to say; the horror derives from the family and from the troubling ordeal of being a late-twentieth-century teenager” (p. 16). Per John Carpenter’s aphorism, quoted at the top of this entry, the teenagers at the heart of a slasher film are not only the victims but also the monsters, responsible by their own choices, for their deaths. That is what the slasher film tells us. That is why, for example, the original Halloween works better than the remake. We don’t want or need a down-to-earth explanation for Michael Myers’ homicidal tendencies. The danger he represents is not supposed to be unique and realistic. It is supposed to be so fantastic and supernatural that he represents every real danger while being entirely fictional. Really, the biggest upset of the slasher film that the Scream series undertakes is making each killer entirely human. The story becomes much more specific, much more real.

Note, of course, this iteration of the slasher film came in the late 1990s, well after the Cold War had ended, and even farther removed from the sexual revolution. There were no obvious worldly fears to be encapsulated in and represented by the killers. So, they are simply... killers.

Works Cited

Black, R.E.G. (2012). Smash Monogamy: From Sexual Revolution to Political Revolution. Perspectives: A Journal of Historical Inquiry 39. pp. 1-22.

Callan, M.A. (1964, March 12). Nuclear Family: Sex Morality Tug-of-War. Los Angeles Times. pp. C1,C8-9.

Derr, H. (2012, October 5). A Feminist Guide to Horror Movies, Part One: Daddy Knows Best. Ms. Magazine. http://msmagazine.com/blog/2012/10/05/a-feminist-guide-to-horror-movies-part-one-daddy-knows-best/

Gill, P. (2002). The Monstrous Years: Teens, Slasher Films, and the Family. Journal of Film and Video 54:4. pp. 16-30.

Houston, P. (1967, September 3). Young Girls Running Away at Record Rate. Los Angeles Times. p. F1.

Janson, D. (1967, May 20). Campus Sex Tied to Mental Ills. New York Times. pp. 37, 41.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

nice solid R rating on our way to an NC-17

"The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetic topic in the world." - Edgar Allan Poe, "The Philosophy of Composition"

To understand why we like horror, we have to understand a couple other things: 1) gothic horror led to modern horror, particularly the slasher film, and the slasher film led us to so-called torture porn and, 2) there's a thin line between horror and pornography (hence the nickname for that last subgenre there). After all, as Clover (1987) puts it, "horror and pornography are the only two genres specifically devoted to the arousal of bodily sensation. They exist solely to horrify and stimulate, not always respectively, and their ability to do so is the sole measure of their success" (p. 189). A good horror film is a scary horror film, generally speaking. And, a good porn film is an arousing porn film. The writing, the directing, the acting--these are secondary to the scare/arousal.


Too on-the-nose?

(Watching Scream 4 (or, more properly SCRE4M) before Scream tonight, but it probably won't come up in this entry much, if at all.)

Let's get the first step in the process out of the way. Gothic horror, which surely has its roots in fables and fairy tales, gives way to contemporary horror. Gill (2002) writes:

Contemporary horror plays out many of the defining characteristics of the gothic: defenseless heroines; suppressed passions; unspeakable desires; fearful landscapes and haunted, uncanny interiors; untrustworthy and suspicious relations and relationships; terrifying uncertainty and stifling knowledge; familial secrets and their dreadful exposure; and jarring juxtapositions of the moral and the monstrous, the sexual and the grotesque, the virtuous and the violent. (p. 16)

The slasher film focuses us in on specific iterations of these characteristics; for example, the moral Final Girl and the monstrous killer, the sexual victims and the grotesque killer/killings. Scream, for a later example, certainly includes its (mostly) defenseless heroine, its suppressed passions, its unspeakable... no, they speak about their desires because they are modern teenagers and they can't help it. There is no haunted interior, no "terrible place"--a detail of Clover's (1987) work that hasn't figured into this discussion for this very reason; it's a uterine, enclosed location, the tunnel in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, the killer's carcass-ceilinged lair in Jeepers Creepers, Jason's shack in Friday the 13th Part 2, and so many more, going back to the basement of the Bates house in Psycho.

Continuing, Scream has its untrustworthy and suspicious relations and relationships (Sidney's boyfriend, Sidney's father, and going down the line to Scream 3, Sidney's mother as well), its familial secrets (see the previous parenthetical)... Scream does deliberately that which comes naturally to most any film in the slasher subgenre, invoking all these elements and adding more--the undying killer, for example. But, old elements being already familiar, and newer elements being repeated from film to film--well, it gets a bit monotonous. Wee (2005), argues, "By the mid-1980s, however, the slasher film appeared to reach a point of exhaustion" (p. 45). Take the Halloween series as case in point. After the 1978 original and its 1981 sequel, the story was left behind for an attempt at launching an anthology-like series out of the title in '82. That met a cold reception and the only option was to bring back Michael Myers in 1988's Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. Meanwhile, the Friday the 13th, the Nightmare on Elm Street series, and others pumped out sequel after sequel, ranging in quality and tone (The Elm Street films became more comedy than horror, but then again, maybe those two genres are as closely related as horror is to pornography, playing on our more impulsive emotional responses than, say, a slower paced drama.).

Wee continues: "The formulaic nature of subsequent low-budget, independently produced slashers, and the excessive repetitions in the form of the sequels, remakes, and imitations, inevitably made the audience overly familiar with the genre" (p. 45). By the 90s, the slasher genre was stale, already needing inventing. Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993), for example, is not structured like the previous Friday the 13th outings, with a camper sequence added on as a superfluous reminder of what had come before. Hell, Jason Takes Manhattan had already removed the familiar locale. Hollywood needs familiarity to get audiences into theaters, so the slasher film has to be refashioned. This meant keeping many of those same characteristics inherited from gothic horror, "while simultaneously updating this material" (Wee, p. 45). Hence, Scream.

Before this reinvention, we'd already gotten to the point of cheering on the monsters. Until that third act chase with the Final Girl, we were just fine with the killer POV shots and the stalking and wondering just how these movies could keep finding new, unique ways to kill. It was no longer just the obvious phallic blades, carving knives and chainsaws and machetes; now there was a speargun, a pitchfork, a shotgun (but not to shoot anyone), a sleeping bag and even a steamroom rock, just to name a few. The basic formula remained--to quote Dennis Miller (though he was talking about AIDS), "you fuck, you die." Titillation could only go so far. Keisner (2008), tells us, "the monster represents the underbelly of society, the uncivilized, the unethical; these monsters give in to their unacceptable (and psychotic) desires, representing the 'bestial, animal side of man that must be sought out and conquered'" (pp. 416-417, quoting de Lauretis, 2000). But, it is not just the killer who gives in to "unacceptable" desires. All those soon-to-die teenagers and 20-somethings--they give in to their desires as well, and it costs them their lives. That conservative moral center the the slasher film wraps itself around so comfortably--it dictates that, sure, the audience is allowed to see some sex and some (often gratuitous) nudity, but only so long as there is some consequence, even if the connection between the two is more implicit than explicit. While there may be a stinger at the end of a slasher film to imply the killer has not actually died, the general rule is that the immoral denizens of the film are killed, the more pure Final Girl lives and she is able to stop the killer. It's a simple, moral equation. And, it works to reify and simplify our worldview...

