Thursday, October 31, 2013

Why I'm not seeing Ender's Game, and why you shouldn't either

Let me level with you. My father loves the novel Ender's Game.  I mean, he LOVES Ender's Game. I never read it, myself. In high school, I was too busy reading Trainspotting and A Clockwork Orange and Catch-22. Even as a kid I was too busy being engulfed in the world of Stephen King (reading The Stand in 7th grade is quite fun.

But, in college, I learned about Orson Scott Card, the author of Ender's Game. The author of this book that my father loved, my friends loved, and I had been thinking of getting around to due to peer pressure. But, my freshman year, I learned about Orson Scott Card, and that totally fucked my world view in fours.

Growing up, I wasn't inundated by anti-gay culture. I wasn't bombarded by religious messages saying being queer was terrible, and that I'm going to hell. I had a distant cousin that was gay. I had the early internet, where Geocities frequently had gay education mixed in with porn.  I learned what Stonewall was, and the meaning of the Pink Triangle while looking for whack material. Geocities gay geeks, if you're out there, know that you educated at least one kid about gay history when he had nobody else to teach him.  Thank you.

And, so, it wasn't until college when Orson Scott Card's essay from 1990 popped onto my screen. That essay? The Hypocrites of Homosexuality. In it, Card calls for homosexuality to be criminalized, and that the Church should demonize any and all out-of-the-closet homosexuals. He wants all homosexuality to be in the closet, and to remain behind locked doors where nobody can see, or hear. And, to also arrest people for trying to pick up guys.  Basically, he wanted us to be in jail if we ever stepped out in public, despite his hypocritical statement to the contrary.

Card always says that he was being liberal for the times (1990) and the place (Mormon audience). But, he's encouraging the Mormon audience to demonize the homosexual unless they repent their sinful ways, and come into the straight fold.

Reading that a decade later at first shocked me. Then, it offended me. Then, it saddened me. Then, it pissed me off. This motherfucking asshole thinks that I'm less of a person because I want to live my life the way I want to live it?  This guy, who my friends think is an amazing writer, thinks that I am a danger to his way of life? I didn't give two flying fucks about this douchebag or the religion he was a part of, but he wanted to make my lifestyle illegal?!  Oh, hell to the fucking no.

Orson Scott Card didn't just challenge my lifestyle and make me feel like I was less than nothing. Orson Scott Card wanted to make me illegal. He wanted to raid my bars where I communicated with my friends, and picked up people who were willing to be picked up, and he wanted to put me in jail until I conformed to his lifestyle.  That is the Orson Scott Card who wrote Ender's Game.

Orson Scott Card made me into a minor activist. If a friend said I should read Ender's Game, I would point them to this essay and say No, I Will Not. They even offered to loan me his book, and I refuse to read it. For all I know, Ender's Game is the greatest book since Dracula, or whatever you consider a great classic.  But, I refuse to read one word of it because he made me feel like less of a person than he was by saying I should be illegal.

When I was being all activisty, my friends hadn't known Orson Scott Card's pure hatred of all things homosexual. And, it wasn't really all that big yet. In 2004, Orson Scott Card had commented that homosexuality was the result of "a disturbing seduction, or rape, or molestation, or abuse." He just told me that I was a molested child.  I'm not, by the way. But, even still, the gay community hadn't really addressed Orson Scott Card at large until...Hamlet.

Orson Scott Card wrote a reimagining of Hamlet, where King Hamlet was a gay pedophile who had molested Laertes, Horatio, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as little kids. And, King Hamlet was actually killed by Horatio as revenge for the childhood molestation.  He also turned Hamlet into an idiot who doesn't really want the throne after his uncle takes it from him. Yeah, the author of Ender's Game turned Hamlet into a gay pedophilic rape-revenge story.

Orson Scott Card then turned up as a chair member on the board of National Organization of Marriage, which is an anti-gay political group who makes and spends money by demonizing gays and their right to marriage benefits such as hospital visitation rights and death tax benefits. This is the Orson Scott Card who wrote Ender's Game.

This is not character assassination. This is merely saying exactly who Orson Scott Card is. He is a Mormon who is willing to put his money where his mouth is, and demonize gays to make money. That is the kind of guy who wrote Ender's Game.

This Orson Scott Card has made $1.5 million from the film rights alone. This Orson Scott Card is listed as a producer on the film of Ender's Game. If Ender's Game succeeds wildly, Orson Scott Card will have his whole Ender series optioned.  He will be making money hand over fist. And, my readers, if you see, or buy, or read Ender's Game, you will be supporting this type of backwards ass thinking, and giving this man more money to use against homosexuals in the future.

This is why you should not see Ender's Game. This is why you should not buy the book Ender's Game. This is why you should not support Orson Scott Card in any way, shape or form.


And, then there's the studio.  Back in July, Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment vowed to do a gay benefit premiere of Ender's Game. They have been trying to distance themselves from Orson Scott Card, saying he already made his money.  But, they want to do sequels. They want to make money from this so they can option more of Orson Scott Card's novels.

And, they lied.

Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment never did a gay benefit premiere of Ender's Game. That never materialized. They haven't given any money to offset the $1.5m that the producers paid to Orson Scott Card, so far.  Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment are making money by giving money to somebody who is completely working against gay interests. And, they refuse to do anything about that.

Do you really want to give money to that?  Other Lionsgate films you can boycott, if you're feeling more pissed off than me: Escape Plan, Catching Fire, and A Madea Christmas.

Fuck you Lionsgate. You're now tied to Orson Scott Card, especially since you reneged on your promises in July.  Suck it.

Trouble Every Day (2001): Diseased Society and AIDS

Trouble Every Day (2001)
dir: Claire Denis

This movie.  This fucking movie.

Oh, I've tried loving you.  And, I should love you. I mean, what other movie features vampiric cannibalism (or cannibalistic vampirism), erotic sex, scenes that have copious amounts of blood, sex scenes with copious amounts of blood, and has the audacity to use Comic Sans for both its opening and its closing credits?  What other movie decides that the monotony of science is as compelling as Vincent Gallo jerking off with an explosive cum shot that seems to think he's 20 years old, or in a Farrelly Brothers movie? Claire Denis has created a movie that should be built for me, but I just...can't...give...a...fuck.

Trouble Every Day is one of the base foundations for the New French Extremity horror movement that began in the 90s. New French Extremity is a type of horror film which kind of makes everything intimate, uses torture porn, body horror, or grand guignol, and frequently uses techniques and tones that were popular in the 1970s American horror exploitation films. NFE films are also frequently political and damning just as the 70s exploitation films could be.

Claire Denis, however, is not your traditional art director.  She is an artiste.  An auteur. In Trouble Every Day, she uses the Republican actor/director/provocateur Vincent Gallo to cement that fact. Why do I bring up Republican?  Well, the Republican party is frequently posed as the American party of rich white men posing as the party of morality. Meanwhile, the NFE movement, and Trouble Every Day is also participating in the same conversation as the New French Extremity movies, are generally anti-bourgeois in their intents.

The plot of Trouble Every Day is simultaneously not the point of the movie, and purely the point of the movie. The movie is a tale of two couples.  The first is Lou and Dore, a long-term couple where Dore has the unfortunate tendency to seek out random men and bite off their face.  Lou is a scientist trying to find the cure for that. The second is Shane (Gallo) and June, American newlyweds honeymooning in Paris.  Shane has the unfortunate tendency to seek out random women and bite off their vaginas and faces. He takes pills to reduce his urges. A salt peter for his bloodlust. And, he is a scientist who knew that Lou was working on a cure for that.

Trouble Every Day obviously is an easy metaphor for AIDS, a blood disease that can be passed through any number of methods. By fucking anonymous people, you're spreading a disease that will indeed kill them, eventually. Spreading the disease is like killing people. Except that, in Trouble Every Day, the dead people never come back to life to spread the disease. Claire Denis' version of AIDS isn't spreadable, so much as it is a death sentence.  Which is a completely naive and just plain wrong, as, in real life, the newly infected person may infect the next person before they even know they're infected.

Maybe it's not a condemnation of anonymous sex and STD spreading.  Maybe its just a metaphor for infidelity, and a condemnation of cheating.  But, really, in that reading, the person they'd be killing would be their partners, and not really the random hookup. Maybe she's using this as a metaphor for drug addiction, but I don't know that many people who seek to spread their drug addictions with anonymous strangers.

So, Trouble Every Day is a troubled movie in terms of what the clarity of its message. Maybe we're just supposed to read it as a new type of entertainment where boring shots of maids stealing and stashing single jam servings are intercut with long shots of nothing, and are now and then interrupted by bloodbaths.  Because, there is a lot of hypnotic boring nothing in between the violence. It's not even well-crafted nothingness, with the visual stimuli of Kubrick or Beyond the Black Rainbow. This is close ups of the hideous Vincent Gallo, or closeups of beakers with green fluids being stirred.

And, let's look at Vincent Gallo. He may have been cast because he might have been the only actor who was willing to jerk off and devour vaginas on screen. It's probably not a thankful part. But, good lord that asshole can't act. He's as flat and non-existent as anything I've reviewed on this site. He delivers his lines with all the life of a sheet of black construction paper. Which is an insult to the construction paper because that can at least be manipulated to make something interesting.  Gallo cannot be made into something interesting, as he's already been edited in this film! Whether that was a choice by Denis, or whether this is the result of Gallo being a terrible fucking actor is really hard to discern.

