Tag Archives: the stepford wives

Halloween Terrors

By Andreas

You know what’s really scary? Like terrifying, bone-chilling, never-sleep-again scary? Sure, I could start answering that question broadly with, say, death and loneliness and bodily harm. But I’d rather start small with a few images—the direct, visceral language of the horror movie. So here’s a taste of what scares me, via some of my favorite horror classics…

Cat People

As Poe described it in “The Raven”: “Darkness there, and nothing more.” Is it a panther, or just an inky blur shifting against the wall? The water in the swimming pool plays such tricks with the light. You could be in mortal danger, with a big cat preparing to tear into your neck, or you could just be seeing things. That’s the visual genius of Nicholas Musuraca (who also shot The Seventh Victim) at work, implementing the flair for ambiguity that defined RKO’s Val Lewton unit. It’s such a blurry, disorienting image, but it conjures up a world of pain and possibility. At times like this, you have to ask yourself: “Are you afraid of the dark?”

The Wicker Man

Shot from this angle, those islanders gathered around the vast wicker effigy look like a welcoming committee. They’re here to usher Sergeant Howie along to his destiny, an outcome preordained by his actions, his self-righteousness, and his obliviousness. And isn’t that the most disturbing fate of all? To know that you’re not merely being dragged off to die; as a matter of fact, your personal flaws guaranteed this ending. This is horror at its purest: to be hopelessly, helplessly drenched in anticipation of your imminent, ritualized death. And to top it all off, the air fills with pagan song. The Stepford Wives

This image encapsulates so many powerful fears: the loss of individuality, personhood, free will; the domination (and destruction) of women by a conspiratorial council of all-knowing men; the disappearance of anyone to trust. It’s all in Bobbie’s face as she rattles off idiotic phrases like “How could you do a thing like that!” This once-vivacious woman has been reduced to a babbling automaton, realized with grotesque plausibility by Paula Prentiss. It’s a tragedy and a nightmare.

Onibaba

One last fear-inducing image, this one from Japan, as a monster/woman braves the elements. A lightning flash illuminates her face, now usurped by a demonic mask. It’s the stark conclusion to a religious allegory that’s been transformed into a sweaty, carnal horror story. This is nature at its most basic: total, unrelenting chaos engulfing a vicious, unhappy world. In a perversely moral turnabout, this selfish woman gets what’s coming to her—and we, the viewers, are left with nothing but an empty, scared feeling by this masterpiece of the Japanese New Wave. Happy Halloween, everyone!

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Gives me the willies!

Ashley:

I <3 scary movie lists. So, I got super excited when I read on Final Girl and The Horror Digest about Top Ten Willie Inducing Moments list! So here are the moments that give me the chills.

Let the Right One In (2008) – Eli’s “old face”

Let the Right One In is a masterpiece of a vampire film. It’s not the scariest movie in the world but it does have some very chilling moments. For me, Eli’s older face is one of them. I think the reason it freaks me out so much to the point of not even wanting to look at it, is because it’s so subtle. You only really realize after the fact, once her face changes back that it was just totally fucking different a second before.  How Oskar didn’t run screaming from the room the moment that face looked up at him is beyond me; that’s true love, fo’ sho.

Black Christmas (1975) – “I’m going to kill you.”

The original Black Christmas is a movie that scares me so deeply that I can’t even explain it. The first time I watched this movie, I couldn’t sleep right for a few nights afterward. There’s just something about it that gets under my skin and makes me feel unsafe. This moment happens about 8 minutes into the movie and it freaks me the fuck out. We have these excruciatingly long moments listening to grotesque sounds and words coming from the phone and then, without skipping a fucking beat, it switches to complete calm,  telling Barb, “I’m going to kill you.” My stomach literally dropped the first time I saw this part, it scared me so much. I’ve watched this movie with people who just thought this part was HI-LARIOUS and it just goes to show you that different thing scare different people. Just watching this part so I could get this screen grab has me anxious.

Martyrs (2008) – the monster girl

Anything that moves really unnaturally scares me a lot. So, of course there are tons of Asian horror movies that have scary moments for me; that jerky, creepy movement is just not right, it’s not natural, it’s not human. However, the French Martyrs takes the cake for me in terms of stop-moving-like-that-goddammit! This is a brutal film, from start to finish. For the first half of the film, the terrifying monster that continually stalked and fucked up Lucie had me holding my breath, my hands clasped tightly over my mouth. The bathroom scene, where we finally see the creature in full, had me totally petrified. I couldn’t handle the way she moved, the way her bones protruded, the way her mouth was like some jagged black hole whenever she screamed. If I were Lucie, I would have killed myself a long fucking time ago just to get that thing away from me.