In my recent paper, "From Charioteer Myth to Shoulder Angel: A Rhetorical Look at Our Divided Soul," I mapped Bentham's (by way of Foucault) panopticon onto our internal struggle in choosing between good and evil. I argued that the only reason we have to choose one over the other is

that we believe in the existence of moral rightness. This belief presumes that our actions will be weighed by, if not a God or gods, then by the society around us. The good/bad binary keeps us in line because we believe one option is the correct one. Foucault’s (1979) “guarantee of order” comes from the “invisibility” inherent in narrowing down the panoply of real choices we have to an obvious, and omnipresent, two.

I would now extend that argument; it is not merely older, mythic stories that provide us with some measure of that binary but also modern stories, morality tales like the horror film, the slasher film. Though we can cheer the killer and enjoy some gratuitous skin, ultimately, the slasher film drags us back onto the side of good, the side of morality. By connecting with the Final Girl, we choose the good side of the binary, and it makes up for whatever evil elements we may have cheered or enjoyed watching. It's like a confessional. We leave our earlier sins behind and choose to be good.

Pornography is not so simple. Like the slasher film, pornography "pries open the fleshy secrets of normally hidden things" (Williams, 1989, p. 40). Pinedo (1997) tells us--and I love this line--"If pornography is the genre of the wet dream, then horror is the genre of the wet death" (quoted in Keisner, 2008, p. 420).

Williams (1989) directly compares sadomasochistic pornography to the slasher film, the obvious difference being that

in sadomasochistic pornography the sexual female 'victim/heroes' survive, not by avoiding sexual pleasure but by being punished in it. When the female victim cringes at the phallic power of the dominator, she gains a power over this dominator that resembles the momentary power of the slasher film's victim/hero" (p. 51)

Keisner gets at the idea I was aiming for just now. The binary is built by boundaries. There are rules. Horror and pornography both invite us to break the rules, to cross society's boundaries, even if only momentarily, even if only in our minds. Keisner (2008) writes:

While pornography blurs bodily boundaries through a pleasurable sexual release, horror movies blur boundaries through the actual destruction of physical boundaries, the promise of pain, and the resulting pleasure of heightened pain. The juxtaposition of sexual images with violent ones further erases the boundaries between pleasure and pain; thus, the vicariously experienced near-death moment in postmodern horror at once incites pleasure and pain for the viewer. (p. 421)

There is the key to all of this. That vicariously experienced near-death moment, or really the vicariously experienced death moment, operates just as the vicariously experienced orgasmic moment in pornography. It arouses, it excites, and it brings us the brink of... well, it brings us to a climax that satisfies without all the mess of reality. In real life, sex is messy, physically messy and emotionally messy. Death is even messier. But, the vicarious experience of either of these two amounts to something much cleaner, but potentially just as satisfying. And, no, I'm not saying that we yearn for death, but we certainly benefit from experiencing it without experiencing it. Briefel (2009) argues, "horror films appeal to our desire for life rather than to our death drive" by turning death into a) "an event that can be overlooked" (especially in the case of films involving ghosts) and b) an event that can be repressed with "repeated viewings [that] demystify the power that death initially holds" (p. 95, 96, 100).

So then, it comes to torture porn. First, let us define it; Middleton provides a simple definition: "In brief, 'torture porn' designates a film that constructs scenes of torture as elaborate set pieces, or 'numbers,' intended to serve as focal points for the viewer's visual pleasure" (p. 2). Middleton notes, torture porn came along with the war on terror, with reports of our torturing "enemy combatants" abroad... except Final Destination came out in 2000.

(While the Final Destination films do not involve, strictly speaking, torture on screen, the drawn out death sequences work the same way, and effectively torture we in the audience if not the onscreen victim.)

The slasher film was already 1) focusing on elaborate set pieces and 2) essentially removing the killer from the main action. There is no Final Girl in Final Destination. And, really, there is no killer. All there is, is death. Clever, Rube Goldbergian death, designed to make us yearn for the moment of death rather than dread it. Advancements in visual effects that had already been making onscreen death more and more gruesome and real now meant that these deaths--and those in the films more likely to be labeled torture porn--stuff like the Hostel films or the Saw films--would become the focus, the draw. Wyrick (1998) argues, "Instead of violence meant to force the viewer to look away, violence became the excuse for elaborate special effects--effects that may have been intended to disgust, but were just as much intended to fascinate" (p. 122).

The violence takes over, dominates over even the morality lesson (though, I would argue there are very strong moral lessons in both the Hostel and Saw films), and since that is the element that excites us, we still go to the movies. And, horror in particular still draws us in because, like pornography, it focuses on a more visceral reaction, acting on us physically as well as psychologically. We like horror for the same reason we like roller coasters. Fear makes us feel alive, but horror contains that fear, wraps it up and fictionalizes it. I'm reminded of Joey on Friends putting The Shining in the freezer because it is too scary. Really, that putting away--that is the process the fictional horror story is already doing for us, separating us from the horrors of the real world and, in having the Final Girl win in the end, letting us know that everything is just fine.

We have exercised and exorcised our fear at the same time.

Works Cited

Briefel, A. (2009). What Some Ghosts Don't Know: Spectral Incognizance and the Horror Film. Narrative 17:1. pp. 95-110.

Clover, C.J. (1987). Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film. Representations 20. pp. 187-228.

Gill, P. (2002). The Monstrous Years: Teens, Slasher Films, and the Family. Journal of Film and Video 54:4. pp. 16-30.

Keisner, J. (2008). Do You Want to Watch? A Study of the Visual Rhetoric of the Postmodern Horror Film. Women's Studies 37. pp. 411-427.

Middleton, J. (2010). The Subject of Torture: Regarding the Pain of Americans in Hostel. Cinema Journal 49:4. pp. 1-24.

Wee, V. (2005). The Scream Trilogy, "Hypermodernism," and the Late-Nineties Teen Slasher Film. Journal of Film and Video 57:3. pp. 44-61.

Williams, L. (1989). Power, Pleasure, and Perversion: Sadomasochistic Film Pornography. Representations 27. pp. 37-65.

Wyrick, L. (1998). Horror at Century's End: Where Have All the Slashers Gone? Pacific Coast Philology 33:2. pp. 122-126.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

i'm not randy

Scream 3 gives us a woman in the shower in its opening sequence, but at least her character’s an adult. She’s quickly dispatched, no time for depth or characterization. She’s simply a tool to... well, to make Cotton’s death even more complicated. It’s also a good example of how the female attacks are more drawn out than the male attacks (more on that below).