The one thing that Denis is doing to kick the bourgeois is using Comic Fucking Sans for her titles and end credits.  Yes, you read that right. Comic. Sans. She's provoking us to be pissed off, by using the most annoying font ever created to introduce a dour serious movie. Its a shot against the elitists by using the most common anti-elite font you can find on a computer.

Except, then we run back into Vincent Gallo, the Republican. He is a proud member of the party that let gays die for 7 years while they were pleading for money for AIDS research, before it was even acknowledged in speeches. This is a party that ignored AIDS, much like the scientists in this film do. And, as such, Gallo, the actor, is just as guilty of the death toll as the scientists in Trouble Every Day who don't give a shit about his disease. Claire Denis may not have cared about that association, or maybe Gallo wasn't openly a Republican when he was cast, but it puts a post-modern damper on any anti-bourgeois thoughts that she has going on in the film.

When I first saw Trouble Every Day on a shitty transfer that felt almost cam-like back in the day - it still hasn't gotten an official American DVD release - I hated the film. I thought it was dull, inane, and boring. Now that I've seen a good transfer, I can hate it on deeper levels. It's still dull, inane and boring, but it is also trite, confused, and irritating. But, it still has gorgeous bloodbaths, so I guess that's something?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

V/H/S/2 (2013): The mixed bag of horror

V/H/S/2 (2013)
dir: Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Eduardo Sanchez, Gregg Hale, Timo Tjahjanto, Gareth Huw Evans, Jason Eisener

V/H/S, the lo-fi horror anthology film, spawned a sequel that is similar in nature, but sacrifices some of its style. V/H/S/2 was produced originally under the name S-V/H/S, a nod to the increase in budget, quality, and technology that defined the original film. Unfortunately, somebody with influence probably thought most people wouldn't get the S-VHS reference, as it was an obscure feature that never quite penetrated the market. Not that you need to know this for the movie (but it is semi-relevant to the intents of the movie), S-VHS was actually Super-VHS, which was a style of VHS tapes introduced in 1987 that doubled the resolution of traditional VHS tapes. As such, the quality was somewhat improved, almost to Laserdisc qualities, but not as much as the next step to DVD.

The title of S-V/H/S fits the changes that occurred from V/H/S to V/H/S/2, in that the resolution improved, the static edits were less 8mm style and more digital, and the whole production felt far less raw. To nitpick a little, the quality jump almost goes too far and starts looking noticeably modern, though without the polish of 35mm or RED digital cameras. Most of the shorts in V/H/S/2 look like they were filmed with modern-esque home video cameras instead of the old S-VHS home camcorders. But, again, I'm nitpicking.

V/H/S/2 uses a new, unrelated, wrap around story, directed by Simon Barrett.  A Cheaters-style male/female team gets caught up looking for a cheater in a haunted house, and winds up finding a setup of televisions, VCRs and a Macbook Pro.  The setup resembles the mountain of televisions the kids in the first V/H/S encountered.  With the setup, they find a bunch of "watch me" tapes, and a laptop video of the target saying "OMG, I WATCHED THESE AND YOU SHOULDN'T!!!" Naturally, they do.

The first story of V/H/S/2 was written by Simon Barrett, and directed by Adam Wingard, who is the sole returning director from V/H/S. Adam Wingard's segment of V/H/S was the wrap around segment, which featured the gang of hoodlums that went around assaulting women. It should be noted that he also WROTE that segment as well as directed. It should also be repeated that Wingard did not write this segment.

The first story, Phase 1 Clinical Trials, is an cinematic experiment with an man in an accident who has one of his eyes replaced with a bionic camera that also records everything he sees.  When he gets home, as one expects in a horror movie, he starts seeing things he shouldn't that come to haunt him. The story is the cross over of the bionic eye camera (notably used in 1980's Deathwatch) and the time-immortal supernatural-recording technology trope. And, it pays off in spades.  Being trapped by the first person eye-camera means we know we'll never get a break, unless...  The only problem with the short is you can't really think about it too much. You'll wonder why he doesn't listen to some of the sensible characters. Or, why the bathroom is a sanctuary and the bathroom door blocks things. Or, why he is so entranced by somebody he just met. Regardless of the logical silliness, the atmosphere and pacing of the short is stunning.

Next up is the underwhelming A Ride in the Park, from Blair Witch Project originators Eduardo Sanchez and Gregg Hale. This is another innovation, as it is a zombie movie from the viewpoint of the zombie without the benefit of a metaphor (see Warm Bodies). As it is, it seems like it is only an extended sequence from what would be a larger movie. This seems like the clip from that movie to show that that larger movie is trying to explore the experience of losing your humanity and being filled with the mindless drive to eat and kill. The blessed part of this is that this experiment is worthwhile and is blessedly short, because there's nothing to this film otherwise. We go from trope to trope and instance to instance that we've all seen in every horror movie imaginable. I couldn't imagine a 90 minute movie of this tripe without something more in depth. As it is, it feels stretched out once you get the point. It's a bit overlong, but it has merit in the world of short-film experimentation.

The centerpiece of V/H/S/2 is Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Huw Evans' Safe Haven. Gareth Evans had last been seen on the stunning all-action Indonesian film The Raid: Redemption, that was released earlier this year. Timo Tjahjanto had last been seen doing L is for Libido as part of The ABC's of Death, the segment which featured Indonesian guys being force stimulated in a climax competition, where the one who came last died. Safe Haven is more traditional in the found footage realm compared to the other three shorts in V/H/S/2. Safe Haven is the raw footage of an investigative team into an underground religious cult that purifies (kidnapped?) children through sex for some sort of end ritual. What the movie lacks in originality, it makes up for in style. Much like The Raid, Safe Haven starts with low-level intensity, and slowly amps things up to ludicrous level, and the payoff is a brilliant shot that is as awesome as it is hilarious.

Unfortunately, V/H/S/2 ends with a stinker. Jason Eisener (Hobo with a Shotgun), directed a piece whose title gives away the whole plot of the segment.  The title could easily have been Super 8 Redux, about what Eisener thinks Super 8 should have been. It has the Spielbergian throwback fee-fees, the usual prolonged intro, and humor.  The story is about the non-central characters to the movie, as in the ones who do nothing to change the plot and are seen as random casualties in the course of the film. Which, really, have you ever stopped to wonder about the random people who die in these movies?  Unfortunately, the movie is just as interesting as one would expect. It ends up as fodder for the cutting room floor, or at least excised scenes from the first draft script. It's OK for a short, but after the intensity of Safe Haven, it is almost impossible for anything to follow.

V/H/S/2 seems to have suffered most from a terrible choice of order. At minimum, 3 and 4 should have been flipped, and I think that I would have order it 2, 1, 4, 3.

The notable thing about V/H/S/2 is that 3 of the four are experiments in genre. Where V/H/S was about creating stories that conformed well to the found footage genre, V/H/S/2 was more about a re-treatment of stories in ways we haven't really seen. The experimentation feels fresh, even if it isn't as tied together as V/H/S was in tonality and quality. And, even if the quality of the experiments end up with mixed results for entertainment, they all seemed far more worthy of a watch.  Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

V/H/S (2012): Misogyny on Film

V/H/S (2012)
dir: Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, and Radio Silence (aka Chad, Matt and Rob)

The found footage genre is having a renaissance ever since 2007 when REC and Paranormal Activity came bursting on the scene.  The genre's lo-fi aesthetics make it ripe for the cheap and dirty easy buck that horror has always been happy to use.  Thus, it was only natural that found footage would naturally find a home in the lauded and hated Horror Anthology genre.

V/H/S takes 6 directors, most working in lo-fi horror, and forces them to use some sort of found footage aesthetic to make up a short (or the framing device).  There were no rules, no connecting story or theme, and no communication between groups.  What came back was a wide collection of misogynistic horror in a tight 6 story film, thus cementing the belief that creating horror is a boy's club.

The wrap around segment is perhaps the most troubling, as it concerns a group of criminals who go around assaulting women in parking lots and selling it as reality porn.  The main problem is that this is all from the assaulter's point of view, and they're having a shitton of fun.  As we've discussed, point of view makes a hell of a lot of difference, and the first person perspective makes it that much easier to get into the fun of the criminals being all rapey.

David Bruckner's segment, which is the third best, concerns a succubus who comes home with a bunch of drunk idiot frat boys and makes them all suffer. Ti West's segment, the second worst, is some honeymoon video where the wife married the guy so she and her lesbian lover could kill him. Glenn McQuaid made the most dull slasher movie ever. Joe Swanberg, the second best, made a movie about a girl who is dating a guy who is using her as an alien incubator. And, Radio Silence made the best segment ever about a poltergeist that could only be tamed by the killing of a girl.


When Ti West gave interviews, he acknowledged that the movie is indeed a compendium of misogyny, and it was all by chance. What makes it worse, however, is the credits where one of the female's assault in the wraparound is used for a skipping repeated enjoyment.  How lulz.

But, is the movie good? You know, outside of all the lecture-y feminism that this film totally inspires and deserves (and, it has deserved and received far more than I have put in here).  Well, it may depend on your nausea index.

One of the dangers of the found footage genre is the ability to give you motion sickness. The Blair Witch Project, when seen on the big screen, caused me to look away for much of the film because I was getting physically nauseous. V/H/S has that ability in spades, especially in Adam Winguard's wraparound. In some of the more nauseating parts, the camera is hyperkinetic, glitchy, and jumpy. It has all the ability to make you dizzy.

