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Horror Character Madness, Part 2

By Ashley

Last week, Andreas posted his first five favorite horror movie characters and now, after a brief setback, I’m happy to present my own!

25) The Dancing Corpse (Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn [1987])

Because why the fuck not? Seriously though, what is better than the decapitated corpse of Ash Williams’ girlfriend rising from the grave to treat viewers to a macabre pseudo-ballet? When Linda’s giggling head joyfully rolls back onto her neck and she starts pirouetting around, the movie is very knowingly walking the line between horror/comedy and self-parody. Up until this moment, Evil Dead II is just a remake/reminder of Evil Dead I but then BAM, a corpse is dancing and it really sets the stage for the bizarre comedic set-pieces that follow. And it’s damn fine stop-motion to boot!

24) Rhoda (Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed [1956])

The Bad Seed was one of the first maternal madness movies I ever saw and it struck a major chord with me (obvi). Rhoda terrified me—all blond pigtails, wide eyes, and murderous rage. I was totally sucked in by her precocious psychosis and how effortlessly she manipulated the adults around her. Why is this little girl the very embodiment of evil? The best explanation the movie gives us is some shoddy science: Rhoda’s maternal grandmother was a serial killer and this tendency skips a generation. Ultimately, Rhoda gets bitch-slapped by the heavy hand of morality; as my dad quipped darkly after she was struck by lightning, “God got her.”

23) Lynda Van Der Klok (P.J. Soles in Halloween [1978])

I’ve discussed, at length, my love for Lynda Van Der Klok. It has very little to do with Lynda’s character and everything to do with how fucking much I love P.J. Soles; she has the amazing ability to breathe charismatic life into dim-witted, shallow, catty characters. She helps these characters become more than your typical horror movie meat-bags. Lynda Van Der Klok is self-centered, vain, vapid, and isn’t apologizing for shit, and goddammit, I love her for it.

22) Rhonda (Samm Todd in Trick ‘r Treat [2007])

You know, sometimes you’re just down for some good old-fashioned revenge. I watched Trick ‘r Treat for the first time in the beginning of October and it was perfect. It was so goddamn perfect that I wanted to punch it for being too good. It was very hard for me to pick just one character from this movie because, God, they’re all so fucking awesome. But Rhonda holds a special place in my heart: the sweet savant who gets cruelly tricked by her little bitch classmates. And then, when real scary shit goes down, does our girl Rhonda take the moral high road and prove herself better than her classmates? Fuck no. In true Carrie style, she leaves them to be eviscerated by a horde of zombie children. My favorite part is how incredibly calm she is about it: she doesn’t sneer or glower or spell out to them what she’s doing or why. She just looks at them with a clear, patient face that says, “You deserve this.”

21) Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt [1945])

I’m not shy about my all-encompassing (at times indecent) love of Joseph Cotten. There is nothing I do not love about this man. Joseph Cotten, like Jimmy Stewart, often plays characters who are superhumanly warm and good-natured. And so, just as with Jimmy Stewart, when he’s playing a decidedly unwholesome character—like the bluebeard Uncle Charlie—it brings an added chill to the table. Especially because Uncle Charlie is a deceitful mix of gentle, wholesome family man and cold-blooded murderer; Cotten switches between the two in an instant with little more than a look or a gesture. It leaves me feeling deeply unsettled because just like his ever more suspicious niece Charlie, I love Uncle Charlie. I admire him and want him so badly to be good. It’s a film that fucks hard with our feelings toward its charismatic villain.

So, boys and ghouls and those off the gender spectrum, keep your eyes peeled for the rest of our favorite horror characters! The next five from both of us should be up later this week!

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Playful Hitchcock

How do you even write about Psycho? It’s one of the most analyzed films of all time, it’s the seed from which all slasher movies sprouted, and it’s an absolute, still-terrifying masterpiece. It’s got a giant reputation, and it’s the one film most identified with the name (and style) of Alfred Hitchcock. Luckily, I don’t really have to write about it! I just have to pick my favorite image, because Psycho‘s the most recent selection for The Film Experience’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot series.

