Tag Archives: body horror

Ten Scary Simpsons Moments

By Andreas

[This list is being crossposted on the terrific Simpsons-centric blog Dead Homer Society. Go check them out!]

“Cool, she’ll be a freak!” – Bart

To have an annual Halloween episode is one thing. To freely cram shocking, ghoulish imagery into otherwise normal episodes of a family sitcom is another. But then, The Simpsons‘ writers and animators never had much interest in following formulas or obeying TV conventions, preferring to meld their own savagely satirical experiments with an emotionally naturalistic representation of family life. This, and the fluid nature of its animation, meant that the show could veer from mundane reality to nightmarish fantasy in the blink of an eye.

Here, then, are ten of the most WTF-inspiring, pants-wetting moments from Simpsons continuity. They’re all bizarre, deeply terrifying digressions, but each one still adds depth to its episode. I give you the crème de la crème of The Simpsons‘ out-of-nowhere scares…

[Warning: Disturbing images below!]

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American Narcississt

By Andreas

More than any of the countless grisly murders, this is the moment in American Psycho (2000) that really creeps me out. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) is having wild sex with two prostitutes in assorted positions, all while a camera runs and Phil Collins’ “Sussudio” plays in the background. But the sex and the women aren’t the focal points of this scene: no, it’s the self-absorbed Patrick, who ogles himself over and over again in the mirror, flexing and pointing and winking.

Earlier in the film, Patrick details his morning routine, making it clear that’s obsessed with his physical appearance. He has no internal life, he has no meaningful relationships; all he has is his brutal, muscular, exactingly maintained body, which he uses to inspire terror (maybe?) in others. So it makes sense that during an expensive, long-lasting threesome, he doesn’t pay any attention to the women other than to order them around. The only part of sex that really pleasures him is admiring the attractive, powerful body that’s having the sex.

Here, Patrick’s “perfect” body isn’t an object to lust after, because the entire concept of sexual desire has been perverted and rendered wholly icky. It’s really not surprising that David Cronenberg initially had his eyes on adapting Ellis’s novel, because it’s prime body horror material. Bale is undoubtedly sexy, but he’s also physically freakish and monstrous. He’s like Charles Atlas by way of The Fly, gone down the path where self-improvement becomes self-obsession. The sterile white apartment around him just makes it worse: this is an orgy with all the sensuality sucked out of it. Only Patrick’s pathological narcissism is left.

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In Heaven, Everything Is Fine

In Lynchland, though, it’s a different story altogether. That’s because this week’s entry in The Film Experience’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot series is David Lynch’s bombshell of a first feature, Eraserhead (1977). If you only know one thing about Eraserhead and its imagery, it should be this: they’re gross and disturbing. In Lynch’s distorted vision of human relationships, sexual anxieties get literalized with all the oozing pus and foam you could ask for. It’s the kind of movie that makes me go, “Ew! Ew! No! Put down those scissors!” for like a solid minute. Compared to all those grotesque mutations, my choice for best shot is relatively innocuous:

At this point in the film, protagonist Henry Spencer’s wife Mary is all fed up with their mutant baby’s constant yammering, so she’s moved back in with her parents. With her away, Henry takes a chance on the Beautiful Girl Across the Hall, and they start getting intimate… when the Beautiful Girl spots that icky, whining baby. On the most basic level, then, this shot is about how much of a turn-off babies (especially mutant babies) are. The second Henry’s paramour gets an eyeful of his weird-looking offspring, she goes back across the hall, and he remains sexually frustrated for the rest of the film.

It’s also very visually striking. Like the rest of Eraserhead, it’s shot with extremely low lighting and low contrast, so it’s hard to tell where Henry’s face ends and the Beautiful Girl’s face begins. It’s like we’re gazing down at a fleshy nocturnal landscape. (It also reminds me of René Magritte’s painting The Kiss.) These two distinctly unhappy people look for some pleasure by frantically groping and kissing one another—but in Eraserhead‘s sick world, it’s never that easy. It’s all too appropriate, in a film that represents sex as a disgusting ordeal of writhing and fluids, for this little tryst to end with the Beautiful Girl’s eyes bulging out in terror.

In Eraserhead, everything’s ever so slightly off-kilter, psychologically and visually. No one talks like real people, and nothing looks quite like its real-world analogue. This makes the tiny resemblances to real life that much scarier. In Henry and Mary’s dysfunctional relationship, in their screaming baby, in the depressing emptiness of their apartment, and in the utter gloominess of their environment, we can see little echoes of very real horrors and everyday problems.

In the image above (my second-favorite shot), the perpetually put-upon Henry raises his eyebrow; his misery is tinged, for once, with curiosity. In the background, Mary clings to a door while her father, the impotent patriarch, perches at the head of the table. (His face is obscured by Henry’s strange, massive hair.) This is Lynch’s perverse take on the nuclear family and their domestic milieu. This shot’s just barely canted, with the composition and the many shades of gray geared to indicate that something’s, well, off. Get out, Henry. Get out while you still can.

I’ll end with an illustration of Eraserhead‘s overwhelming ickiness, as Henry is enveloped by a metaphor for his own sexual anxieties. I have one word for this: YUCK.

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Gross horror and pleasant anime: two great tastes that taste…odd together.