And, outside of that, two of the segments (2 and 3) suffer from boredom. Ti West seems to be addicted to the slow burn then something kind of happens.  He did the same in The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers. And, Glenn McQuaid was just inept.

However, Joe Swanberg's use of Skype was impeccable. And, more than that, Radio Silence's movie was pure haunted house joy from first frame to last. So, you have 2 winners, 2 losers, 1 meh, and a wraparound segment that is better than its nausea. Which, for a horror anthology film, is a decent percentage.  Especially on rewatches, you can just skip ahead to the good stories.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010): Stay Awake

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)
dir: Panos Cosmatos

When you watch a horror movie, you almost always know that you're going to be watching something of a well worn tone: either a slow burn, something suspenseful or shocking, or maybe a horror comedy.  But, rarely do you get hypnotic and trippy.  There have only been a couple of movies that have fit this tone so specifically: Inland Empire, and Eraserhead.  Both are David Lynch films.  If you take the dream state of Lynch's films, add in more than a dash of the surreality of Altered States with the look of THX 1138, then you begin to get the originality of Beyond the Black Rainbow, a movie that is stunning and singular in its design even as it is inspired by a whole rash of cult movies.

Beyond the Black Rainbow has almost no dialogue, and it uses it only to express the abstract history of the characters. The whole first act is set up around 2 or 3 "interrogations" and "tests" that really consist of what seems like 4 or 5 lines of dialogue each. But, that's OK, because Beyond the Black Rainbow isn't really hear to give you shocks, but to fill you with an existential dread of everything you've ever known.

The main thrust of Beyond the Black Rainbow is almost a retelling of the second half of Stephen King's Firestarter, only replacing Charlie with Carrie White. A teenage girl, Elena, with telekinetic powers is trapped in a science lab controlled by a sociopathic doctor, who drills her to probe her desires and motivations, and also to fulfill his sick sadistic pleasures.  The doctor knows her powers, and also suppresses her abilities via a large white triangle somewhere in the facility. Of course, Elena wants to get out of the facility.  Struggles ensue.

The science lab is the former utopian haven, the Arboria Institute. In the 1960s, this was supposed to be a new age sanctuary for experimentation and happiness. Along the way, in 1966, there was a failed experiment which caused the Institute to change hands from its idealistic leader to its current sociopathic doctor.

Beyond the Black Rainbow tells the story abstractly, and primarily through visuals without dialogue. It disconnects from a direct and obvious story and leaves clues for the audience to pick up on the history, like puzzle pieces left lying around.  Once you assemble the puzzle, it becomes clear that Cosmatos is discussing familial ties, ancestry, identity, disease, new age shams, control issues, Reaganism, isolation, and religious ideals.  Especially in the realms of new age and religion, Cosmatos seems to try to say that our search for our deeper senses may have results that we cannot deal with on our current plane. And, he seems to hint that these other planes of existence may actually exist in our minds, but that, as a human, we should not be able to attain them. In these spiritual discussions, Beyond the Black Rainbow almost seems to be straining for a Black Lodge/White Lodge discussion of spirituality that David Lynch was opening in the last few episodes of Twin Peaks, only with a purely negative vision of our humanity.

Beyond the Black Rainbow is completely pessimistic and misanthropic. And, it is for those reasons that I love it.  Behind it's amazing retro future visuals that are a perfect meld of THX 1138 and 2001, and the hypnotic, slow, and syrupy pacing, there is a dark bleak look at what spirituality is, even as it maintains that some spirits cannot be broken. Almost everybody in this movie is bleak or damaged, and they act against the good spirits of humanity. This is Stephen King meeting Sartre meeting Michel Houellebecq. If you think about what is happening long enough, it should make you feel a bit creeped out and gross.

But, that's if you can stay awake and wade your way through the sludge.  Beyond the Black Rainbow is the cinematic equivalent of combining Ketamine and Quaaludes. It will hypnotize you with its Tangerine Dream-esque prog rock soundtrack, vivid full saturation colors, cold aesthetic, and sleepy pacing until you feel like you've suddenly got narcosleepy and pass out.  You'll be compelled but lulled at once.

If you can stay awake, Beyond the Black Rainbow is a rewardingly dark experience and visual journey that hasn't been tried in ages.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Non-Review: High School Shootings Revival

With the release last week of Carrie, the new adaptation of Stephen King's 1974 horror novel, one thinks a bit about the edges of revenge and the atmosphere that creates the need for a student to exact revenge.  Earlier this week, I looked at The Final through the lens of the documentary of Murder By Proxy: How America Went Postal, and attempted to contextualize the atmosphere that breeds the need for bloody torturous revenge.

This week, we've seen yet a rash of real life high school violence, or pre-emptive response to violence.

The first incident this week was out of Nevada, where a 7th grader (a 12-year-old) had a gun, and show two other students and his math teacher before killing himself. Early reports speculate that this happened after bullying, with the shooter saying, "Why are you laughing at me? Why are you doing this to me?"

The second happened in Washington, where another 7th grader (this time, an 11-year-old) brought kitchen knives, a gun, and 400 rounds of ammo to school with the intent of killing his and his friends' tormentors (but was arrested before the violence could happen). The incident that set him off?  His friend being called "gay."

The echoes of Carrie are especially strong in the Nevada case.  The climax (spoilers for a 39 year old novel?) of the original Carrie had the echoes of Mrs. White saying "They're all gonna laugh at you." constantly repeating in Carrie's head just before she set the high school prom on fire.

When I wrote about The Final last week, it was obviously before either of these incidents had happened, but it was long after the United States had experienced school shootings.  I really, REALLY, do not condone the violence that has happened.  I don't believe I can emphasize that enough. The violence that happens on school yards is not acceptable.

Like workplace violence, I'm not entirely sure that these incidents are preventable. Yes, you have a great mother in Washington who was able to suss out what her son was thinking of doing before he actually hurt somebody, but an important point is I think that we can actually do more to prevent people from getting to that place.

I hate to be all nanny and shit, but middle school is a brutal brutal place where kids are tested over and over and over again by their peers, even as they're also testing themselves. Welcome to the Dollhouse is still an impressive film for being slightly stylized, but feels just as brutal as middle school actually was. For many, middle school was perhaps a rougher experience than high school as people seemed to be founding friendships through rescue poles as much as through olive branches.  Alliances were forms as much through liking each other as through barbed wire against everybody else.

In this sense, look at many of the incidents of workplace violence.  They are very targeted.  Many try to shoot the ones they like, and target the "oppressors". And, in both of these incidents, we are dealing with bullying and either targeted violence, or probably targeted violence. One of the ways to prevent this violence is to try to stem the source of the fuel.

Bullying needs to be stemmed and punished.  I hate saying that, but one of the key feelings to workplace violence is a feeling of helplessness.  If the students think that their bullies are not getting punished fairly, they have a higher likeliness to think about violence. It's not as easy as all that, but it would be a step in the right direction.

The other step is a sense of escape and endurance.  The It Gets Better project is a great resource for gay and lesbian teenagers who feel that they will have to endure for the rest of their lives.  But, for the hetero students, this is also a message that should happen.

I don't know if any and all school shootings can be prevented. But, these extreme cases are only the incidents that have externalized the violence.  Many high schoolers end up killing themselves.  Just last month, a Florida 12-year-old student committed suicide after being cyber bullied.

Luckily, the conversation isn't centering around gun violence...yet.  USA Today offered a point, counter-point on how to best deal with bullies. They're both focused on prevention, but they have two different thoughts on achieving the ideal solution, and they both have points.  The former towards the feeling of helplessness by the victim, the latter toward the changing of the behavior in the bully.

In any of these cases, the solution is the same: reduce the fuel, and the violence will go down.  Lessen the bullying, and you'll get fewer non-gang-related shootings and fewer suicides.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

1313: Bigfoot Island (2012): Twinks in a Forest is now a genre.

1313: Bigfoot Island (2012)
dir: David DeCoteau

As a gay lover of the B-picture (and Z-picture), David DeCoteau's career has fascinated me.  When I was a wee tyke, I fell in love with a mildly craptacular movie titled Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-a-Rama. It's a old 80s horror movie with Linnea Quigley about a magical imp chasing around girls in a closed bowling alley.  It's really amazing and terrible.

For the first part of DeCoteau's career, he directed a whole slew of crappy exploitation horror movies for straight audiences.  Nightmare Sisters, Beach Babes From Beyond, Test Tube Teens from the Year 2000, etc.  Most of these movies were under pseudonyms like Ellen Cabot.  In 1997, DeCoteau started coming out of the closet, and directed, under his own name, The Journey: Absolution, which is a terrible movie filled with naked women and wanton homoeroticism starring Mario Lopez, Richard Greico, and Jaime Pressley.  Oh yeah, you know you're curious now.

In 2000, he made the gay homoerotic movie that would be seen as the start of his own brand of homoerotic horror movies, Voodoo Academy.  After that, he started churning out a whole bunch of horror movies that featured hot men in speedos and terrible acting.  The Brotherhood, Wolves of Wall Street, Beastly BoyZ, and my favorite, Leeches!, among others.  And, soon after that well dried up, he started down a path of two styles.  One is the inept family friendly series that is either A [holiday] [animal], or !?!.  Such fine examples are A Talking Cat!?!, My Stepbrother is a Vampire!?!, and An Easter Bunny Puppy.  The second path is the 1313 series, which is a Warhol-esque ode to men in their underwear.