One of my favorite things about Psycho (and there are a lot of them) is the way Hitchcock structures parts of the film as little games or sick jokes at the expense of the viewers. It’s a dark, scary movie, to be sure, but you get a definite sense of playfulness in how Hitch toys with film grammar to manipulate the audience. Take, for example, the repeated shot of the patrolman leering at Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) from across the street as she urgently tries to trade in her car:

He just stands there, leaning against his car, and the camera glances back at him every few seconds. As Marion completes her transaction, this shot is repeated so many times it’s almost ridiculous, but it’s still effective. Like Marion, we become nervous. It feels like we’re compulsively checking over our collective shoulders and, sure enough, he’s still there. It’s editing that’s more expressionistic than functional, and it helps drag us into alliance with poor, guilt-ridden Marion. Hitchcock also plays around with framing, as in this instantly recognizable shot:

Nobody’s behind her. Not yet, anyway. We’ve been casually watching Marion showering in close-ups and medium shots,when in a barely noticeable transition, she moves from the center of the frame to off in the lower-right corner. This shot is held for about 2-3 solid seconds before we get any background movement or silhouettes. It’s a subtle warning to the audience that someone is about to arrive—or, alternatively, Hitchcock rolling out the welcome mat for his shadow-shrouded killer. It’s yet another manifestation of his giddy, self-conscious visual style.

But neither of these, clever as they are, constitute my favorite shot in Psycho. For that, I go to a reaction shot. Just a plain, superficially unremarkable reaction shot showing Lila Crane (Vera Miles) gazing inside a book. It’s also probably my favorite reaction shot in any movie, ever:

It’s a testament to Hitchcock’s restraint and Miles’ range of expression that they don’t overplay this moment. She doesn’t shriek or gasp or drop the book or anything. In fact, we never find out what she does, because a second later, we cut away to Sam and Norman arguing back in the motel. The next time we see Lila, she’s running to hide in the fruit cellar. The book is unmarked by a title or cover illustration; it just has two little symbols on the binding. Since it’s lying randomly in Norman’s childhood room, it might well be a book of bedtime stories or nursery names.

But we never find out. And since the Bates household is such an inherently creepy place, and since Lila assumes this ambiguous look of curiosity (or is it concern? or surprise? or muted horror?), we’re left to wonder. Was it a manual on corpse preservation? Was it the Bates family’s photo album? Was it hollowed out and used to contain chunks of human flesh? Unless there’s a lost insert shot that turns up someday, we’ll never know. This reaction shot, with Vera Miles’ downturned eyes, is our only glimpse into what might just contain the Bates family’s darkest horrors.

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Link Dump: #26

This kitty, about to nom some spilled jam, is from Chuck Russell’s 1988 remake of The Blob. It has a couple kitties, which are used (like this one) mostly as jump scares. Thankfully, none of them die—which is surprising, since The Blob ’88 is pretty merciless with its kills. It even has its blob monster eat an innocent preteen boy, right onscreen! It’s brutal, I tell you. Also thankfully, it has the redeeming beauty of a young Shawnee Smith spread throughout the film. Overall, it’s a pretty mediocre, if occasionally inventive, remake.

Don’t let yourself get devoured by a hungry blob from outer space! Read these links and stay informed:

  • Ever wanted to see a detailed history of America’s long, fucked-up relationship with breakfast? It’s right here in the “54 Cereals We Loved and Lost.” From consumerist madness (“Transformers Chocolate Flavored Cereal”??) to the least healthy options imaginable (Fruit Islands cereal with Nerds candies inside), it’s all on display.
  • What could be more dark, extreme, and disturbingly funny than Dogtooth? I guess we’ll find out soon
  • This interview is about 8 years old, but I just recently found it—and it’s still fascinating and worth peeking into. It’s with William K. Everson, one of the great film historians.
  • Speaking of film history, Matt Barry of The Art and Culture of Movies has been writing about early French filmmaker Ferdinand Zecca. If you care about silent comedy, you owe it to yourself to read these articles.
  • This video shows 36 deaths from Alfred Hitchcock movies… at the same time!
  • Ever wanted to get around your house using slides? Now you can! (Maybe? If you can afford a custom-made house?)