(I’ve actually only seen Scream 3 the one time in the theater, so I’m not fully prepared for what’s coming.)

But, my chosen topic for today is not strictly speaking this sequel. It may come up, but I won’t force it.

...

One more thing before this gets serious again.

From Merriam-Webster:

randy \ˈran-dē\

adjective

: sexually excited

Full Definition

1 chiefly Scottish : having a coarse manner
2 : lustful, lecherous

randi•ness noun

Origin: probably from obsolete rand to rant.
First use: 1698

Synonyms: concupiscent, goatish, horny, hot, hypersexual, itchy, lascivious, lecherous, lewd, libidinous, licentious, lubricious (or lubricous), oversexed, passionate, lustful, salacious, satyric, wanton

Antonyms: frigid, undersexed

One of the killers (presumably Billy) says to Sidney over the phone in Scream, “I’m not Randy.” On a literal level, he is being honest; he is not the character Randy. But, on a much more poetic level, he’s being quite honest about his psyche. Billy (and Stu as well) is not a strictly sexual being; even though serial murder is inherently sexual. Per Clover (1987), the killer(s) is overly lacking when it comes to sexuality or gender (despite Billy’s pursuit of Sidney, which in retrospect, is really just one more aspect of his sexual confusion/frustration as the slasher killer with his psychosexual fury); Billy’s inability to have sex with Sidney is just a part of that lack

Maybe it’s already serious. Anyway, here’s where I meant to begin:

...the qualities that locate the slasher film outside the usual aesthetic system... are the very qualities that make it such a transparent source for (sub)cultural attitudes toward sex and gender in particular.

...the slasher film, not despite but exactly because of its crudity and compulsive repetitiveness, gives us a clearer picture of current sexual attitudes, at least among the segment of the population that forms its erstwhile audience, than do the legitimate products of the better studios. (Clover, 1987, p. 188)

What are slasher films telling us about gender relations? Is the victimization of (mostly) woman in a genre birthed in the 1970s a reaction to the women’s movement in the 1960s? Clover cites Norman Bates in Psycho (1960) as an early example of the slasher killer. This comes before the heyday of what we call the women’s movement but well after the seeds were planted.

(Alternatively—but a topic for another day—was the relatively anonymous slasher villain, nearly indestructible, born of ongoing Cold War fears? A villain we could not really fight?)

Regardless of the reason, the slasher film is about a conflict between genders, or at least a conflict between gendered expectations and reality. Everything about them is sexual, even if, like Scream, they don’t show us the sex. In the slasher film, “the violent, penetrating weapons of the killers are meant to operate as phallic symbols, showing us how the one who thrusts the phallus is the one who is superior” (Christensen, 2011, p. 26). Citing the arguments of Clover, Christensen echoes the basic idea that the Final Girl takes up the phallus in order to be victorious over her attacker in the end.

Generally, the audience for slasher films is described as mostly male, though that has increasingly become less and less true over the decades. There are females in the audience as well. In fact, they flock to slasher films more than some purportedly feminist horror films like I Spit on Your Grave or Jennifer’s Body. Reini (2013) points out, “horror films that have arguably attempted to cater to the supposed desires of female fans have failed miserably. If history has taught us anything, it is that women want to see horror films that are apparently meant for men.” That is to say, the slasher film, however true or not it may be that its audience is mostly male, exists for a male audience.

Females allowed as well, but only under certain conditions, of course.

Karanović (2012) suggests the slasher film works quite simply for the males in the audience: “While on the one hand, male viewers can indulge in sexual fantasies, violence, and experience fear, they can also learn that being a strong man is what get’s [sic] you out of a bad situation; all while enjoying the view of beautiful women.” More simply, “the postmodern slasher film [is] a projection of masculine desire” (Keisner, 2008, p. 420). The gaze of the camera is even masculinized

by focusing more frequently on the female body, in various stages of dress, undress and then mutilation... The focalizer, just like Freddy and Michael, spends more time following the females in the film, lingers longer on the female body and its anatomy than on the male body, even when both are murdered in the same scene. (Keisner, p. 423)

Case in point, the opening sequence for either of the three Scream films (so far). Scream: it’s a long drawn-out sequence for Casey’s torment and murder but her boyfriend is shown in all of a couple shots and is killed between them. Scream 2: Phil gets killed quickly in the bathroom while Maureen gets stabbed repeatedly in the movie theater as the crowd cheers (then gradually stops as they realize something’s really wrong). Scream 3: while Cotton is made aware the killer is in his house, his attempt to drive home quickly is cut with another long sequence of torment for Christine. She doesn’t even die until he gets home, and then he is killed quickly thereafter.

Case in point beyond Scream: in Halloween—a sequence we see in Scream, actually—Lynda and Bob have sex. Bob goes to the kitchen to get some beer, and in a brief, but fairly intense scene, he finds Michael Myers in the pantry, Michael lifts him by the throat and nails him to the wall with his knife. Back to Lynda and “the obligatory tit shot” as she thinks Michael is Bob, covered in a sheet like a ghost, and when “Bob” doesn’t react, Lynda gets up, goes to the phone, and Michael slowly walks over and then strangles her. I haven’t timed it, but I imagine Lynda’s scene is at least twice as long as Bob’s.

The key is understanding who we identify with in the film. In a franchise, with each new chapter, we certainly cheer on the killer more and more. We come to know the killer, come to expect and even want him to kill in new and more inventive ways. With POV shots, we experience the film, especially in the first two acts, the way the killer does. Think back to the opening sequence of Halloween—we are the killer as he sees his sister and her boyfriend and as he searches for a knife in the kitchen drawer, as he heads upstairs and kills his sister (and lets the guy get away, the sexist little bastard). It is only after all of this is done that we even get to know who we are exactly, a little boy dressed as a clown. As he stalks his prey throughout the film, we are often pulled back into his POV—I imagine the game in Brainscan, if it really got into the visceral feeling of stalking and killing, might be popular among some of the slasher film’s audience—to stalk and kill again and again. It is only in the third act that we really shift to the Final Girl’s perspective, and we switch to her side of things. If Clover is right about the killer and his sexual ambiguity, then it is not the females in the audience who cross genders to connect with the killer but the males in the audience—generally cited as the majority of said audience—who crosses genders to connect with the Final Girl.

Clover (1987) asks an important question:

...why, if viewers can identify across gender lines and if the root experience of horror is sex blind, are the screen sexes not interchangeable? Why not more and better female killers, and why (in light of the maleness of the majority audience) not [Final Boys]? (p. 209)

See, the problem is that the horror film “so stubbornly genders the killer male and the principal victim female” (ibid). And, we accept it because, well, it feels right.