Now, none of this is actually any good.  The 1313 series is barely entertainment.  He's made 12 of them in the space of 2 years.  So, that should tell you something.  Now and then, DeCoteau is doing something interesting.  And, if you dig deep enough into Bigfoot Island, you might be able to find a kernel of something...until he kills it with a weird and misogynistic final scene.

The first hour of Bigfoot Island consists of twinks walking, running, canoeing, suntanning, and showering...frequently shirtless.  Now, that sounds like a lot of fun, usually.  But, we're talking about one-at-a-time walking, running, canoeing, suntanning, or showering.

Let's break the opening down.

The first four minutes of the movie are establishing shots, including a completely captivating shot of a car ferry deck.  No actors.  No dialogue.  3 title cards.  And all forest.

The next 4 minutes are of some shirtless twink walking.

Then we get a phone call with him saying he's early to...something.  And, he's going to help clean...once he's done with all this walking in the forest.

Then a brief shot of a girl stalking the guy and a flashback to him saying something about sugar to her.

Then back to him walking and being watched in the forest, with periodic growling.

So, now we're 13 minutes in and you're starting to wonder if this is some new fetish of a guy walking shirtless through the forest with people growling at him.  Actually...

Then you get a shot of a guy in a cheap Bigfoot suit dart past.

For another 3 minutes we get more twink walking in the forest.

So, now we're 16 minutes into a 72 minute movie.  And, it's been a twink walking, making a single phone call, a flashback about sugar, and a darting glimpse of Bigfoot.  And a lot of forest.

Finally, we get a chase sequence.







And wham...Bigfoot bitchslaps the guy, and then we cut to a guy in a cabin.

18+ minutes of establishing shots and one twink walking around.  And then a bitchslap.  BAM!

And that's the summary of what you experience in 1313.  One guy takes a shower and THEN goes running with his shirt on (dude, you shower AFTER you go running).  Another guy goes canoeing (with a shirt on!), and then goes suntanning after removing his shirt.  He also gets killed by Canoe To The Head.  Then there's a bit of chase me chase me with the final two guys, the last one of which gets a little bit more off-screen mauling.  And that's the surface of the first hour.

Oh, and that girl I mentioned earlier?  She's the one summoning Bigfoot.  And, we're led to believe that this is a rape-revenge movie, without showing the original rape.  Yes, folks, this is a rape revenge movie that is included in a Bigfoot movie.


In the final scene, DeCoteau has the girl confront the shower guy, who is her friend.  And, she says that he saved her from being raped.  So, she was harassed pretty hardcore.  Apparently they were on top of her too.  And, then he rescued her.  I mean, being sexually assaulted is pretty bad, but is it Bigfoot bitchslap death to five guys bad?

And, then, to throw extra Bitches B Crazy fuel to this twist, the only way shower boy gets to live is if he stays on the island with her and abandons his school, friends, and family.  Otherwise, he'll get bitchslapped to death too.

And, that's the end.

Dread Central has a minute by minute account of the movie, and it's pretty hysterical.  Especially because I was texting with a friend while watching this, and my texts exactly mirrored his review.  "I wish this guy would die! He's kind of muscley but all he's been doing is walking for like 12 minutes."  "Oooo, we're changing it up a bit. The new guy is in a canoe now. And, he's not shirtless. He's a rebel." "Never mind. But, at least he's not walking. He's just suntanning."

Is this movie worth it?  No.  Is it saying anything?  A bit.

It may be trying to say that sexual assault is as traumatic as rape.  Or, that women are crazy.  But, is it worth it?  I dunno.  Do you like watching twinks hike silently in the woods with lush forestry?  If so, this is the movie for you!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Moth Diaries (2011): Goes great with black lipstick

The Moth Diaries (2011)
dir: Mary Harron

Remember that girl in high school who shopped at Hot Topic?  The one who wore leggings with bats on them, and used face powder to whiten her skin, with black lipstick to emphasize the depth of her pain. Usually, she's described as mall goth, or kiddie goth.  Her favorite band was Evanescence.  That girl would love the shit out of this movie.

For everybody else, the movie is a crap shoot.

But, really, who else would love a mostly-female retelling of Dracula? Especially one that changes the setting to a girls boarding school and features a bit of girl-on-girl vampire action, as well as male teacher-on-girl action?  The Moth Diaries is such a specific movie with such a specific tonality that it can't help but have a very targeted audience.  If you like wallowing in your broody darkness, this is the movie for you.

The Moth Diaries centers around Rebecca, a girl who lost her father to a wrist-cutting suicide at least two years ago. She returns to her boarding school with her group of friends, which is disrupted by the introduction of a new student, Ernessa.  As the year progresses, Rebecca's friends start getting expelled or dying, and her best friend, Lucy, seems to be falling in love with Ernessa.

Rebecca becomes the lonely outcast in school with a deep fixation on Ernessa, thinking she was a vampire, especially after reading the story Carmilla, which the hottie male English teacher assigned. As she starts getting more desperate and nobody listens to her, it starts almost seeming as if Ernessa barely exists outside her circle of friends.

The Moth Diaries obviously has several parallels to Dracula instead of Carmilla.  But, it does nothing much with any of these parallels.  Everything seems to exist to emphasize the brooding and loneliness that Rebecca feels as she loses her friends.  In emphasizing the broodiness of teenage girls, Mary Harron has created a seemingly compelling painting of the gothiness of some teenage girls. But, other than these heightened emotions, Harron isn't saying anything of substance.

If you just want a mood piece of Dracula gone lesbian, this is made just for you.  If you're looking for anything more than gothic broodiness with little depth, then you'll find The Moth Diaries severely lacking.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Spell (1977): Carrie with chants

Tubbo?  Really?
The Spell (1977)
dir: Lee Philips

One criticism that people have rightly had about Carrie is that Carrie's Mom is over-the-top.  Carrie never had a real great life, and it is one of the disservices to the real lives of kids who are bullied. Carrie never gets a respite, but some do. Another criticism is that Carrie never seems to really deserve it, and thus generates more empathy than a usual outcast. The Spell fixes those problems, but creates a whole slew of others.

The Spell was a tv movie rip off of Carrie, with the basis of a girl who feels like an outcast using telekinetic powers to exact revenge on those around her.  The Spell knows it is ripping off Carrie, and even uses the same type of dreamy flute music periodically that defines the romantic dream-like scores of Carrie.  But, The Spell is also limited by its being a tv movie.

The Spell is about Rita, a girl who may be a size 9 or something to make her a little overweight as a 15-year-old girl.  When the film opens, however, she is picked on as fat, called Tubbo and Moby Dick. And, today was rope climbing day, which Rita couldn't manage.  However, her primary tormentor taunts her by doing fucking aerial rope tricks like spinning around,  and eventually falls and dies.

The next scene is set months in advance and the father is telling Rita not to go for the second helping of waffles because she's fat.  And, so is the basis for Rita.  She's fat.  She can also be kind of bitchy in the way that all teenagers are.  She goes out for a walk instead of making dinner like she was asked. She gets mad at her sister for beating her in a breath holding contest, and other such things.  But, her mom is torn between protecting Rita and raising Rita.  She wants to protect Rita from bullies, but then she wants Rita to grow up right.  And, as a parent, that's a hard line.

That is the main way that The Spell differentiates itself from Carrie, by giving her a decent home life. Well, decent-ish.  Her father and sister seem to be united against Rita from the beginning of the movie. More her father than her sister.  I think Rita is mainly jealous that her sister has good looks and is athletic while Rita is just plain Rita.  Rita isn't given any qualities outside of being fat, telekinetic, and doing needlepoint.

Rita also attacks weird people.  Like her father's business associates?  And her father himself.  It isn't a Rita against the school movie like Carrie, nor does it have the disaster mass murder finale that Carrie delivers, providing the same type of catharsis that a movie like The Final delivers.  The Spell is firmly happy with keeping its intents low.  Especially when the finale is mainly two people chanting under their breath at each other.  Oy.

Beyond that, however, the realism is well worth it, and you might as well check it out if you're tired of re-watching Carrie.  It tackles fat shaming, and offers an imperfect protagonist, in order to make everything feel that bit more real and a little less over the top.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Final (2010) and Murder By Proxy: How America Went Postal (2010) : High school re-enactment as microcosm

The Final (2010)
dir: Joey Stewart

Murder By Proxy: How America Went Postal (2010)
dir: Emil Chiaberi

Initially, this entry was going to be solely about The Final and how it was a fantasy role play that was probably made by people who were either outcasts themselves or by people who were trying to enter the minds of the kids who do mass shootings.  Initially, it was going to be about life lessons and how the direction was actually pretty good, and how the movie is also a bit of a warning sign saying treat people better.  Because, really, we need more of that.

In a fit of happenstance, I stumbled upon Murder By Proxy immediately after watching The Final. The former is a documentary, and the latter a torture-porn horror film.  The former is about workplace environments, the latter is about high school. The former is, in part, about the failed 2008 thrust of Washington State House Bill 2142, the latter is about a Halloween party.  On the surface they seem like such disparate movies, but they are so intrinsically tied together.

Murder By Proxy documents the rise in workplace violence that started in the 80s, and increases to this day. It starts with the first case of workplace mass murder, in Edmond, Oklahoma, in 1986 by Patrick Sherrill at a post office.  It continued with the 1991 mass shooting in Royal Oak by Tom McIlvane, and focuses on his case for its intent.  Murder By Proxy does also look into many other cases beyond these two, but these are the most in depth cases given its use of Charlie Withers.