We had a few memorable search terms recently, like the very enthusiastic “a day to fucking remember” and the grammatically redundant “the scarest bloodest person the world pictures.” We had the very, very specific “pictures of black hoes selling pussy in 1992 in crack dens.” Finally, I thought we’d had every variation on “pussy” and “vagina” imaginable, but some intrepid netizen surprised me: “tree in pocahontas vagina.” YEAH.

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Silence, Swoon, and same-sex kisses

In Josef von Sternberg’s early, great film The Docks of New York (1928), Bill Roberts (George Bancroft) is a stoker indentured aboard a steamship gets one night at port. In that night, he saves the life of an ex-prostitute named Mae (Betty Compson), takes her to a saloon, chats her up, and eventually they mutually agree to get married. A reluctant minister is called in, all the barflies join in the celebration, and Lou (Olga Baclanova) – an old friend of Mae’s who happens to be the girlfriend of Bill’s boss – gets all sentimental and gives Mae the kiss seen above.

Baclanova, best known as the soon-to-be-mutilated femme fatale in Tod Browning’s Freaks, oozes continental sex appeal (enhanced by the silence) alongside the warmed-over desperation and loneliness she shares with the rest of the cast. In that spontaneous kiss, she follows the credo of silent cinema at its best: actions speak louder than words. No title card about sisterhood, solidarity, or wistfulness could communicate as effectively as that moment of physical contact; it says, “I’ll miss you,” and so much more. The Docks of New York is a bittersweet portrait of drifting people (literally, as they live and try to die in the water) told through gestures, actions, flesh, and smoke. In this, it anticipates the rest of von Sternberg’s beautiful career.

I’ll share one more moment I found particularly striking: while chatting with Mae, the stoker unveils a very Pre-Code tattoo along his arm. Like I said, von Sternberg writes his story through the flesh of his characters. I saw The Docks of New York courtesy of Criterion’s recent “3 Silent Classics” release, which also includes The Last Command and Underworld; it even prompted an essay by Guy Maddin, which is always worth reading/celebrating. Thank you, Criterion, to exposing me to these shimmering, silent delights.

Over 60 years later, here’s another same-sex kiss. Instead of preceding a wedding, this one follows a murder. That’s because these two young men are Nathan Leopold (Craig Chester) and Richard Loeb (Daniel Schlachet), the refined Chicagoan anti-heroes of Tom Kalin’s Swoon (1992), and they’ve just killed Bobby Franks and disposed of his body. Just like Brandon and Phillip in Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) – a film more loosely based on the Leopold & Loeb case – the violent act has brought them closer, inextricably binding their fates together as one. So naturally they share a few minutes of erotic reverie before cleaning up and leaving the swamp where they’ve left the body.

Swoon mixes the sensational “true crime” subgenre with the kinds of low-budget experimentation that were hallmarks of the New Queer Cinema in the early ’90s. I was frequently reminded, for example, of Todd Haynes’ Poison (1990), with its creative anachronisms and genre commentary, as well as Rose Troche’s Go Fish (1994), with its black-and-white cinematography and symbolic interludes. (Kalin has collaborated with Haynes and was an executive producer on Go Fish.) Swoon closely follows the actual chronology of the case, from the conception of the murder in 1923 to the donation of Leopold’s eyes after his 1971 death, but it’s interspersed with interior monologues, stock footage, dramatic reenactments, wet dreams, and even footage of amateur bird-watching.