Keisner (2008) cites a study at the University of Missouri in arguing, “the Final Girl does little for female empowerment” (p. 425). I would argue, that depends on how you define empowerment. Maybe in feminist terms, no, the Final Girl is not an empowered female, but one has to wonder how many of the females in the audience know enough about feminism and empowerment for it to matter? Maybe just seeing the Final Girl kick some ass can be quite simply empowering and inspiring for a girl in the audience... Or, given some of the details of that University of Missouri study, maybe the more important part is the earlier stalking and killing because it gives that girl the opportunity to curl up next to her date. After all, “male viewers report more enjoyment when in the company of a distressed female, and females when in the company of a male demonstrating his fearlessness” (Keisner, p. 425). Or maybe they both simply live in a world that makes them respond that way because that is how they are encouraged and expected to respond. Just because it feels right does not mean it is.

By the way, Clover points out an important issue here:

Underlying [this] discussion is the assumption that the sexes are what they seem; that screen males represent the Male and screen females the Female; that this identification along gender lines authorizes impulses toward sexual violence in males and encourages impulses toward victimization in females. (p. 206)

I will approach this in two parts. Regarding the first, I think film generally, and horror film more specifically, does operate in a world in which gender is binary and any deviance from that binary is treated as unusual, worthy of suspicion. This conservative take on gender identity positions the horror film quite comfortably in a world where gender is not only binary but uniquely matters in the way it affects who each character is and can be. This leads me to the second part—this worldview positions the male over the female quite explicitly even as it undermines most traditional forms of authority (a topic, probably, for later this week). With each act of violence, it reifies a patriarchal system built on violent subjugation and exploitation. Of course the victims in horror will be female because females are, traditionally, victims in reality. But, by turning that realistic setup—male as aggressor, female as victim—into script fodder, we are at once a) reengaging with that setup as a recurring thing that refuses to go away and b) in fictionalizing it, taking away some of its power on the one hand and making it seem a little less real on the other. The latter is particularly a problem because the more this dichotomy is part and parcel of our stories, the less we tend to assume it is also part and parcel of our reality. We can pretend just a little bit more each time that women have more equality and men as a gender do not tend toward violence, even if history proves the opposite.

Operating within a reality in which male is male and female is female, strictly speaking, then it is important that we look to the slasher film as a teenage film. Teenage boys, teenage girls—still constructing themselves and hardly open to any challenge to who and what they are. Especially a teenage boy—in the conservative world of the slasher film, or in its audience—cannot accept challenges to his identity, to his gender. One reason the Final Girl may not be sexually active, then, is not simply because purity equals power and sin leads to death, but also because that boy in the audience can identify with the Final Girl much more readily if she never does anything too overtly feminine. Clover (1987) argues,

Her sexual inactivity... becomes all but inevitable; the male viewer may be willing to enter into the vicarious experience of defending himself from the possibility of symbolic penetration on the part of the killer; but real vaginal penetration on the diegetic level is evidently more femaleness than he can bear. (p. 212)

The sexually active female, the argument goes, is the danger. Dangerous to her male counterpart, dangerous to the conservative world in which the slasher film takes place. Derr (2012) references not the slasher film but the possession film, particularly The Possession, in identifying the threat. “This pre-pubescent girl,” she writes, “who’s in possession of a symbolic ‘open box,’ ‘ring,’ and ‘thing growing inside her,’ speaks to our lingering cultural discomfort with women becoming sexually active before marriage.” Further, Derr (2013) argues that “most of these [possession] narratives specifically equate a young woman’s coming of age to the possibility [of her] becoming evil.”

First of all, I would argue that this same overall idea about the threat of female sexuality is fundamental to the slasher film, to that conservative world I referred to above. Second of all, I would argue that the real problem—stepping outside that world—is not sexually active young women. Rather, what slasher films really show us is the danger of both sexually active and sexually frustrated men. The killer penetrates or tries to penetrate girl after girl (and occasionally a boy). This penetration, as I said above, is representative of the subjugation and exploitation prevalent in the patriarchal world. The violence is not strictly masculine in that it belongs only to men, but it is fundamentally patriarchal, engendering a world in which physical force is a reasonable way to get things done. Rieser (2001) echoes this sentiment, arguing “the slasher film... remains deeply implicated in patriarchal ideology... the slashers’ gender disruption is folded back into the hegemonic mold [and] it serves to reinforce the heterosexist matrix, despite—or even by way of—its break with mainstream gender forms” (p. 375). Essentially, the very idea that the killer is outside the norm, that the Final Girl can only be victorious by becoming more masculine—these things do not break down the hegemony of patriarchy; rather, they lift it up by, as I suggested above, turning flaws in the system into fodder for fiction. We watch film after film of men stalking and killing women and a news story about the same is just a passing story, one more iteration of the same. We watch film after film of those men being beaten finally by the Final Girl and somewhere deep inside, maybe we assume that empowerment has happened, that women can defend themselves, and it becomes the woman’s responsibility to dress conservatively so as not to tempt the man, for example.

Martinuzzi (2010) argues against the so-called feminism of films like I Spit on Your Grave or Jennifer’s Body simply because “men are the victims in them” is wrong. “It’s creepy when you think about it,” she writes, “isn’t it?

The norm in horror films, and in most cultures around the world, is that men are seen as the aggressors and women the subservient and the victims. But switching the dynamic and putting men suddenly at the (usually sexual) mercy of a woman with the intent to harm does nothing but reinforce the mainstream ideology that women with control of their sexuality (and by default, their reproduction) are dangerous, intend harm, and will always turn on their male superiors.

Reversal is not reversal. Turning the violence in the opposite direction is still reifying the power of violence. In Scream, Sidney not only turns weapons on Billy and Stu but also a) dons the killers’ costume and b) penetrates Billy’s wound with her finger. In Scream 2, she shoots Mrs. Loomis in the head when the latter is unmoving and presumably already dead. In Scream 3, she brings a (stolen) gun to the mansion with her, and wields an icepick and a statue or a vase or two to take down Roman. The Scream series may actually prove Clover’s (1987) notions true simple by presenting us with Sidney’s trajectory into more and more violence. And by making us cheer on this development.

Reiser (2001) argues that the slasher film involves what he calls the “one-sex model”—essentially, women are allowed to be a little more masculine because that is an upward move on the spectrum of the binary gender divide. But a man—the slasher film’s killer for example—who displays feminine or ambiguous traits has moved downward. “A masculine woman, then,” Reiser says, “is no contradiction, but an indeterminate monster is unacceptable” (p. 383). The conservative world of the slasher film requires us to accept, at least temporarily, this gender binary, and measure its deviations as appropriate.

I’ll end with this bit from Clover (1987):

The Final Girl is (apparently) female not despite the maleness of the audience, but precissely because of it. The dscourse is wholly masculine, and females figure in it only insofar as they “read” some aspect of male experience. To applaud the Final Girl as a feminist development, as some reviews of Aliens have done with Ripley, is, in light of her figurative meaning, a particularly grotesque expression of wishful thinking. She is simply an agreed-upon fiction, and the male viewer’s use of her as a vehicle for his own sadomasochistic fantasies an act of perhaps timeless dishonesty. (p. 214)

An agreed-upon fiction. If only that were true.