Pet Sematary (1989) – Zelda

I debated whether or not to put this one since I don’t consider Pet Sematary one of my favorite horror movies, and as an adult I’ve only seen the whole thing once or twice. But that doesn’t change the fact that at some point during my early childhood I saw parts of this movie; the parts with Zelda. And the image of her never, ever left my mind. I still have intense fears of going into a room and seeing someone hunched in the corner because of this movie. Watching the scenes with Zelda fills me with a sick kind of fear, the kind that makes me want to turn off what I’m watching RIGHT NAOW because I can’t stand looking at it or hearing it.

The Stepford Wives (1975) – bleakest ending ever

I’ve written about my love of The Stepford Wives in the past. This movie is terrifying to me on a very fundamental level; as someone who is very conscious of women’s issues and oppression and patriarchal power , the movie is bleak and gut-wrenching. No escape. No salvation. Death at the hands of men who don’t give a shit about substance or personality; they just want you to be ‘the perfect wife’. And they can pull it off. Because who’s going to question them?

Alice:

When Ashley told me about this “willie-inducing moment” thing, I immediately wanted in. Ergo, voilà! Since neither of us could put together a full 10, here’s my 5 to complete her list, in reverse-chronological order. May the willies be with you…

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) – the death of Frank Poole

Space travel is already a pretty scary prospect: no oxygen, just a few other people, relying entirely on your womblike spaceship to get you to Jupiter safely. So when the computer gets pissed off and starts doing in one crew member after another, you’re pretty much fucked. Frank is the second-to-last astronaut left, and all his conspiring with Dave proves futile: HAL unhinges his suit’s umbilical cord, and off he goes, limbs flailing frantically, into the cold darkness. I’ve always thought going into space would be like the coolest thing ever. Then I think about this scene, and… maybe not.

Night of the Living Dead (1968) – the corpse at the top of the stairs

It’s great that one of the biggest scares in this classic isn’t the living dead at all. Barbra, running from the gentleman zombie who’s just killed her brother, enters a random house in the Pennsylvania wilderness. She hurries up the stairs, but then she sees this. We never really find out who this corpse belonged to or how they died; judging from the state of decay, it was clearly before the zombie onslaught. And since we only see it for a couple seconds at a time, it really sticks in our minds. All we really know is, stay the fuck off of the second floor! (This moment, I noticed, was also chosen by Bryce at Things That Don’t Suck. It’s just really seriously willie-inducing.)

The War Game (1965) – the first blast

This isn’t really a horror movie. It’s actually more of a political mockumentary. But Peter Watkins’ Oscar-winning film has dozens of these devastating, willies-eliciting moments. With chilling detachment, the film depicts a hypothetical near-future in which NATO vs. Communist Bloc tensions escalated to the point of full-scale nuclear war. This scene shows the first nuclear bombardment of England, as unprepared civilians are blinded by a far-off explosion. My willies are amplified by the accompanying voiceover: “At this distance, the heat wave is sufficient to cause melting of the upturned eyeball…”

Carnival of Souls (1962) – the face in the car window

This guy’s face reappears a lot in Carnival of Souls, as he persistently dogs the steps of our organist heroine Mary (Candace Hilligoss). It’s never clear who he is or what he wants, except that he’s probably dead, and he probably wants Mary to be dead, too. This is the first time we see him, as Mary drives through Utah by night. First, it’s her reflection in the window. Then, it’s him. Dear Scary Faces, please stop being where you shouldn’t, whether it’s in windows, mirrors, or nightmares. Sincerely, me.

Mad Love (1935) – Dr. Gogol disguised as the reanimated Rollo

OK, we all know Peter Lorre is one creepy motherfucker. We saw him make those faces in M. We watched him obsess over that piano-playing hand in The Beast with Five Fingers. He’s even creepy in non-horror movies, like Stranger on the Third Floor. But this scene, midway through Mad Love, may be Lorre’s creepiest moment ever. He’s not just being his (already crazy) self as the obsessive Dr. Gogol. Instead, he’s putting on a demented show by dressing up as the knife-thrower Rollo, who was executed earlier in the film, in order to freak out poor pianist Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive).

Let’s count everything that’s willie-inducing about this scene: 1) the neck brace and metal hands are totally nonfunctional – I think it’d be way less terrifying if his head actually had been reattached. 2) Still, the idea of reattaching a guillotined man’s head = ewww. 3) The sunglasses and hat almost entirely covering his face. 4) Lorre’s laughter. 5) He doesn’t even look like Rollo (played by Edward Brophy), yet Orlac falls for it. This is only one short scene, but that image – which I saw as a child in those devilish horror movie encyclopedias we had lying around the house – is so uncanny, so perverse, and so wrong in so many ways that it gives me the willies just thinking about it.