Like Haynes’ work, Swoon sometimes reads as painfully pretentious, especially when Kalin’s ambitious, Cocteau-like conceits are undermined by the occasionally shoddy acting. But it’s nonetheless a compelling document of two different eras: first the sexually stultifying but decadent atmosphere of 1920s Chicago that helped breed the couple’s homicidal folie à deux, and then the renewed cultural freedom of the ’90s that let a new side to their story be told. Although Kalin’s visual storytelling may not be as rich and evocative as von Sternberg’s (after all, whose could?), it bespeaks a great erotic curiosity and openness, entangled with a predilection toward smugness and violence.

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Link Dump: #14

Since Ashley insisted that I couldn’t choose kitty pictures anymore, the above image of Scar and the obnoxiously playful Simba is her pick. And a great pick it is! Scar is a deliciously, mincingly evil villain, probably more charismatic than Claudius, the Shakespearean usurper on whom he’s based. And of course that’s all because of Jeremy Irons, whose voice trumps any hackneyed dialogue or fickle hyenas. When cartoon Jeremy Irons says “Jump!”, you ask, “How high?” With that, I give you this week’s links.

  • Courtesy of Mary Ray of The Bewitched, I found out about this awesome 4th Amendment apparel – for when you want to stick it to the (TSA) man in writing.
  • Amanda Palmer’s vulva is NSFW art!
  • Here’s another awesome Tumblr blog called Screen Goddesses.
  • Apparently all (or at least most) of the planets have been featured in sci-fi literature. The more you know!
  • Robert C. Cumbow wrote an essay about one of Hitchcock’s greatest, Vertigo (1958). Give it a read; it’s very sharp.
  • From The Sheila Variations, here’s a piece about Ann Savage in Detour, easily one of the greatest femmes fatales ever.
  • Imogen Smith wrote a long, fantastic essay about Pre-Code movies, complete with Joan Blondell in a bathtub.
  • Dan Callahan attacked the “Rich Girl Cinema” of Sofia Coppola and Lena Dunham in Slant; then Cinetrix fired back by saying, “I enjoy being a girl.”
  • An inventive YouTube user mashed up Edgar Wright’s first three films into one awesome trailer. How can one director pack in that much pure awesome?
  • As part of the drive to raise Vincent Price awareness, a really cool blogger & graphic designer named Eric Slager made this snazzy poster of Price’s face adorned with the titles of his many films. (Via Classic-Horror.com.)
  • Sight & Sound announces its critical favorites for 2010! Unsurprisingly, The Social Network and Uncle Boonmee top the list. (Pssst: I’ll have some 2010 film lists of my own in the near future.)

Alas, we’ve had no astoundingly bizarre search terms as of late (unless you count more requests for Simpsons porn). Someone searched for “tom waits poster,” for which Ashley recommends this. (Tom Waits is lovably grizzled and makes excellent poster fodder.) Another searched for “witch burning in movies,” for which I offer the spellbinding, terrifying witch-burning sequence in the middle of Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1958). And finally, “hanged cat film.” That’s no good. In keeping with our feline blog name, we’re launching a campaign against cat violence here. Seriously, people: end the kitty bloodshed. Meow.

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Lust, Duels, and Matadors

Pedro Almodóvar’s Matador (1986) is a film about erotic obsession. It’s about the lusts that lead men and women to fuck, and to murder. But since it’s Almodóvar, you know it’s done with a fairly light touch – a self-consciousness about just how campy and ridiculous this whole affair really is – even as he spreads on the color and sensuality like so much molasses. Matador is a well-crafted Hitchcockian thriller about Ángel, played by a young Antonio Banderas, who is neurotically consumed with mother-instilled Catholic guilt. One night, he attempts to rape his neighbor Eva, who is also the girlfriend of Diego, a retired bullfighter who’s been giving Ángel lessons.