Works Cited

Christensen, K. (2011). The Final Girl versus Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street: Proposing a Stronger Model of Feminism in Slasher Horror Cinema. Studies in Popular Culture 34:1. pp. 23-47.

Clover, C.J. (1987). Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film. Representation 20. pp. 187-228.

Derr, H.L. (2012, October 5). A Feminist Guide to Horror Movies, Part One: Daddy Knows Best. Ms. Magazine. http://msmagazine.com/blog/2012/10/05/a-feminist-guide-to-horror-movies-part-one-daddy-knows-best/

Derr, H.L. (2013, November 1) A Feminist Guide to Horror Movies, Part Six: The Final Chapter. Ms. Magazine. http://msmagazine.com/blog/2013/11/01/a-feminist-guide-to-horror-movies-part-six-the-final-chapter/

Keisner, J. (2008). Do You Want to Watch? A Study of the Visual Rhetoric of the Postmodern Horror Film. Women’s Studies 37. pp. 411-427.

Martinuzzi, H. (2010, October 29). Horror Show: Faux-feminism and Horror Films. Bitch Media. http://bitchmagazine.org/post/horror-show-faux-feminism-and-horror-films

Reini, S.C. (2013, April 21). The Final Girl and Scream Queens: A (Feminist) Call for the Revival of Slasher Films. http://the-artifice.com/feminist-call-for-the-revival-of-slasher-films/

Rieser, K. (2001). Masculinity and Monstrosity: Characterization and Identification in the Slasher Film. Men and Masculinities 3. pp. 370-392.

Karanović, J. (2012, December 16). Fear, Sex, and Feminism: Analysis of Slasher Films and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. http://www.karanovic.org/courses/mca006/2012/12/16/fear-sex-and-feminism-analysis-of-slasher-films-and-the-texas-chainsaw-massacre/

Monday, August 25, 2014

some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can't act

“And only I can get him.” - Nancy Thompson, A Nightmare on Elm Street

The opening sequence to Scream 2 includes a remake of the opening sequence to Scream under the guise of a film-within-the-film Stab. Heather Graham in the stead of Drew Barrymore is not just sitting around making popcorn, about to watch a movie. She’s still making popcorn but inexplicably, also just getting into the shower, because the film-within-the-film is a bit more stereotypical of the slasher film than Scream was or Scream 2 is.

Given how Sidney slept in more girly wear in the first film, it’s notable that she has grown up and at college she sleeps in boxers, just one detail in blurring gender lines, something that comes along with the slasher film. It’s not necessarily a coincidence, by the way, that her name is Sidney, the name alone sitting right on the brink of male/female. Clover (1987) and Keisner (2008), just to name a couple, make a point of the names of the Final Girls of horror: Stevie, Marti, Terry, Laurie, Stretch, Will, Ripley (yes, they count Alien as part of the tradition of the Final Girls), Joey, Max. Add to that Sidney. But, we needn’t be as shallow as that.

Let’s backtrack.

The slasher subgenre, “heralded” by Halloween, combines “inventive violence and a clever, eerily evocative suburban mise-en-scène* with engaging, believable, contemporary protagonists and a superhuman killer” (Gill, 2002, p. 16).

* according to Merriam-Webster:

1 a : the arrangement of actors and scenery on a stage for a theatrical production
b : stage setting
2 a : the physical setting of an action (as of a narrative or a motion picture) : context
b : environment, milieu

Wee (2005) goes past this subtextual definition into some more specific elements; she writes:

a group of young, often teenage, characters as potential victims; imperiled, sexually attractive young women being stalked by a knife-wielding, virtually indestructible, psychotic serial killer; and scenes of unexpected [unless you’re a hardcore fan, of course] and shocking violence and brutality. (p. 44).

And, these conventions—plus the postcoital murder scene—were reified with each successive sequel, spinoff and low-budget imitator.

Let us focus in on those sexually attractive young women, the Final Girls. And, let us assume as Clover (1987) does, the killer is “propelled by psychosexual fury [and is often] more particularly a male in gender distress” (p. 194). Or he may simply be stunted in his development as a male if not specifically blurring a line into femaleness. The quintessential slasher killer is Norman Bates in Psycho, a man whose personality is partly taken over by his own dead mother. Jason Vorhees murders only after his mother is killed, and there seems to be a strangely close relationship going on there, given he sets up a shrine around her severed head. Freddy Krueger is a pedophilic child-killer, certainly not a properly developed male by societal standards. Billy Loomis in Scream is killing out of revenge over his mother abandoning him. And, he stalks numerous victims before he gets to the Final Girl.

That Final Girl—like Laurie Strode in Halloween (Clover’s (1987,1992) definitive Final Girl), she reflects what Christensen (2011, citing Welter) describes as the “four cardinal virtues of a ‘true woman’ ... purity, piety, submissiveness, and domesticity” (p. 29). Sidney Prescott tries for the first, skips right past the second, way past the third and we barely see enough to comment on the fourth, except it may be worth mentioning that the climax to Scream—with the revelation of the killers’ identities—takes place in the kitchen at Stu’s house. In generally sexist terms, the kitchen is one of the most domestic (read: feminine) parts of the house. And, Laurie Strode, remember, makes her money babysitting, i.e. playing at domesticity.

The Final Girl is “abject terror personified... she alone finds the strength either to stay the killer long enough to be rescued (ending A) or to kill him herself (ending B). She is inevitably female” (Clover, 1987, p. 201). She is

boyish, in a word. Just as the killer is not fully masculine, she is not fully feminine—not, in any case, feminine in the ways of her friends. Her smartness, gravity, competence in mechanical [picture Nancy in Elm Street setting up those Home Alone-style booby traps] and other practical matters, and sexual reluctance set her apart from the other girls and ally her, ironically, with the very boys she fears or rejects, not to speak of the killer himself. (p. 204)

Ultimately, in Clover’s terms—and, in discussing slasher films, everybody inevitably quotes Clover these days—you get a masculinity-challenged killer armed with phallic weapons, sexually active victims getting killed one by one, and a femininity-challenged heroine who has to find it within herself to not just run away from the killer (at least not since Texas Chainsaw Massacre, anyway) but to fight back, usually by taking up the phallic weapons herself... read a piece about this stuff shallowly, and it comes across a little simplistic, every weapon that can penetrate taken as phallic, the act of fighting back itself taken as masculine. Christensen (2011) actually makes a good case for Laurie Strode not being the definitive Final Girl because, like so many other Final Girls, she takes up weapons—knitting needle, carving knife, clothes hanger—to stab Michael Myers, saving herself only by taking on masculine characteristics. Christensen calls Laurie Strode “antifeminist” and suggests Nancy Thompson in A Nightmare on Elm Street as the more appropriate model for what a Final Girl should be. Nancy does not defeat Freddy Krueger by stabbing him. Hell, Freddy Krueger is not even, quite literally, an external villain. Recall Daughton (1996) and the distinction between the feminine and the masculine quest. The feminine quest is internal; Nancy’s fight is internal. She defeats Freddy by a) wrapping her arms around him (certainly an act more feminine than masculine) to bring him out of the dream, then b) turning her back on him to take away his power by no longer expressing fear and demonstrating as well that this is still a dream.

