So, I have this inappropriate habit of answering honestly when asked a question. I’ve failed personality tests this way – multiple times. And it’s not because I’m a terrible person (it’s because I’m an awful person ahahahaha – classic gags never retire), it’s just that I give these questions thought and merit. Maybe too much thought and merit.
During one uncomfortable icebreaker at a work function, my questions were: my name (easy, it was given to me a while ago), my job (easy, it was earned), and my favorite animal. I should have said dog. Dogs are great.
I did not say dog. I said Protoceratops. But that requires an explanation, which then goes into the book by Adrienne Mayor that posits that it was the fossilized Protoceratops bones and nest/egg fragments, found by ancient Scythian nomads, that were the inspiration to the myth of the griffin. You see, the Protoceratops had a beak-like mouth, much like an eagle. The ridge was very delicate, so if it were to break apart from the head and fall near the back…
And there were about thirty people that realized too late that they had asked a mundane question that I was going to answer: honestly, painfully, specifically, and disgustingly.
So, what am I leading to?
Because Haunted MTL asked me a question…
Oh, dang. Here we go.
As part of the contributor’s profile, Parzz (and boss) asked a “simple” question: What is your monster of choice?
So, first of all – what is a monster?
Okay, no, we’re not going that far into it. I could, but I would never see life again and I would miss parts of it.
No, instead, we’re going to do something a little different. And it all has to do with identity.
Since November, I’ve been a contributor to Haunted MTL, kicking around the tufts of cult classics, newer shrugs, and beautiful hidden gems. But this month, Imma get real, kids, because this is a weird month for me. You see as I am a gender-fluid –nonono, it’s cool, come back. I barely identify as Apache helicopter or whatever Millennials, Boomers, and Zoomers are making fun of these days.
But with who I am, “monster of choice” is not an easy “tea or coffee” pick for me. Since I’m the type to write an overly-complicated essays about surfing Nazis and HIV zombies, you can see I take my horror seriously.
So, let’s explore the monsters who are the “others” of gender for this Women’s Day as I narrow down to my monster/villain of choice. Join me, won’t you?
Brain Roll Juice
Gender and horror itself are interesting elements fused together more closely than most would think. There are masculine horror icons and traits – serial, insane, sadistic, carnal. Just as there are feminine – sorrowful, vengeful, jealous, and…well, a more complex insane, shall we say?
Masculine; we have the bloodthirsty hookman, lumbering Jason, sadistic Freddy, carnal Candyman, serial Jason. Their motives are not complex. They are killers, and they kill. On the other hand (more often seen in legends) feminine icons are more personal and complex. They are La Llorona, Bloody Mary, Kuchisake-onna, banshees, and the hag/witch (Baba Yaga, the Bell Witch, and the like).
In movies, the roles can be pretty stringent – usually if a female villain/monster is introduced, she is the mate of the male – the supporting role. This is most apparent in the older films like Bride of Frankenstein, but even can be seen in films like Basketcase 2-3. They’re usually cis-gender and adhere to gender norms in one form or another.
Even in legend, monsters are generally gendered via society’s gentle nudge. Bigfoot = hairy dude. Sea creature = scaly dude. Zombie = rotting dude. Vampire = fanged dude. Loch Ness Monster = dino lady. New Jersey Devil = a devil dude into some weirdass cakes.
You get my point.
However, there are characters that fall into a more grey area, regardless of sex (very loosely: gender is how you feel, sex being the dangle or non-dangle parts). These are a few of my favorites, 7 to be precise, all taken from movies. Take note – there are some spoilers to old movies.
#7 – The Blob
“You can’t say ‘the blob’. it’s…like…just a blob. It’s not anything!” Glorious Spouse, 2020
Au contraire, mon petit fermier (my French may be rusty). But, yeah, I can count the blob. Why not? Just because of its absence of sex and gender doesn’t mean that I can’t identify and add it to the list, honey-pie.