After confessing it to the police, he also assumes the guilt for four unsolved murders – of which two were committed by Diego, and the other two by Ángel’s lawyer María. This creates a roundelay of desire and suspicion worthy of the Master of Suspense, as the two killers smell blood and draw gradually nearer to one another. And just like the finest tales in Hitchcock’s repertoire, it’s all totally preposterous – which couldn’t matter less, because this is Almodóvar, so it’s not about logic. It’s about María’s sinful allure and Diego’s unquenchable thirsts; it’s about melodrama and madness and orgasms at the brink of death.

Diego and María’s dance of death leads to a climax (pun intended) that’s about as extravagantly, disturbingly erotic as anything this side of In the Realm of the Senses (1976). The rest of the characters burst in and gaze, shocked, at the remnants of their two-person orgy. They may have died, but they get the romance and tradition of bullfighting, a pair of beautifully entangled corpses, and the satisfaction of finally fulfilling their passions. It’s excessive, it’s perverse, but that’s Almodóvar for you. His film’s endings are often hard to categorize, a mix of happy and sad, troubling and comforting. Matador follows the same enigmatic, convention-defying pattern in its own weirdly sexy way.

Hitchcock isn’t Matador‘s only inspiration. Almodóvar is a highly allusive filmmaker, and midway into Matador, María sneaks into a movie theater, with Diego in hot pursuit. The theater, naturally, is playing the steamy climax of David O. Selznick and King Vidor’s feverishly epic western Duel in the Sun (1946). Just like Matador, Duel in the Sun ends with its two obsessive, doomed lovers – Pearl (Selznick paramour Jennifer Jones) and Lewt (Gregory Peck) orgiastically destroying one another. It’s a bloody end for a saga of family, betrayal, and industrialization – but one that’s just as ridiculous as any scene in Matador, even if the film never admits it.

Duel in the Sun begins with the hanging of Pearl’s father (Herbert Marshall) for the murder of his wife and her lover. She’s sent off to live with distant relatives – the McCanles family, who live on a vast ranch called Spanish Bit. There’s the ornery, paraplegic Senator (Lionel Barrymore), his more sympathetic wife (Lillian Gish), and their two sons, the lusty Lewt and the more civilized Jesse (Joseph Cotten). As you can tell, this is a giant, expensive, all-star affair – even Walter Huston steps in for a tiny role as an itinerant, fire-and-brimstone preacher who lectures Pearl about her sinful nature: “Under that heathen blanket, there’s a full-blossomed woman built by the devil to drive men crazy!”

By men, of course, he means Lewt, who has a sinful nature of his own. This is an unusual character for Peck, who would go on to fight anti-Semitism shortly thereafter in Elia Kazan’s message movie Gentleman’s Agreement (1947); here, he’s a gun-toting rapist fixated on owning Pearl (and her sexuality) to the extent that he kills her kind-hearted fiancé in cold blood. However, the Senator’s racism makes Lewt refuse to marry her; Pearl, you see, is part-Native American. (As a result, the very white Jones’s skin is crudely slathered in brown makeup, just like Charlton Heston in Touch of Evil.) Through all of her trials, Jesse tries to help her, but he gives up once he believes that she’s actually interested in Lewt. So Pearl grows more and more attached to Lewt… and draws nearer to her own death.

This is not a racially or sexually progressive movie, at all. Its protagonist is essentially martyred from the start just because of her skin color and her mother’s affair, and she’s blamed for every bit of persecution she receives – whether by the Senator, the preacher, or the brothers she alternately loves. It’s none too surprising, either, since Duel in the Sun was basically intended as Selznick’s follow-up to his super-popular but similarly regressive magnum opus Gone with the Wind (1939). While it doesn’t match the earlier film’s romantic heights or historical scope (despite having three times as many uncredited co-directors), it still has plenty to recommend it – especially if you’re a junkie for torrid melodrama like Almodóvar clearly is.