But, I want to come back to those weapons—Laurie Strode’s weapons. The supposedly phallic weapons she uses against Michael Myers are a knitting needle, a carving knife, and a clothes hanger. Clover suggests the Final Girl “meets the killer on his own terms” with the stabbing and the penetrating and the phallic symbols (p. 210). But, I don’t think it’s fair to take every penetrative object as definitively, automatically phallic. Even taking the male/female divide as a strict binary, Laurie’s weapons fit in the feminine side of the Venn diagram of life. The knitting needle is a feminine item, to be sure, representative of the creation of clothes, of blankets, womanly work by societal standards.

(For the record, by the way, I am not approving of any of these standards, merely using them because that is how details get into film, by being generally accepted.)

The carving knife, specifically, is a womanly item as well, coming from and belonging in the kitchen. Unlike, of course, the hunting knife wielded by any of the various killers in the Scream films. And the hanger—again linked to clothing, hardly masculine. We could take these weapons as masculine because of their phallic, penetrative nature, or we could look to who these items belong to, per societal standards.

Of course, in both Scream (watching it now) and Scream 2 (just watched it), the killers are offed with a gun, which is hardly feminine or domestic. Go figure.

Works Cited

Christensen, K. (2011). The Final Girl versus Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street: Proposing a Stronger Model of Feminism in Slasher Horror Cinema. Studies in Popular Culture 34:1. pp. 23-47.

Clover, C.J. (1987). Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film. Representations 20. pp. 187-228.

Daughton, S.M. (1996). The Spiritual Power of Repetitive Form: Steps Toward Transcendence in Groundhog Day. Critical Studies in Mass Communication 13. pp. 138-154.

Gill, P. (2002). The Monstrous Years: Teens, Slasher Films, and the Family. Journal of Film and Video 54:4. pp. 16-30.

Keisner, J. (2008). Do You Want to Watch? A Study of the Visual Rhetoric of the Postmodern Horror Film. Women’s Studies 37. pp. 411-427.

Wee, V. (2005). The Scream Trilogy, “Hypermodernism,” and the Late-Nineties Teen Slasher Film. Journal of Film and Video 57:3. pp. 44-61.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

it's all a movie. it's all one great big movie

Original title: Scary Movie, Scream was never a comedy.

Keeping it (relatively) simple today. Listening to the commentary track with Wes Craven (director) and Kevin Williamson (writer). Right away, Williamson brings up the self-referential nature of the movie, which is obviously a key feature of the film; in the reality of the film horror movies exist, slasher films exist. What works especially well in Scream, of course, is that the self-referential nature, even when funny, even when clever and cute about it, never really drops into self-parody. The movie is played straight.

Tidbit: Craven got Barrymore to cry by reminding her of a news story she told him about regarding someone burning a dog.

Tidbit: MPAA censored the amount, I guess (since the intestines are still there) of what we see of Casey’s boyfriend’s intestines hanging out. And, Casey’s intestines.

I mentioned yesterday how Casey takes refuge behind the television. Craven doesn’t reference that but he does say the television being on, with the blue screen, was deliberate, to suggest a video, a movie about to begin.

Tidbit: the closet door blocking the door to Sidney’s (correcting yesterday’s spelling) bedroom was in the script and after a search for houses with that feature, they eventually had to just build a new wall in the house they used to line up the two doors.

Williamson likes that there is no T&A in the movie. I think Sidney showing her breasts to Billy (but not to the audience) is actually rather appropriate not only because of the virginal nature of her character (and there will be a whole lot more on that topic this week) but also because it connects her to Jamie Lee Curtis—as Randy phrases it, “Jamie Lee was always a virgin in horror films. She didn’t show her tits ‘til she went legits.” Similarly, Neve Campbell here is in a horror film and has no nude scene. That would come later.

Tidbit: while the shot was cut for time, Sidney’s location she types into the computer was an Elm Street address.

Meanwhile, while I was typing a paragraph about the mask and those high school students who have it in the film, only to delete the whole paragraph afterward, I’ve missed mentioning the principal as minor red herring and Bill as so blatantly obvious a red herring he couldn’t possibly be the killer.

Tidbit: while Sidney is the virginal character, Williamson points out that Tatum comes across more like a little girl when they are both in Tatum’s bedroom. She’s got the childish pajamas and the big stuffed animal. Sidney, on the other hand, is less little-girly in a long t-shirt (here little-girly outfit was that nightie in the “PG-13 romance” scene).

Williamson thinks Stu (Matthew Lillard) was the most underwritten role in the film, but Lillard made the role better, even ad libbed some scenes.

The principal dies because Bob Weinstein, after buying the script, told Williamson there was a 30-minutes section in the middle of the movie with no one getting killed.

An extra’s reaction that I noticed last night—in the video store scene, behind Randy—Craven says they went through 3 extras to get the right reaction shot, and it’s in the background. That is nice attention to detail.

Randy suggests that motive is irrelevant because it’s “the millennium.” Craven suggest this is a millennium film, because at the end of a century there’s a feeling of things not quite being right. “The technology is not bringing peace and love,” he says. The idea he’s getting at there, in the French, is the fin de siècle.

Britannica defines the term:

fin de siècle, (French: “end of the century”) of, relating to, characteristic of, or resembling the late 19th-century literary and artistic climate of sophistication, escapism, extreme aestheticism, world-weariness, and fashionable despair. When used in reference to literature, the term essentially describes the movement inaugurated by the Decadent poets of France and the movement called Aestheticism in England during this period.

It’s silly that we have psychological, well, anything in regards to an arbitrary numbering system, but we do. The end of the century, the end of the millennium—these are meaningful milestones. Like birthdays. Survived another passage around the sun. Or one hundred of ‘em. Or one thousand.

Since cinema was barely more than a century old at the end of that particular century/millennium, it’s strange perhaps that it should become introspective, deconstructionist. Or, maybe it is inevitable. You get old as a person and you reflect on your life. Cinema gets old and films reflect on what has come before. Scream is the middle-aged horror film looking back at the crazy shit it got into in its college years.

(Are the torture porn films that come not long after Scream then a mid-life crisis? A search for a new identity. If so, maybe Scream marks the moment when the horror film was not only feeling its age but for a brief moment accepted its age. Then it sought something new, a sports car in Saw, a young mistress in Hostel, and, well, maybe the found footage film was horror getting a gym membership... or is all of that a belabored metaphor?)