In fact, the concept of the blob, as a growing, expanding, overwhelming alien creature, is a perfect metaphor for that cool gender-fluid anxiety that sometimes hangs around. Out of control, amorphous, and just seen by other people as “icky” and untouchable. It’s gross. People don’t want to explore it, they want to avoid it, and the more you avoid it, the larger it gets. The more suffocating it becomes because it’s a weird, gross problem that just gets in the way.
And like the end of the movie, it never really goes away. It can be quiet sometimes. It can lie dormant. But it’s never really gone, and it’s never really dead.
#6 The Cenobites
I might get push-back on this one (well, maybe all of them, who knows). The cenobites have clearly defined sexes, yes, but when gender is concerned, they are fluid because gender just doesn’t matter. Some call them angels, others call them demons, but no one says that they adhere to social norms, especially not typical, standard American.
Pinhead himself is small, lithe, and femininely sleek in his costume, the only imposing parts of him are his voice and presence. The female cenobite is not portrayed as a mate, but just another vessel of their main mission – the experience. Their whole fixation is on pain/pleasure in the experience of eternity, not hierarchy or power (I’m just focusing on the first movie).
#5 Kenny from “Terror Train”
I really dig this killer on a few different levels. I mean, haven’t we all wanted, at some point in our lives, wanted to kiss Jamie Lee Curtis and then turn into a human tornado?
And I know that Kenny might get flack as a character for a few different reasons – he has problems with mental illness, he has gender identity issues, he has murdering issues. However, he is a fascinating character as all identities.
Kenny is not just male but also female, “they” are a duality as much as Jamie Lee Curtis is the duality as “the last girl”. In fact, to call her a last girl leaves something to be desired because it’s not through circumstance that she survives, but her duality of masculine and feminine traits that keep her alive and unbroken.They are both unconventional, but Kenny fails to actualize where Jamie Lee accepts. Hence, human tornado.
Anywho, there are times that I wish I could fade into different personas as quickly as Kenny, and blend in with whatever crowd that happens to be there. Especially as Snake Man.
Pumpkinhead is an interesting creature, as it is an interesting movie. It also made me feel feelings (how dare it). I’ll probably get into my P-Head love later (phrasing), but as I mentioned, this creature is interesting. Its role is very fascinating. In my intro I mentioned a few iconic horror figures – male and female. Masculine motivations tend to be gluttonous, wanton bloodlust and power over others. Mostly, stabby-stabby, kill-kill. Even Freddy, although he likes to play with his victims, it’s all a power thing.
Female figures can be stabby-stabs, but more often than not have more complex motivations for murder and mayhem. They are seeking revenge, or haunted by their bloody past. Much like this, Pumpkinhead appears as a manifestation of vengeance. And, maybe this is a stretch, as it is not even spurred its own revenge, but just a supporting figure (a tool) of someone else’s revenge, it is taking a more feminine role. Just like I mentioned many females in horror (and “normal”) movies are there only for the fact of supporting the male’s actualization and his character development. Pumpkinhead is the same. Well, apart from being a mate…
P-head is different from most villains, even “summoned” characters such as Betelgeuse. It gains no pleasure or pain from doing its work, it has only one task and has no say or agency. It has absolutely no power, nor does it seek it. It’s kind of sad, actually. It’s basically a murderous Meeseeks, but with even less agency and dignity.
#3 Angela from “Sleepaway Camp”
This one has gotten some slack over the years and I can’t speak to all sides, nor should I, I can only speak to how I feel about this character and what Angela means to me. Let’s get over the reveal, okay? Go watch it if you haven’t.
So, Angela the Killer is relatable because “she” is forced into both worlds, while belonging to neither. I also want to point out that “she” has been called trans by some, but I’m not sure if that’s even inherently correct as this was not by choice. Angela is attempting to navigate as what she/he/it believes is required of her/him/it, enduring some of the most negative aspects of being “female” (sexual harassment, bullying, predatory behavior).
The murders are a result of the culmination of the abuses Angela faces and the confusion of never being accepted as she/he/it truly is. Every time Angela begins to open up, she/he/it is again met with societal expectations and norms that she/he/it can’t adhere to, and the ultimately crushing disappointment when others can’t accept that.
I’m not saying that killing everyone was the right move…I’m just saying that I think I get it.