The "official" story (and, on the Wikipedia site it still is this story) was that McIlvane was a post office employee who had a history of altercations and had gone postal after being fired due to insubordination. Interviews in the film indicate that the management had become caustic and aggressive, and had started writing up McIlvane for stupid inane things, such as wearing shorts that were too tight.  Director Emil Chiaberi found help explaining the case in the form of Charlie Withers, an employee at the time of McIlvane's rampage who wouldn't stay quiet about the injustice he was seeing.

The thing is, Murder by Proxy is about the workplace bullying that occurs in everyday society.  There are no protections from it.  These range from usual harassment to downright belittling and condescension.  In the 1970s, the Postal Service had been pseudo privatized, where it was separated from the US government getting money, and was now responsible for making itself rather self-supportive.  This meant that the Postal Service was now available to using the same hostile management tactics that started pervading all management in the 1970s and moreso in the 1980s, and still pervades to this day.

In interviews found and conducted within Murder By Proxy, post office employees repeatedly said that they didn't agree with what McIlvane did, but they understood it.  Having your fellow workers say they understand why you went on a shooting spree, is damning evidence pointing towards a shitty management in the work place.  Your employees should not be "understanding" of another employee mass murdering the management.

Since the 1970s, the majority of the laws passed have been to protect the rights of the employer.  Murder By Proxy spends part of its time focusing on Washington State House Bill 2142, which was an anti-hostile work environment bill.  Charlie Withers even flew to Olympia to speak on behalf of the bill.  It was sponsored by 7 representatives.  It died in committee in February 2008.

In 2008, there was a case here in Washington, Spain vs Employment Security Department.  In the case, Spain had reported constant verbal abuse by her employer, who also made employees stand outside in the rain amongst other allegations.  She was denied unemployment insurance, and sued all the way to the State Supreme Court, which ruled that she had "good cause" and the ESD commissioner had discretion to say that she did.  The Supreme court ruling came down in June 2008, four months after the anti-hostile bill died.  Which would be OK news...except in 2009, Washington State house and senate passed a bill that stated that "good cause" was not a good enough reason anymore, and also reduced the taxes that employers had to pay.  This was passed in February 2009.

Let's go through that timeline again.  In early February 2008, Washington State rejected a bill that would made it punishable to have a hostile work environment. In late February 2008, Spain vs ESD was argued to get unemployment money for quitting due to a hostile work environment. In June 2008, she was allowed to collect unemployment.  But, in February 2009, Washington State passed, with the help of many democratic senators and representatives, a bill that not only rolled back that ruling (allowing for hostile work environments to have no legal ramifications) but it also cut the taxes of employers.

One of the reasons people shoot up their places of work is that they are intrinsically tied to their job, and they otherwise feel helpless.  At least, that is what Murder By Proxy says, and that's rather conventional wisdom.  If an employee is very tied to his job where it is his friends and life, then losing his position, especially by claims of insubordination or a newly hostile environment, is likely to set off a catastrophic mass murder.

Murder By Proxy also sees the ties to this type of hostile environment to the high school environments that are created.  Murder By Proxy directly links going postal to Columbine.  The filmmakers state that we frequently go for the too-easy answer: Drugs, video games, movies.  In trying to explain what turns a yellow card of warning into a red flag after the fact, Chiaberi explores his own too easy solutions.  He explores fame, and isolation.  But, he barely touches on a few reasons that seems rather easy and obvious to some: revenge, leaving the world a better place, and educating people.

The Final doesn't even hold back on those lessons.  In The Final, a group of outcasts, who have been mocked and harassed daily by the various cool kids, set up a Halloween party where they plan to torture and disfigure the kids in order to teach them lessons.  The outcasts don't want to actually kill their tormentors because that would be too easy, and the tormentors wouldn't suffer enough.

The Final addresses, briefly, the whole fame angle.  And, it also posits that the outcasts have all survived on a diet of horror movies, trying to claim it is more dangerous than it is.  By the end, fortunately, The Final decides that the fame angle exists only because it is intrinsically tied to the lessons the outcasts want to teach the world.  The outcasts ramble on and on about how harassed they were, and how cruel the tormentors were, and how this will be a lesson to everybody to stop being such high school shits.

And, the causality and morality of the outcasts is where The Final is most interesting.  Outside of the speechifying, The Final is a typical torture porn where the kids disfigure, dismember, coerce, split spines, and all sorts of other violent and brutal acts intended to inflict the pain they're feeling.  And, to be fair, the outcasts really to want to inflict pain and vengeance.  But, an outcast really wants to teach lessons.  This is why the outcasts in The Final made sure they have a captive audience.  This is why the outcasts feel so compelled to speechify.  This is a fantasy concocted by somebody who has been an outcast, or at least knows the minds of those who are  This is a fantasy of vengeance that is inflicted at the highest order.

Whether The Final is scary or not depends on your stomach for the torture porn genre.  It really is pretty well made for a low budget affair.  The acting ranges from decent to occasionally awful.  The cinematography is actually really good, and the pacing is decent.  It is actually a solid movie inside of its own little techniques.  But, The Final is trying to say something about the mindsets that really hadn't been explicitly put down before.

Gus Van Sant's masterful Elephant or Lynne Ramsay's We Need To Talk About Kevin both have different takes on the outcast, neither of which get close to what it really is.  Elephant gives the atmosphere for the killing, but ignores the reasoning of the killers.  We Need To Talk About Kevin posits a sociopath is needed to kill people.  But, as Murder By Proxy points out, anybody could be a killer in their workplace.  And, similarly, anybody could be a killer at school.  Give the right atmosphere, and anybody could be a powder keg.

What The Final is trying to be is that fantasy lesson given by the outcast to everybody else to not be such pieces of shit to everybody. Murder By Proxy is the real life results if these lessons aren't learned by the time people get into business.  The Final is a solid low-budget torture porn movie that, while bloodless and not all that scary, rarely delves into stupidity.  Murder By Proxy is a masterful documentary that ties in everything you have been worried about the business sector, and how that's turning all of America into a powder keg.  Separately, they're amazing films.  Together, they provide an interesting and horrific conversation.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Doghouse (2009): Men's Rights on screen

Doghouse (2009)
dir: Jake West

Sometimes, I don't know how to approach a movie, nor do I know how it is intended to be taken.  I can't tell if Doghouse is trying to be a satirical indictment of sexist tropes and thoughts, especially of those in the Men's Rights type movement. Or, if Doghouse is meant to be a brodude type movie that is all "LULZ, stupid feminist women are bitchy zombies that are out to kill all men.  Look at the men-hating she-beasts of this town called Moodley."  Try as I might to give the benefit of the doubt, Doghouse really seems to settle on the latter interpretation, even though I really wanted to take it as the former.  It just never quite makes it to satire because it is never searing of anything.

In case you haven't been alive for the past few years, the feminist movement has been making headway, and in some ways has been almost overextending their hand.  The seeming over-extension is viewed by men as being misandrist and that spurned a counter movement founded in men's rights. The men's rights movement has been against how men are frequently seen as less than women, that men are always portrayed as the aggressors, that men can be raped for humor or effect (see Super or Descent), and that castration is seen as hilarity.  It also has been about male superiority, in effect.  But, unfortunately, the men's rights movement is also steeped in a lot of misogyny and no small bit of conservatism.

Doghouse takes both movements and blows them both to hell for some generic Bros Before Hoes type movie making.  Did I say blows them both to hell?  I mean it impotently ignores the piss out of them and maybe makes passively snide remarks at them.  The movie opens with a montage of 6 guys.  3 of the guys have wives or girlfriends who are completely possessive and demanding.  One guy has a boyfriend who is also possessive. One guy is a dateless comic book guy, who has an antagonistic tween boy customer. Those five are all going out for a boy's weekend for the sixth guy who was recently divorced and is torn up about it.

These 6 brodudes are all on a boy's weekend to a cabin or small house near the town of Moodley, a town where the women outnumber the men 4:1.  Periodically voices of reason appear, such as the female who says intones that they're being self-centered assholes by assuming that the women will jump their bones because there's a dearth of men.  But, these voices of reason are sexually harassed away.  Go away, the brodudes are bro-ing out.

When we finally get to Moodley, the women there have all been infected with a zombie virus, and they have killed all of the men in town.  And, the remainder of the movie is just the 6 brodudes and one other surviving guy versus the litany of zombie women stereotypes.  Obviously, there will be murder, and many man-hating female zombies will be murdered in the course of the movie.  Fortunately, the women aren't sexually know, brutally murdered in the genitalia or breasts.

All this would point to a completely sexist male-good-female-bad make-me-a-sammich read, except the 6 brodudes are complete beta males.  They're all whipped, and one is even abused by a 10-year-old boy.  Their sexist musings are just as much a sign of their impotence as a sign of the larger-world sexism and stereotyping they participate in. They're also so fixated on the women that a 7th character, who has been fighting the women, has to tell them that all the men are dead...duh.  They're moderately oblivious and have to grow and mature as men in order to escape the zombie town.

Meaning that the men get a character arc of maturity by facing up to these women who are out to kill them or own them.  The divorced guy criticizes their treatment of women in a more universal sense, but that's about the only "you're not behaving right" moment in the movie.