[This post is written by both of us in support of the Japanese Cinema Blogathon for Japan earthquake and tsunami relief, hosted by Cinema-Fanatic and Japan Cinema. Check them out and please donate if you can.]


Andreas:

This may be a colossal understatement, but here goes: Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man is a really fucking weird movie. It’s short, cheap, and to the point, communicating through gory, rapid-fire sequences that blaze past in the blink of an eye. This makes the film as a whole pretty difficult to follow, since it often comes across as a particularly hazy, frenetic nightmare. Add in the fact that none of the characters have names, and that the dialogue is minimal, and you can see why I’m not even sure if I saw a film. Maybe I just imagined it. Could a string of images and sounds as intensely, off-puttingly gruesome as Tetsuo really exist?

Well… yes. I guess. The impression I got of the film’s plot was, roughly, this: a panting madman (played by the director) impales his leg with a metal rod. It gets infected. He runs in front of a car and gets run over. Later, the driver of the car notices a gross chunk of metal sticking out of his cheek. He tries to remove it, and (naturally) it sprays pus all over the place. After that, I’m lost. The man tries to go to work, and gets chased by a fellow commuter who’s turning into a cyborg—or maybe not? He goes home, where he has fatal drill-penis sex with his horny, wild-eyed girlfriend after some surreal foreplay—or, again, maybe not?

The rest of the movie involves yet more sped-up chase scenes, violently phallic imagery, and stop-motion transformations. Just imagine the movie Videodrome on amphetamines, with an even more inscrutable storyline. That’s Tetsuo in a nutshell. Overwhelming and gratuitous as the film may be, there’s still a dizzying, demented genius in how earnestly and resourcefully Tsukamoto executes his vision. At heart, it’s a nonstop, nonverbal battle between metal and flesh, with each one ferociously preying on the other; the audience is left to say “Eww!” or “WTF?” Or both.

Ashley:

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT: PONYO!

Let’s take the edge off a bit, shall we? I’ve written about Ponyo before; it’s one of my favorite feel-good movies, right up there with Harvey. It is the ultimate example of what a kid’s movie can be: sweet and pleasant without all the pandering, condescending bullshit. You don’t have to have a “kid’s” movie full of double entendres, coded language, hidden imagery, or obscure parallelism (although I ain’t knocking that kind of animated film; I need more of it in my life) for it to be clever, cute, and appealing to a broad audience. Miyazaki’s effortlessly beautiful hand-drawn underwater worlds and his impish little Ponyo are totally irresistible. Sadly, I’m very short on time so I can’t get too in depth about the film but I will leave you with a number of lovely images.

Thanks to Cinema-Fanatic and Japan Cinema for hosting this great blogathon! Please donate if you can!


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Demons and disability in Jacob’s Ladder

Not long ago, I wrote a piece about Adrian Lyne’s nightmarish horror movie Jacob’s Ladder (1990), starring Tim Robbins. I thought, and continue to think, that it’s an uneven movie whose meandering, occasionally saccharine plot threads are balanced out by all of the shocking, phantasmagoric imagery. Well, imagine my surprise when I was paging through a book of photographs in my American Studies class the other day, and happened across the inspiration for one of the most unforgettable images in all of Jacob’s Ladder!

Some background: this class is called “Extraordinary Bodies in American Culture,” and we were examining the photography of Diane Arbus and Joel-Peter Witkin in relation to early 20th century freak shows. The photograph in question is Witkin’s Indulgences Man with No Legs from 1976, collected in Gods of Earth and Heaven. You can see more of Witkin’s work in this blog or this official gallery, but be warned: it’s very, very NSFW, and contains distorted, sexualized, and grotesquely posed images of disabled people and corpses.

Sexualizing and distorting human bodies was pretty much Witkin’s stock-in-trade. It’s easy, therefore, to see why he was such a major influence on Ladder‘s hyperkinetic demons. Although much of his work was done within the past 30-40 years, it’s often so grainy, blurry, and scratched-up that it looks older – as if consigned to some ahistorical netherworld. He casually mixes costumes, gestures, and backdrops in his photographs to evoke disparate sectors of life: a single Witkin photo can suggest BDSM practices, police brutality, Renaissance paintings, carnival sideshows, archaic medical technology, and more.

Certainly Indulgences conjures up numerous eras and activities with its ambiguous, faceless subject. It also raises countless questions, starting with “Why is his face covered?” When coupled with the raised, boxlike structure he’s sitting on, it reminds me of kidnappings – an uncomfortable association, and probably one that Witkin’s aiming for. It’s also very dehumanizing, and this is a consistent feature of Witkin’s work: his disabled subjects are invariably masked, veiled, or facing away from the camera. It feels like Witkin uses disability to facilitate an otherworldly atmosphere.

As much as I respect the bold, confrontational spirit of his artistry, I find this manipulation of human bodies extremely problematic. It’s especially revealing to look at Jacob’s Ladder, where similar distortion effects are used in conjunction with rapid-fire editing in order to code disability and facelessness as hellish and frightening. This intersection of popular cinema with very marginal photography could prove a useful avenue for further research into the relationship between disability and horror; till then, I think I’ll try to not look at Witkin’s shudder-inducing photographs.

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