Duel in the Sun‘s delights are more cultish and weird than its southern predecessor, especially as the film approaches its sun-burnt, homicidal finale, which borders on the surreal. The film’s oneiric qualities are aided by the dazzling Technicolor cinematography, shot by the team of Lee Garmes, Ray Rennahan, and Harold Rosson, which make the desert look distinctly unreal. Regardless of Selznick’s intentions, Duel in the Sun is definitely closer to Johnny Guitar than How the West Was Won – and it’s to the film’s credit. Jones isn’t exactly an acting dynamo, but thankfully she’s surrounded by a cast of legends, and Peck makes one hell of a sleazy, unapologetic villain.

Finally, Duel in the Sun is unabashedly erotic, as Jones’s heaving bosom is just as vital to the film’s success as any given line of dialogue. Much of the movie, especially the conflict between Jesse and the Senator, seems geared to make you think this is a movie about nationhood, the death of the west, and the taming of the land. But that’s an afterthought in relation to the film’s real and true subject matter, which is the kinky, violent, death-tinged relationship between Lewt and Pearl. As much as I wish that Jesse could’ve been the main character (ohh, Joseph Cotten…), it just wasn’t to be.

No, Duel in the Sun‘s heart belongs with Lewt, his phallic guns, and his frequent, contentious trysts with Pearl. Their behavior together makes Rhett and Scarlett look like a model of chastity – as well as a model of respectful consent and female self-determination. Gender equity and healthy sexuality are tossed out the window, and the same goes for any conception of subtlety or restraint – Selznick really wanted to paint the landscape with his character’s outsize emotions. So you can see why Pedro Almodóvar (or Martin Scorsese, for that matter) loves this movie. It’s ambitious, audacious, opulent, unhesitatingly melodramatic, and it charts the inevitable path from erotic obsession to stylized death.

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Addicted to Fear, or Why I Am a Horror Junkie

It’s Halloween. The best holiday of the year. So I’d like to wax autobiographical for a minute here, and talk about my own personal relationship with the horror genre. If you’ve spent any time peeking around Pussy Goes Grrr, you know that Ashley and I are horror junkies. We crave all the neurochemical releases that accompany a good scary movie; few experiences thrill us more than discovering an new, bold horror masterpiece that scares our socks off. But, you may ask, where did this cinematic bloodlust come from? What childhood disease did we acquire that made us seek out things that scare us? If Andreas is so terrified of insects (it’s true!), why the hell would he intentionally watch any iteration of The Fly?

The answers, of course, are long and complex. I don’t even know all of them. Where do any artistic preferences come from? How do you account for any taste? But I would like to talk about a few childhood experiences that probably contributed to my critical idiosyncrasies. You see, a lot of my cinephilia stems from the kind of family I grew up in. When I was in elementary school, a common family activity was indulging in a VHS of some Universal horror, or a 1950s Vincent Price vehicle, or something bad like Plan 9. (My childhood arrived at the tail end of the VHS-and-video-store era, so despite being born in 1990, I still get to be nostalgic for their distinctively analog delights.)

As you can probably tell, my family’s viewing choices hewed to older fare, so I was inculcated into a very specific kind of old-fashioned horror fandom. John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, and even George Romero didn’t mean much to me until after I started college; instead, as I grew to really appreciate scary movies, it was all about Tod Browning, James Whale, Roger Corman, and other such pioneers. But before my understanding of film became that sophisticated or auteur-centric, it was all about the images. That’s what I’m really here to address. Iconic horror movie images became displaced in time, space, and authorship. They become universal possessions of the collective unconscious. It’s a beautiful, mysterious process.