Jaws…Jaws is many things, all in one. It is a force of nature, a shark with a badass scar, a mother seeking revenge, a…voodoo spirit seeking revenge…Jaws itself is a strange a beautiful enigma…and also really good-bad sequels featuring beautiful Lea Thompson and not-giving-a-flip Michael Caine.
But I want to concentrate on Jaws #1. The original. One of the reasons that I love the movie (a million times more than the book) is that it’s an examination of male identity – from father/authority figure, scientist/intellectual, to…well, Quint.
But Jaws, itself, is more of a force of nature, an impending doom, than an example of masculinity. It tests their strengths. It prods their weaknesses. It is more monster than man, with only primitive motivation of survival, and perhaps, the hunt.
You could make a claim that Jaws also encompasses a more aloof masculinity, but, again in my own opinion, it is a primordial being of hunger and chaos – sex and gender are too complex for what it represents. Almost like a primeval Leviathan, rising from the bowels of the ocean to cast down the modern man.
Too bad for it that Roy Scheider was a legend, with Richard Dreyfuss on the sidelines, ready with high-fives.
And the Monster of Choice is:
#1 T-Rex from “Jurassic Park”
Here we are. Surprised? Don’t be.
Apart from being one of my favorite films (and a friendship deal-breaker if you don’t like), it has the best female villains.
They just happen to be dinosaurs…
And are also not entirely female…
It’s true. At one point, Dr. Grant finds egg shells and realizes that the dinosaurs are changing their own sex to reproduce (“life will find a way”). While this is a bit of a throw-away line to go into the greater “playing God” theme, it’s a very cool and powerful moment for the creatures themselves. In nature there are animals that can change sexes, “gender roles” and other social dynamics. It’s pointing to the fact that it’s natural. We evolve. We change as a species. It’s okay. To be stagnant is to be the death of our lineage, we must adapt. In the movie, it was the sex of the dinosaurs. For humanity, maybe it will be something akin to gender.
But just as a movie concept, and going back to monsters, that makes the T-Rex incredibly powerful. Not only did she successfully fight for her freedom from forced confinement and exploitation, she can change herself. She can become he, and vice-versa. She has that agency and choice to, which is something lacking by others on the list. She can physically alter her body and hormones by her own will, for the continuation of her lineage and legacy.
By the end, she establishes her boundaries, reclaims her own body, and asserts her own path. And if that isn’t one of the most powerful characters in cinema history, boy, I sure don’t know who is.
Movies n TV
The Beach House, a Film Review
The Beach House (2019) is a body horror film directed and written by Jeffrey A. Brown starring Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, and Jake Weber.
The Beach House (2020) is a body horror film directed and written by Jeffrey A. Brown. This film stars Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber, and Maryann Nagel. As of this review, this film is only available on Shudder.
Desperate to rekindle their strained love, Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) escape to a beach getaway. They soon learn to find that family friends of Randall’s father, Mitch (Jake Weber), and Jane (Maryann Nagel), also had a similar idea. After getting used to each other, a mysterious fog engulfs the town. Unfortunately, they realize too late the danger they find themselves in.
What I Like
Body horror gets under my skin, and The Beach House certainly lives up to the standard. There’s something magical about creatures terraforming your body to their preferred environment, turning humans into nothing more than conscious prisoners in their own flesh. While I wouldn’t consider this film the most traumatic or unsettling example, it utilizes wonderfully grotesque scenes.
Aside from the body horror, the film drops a few Cosmic Horror–or Lovecraftian–vibes that go together perfectly. Another favored genre of mine, this combination ensures the odds are overwhelmingly against our human leads.
Beyond the grotesque, visuals might not overwhelm but certainly succeed in their goal. Several scenes provide an intentionally tranquil experience that contrasts with the grotesques and improves their effectiveness.
In terms of performance, each actor hits their mark. While some roles require less effort, each contributes to the plot as intended. The standout performance goes to Liana Liberato’s Emily, who acts as co-lead. She simply has the most to work with and lives up to the part.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
As “body horror” should indicate, this film will hit hard for the more squeamish viewer. While horror by nature has some amount of grotesque, body horror brings that grotesque to the next level. While I don’t particularly find The Beach House hitting harder than its competition, it certainly respects its chosen genre.