The timing of “the obligatory tit shot” and Sidney taking off her shirt was in the script. I figured, but it’s nice to have that confirmed.

Some nice details I’m noticing—i.e. not from the commentary:

The killer who chases Sidney inside her own house early in the film is Stu (hence Billy can be outside the window) and he doesn’t know about her door and the closet door. Billy, her boyfriend, has probably been in her bedroom and would know that.

Similarly, right after Billy is “killed” Sidney goes to another room and down the stairs only to have the killer come to the stairs from a completely different angle—again, that’s Stu, and it’s his house this time, so he knows how to get around..

Randy’s great scene in which he’s telling Jamie Lee Curtis to look behind her and the killer is behind him—he’s saying “Behind you, Jamie” and he is played by none other than Jamie Kennedy. He’s talking to himself using his real name just as much as he’s talking to Laurie Strode but using her real name.

Gale’s crash of the newsvan was a stunt gone wrong. The van was supposed to flip but refused to flip and went straight for the trees.

Nice mirroring between the video store scene—Stu over Randy’s shoulder facing Billy—and the kitchen scene at the end—Stu over Billy’s shoulder facing Sidney. Craven suggests the actors did that.

Stu’s “My mom and dad are gonna be so mad at me” was one of Lillard’s ad libs. Nice.

Gale’s last scene, her news report—they only had 2 takes because of the sunrise, and the dialogue was fed to Courtney Cox just before.

Tomorrow begins my long commentary on Scream, on slasher films, on feminism, on a lot of things.

Oh, and I should start commenting on the sequels as well.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

like something out of a horror movie

You probably are familiar with the opening to Scream even if you haven’t seen it. A phone call, a quiz about scary movies, and death. Casey (Drew Barrymore) notably takes refuge a couple times behind the television. This in a film that invokes the trappings of both modern technology and horror films (i.e. content you might watch on that television). Billy (Skeet Ulrich) refers to his and Sydney’s (Neve Campbell) relationship as... well, here’s what he says:

I was home watching TV. The uhhhh...Exorcist was on. It got me thinking of you... it was edited for TV, all the good stuff was cut out. And it got me thinking of us. How two years ago we started off hot and heavy. Nice solid R rating on our way to an NC-17. And now...things have changed and...lately we’re just edited for TV.

Before he leaves her house, Sydney offers him a PG-13 relationship and opens her nightgown to show him her chest. We don’t see it, though. The characters are blurring the lines between film/television and (their) reality, but not necessarily blurring the lines between their reality and ours. Sure, they talk about the same horror films we all have seen, but that just means their reality is similar to ours, very similar to ours.

The point is, the Scream “trilogy” deals in hypertextuality; it never acknowledges that it is a film, but it is constantly referencing the cliches of horror films, the slasher subgenre in particular, which turn out to be quite apt within the reality of the film. Wee (2005) lists the conventions of the slasher film:

a group of young, often teenage, characters as potential victims; imperiled, sexually attractive young women being stalked by a knife-wielding, virtually indestructible, psychotic serial killer; and scenes of unexpected and shocking violence and brutality. (p. 44)

And, of course, there’s usually nudity and/or sex, and the ones who have sex usually die. The dangers of premarital sex make for an obvious but pervasive subtext. They also tend to have a short timetable for their events—this suggests a comparison between the slasher villain and a spree killer more than a serial killer, actually.

And watching the movie now, I must say, I forgot how much of a dick Billy is, telling Syd she needs to get over her mother’s death.

I can appreciate Wee’s (2005) argument that postmodern (or what she calls “hyperpostmodern”) horror films were inevitable once technology (i.e. video) meant older horror films were readily available. Familiarity breeds commentary.

Watching the original Scream which I haven’t actually seen in a while, I’m noticing something. Two scenes with Sydney and Tatum (Rose McGowan), we see the killer in his costume. There is no reason for the killer to be stalking Sydney like this, risking being found in the open in that ghostface costume, except, well, one particular reason—to mess with the audience, so maybe I spoke to soon in suggesting the lines between the reality within the movie and our reality is necessarily left intact. Wee does suggest the postmodern narrative involves “a breakdown of boundaries” (p. 46). Given who the killers are—oh, SPOILERS—there is absolutely no reason either one should be following Sydney around town in costume. The costume is not inconspicuous. So, it’s there to suggest that, well, it is not a costume, but something more like Michael Myers’ white mask and mechanics’ jumpsuit, or Jason Voorhees’ hockey mask, Freddy Krueger’s striped sweater (or his knife-fingered glove for that matter)—these are less costumes and more uniforms.

That distinction matters, especially in this case, because the ghostface and the black robe is a costume if someone is donning it specifically to kill people (as turns out to be the case), and it’s a uniform (or even a part of the killer; see Jason’s mask in Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday for example) if it is the only thing (essentially) that the killer wears because the killer is more a force of nature than an individual person exercising his murderous agency. Here, the costume showing up around town like that (hiding among trees then hiding in the aisles of the store), suggest something more than just a costume. Given the ending, it is not more than a costume, so these shots exist only for the audience, only to suggest a supernatural killer like Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees. In the reality of the film, there is no expectation of the supernatural. But, in the audience, there is.

Scream represents not a resurgence of the slasher film, a genre mostly left behind in the 90s, but a reconstruction of it. The Scream trilogy works to reinvent the slasher film by subverting it, invoking it, and ultimately reifying everything about it.

Works Cited

Wee, V. (2005). The Scream Trilogy, “Hyperpostmodernism,” and the Late-Nineties Teen Slasher Film. Journal of Film and Video 57:3. pp. 44-61.

write us a happy ending

Before I get to the topic I intended for this, the seventh day of The Blair Witch Project, there’s something a detail I’ve left behind. When Heather, Josh and Mike find the “cemetery” with the seven rock piles, Heather mentions a story Mary Brown told them about a pile of rocks. We were not privy to said story. As Heather explains in her journal in the Dossier, “I cannot FUCKING remember what she said about that because I was freaking out trying to keep the interview to two mags” (p. 161). Given the brief (but important) bit we get in the movie with Mary Brown, it’s hard to believe that the interview came anywhere close to two magazines (mags). The CP-16mm took 400 foot magazines and 400 feet is 16 minutes, so that would mean Heather would have been trying to keep the Mary Brown interview shorter than 32 minutes. We only see Mary Brown for maybe 1-2 minutes total (I haven’t timed it). Gotta wonder, in the reality of the film, what else they got from Mary Brown.

Anyway, a potential bible verse Mary Brown may have mentioned (though Heather says in the film she thinks it has something to do with Esau, it’s Jacob in this chapter) is Genesis 31:52:

This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not go past this heap to your side to harm you and that you will not go past this heap and pillar to my side to harm me.