As such, it's really hard to try to approach this as anything other than a brodude movie that's not even trying to be slyly political.  It's just a brodude-loving, woman-hating misogynistic movie. Which might be slightly forgivable if the movie was as innovative as the movies that came before it.  But, it isn't the be all end all of zombie horror-comedy movies that is made problematic by the terrible sexism in the movie.  It isn't even the funniest one where a woman wants to tie down and change a man, while he wants to remain in his childhood.  Instead, it's a rather mediocre movie that seems to be deeply sexist for little results.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Barrio Tales (2012): SNICK for adults

Barrio Tales (2012)
dir: Jarret Tarnol

For a certain subsection of my age group, especially those immediately younger than I am, there was a very defining and important Saturday night television block called SNICK.  While the line up changed, its influence stuck around. The first block was anchored with the continuation of Clarissa Explains it All and The Ren & Stimpy Show, both of which skewed slightly older than Nick, but younger than MTV.  In between was Roundhouse and the seeming inspiration for this movie, Are You Afraid of the Dark?  Snick was a ritual when you were 11 or under.  Even if you were having a party, you still watched it with friends because you shouldn't be out at night in the cold snow.

3 of the 4 SNICK shows had commitment to a certain tonality.  It was campy, winking, somewhat post-modern, and always light.  Are You Afraid of the Dark? was a kiddie version of Tales from the Crypt, as it was an anthology horror story series told by teenagers around a campfire.  It didn't feature themes of hardcore sex, drug use, or out and outright violence, but it did have campy creepy horror stories that were easy to laugh off the boogie monster.  Are You Afraid of the Dark? maintained the tonality of television that felt like it was made by kids for kids.  It wasn't a cheap look or feel, but always had that sort of ultra fake-y sense.

It seems fitting that it would inspire Barrio Tales, especially when you realize that one of the writers and producers of Barrio Tales, Brent Tarnol, had appeared as a guest on All That, a later SNICK show that ran concurrently with Are You Afraid of the Dark? And, if SNICK's tonality didn't inspire Barrio Tales, then Barrio Tales certain stole enough from the shows.

Barrio Tales plays like a racially motivated, and rather adult, version of Are You Afraid of the Dark?.  The framing device is 2 white kids from the suburbs are looking for drugs, and cross the Mexican border to score something.  They're looking for Pedro, but meet this Mexican dude who has them sit around a campfire to wait for Pedro, and tells them horror stories about racial inequalities.

The first story concerns a maid named Maria who was recently hired by a rich family to take care of the house, do the laundry, make sandwiches, whatever.  The son of the family comes home early to find his parents have gone to Turks & Caicos for vacation, so he invites three of his druggy friends over.  Three of the four characters are rich bitch caricatures and are assholes to the Maria, to the point of sexual harassment, while the fourth is nice and sympathetic.  As this is a horror movie, the play gets a little rough and there is much revenge to be had.

The second story concerns a taco truck where there is a secret ingredient that makes the tacos tastes so good.  I'm not giving you the spoiler alert because that's how the whole story is introduced before the title even gets put on screen.  The first thing that happens is that the kids wandering around the neighborhood realize there are a bunch of kidnappings and disappearances around the neighborhood. If this were a better movie, we would be fixated on the taco truck and how it's doing what it's doing.  But, instead, we're laden with the mystery crime solvers and their usual camp value.

The third is the most racially motivated of the three.  It concerns a group of rednecks who kidnap a bunch of migrant workers and torture, rape, and kill them. Until one guy escapes and then exacts bloody revenge on the rednecks.  It's totally steeped in stereotypes, as a SNICK venture would be, but it is also mildly gruesome, and has a lot of sex in it.

The main problem with the movie is that it is a SNICK movie for the people who outgrew SNICK.  It's campy, jovial, obvious, and silly.  But, on the other hand, there are drugs galore, brutal murders, rape, and excessively foul language that seem to belie its kiddie television nature.  I'd almost say that was a commentary on the state of the kids today.  Kids in the inner city are subjected to drugs and murder every day.  Just listen to the This American Life segment on a high school in inner city Chicago.  It's far more soul searing than watching a bunch of idiots go killing each other.

In light of that, Barrio Tales is a relatively light-hearted half-horror movie that is alternately gruesome and slightly brutal.  Barrio Tales is an after-school horror movie where the message is "treat other races well."  It has a very VERY select audience given its mixed tonality.  I didn't connect with it, but I can imagine that there might be some who would.  A very few some, but some nonetheless.:

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Descent (2007): Rape-Revenge as a tone poem

Descent (2007)
dir: Talia Lugacy

Recently, I went off looking for horror movies directed by women.  Reel Grrls recommends Pet Semetary, which leads to the catalog of Mary Lambert films.  There is Stephanie Rothman, whose pre-1980 catalog will certainly get looked at here as I find copies of the movies.  Mary Harron has a couple under her belt, including last week's review American Psycho.  The Soska twins who directed American Mary, a rape-revenge movie crossed with body horror.  And, then I stumble upon Talia Lugacy's Descent.

Descent is as much a tone poem as it is a horror movie.  It attempts to explore the depths of the emotional devastation a woman suffers when she is raped and the distance she'll go through to get revenge.  Yeah, guys, this is yet another rape revenge movie...but this one is quite different.

The story of Descent is a bit different to begin with.  It's the story of Maya (Rosario Dawson), a college girl who swings both ways.  She's experimental and intellectual.  She's aloof and a little bit pointy when she talks with men.  She has men run the gamut of her brain through trials in order just to go on a date with her, nevertheless to hook up with her.  She also lets down her walls with women a lot easier than she does with men.

While at a house party, Jared (Chad Faust) forcibly hits on her until she gives in and chats with him at the party.  They hit it off enough to go on a separate date.  The date is nice, though it is a bit of an intellectual ping pong game.  Maya goes home with Jared.  He lights candles.  Puts on subtly sexy music.  And, they start making out.  Until Maya decides that she doesn't want to go all the way, and Jared date rapes her because he is too far gone.  This isn't the explicitly anti-woman rape of American Mary or I Spit On Your Grave or Victim.  Nor is this the drug-clouded crossing the line of The Skin I Live In.  This is a date rape where the lines weren't explicitly drawn prior to making out by 2 adults, and then 1 adult draws the line as the other is charging right over it.  It's still just as violating, but the situation is much more common, and risky to report.  It is all the more violating when the date rapist knows he is forcing himself on the woman and is whispering all sorts of misogynistic and racist epithets in her ear.

After Jared violates Maya, she dives into a hazy world of distanced depression, alcohol, and drugs in a hip hop club that may be kind of underground.  The details of this fall are left intentionally vague to make a more poetic universal representation of depression instead of something more explicitly plot laden.  Through this, she connects with Adrian, a DJ at the club who takes in the helpless.  Adrian is also a powerful force, as shown by some guy who worships him enough to smoke a cigarette from between his toes?  Yeah, the movie is going into D/s land here.

The movie is also exploring the racial reclamation of Maya.  In the first act, she had been the usual college girl, generally reserved to doing average white college girl things like going to white college house parties.  Or, so the Talia Lugacy wants you to think.  Apparently, house parties are only the domain of whiteness while the underground hip hop club is the essence of blackness?  Lugacy's racial politics here are exceedingly amateur, especially compared to the loving care that she puts on the feminist touches of the rape revenge portion.

During the second act, in a vague sense, Maya and Jared concoct a revenge plan on Jared, which provides the third act of the movie.  The revenge has Maya making Jared strip naked, tying him up, then violating him...and then has Adrian violate Jared as well.  This rape scene finale is over 20 minutes from strip to to end in the NC-17 edition.  Just to contrast, the rape scene in Irreversible is 9 minutes. To further contrast, Descent's first rape scene is about 10 minutes from basement wine to end, with only 3 of those being the actual rape portion.

Descent works and it doesn't.  And it doesn't work for the same reason it does.  The whole film is practically tonally flat.  From the opening scene all the way up to the strip scene, the tone and pacing of Descent remains remarkably cold and distancing.  For the middle portion of the film, this makes sense as it matches Maya's descent into depression, but the opening of the film is tonally exactly the same as the post-rape sequences, leaving an similarity that shouldn't exist.  We should feel like Maya is more in love with life before the rape than after.  Instead, it feels like she's as disaffected as she always was.

The second act also stalls almost.  The emotional descent is more of a meander in a vaguely downward direction.  Maya wanders into this club life and becomes infatuated with Adrian for some reason or another.  But, its all so vague and hazy and then there's school and work.  This feels exactly like life. The dialogue really doesn't even need to exist in this film for it to work.  You could watch this movie on mute, and it would be an even better film.  In that manner, it is a much more emotional film that tries grasping at the depression.  While the second act of the movie totally achieves the distancing emotion of post-trauma, the first act is so similar that the impact just isn't there.

Where the movie really really differs from the other rape revenge movies is that there is hardly any sexualizing of Rosario Dawson's body.  She never gets naked.  She isn't wearing slutty clothes.  She is just a woman.  Even in American Mary, Mary is frequently traipsing around in more revealing fetishwear for the camera to linger over. However, in the NC-17 edition of Descent, which is (surprisingly) streaming on Netflix, Chad Faust gets fully naked.  Fully frontal nudity.  And, Adrian is stripped halfway down his ass.  Descent allows for the sexualizing of the male body while denying the men the pleasure of sexualizing the female body.