What I Dislike or Considerations
A few scenic montages may hit or miss depending on your interpretation. While I have my own theories, that speculation goes beyond the scope of this review. Many of these scenes overlap more philosophical conversations and musings that may annoy or add layers. This strategy seems a common practice in Cosmic Horror, which forces characters to rationalize the irrational.
It’s hard for me to understand how secretive or known this event is supposed to be in the film’s world. Individuals know something outside of the town, with evidence implying governmental knowledge. This information creates a contrivance–perhaps, even a plot hole–because the characters had to reach this isolated town without any opposition.
One of the visuals didn’t exactly grab me. While I won’t go into too much detail, an effect looked too visually similar to a common animal that barely survives rain. It’s hard to be threatened by that. It also doesn’t exactly match up with some of the other visuals. Even the creatures that look similar to it still look different enough to provide a more alien assumption.
There are moments when the infected chase our main characters by crawling at them. While the context works, with injured characters helping to sell them, I can’t help but find these scenes amusing as opposed to frightening. Yes, it’s certainly visually different from the plethora of zombies out there, but it’s also less frightening than zombies that leisurely walk to their targets.
The Beach House combines cosmic and body horror to create an uncomfortable film that tests its characters. For those who enjoy these genres, it will certainly entertain you, but I doubt it will frighten you. I imagine the mood to watch it again might strike me, but I’m not entirely certain it will stand the test of time. (3 / 5)
If this movie suits your fancy and you want more, Honeymoon seems an appropriate recommendation.
Movies n TV
Every Secret Thing, a Film Review
Every Secret Thing (2014) is a crime thriller directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener, based on Laura Lippman’s novel.
Every Secret Thing (2014) is a crime thriller directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener. This R-rated film stars Diane Lane, Danielle Macdonald, Dakota Fanning, and Elizabeth Banks. Based on Laura Lippman’s novel of the same name, the film adaptation is accessible through MAX and DirecTV.
When a little girl goes missing, Nancy Porter (Elizabeth Banks) spirals into an all too familiar tale. As pressure mounts, Alice Manning (Danielle Macdonald) and Ronnie Fuller (Dakota Fanning) become the leading suspects. The strained frenemies unravel under the attention and reminders of their shared past.
What I Like
The film unravels in a non-chronological structure but makes it easy for the viewer to follow. It helps that the age difference clearly divides the younger actors, who change actors. One casting choice resembles their older counterpart, and the acting reflects a strong direction for their shared role.
Unreliable narration remains expertly communicated with scenes that change perspectives depending on whose perspective we view them from. This choice adds a reason to view the film twice, providing extra ambiguity for some of these events.
The camera gets up close and personal to an uncomfortable degree, which almost certainly presses the actors’ performances. This choice places the viewer in the character’s perspective and limits us from others’ perspectives to add extra credence to these biases.
Every Secret Thing provides a spiraling mystery that unravels with several twists and turns. Assuming the novel provided the outline, this film executes these points and keeps a consistently engaging experience throughout the runtime.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
Child abuse and neglect remain the central plot points of Every Secret Thing. Little of this abuse appears in scenes, but there is no escaping the danger children are in throughout the film.
Self-harm and suicide are shown throughout the film (once in the case of suicide) through one specific character. It isn’t glorified or romanticized nor addressed with particular sensitivity. For those sensitive to these subjects, it might be triggering.
Racism, the assumed motive for the bi-racial victims, plays a small role in the film’s narrative. However, character motives remain more complex, but going further spoils some elements. This film decision does create the reality that bi-racial children are the victims of child neglect and abuse in the film with little additional context. It does invite uncomfortable speculation, but speculation it would be.
Sexual assault is another concern for viewers, specifically statutory rape. This issue seems particularly mismanaged, considering the survivor remains an antagonist. One can be both survivor of assault and an antagonist of a film without needing to discredit the assault. While little appears of this issue, and the manipulation angle can indicate a perspective shift, it’s hard to refute how the film wants to represent this attack.