Which means, perhaps, they should not have gone past that cemetery, and certainly should not have knocked over that one pile of stones (even if Heather did replace it).

But, that is not what I wanted to talk about today.

I wanted to talk about the ending of The Blair Witch Project. First, here’s the last page (and a couple lines onto another) of Heather’s journal:

I am losing hope. Actually, I may have lost it. I didn’t think it was possible to be where I am at. Staring. Waiting. I have nothing left to say. Tape Tape Film Film Film. We are being stalked and whatever is stalking us will at least be documented. Please God, let someone find our tapes. Please. To all the people I love, and you know who you are I love you. Simply that, I love you with all my heart and more. If something bad happens to me I will always find you and look out for you and help in any way I can as I sincerely tried to do in my life. To Josh & Mike’s parents—I am sorry. I am sorry for what happened to your sons and to my beautiful babycakes—I will love you no matter where I am. I lack the strength to hold the pen. Hey those last two lines rhyme [no, no they don’t]. Why even [write] that really, it’s obvious, but anything that brings humor is welcome especially now. I want to laugh. I want to laugh. I want to laugh. (Stern, 1999, p. 167)

Presumably, she wrote this in the tent a short time before she and Mike heard “Josh” out in the woods for the second night in a row and got their cameras together and went out into the woods for, apparently, the last time.

So, what happened in that house?

Some possibilities... first let’s assume the Blair Witch is real (at least in the reality of the film). So then there are a couple basic options:

1) Josh was not dead, though he had apparently undergone some painful torture and had at least some of his teeth pulled out. It as Josh, then, under the influence (like Rustin Parr more than half a century earlier) of the Blair Witch, her voice telling him what to do. So he knocked Mike’s camera down then put Mike in the corner—I’ve seen debate on IMDb as to whether or not Mike is a) dead or b) conscious there in the corner, but either way, under this option, Josh puts him there, then waits for Heather to come down and kills her. Then, he kills Josh, then kills himself... except, then what happened to their bodies? There’s another point worth dealing with before moving on to #2. If the Blair Witch was involved, then Carrazco in The Burkittsville 7 is probably not right about Kyle Brody; Rustin Parr killed those kids and the Blair Witch made him do it.

2) The Blair Witch, Elly Kedward herself, killed Josh first, maybe tortured him for a couple days to frighten Heather and Mike, then killed those two when they showed up at her house. She put Mike in the corner, she killed Heather. And, she got rid of the bodies just like she got rid of the bodies of those five men at Coffin Rock.

But, what if there is no Blair Witch? Then the possibilities get narrowed a lot. This is film, so we must assume there are no “rednecks” messing with Heather and Josh and Mike, since there are no obvious “rednecks” introduced earlier in the film. So, who was introduced earlier that would be suspect?

1) Before I get to the obvious suspect, I must cite Keller (2000), who argues that The Blair Witch Project would have been unable to generate a satisfactory viewing had it not been supplemented with additional texts, creating a framework and background for the events depicted on the film” (p. 75). That is, Keller is saying the film not only does not but can not tell us the whole story. And the Dossier tells us (by way of Josh’s girlfriend) that Josh “took a whole bunch of books out from the library on that Witch. He bought a notebook, and started writing stuff down in it all the time. He kept saying how ‘Heather’ would appreciate it” (Stern, p. 86).

(Keller, by the way, laments (my choice of phrasing) in the end of his piece how, “Each time I place a note in the text acknowledging appropriations from A Dossier, I may be perpetuating the Blair Witch’s pageant paraded across the American media” (p. 80).)

So, might Josh have, in trying to impress his friend Heather, gotten a little too involved in the Blair Witch legend, and maybe just like Kyle Brody writing in Transitus Fluvii, Josh was not writing nice, (mostly) coherent English like Heather in her journal. And, maybe each contact with “the Witch” on their venture into the woods was Josh trying to make Heather’s film that much more interesting... except then when they actually got lost and it seemed they might die out there, Josh snapped because in films people do that, they just snap and a minor psychosis or obsession turns to something much bigger. So, Josh, out of his own obsession, augmented by fear and hunger and exhaustion kills his friend Heather and their replacement sound guy, Mike, and then hides the bodies... somewhere, and hides the tapes unde the edge of the foundation because he knows no one should ever look there. And, then he kills himself, to complete the picture or maybe out of guilt, but wherever he kills himself, his body is lost, maybe in some rapids in a larger section of the river, or is eaten by animals, leaving no evidence behind.

Bonus detail: if Carrazco in The Burkittsville 7 is correct about Kyle Brody, then maybe no kids were ever put in the corner; maybe Kyle Brody made all that up. So, it would make sense that Josh, obsessed with the story of the Blair Witch, including Kyle Brody’s story about the kids being put in the corner, motivates the way he kills.

2) The more obvious suspect, you know, because she looks like a witch, duh, is Mary Brown. Similarly to that last point, it would make sense that a crazy local woman who believes in the Blair Witch would go by the stories when she decided how to keep the legend alive. It would not then be a mere coincidence that Mary Brown’s gate at her trailer is sticks tied together, for that is something for which she’s got a talent. And, she uses that talent to make those stick men, and to make that nice gift bundle with Josh’s teeth.

A potential problem with the Mary Brown version of things comes there, though, with the disappearance and apparent torture of Josh. How would she get him out of the tent? I suppose she could have just grabbed him while he went outside to pee. At that point Josh would have been weak from hunger and exhausted from hiking, so she could have overpowered him physically if she didn’t just drug him in some way.

The film does not give us a motivation for Mary, but it does tell us that she is considered to be crazy. The old local man being interviewed mentions “this old woman by the name of Mary Brown.” He says, “she was kinda crazy.”

Heather: “How was she seen by the community?”

Old Man: “Crazy.”

After they have left Mary Brown, Josh says, “Thank God she’s not in the film business. Can you imagine?”

Heather: “She thinks she is in the film business. She also says she’s a ballerina... She says she’s a historian writing a book on American history... And, she says she’s a scientist who does research at the Department of Energy.”

Mary is a) apparently crazy—in the Dossier she claims to have seen an apparition of Josh in December (he disappeared in October), and b) believes in the Blair Witch. In cinematic terms, that’s motive enough.

And, really, that’s all I have to say about that.

For the record, by the way, I think the film tells a complete story itself. Despite Keller, you don’t need the supplemental material. The basic claim that the footage is real comes from the beginning of the film. Considering the movie made close to $150 million domestic, 250 worldwide, I would wager that most of its audience never saw any of the supplemental materials. And, you all did just fine.

Works Cited

Keller, J. (2000). “Nothing That Is Not There, and the Nothing That Is”: Language and The Blair Witch Phenomenon. Studies in Popular Culture 22:3. pp. 69-81.

Stern, D.A. (1999). The Blair Witch Project: A Dossier. New York: Onyx.