Through the eyes of Descent, this is the first feminist rape-revenge movie that truly doesn't pander to an assumed male audience.  It violates the male, and also sexualizes the male completely.  It provides a completely different experience to the other rape-revenge movies with those changes.  But, that doesn't mean that it isn't problematic.

The main moral problem is that the movie uses homosexual acts as a punishment, thus othering the gay act even as Adrian is exclaiming that he's not a "faggot" and that he's just raping Jared as revenge. Basically, Tulia Lugacy thinks it is more OK to use homophobic epithets than it is to use racist epithets, which...ugh. Adding on top of that the D/s relationship of the foot smoker in the club, it really makes for a disappointment in the edges of the message.  Considering the innovation that Talia uses for the rest of the movie and the great pains she goes to in order to successfully desexualize the female, and exploit the male, I can't help but feel a bit hurt that she couldn't have innovated a way to not make the rape scene use so much homosexual action.

However, Descent gets the tone of the finale correct.  Even though we're not given the explicit build up, nor even an honest feeling of how Maya turns from depressed victim into vengeance seeker, the climax is astounding.  It's intimate.  Maya is excited despite herself.  Adrian, the tool of the vengeance, is eager to violate the man that violated his friend.  But, Maya has no satisfaction from the revenge.  In the end, she still is violated and has now participated in and perpetrated the violation of another human being even if that human was her violator.  With just one look, Descent calls into question the revenge based justice system that people frequently tout.  Is revenge justification enough to completely punish offenders?  Will it actually bring closure and satisfaction to the families of the victims?  Will it just compound the hurt and the anger?  Descent doesn't answer these questions, it just brings up the idea that revenge does not make everything whole again.  This same final shot is used as the final shot in Zero Dark Thirty to call into question the moral toll of torture.

Descent isn't a pleasant movie to watch, but it also isn't as raw and disturbing as other rape/revenge movies reviewed here.  It is more harrowing, and more of a tone poem than a horror movie, though it is quite horrific.  Make no mistake, it is quite explicit in the finale (though it doesn't go so far to feature actual penetration if you're looking to get your kinky jollies out on the screen).  But, the feminist changes in Descent make it an intriguing and different addition to the rape/revenge genre.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Hellbent (2004): Flipping the Script...kind of

Hellbent (2004)
dir: Paul Etheredge

In 1997, Harry M Benshoff wrote what is now a rather definitive look at horror movies and the homosexual identity, Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality and the Horror Film. In it, Benshoff outlines the history of the horror movie villain, and how the homosexual, who had been outcasts in society, were used as villains, could also be identified as villains, and could identify with the villains.  In essence, Monsters in the Closet is a horror movie supplement to the essential The Celluloid Closet, the exhaustive look at the treatment of gays in film, and in the Hollywood in general.  Monsters in the Closet is far more academic, and looks at movies from all the way back to the Universal monsters through the then-modern day.

By 2004, however, gays had started to feel less outsider and more in the mainstream.  Gays had been making our own movies for the better part of two decades and created our own culture. It started making sense that the gays would also use the horror movie tropes to mainstream ourselves.  While we had been comfortable identifying with the villains in the horror movies, we wanted to be the victims of society.  We really can be drama queens, we might as well externalize that.

And so, Hellbent was released with the posters touting The First Gay Slasher Movie. More accurately, it should have been The First Out Gay Slasher Movie, with the gays as the victims finally.  But, prior to Hellbent, there was at least one slasher movie about a gay victim: Nightmare on Elm Street 2.  When Hellbent was released, it had went through the LGBT circuits, and then did a rather minor theatrical arthouse release.

Hellbent didn't set the world on fire, and it didn't seem to want to.  Hellbent is a micro-budget film with trashily grand ambitions.  It surfs through the world of West Hollywood (gay LA) using the stereotypes gays have of each other while also creating humanistic and sympathetic characters out of the caricatures.  The slasher of Hellbent is a tall built shirtless dude in a devil's mask is going around killing gay people with a sickle. He focuses on a group of four friends, who are going around a WeHo Halloween street festival/party trying to hook up with guys.

There is little plot to Hellbent, but then there is little plot to many of these slasher films.  There seems to be less plot to Hellbent as it doesn't provide, or attempt to provide, any sort of back story to the character of The Devil. This leads the audience to read The Devil as a metaphor for something.  Is it a metaphor for society condemning gays?  Is it a symbol for the gay community itself killing people for acting like catty bitches?  Is it a symbol for Christian retribution where actual Satan is going around killing gays?  None of these really seem to fit.  Maybe it is just an empty slasher going after gay men, and we haven't really flipped the script for fear of demonizing the straight community.

On the other hand, one can easily hang the symbolism of HIV on the Devil, as he does start by killing two gays having sex in a car in the back woods.  And, he does latch on to the four friends while they are traipsing around the woods.  He kills one friend in the bathroom after that friend gives his phone number to another guy.  He kills another friend who is throwing himself on the devil for sex.  The climax happens in the bedroom during a random hookup.

There is one death scene that makes this reading problematic: that of friend #2.  He gets beheaded on the dance floor in a leather bar.  One could easily read this as HIV by drugs, though that is a lesser concern in gay culture.  Maybe we're reading too much into what is a generic empty serial killer, but the lack of back story is reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe's The Masque of the Red Death, the plague metaphor that just seemed to occur.

The movie itself is acceptably good in terms of gay cinema.  It is also OK in terms of micro-budget horror movies.  It really banks on some willful camp, and much of underground gay theater's DIY by-any-means-necessary aesthetic.  Sets looks somewhat cheap, but they are completely serviceable.  The gore and violence is sufficient, though it's not nearly as graphic as the straight counterparts (say Friday the 13th).  And, if you like to look at shirtless men, it's good for that (as opposed to bikini'd girls in a straight horror movie).

Obviously, though, the micro-budget does come through in many of the choices, and through the lower quality of DV recording at the time.  It adds a weird visual grain/smoothness with a strange contrast ratio that, rather than disturbing the viewer, adds to the self-aware realization that you're watching a movie.  The acting is somewhat in cliches and shortcuts. But, these are just minor flaws in a larger halfway decent slasher film that could be an allegory for the disease that is still rampaging through the gay community (even if drugs have made the disease more managable).

Monday, October 14, 2013

We Are What We Are (2013): Christian Cults as The Other

We Are What We Are (2013)
dir: Jim Mickle

The other is something that people fear.  And, also something that people identify with.  There are lots of others that get othered through horror movies, where the fear of the other means that you're turning whatever subgroup you don't belong to or are afraid of into the antagonist.  Blacks have been othered in horror movies (but, are more victims).  Gays have a long history of being the other.  And, cults have been others before too.  Scientists and robots have been others.  But, a more recent trend has been to other the diehard christians and/or christian cults.

Now, die hard christian haven't exactly been making it difficult to be othered.  They home school their children, they frequently avoid doctors and medicine, they have many children, some go around professing that everybody else is a sinner.  Sometimes they are socially awkward, while other times they are sweet as pie.  But, the die hard christians have rarely been othered.  When christianity is seen in many horror films before this decade, it had always been in the form of the salvation, and rarely had they been anything but normal everyday people.

In 2011, Kevin Smith made the horror movie Red State which completely othered christian cults.  It made them the horror movie villain, and stereotyped as necessary to the horror movie tropes.  Red State made the christian cults into sacrificial murderers and perversely violent hatemongers.  Smith was most obviously satirizing the Westboro Baptist Church, but took some liberties with it.

We Are What We Are others christian cultists, but is more focused on the backwoods small town cultists that hide behind doors in isolated houses in rural areas.  The ones that are so far other from the city folk who may actually watch this.  Mind you, Jim Mickle, the director, seems to have taken great pains to remove christian iconography from the film.  There are not rampant crosses or crucifixes. The belief language is deeply ensconced in western ideas of religion with the use of Gods, Lambs and Angels.  They also keep the Sabbath holy.  Yet, the christian iconography is not there, and Mickle has decided not to make it explicit to the text of the film.

We Are What We Are is a film that is all about atmosphere and tension.  It begins on a Friday with the mother of the family having splitting headaches, who then passes out and drowns in a puddle created by a torrential downpour.  Her children, 2 girls and a boy, are fasting until they can eat on Sunday.  The father of the house is enforcing the fast and keeping a watchful eye.  And, the torrential downpour soaks everything, washes away river banks, and floods roads.  It's a nasty storm.

The audience not knowing what events are to follow this set-up are the source of the tension and atmosphere in this horror movie.  As such, beyond the set-up and the source of the othering, which is also set up in the first frames), I will refrain from discussing the details of the film.  Not knowing what will happen is the primary source of pleasure in the film.

However, I'm sad to say that the audience is constantly 20 minutes ahead of the film, even while the film thinks it is keeping things a secret.  And, it feels like the film is purposefully making things a secret, when really we all know what will happen by the half-Grand Guignol reveal towards the end of the act 2.  The reveal is a gorgeous sequence though, filled with some artistry, but also some humor.  Once the reveal is final, though, the film loses its mystery and one of its gears slips.

When that gear slips, one realizes that it's the mystery of the film.  Without that mystery, we're not sure where the film is headed.  Ok, we know where it is headed, but the hows remain ensconced in confusion.  The missing mystery of the film, however, starts being replaced with tonal ineptitude and almost high camp.  Soon, the characters start acting out in ridiculous ways.  The climax is so enveloped in stupidity in order to push its characters to an act of sensual, incredulous, and ridiculous proportions that it would fit right in with the Grand Guignol finales of old.