What I Dislike
Loosely tied to the above point, one character seems mentally off and purposely so. This point doesn’t inherently create an issue, but there seems to be a choice to make this character a mastermind. Perhaps this is better addressed in the book, but the execution is far from perfect here.
A newspaper montage reveals essential information which feels oddly misplaced. Practically the entire setup for the film appears through this montage, which creates the necessity to read these headlines in the minimal time given.
As a horror, nothing but the events are haunting. Children being abused or kidnapped always haunts, but the terror of this remains secondary to the mystery. While the mystery is nice, this film won’t particularly scare the seasoned horror fan.
Every Secret Thing unravels a mystery of opportunism, selfishness, and deception. While the movie won’t haunt the viewer, it certainly unravels a mystery that shocks them. The nuanced and deceptive characters add a layer of engagement that creates a unique experience, but I doubt this movie will linger in my mind.
(2.5 / 5)
Movies n TV
Quid Pro Woe
We’ve now reached episode six of Tim Burton’s Wednesday. And after the last episode, this one did not disappoint.
We start with Wednesday attempting to contact Goody Addams. Last episode, if you’ll recall, Morticia explained the difference between a psychic dove and a raven. Since Goody Addams was the last raven psychic in the family line, it’s got to be her that trains Wednesday.
But her seance is a failure, and Wednesday is interrupted by a magazine note shoved under the door. It says to meet someone at a crypt for answers.
When she gets there, it turns out that her friends have put together a surprise birthday party for her. Before she can cut the cake, however, she has a vision.
Goody Addams tells her that she must find a specific gate. After some investigation, Wednesday discovers it’s the gate to the old Gates house.
Wednesday goes to investigate, but she isn’t the only one. She is nearly discovered by Mayor Walker. He is also investigating the Gates family, even though they’re all reported to be dead. He leaves a message for Sheriff Galpin and is almost immediately run over by a car.
This incident is enough to get Wednesday’s town villages revoked. Though this seems like an empty punishment since the whole school is on lockdown. Someone burned Fire Will Rain on their front lawn.
Wednesday isn’t one for believing the rules apply to her. She has it in her head that she’s meant to save Nevermore Academy, probably from whatever descendent of Crackstone who’s still around. So she has no problem lying to Enid and Tyler and convincing them to help her sneak off campus and explore the Gates house further.
This, of course, is an incredibly informative trip. The kids find a hidden altar to Crackstone, as well as the missing body parts from the monster’s victims. They also find evidence that someone’s been staying in the house. Someone who’s staying in what looks like a little girl’s room.
Before they can find anything more, the monster finds them. They barely escape, and go to the sheriff with what they find.
Of course, the house has been cleared out by the time Sheriff Galpin arrives. Furious that his son was almost killed, he tells Wednesday to stay away from him.
Because that always works, right?
Galpin isn’t the only one angry. Enid is fed up with the way Wednesday has been treating her. And so she leaves their room to bunk with someone else, leaving Wednesday alone.
This episode was well done. The discoveries at the house were exciting, and I’m almost sure I know who’s behind the murders at this point. Overall, this was a good ramp-up to the season finale.
Finally, this episode did something I was worried just wasn’t going to happen. And for that alone, it deserves praise.
Wednesday has been incredibly selfish and inconsiderate since the first episode. She’s been rude and demanding towards Thing. She’s ignored her friends’ needs and emotions while insisting they put themselves in danger for her investigation. She has respected no one’s boundaries, even while other people have at least tried to respect hers.
And now, it’s finally come back to bite her. All of the people who have been doing their best to show her kindness and support are finally done with her bullshit.
Yes, this is a good thing! Characters are best when they’re allowed to learn and grow. When they don’t come to us flawless. When they mess up and learn from it. Especially for a show aimed at kids, this is essential.
If you’d asked me at the beginning of the season if this character was going to experience honest character growth, I’d have assured you it would never happen. Much to my surprise, it’s happening. I hope that Wednesday is going to come out of this a better person. With two episodes left in the season, there’s plenty of time for that. (4 / 5)