So: when I was little, we had all these books about horror movies sitting around. My father had accumulated them over the years, maybe from bookstores or thrift stores or book sales or forever. I still have the cover of John Stanley’s Revenge of the Creature Features Movie Guide burnt somewhere inside my brain. The books’ titles consisted of every possible permutation of the words “scary,” “horror,” “movie,”  and “guide.” Maybe, on occasion, “flicks” or “encyclopedia” would worm their ways into the titling algorithm. For the most part, they were generic compilations of short reviews, cast listings, and black-and-white stills. These stills were really the selling points: they were one-frame money shots, showing off the most hypnotic, gruesome artistry the movie had to offer.

They were also one of my first exposures to horror’s perverse, forbidden, slightly erotic pleasures. Horror movies showed me deformed faces, exaggerated bodies, and every other conceivable mutilation of the human form – all with a strangely sexualized twist. Even though all of pre-1968 cinema was supposed to be clean and safe for kids’ enjoyment, it actually contained festering, potent traces of sensual yearning and sinful desire. And, in its own illicit way, this unspoken aspect of horror was also very educational. I’m an outspoken advocate for the (usually) secret-but-pervasive sexual side of horror, and it’s partially because as I reflect on my childhood, I realize how profoundly it influenced me as a person.

Here are a few of those images. They’ve all taken on curious, shadowy lives of their own in the mind of pop culture. They’ve all acquired a set of meanings and associations in the years since they were created. And they all have strange and powerful significances to me as an individual.

There is so much I could say about Bela Lugosi in Dracula. It’s the role that defined his career, and the film set the stage for every horror talkie that followed it. It also codified the image of an aristocratic, caped vampire. It has enormous resonance for me – in fact, resonance above and beyond almost all other horror movies. I can’t help it. It’s not because of how well it’s made; that’s a nonissue with Tod Browning films, and there have been far better adaptations of the source novel. (Like, say, both versions of Nosferatu.) Maybe it’s some combination of the dilapidated castle, the Karl Freund camerawork, and Lugosi’s body language that drilled this movie into my brain. Despite his classical training, Lugosi always looked like such an outsider in American movies. Maybe the inherent pathos and tragedy of the Lugosi persona struck me through this movie. I couldn’t say.

This remains, I think, one of the most inexplicably compelling, mystifying, and disgusting images in all of film. Even going beyond Freaks‘ moralizing showmanship, just trying to look at it rationally… all logic fails when applied to this image. It appeals to something deeper than logic. This might be what draws me so forcefully to Tod Browning: even though his films are often nonsensical, amateurish, and tawdry, they nonetheless get to something in the bestial recesses of the human mind. Cleopatra’s incomprehensible, dehumanizing fate is so psychosexually loaded, because a “beautiful” woman has been forcibly and maliciously transformed into a voiceless, ambiguous being. It’s all intensified by the real question: how did the freaks do this?

I saw Janet Leigh’s screaming face years before I ever saw Psycho. Like the image of Freaks, it depicts a woman’s body being mutilated; it’s explicitly sexualized violence. But it’s also laden with intertwining threads of meaning. It’s not just an expression of unadulterated misogyny. (Those who pelt the horror genre with tired accusations of unadulterated misogyny are really underestimating the depth of these films. Although, of course, some horror movies are full of straightforward misogyny.) Consider part of Carol Clover’s argument in Men, Women, and Chain Saws: in a slasher film, the viewer is constantly shifted in identification between the attacker and the victim. It’s not just that we see ourselves in Mrs. Bates as she hacks into Marion, because we also see ourselves in the dying, shrieking Marion. It’s about fear and vulnerability. It’s about gender anxieties and sexual curiosity.

This is just a little hint of why I love horror so much, but the main reason is that I love to be scared. Yes, it’s perverse (in the truest sense of the word) and yes, it’s very counterintuitive. But fear is important and it can be useful. By watching something that scares you, you can learn more about yourself and your relationship to the world around you. I believe that for several reasons – industrial, aesthetic, and otherwise – horror is also sometimes capable of saying more than other genres. In short, I love horror movies. Happy Halloween.

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