We Are What We Are doesn't work.  It's second half loses its steam right at the reveal.  And, the reveal isn't all that surprising since most people figured out what was happening well before that even occurred.  It's possibly worth a rental, if only for the amazingly ridiculous climax that had more than a few people laughing for a good long period of time.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Skin I Live In (2011) and Victim (2010): Adaptations and tonalities

The Skin I Live In (2011)
dir: Pedro Almodovar

Victim (2010)
dir: Matt Eskandari; Michael A. Pierce

One of the challenges of being both a cinephile and a reader is watching an adaptation of a book that you have read.  Some adaptations take the base material as a starting point, and change the plot points at random for what the director would consider a better or more honest experience..  Some adaptations are completely faithful and get the book just right.  Some miss whole points of the book because the book was overstuffed, or the points didn't fit.  Just as there are many way to read a book, there are infinitely more ways to adapt a book.

On Wednesday, I looked at how Mary Harron's adaptation (and promotion) of American Psycho could have missed the underlying points of Bret Easton Ellis' novel, but then wrote about how maybe it didn't due to thematic clues.  There were choices that she made that were antithetical to what a reader may have wanted, especially with the elimination of the extremely violent scenes in order to focus more on the dark humor and social satire of the novel.  In doing so, she may have also been attempting to make it easier to read the layers, if she knew it was there.

Today, I want to look at one book, and how it was adapted by two different filmmakers.  The first film is a Spanish film from acclaimed director Pedro Almodovar, who uses the source material as a starting point to make a very Almodovar film, while also staying true to the messages of the book.  The second film is a low-budget American film which strips the source material to the bone, changes it just enough to not have to pay for rights to the author, and creates a stripped down, streamlined horror film.

The book in question? Thierry Jonquet's Mygale, a very short French novel whose title translates to Tarantula.  The book is a sado-masochistic horror noir thriller black comedy.  It tells a dual story that comes together in the end.  The first story is the sado-masochistic story of Richard, a successful plastic surgeon who has a beautiful mistress, Eve, with whom he resides in a country mansion.  They seem to have a relationship fully based in animosity, and most evenings he takes her out for escorting on severe sado-masochistic adventure, in which she seems totally complicit. Richard also visits his daughter in an asylum who self-mutilates and is on a suicide watch.  The second story is about Alex, a petty thief who wants to get plastic surgery because his face has been recognized.  Alex sets upon kidnapping Eve in order to force Richard into giving him plastic surgery.  Alex is also looking for an old thief pal of his, Vincent, who has been missing for years.  These threads are tied together by a late book reveal of Vincent having raped Richard's daughter, he is kidnapped by Richard and turned into Eve, with full on descriptions of the prolonged torture and transformation process.

Essentially, the novel is a rape-revenge novel (the revenge committed by the family of the victim, in the tradition of The Virgin Spring and Last House on the Left).  Almost all of the horror is committed on a woman who used to be a man who violated a woman.  And, the rest of the horror is on the man who is becoming a woman.  It is a novel completely steeped in gender issues which also makes it clear that everybody is damaged in some form.

The tonality of the book waffles between horror and comedy and drama and Marquis de Sade sex farce. Given the complexity of this novel, and the variety of tonalities that it waffles between, it is easy to see how this book could be adapted wildly, without even completely changing around the elements to make a story of your own.

The Skin I Live In (2011)

While The Skin I Live In was released in 2011, the movie had been announced in 2002 by Almodovar.  This was a passion project of his, who had read the book in the 90s.  It didn't get released stateside until 2004, and then only by a pulp distributor (mind you it is a fantastic novel that I highly highly recommend), so it isn't exactly a widely known novel stateside.  By announcing his film first, and by actually buying the rights to the novel, Almodovar had full license to the book, and was able to keep the elements he wanted, change the elements he needed, and make everything his own.

One of the things one notices when comparing The Skin I Live In to Mygale is that Almodovar completely changes the tonality of the story, while still keeping some of the themes and adding in that flavor of Spanish-fried soap opera melodrama that he has done so well since All About My Mother.  It is just as interesting to note what he throws out and tones down as what he keeps in.

The first thing one notices that Almodovar completely throws out is the sado-masochistic relationship between Vera (Almodovar's Eve) and Robert (the surgeon).  Unlike Mygale, we're introduced to Vera as a forlorn woman in a body suit, who is not specifically trying to piss off everybody.  And, she is kept in her mansion instead of being taken out for abusive sex setups.

Almodovar makes Vera much more of a deeply fragile but tough person. Not somebody who is pointedly resentful of her situation, but is passively playing the long game.  He makes Vera far more feminine than Eve, and even has Vera played by an actress instead of an actor in drag.  Almodovar also has Vincente played by an actor, instead of the same actress as Vera, and also has Vincente possess a bit more femininity in his scenes as Vincente than the other male characters in The Skin I Live In. Almodovar's Vincente is also no longer a thief.  He is a regular missing teenager who had once worked in his mother's dress shop.

Almodovar also severely remade Alex.  Alex becomes Zeca, who is still a thief who needs to have plastic surgery.  Zeca, however is no longer looking for his partner Vincente.  Instead, he is actually the son of Marilla, Richard's maid.  And, Zeca is also Robert's half-brother, though neither of them know that.  Zeca also had an affari with Robert's wife who had been off to be with Zeca when she got into a car wreck killing her.  Didn't I say that Almodovar had wanted his melodramatic elements?

Almodovar spends the opening and closing 40 minutes in the post-surgery present, using the reveal of the history of Vincente's rape and his transformation into Vera for the centerpiece section of the film.  He also plays down the initial torture and brainwashing period required to feminize Vincente in order to focus more on the relationship dramatics of the central "family" of Robert, Vera, and Marilla.  Even Zeca's rape of Vera, and subsequent murder, is mainly an impetus to draw Robert, Vera and Marilla into more honest and intimate relations.

Almodovar's main themes transformed from basic rape/revenge and Stockholm syndrome black pulp into being about change and family ties that bind and strangle.  Marilla is tied to Zeca, even though she doesn't want to be.  She lets him in, but can't kill him.  In turn, he ties her up and gives himself permission to run rampant through the house.  Marilla's ex lover, Zeca's father, was a crazy servant she hasn't seen since the affair.  Robert is completely devoted to both his daughter and wife though they're long gone.  He's also devoted to Marilla who is essentially the only family he has left.

Almodovar is also about change.  Robert changes skin to make it more flame retardant after his experiences with his wife's firey car accident.  Robert has already changed from family man to violent vengeance seeker. Vincente changes into Vera. Robert's daughter changes from socially inept into traumatized victim. Everybody and everything in Almodovar's film is based on what you see and what isn't there and what is changing.  People are watching people change.  Everybody has windows into everybody else's room. The basement operating rooms are defined with glass and clear plastic hangings.  Yet, for all this supposed transparency, secrets are abound, and as people are changing if you can watch close enough.

However, Almodovar also kept the horror of the story.  It utilizes three of the most violating experiences one could survive.  One is the rape of a woman.  Another is the realization that what you did was rape when it seemed to start out as mutual longing.  And the third is the removal of the most basic identity one has: their gender.  But, he buries all this horror in the Almodovar family drama, without losing the themes of gender identity, violation of women, and deep protection and revenge by a father for his daughter.  Using the horrific, but not contentious, elements of Mygale, Almodovar crafted something completely different, and yet based in the same story.  While it is completely unfaithful, in tone, to the novel, it is completely faithful to Almodovar and should be viewed as a separate entity.

Victim (2010)

Except that somebody trainspotted Mygale the year before and made a completely low budget rip-off called Victim, which stripped out 2/3 of the book to focus on the torture and transformation process for 70 minutes.  Victim is a horror movie straight up. It starts with a video rape of a cute girl, then switches to the kidnapping and torture of a dude in LA.  The dude is kept in a basement dungeon, where he is beat, brainwashed, and feminized (to the point of getting a genital transplant, but not breast implants) by a plastic surgeon and his dumb man servant.

Victim completely focuses on the torture while also saving the rape/revenge reveal for the finale.  It eliminates the mistress portion of the novel.  It eliminates the Vincente searching story, and replaces it with a half-assed cop search story.  The novel is completely stripped away to explore the torture of brainwashing and forced gender changes.  It also adds in the weirdness of the brainwashing the rapist to pretending he is the daughter of the surgeon.

What Victim adds in is a replication of the original rape/murder.  The climax of Victim has the surgeon watching the violation of his daughter, while the rapist is actively raped by the man-servant in a replication of the hotel room of the original violation. The surgeon wanted to make the rapist experience exactly what he had experienced when he was the rapist in the beginning.

While it is a different movie in terms of tone, Victim feels like the movie that Almodovar stripped out of The Skin I Live In.  Watching the two as a back-to-back double-feature feels like you're watching the missing segments that were simply too icky for the first.  Victim is rougher, more brutal, and generally raw.  It has a stream-lined simplicity that makes Victim a sleek bullet of ugliness, especially if you ignore any of the cop scenes which seem to be completely superfluous to the movie as well.

Weirdly, both movies are at their strongest in a double feature with each other.  Victim is a fascinatingly bitter movie, which focuses on the torture of a man, and never loses sight of that.  It's a more straight-forward feministic rape-revenge.  While, The Skin I Live In is far more oblique and dramatic.  Together, they form a complex morality that is a potent duality.