Ewww! Bad! No! In closing, I hope you enjoyed our willies.

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The Ones We Might Have Saved

So, we’re a little late to the party – OK, from the looks of it, a few weeks late – but the two of us felt that joining in Arbogast on Film‘s “The One You Might Have Saved” floating blogathon was too good of an offer to resist. Therefore, better very late than never, here are our takes on horror movie characters we liked too much for them to just be killed off, like that, so senselessly! Can you imagine that the filmmakers had the gall to do such a thing? The bastards! (Warning: spoilers are inherent.)

Andreas

I would save Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette) in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds (1963). Yeah, Tippi Hedren’s Melanie Daniels was the star, destined to end up with Hitchcockian mama’s boy Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor). But whereas she was mostly a spoiled, emotionally fucked-up drama queen learning to cope with an emergency, Annie was the really mature, worldly one.

Annie was Bodega Bay’s schoolteacher, and she was exactly the kind of teacher you wish you’d had in middle school. Resigned to her provincial life in a coastal town she called “a collection of shacks on a hillside,” she was totally jaded. She’d given up on a romance with Mitch after his mother disapproved, and resolved to hang around Bodega Bay… smoking, gardening, teaching, etc. Annie’s whole attitude is delightfully sardonic, and she gets some of the film’s best lines. (Hell, she begins a sentence “With all due respect to Oedipus…”) She’s a woman with little to lose, content to help the town’s children play games, sing that obnoxious “Risseldy Rosseldy” song, and practice fire drills, all with a knowing look in her eyes.

And when the birds strike, whether at a birthday party or at her schoolhouse, Annie doesn’t freak out. She just takes the lead, keeps the kids calm, and does everything she can to save their lives, even at the expense of her own. That is a good teacher. I can remember plenty of teachers who would never have taken decisive action like that, even in the midst of a bird attack, and definitely wouldn’t have sacrificed everything for their pupils. But Annie, for all her cynicism about romantic relationships, still has some fight left in her, and dammit, she cares about those kids.

I grant that Annie’s death does have meaning within the film. It could’ve been a lot more ignoble. Mitch and Melanie dwell on it, try to give her mutilated corpse some dignity, and the trauma sticks with them for the remainder of the film. So yes, her death and its consequences are well-written, especially given the awesomeness of her character. Mainly, I’m pissed off that she dies in the first place. She’s the one spark of sarcastic charm in Bodega Bay, a place full of unironic fishermen, yokels, drunkards, busybodies, and repressed lawyers. Assuming that the birds eventually stop killing everyone and move on, how will Bodega Bay rebuild without Annie?

While glancing through the film’s script, I noticed a line which I don’t think made it into the final movie. It’s from Annie’s surprisingly intimate heart-to-heart with Melanie:

Here I have a life. I’ll go into that classroom on Monday morning, and I’ll look out at twenty-five upturned little faces, and each of them will be saying, ‘Yes, please give me what you have.’ (pause) And I’ll give them what I have. I haven’t got very much, but I’ll give them every ounce of it. To me, that’s very important. It makes me want to stay alive for a long long time.

If only she had. I would not want to be a kid growing up in Bodega Bay without Annie around. She’s the one I might have saved.

Ashley

As Andreas said, we are a little late to the game but who cares! This is such a fun interesting topic that we can’t let it pass up. So here’s a character that I would have saved, Bobbie Markowe from The Stepford Wives:

The Stepford Wives is such a biting, bleak expression of all the things women fear. It’s especially terrifying to a loud, opinionated feminist like myself; the idea that there is no room for substance or personality if you’re female as far as men are concerned. Just shut up, cook, clean and be available for sex at all times (and like that sex, dammit). In a historical context, this film was made during an intensely politically charged era during which second-wave feminism was at a head. It represents with such dark, dead-on accuracy what oppression feels like: the sense of no escape. Despite your hardest sleuthing and strongest determination to escape there will always be something else to hold you down, shut you up,  or completely invalidate you and your words.

Our protagonist Joanna Eberhart and her slovenly, braless, spirited friend Bobbie Markowe are the sole representations of female empowerment and feminist ideology in a disturbing town full of docile homemakers. I love Bobbie. I love her so much. Her quirky, cute disregard for homemaking are a beautiful representation of a woman who just naturally ain’t into that cooking and cleaning stuff. I love Bobbie because I relate to her deeply on a personal level and see myself in her and her fears.

Everything that Joanna and Bobbie stand for is presented in stark contrast to the Stepford Wives. Their comfortable, casual clothing vs. the starched and pressed dresses and blouses of the wives. Their social and political awareness and increasing concern and fear vs. the vapidity of the wives. And throughout the film, you feel a shaky yet comforting faith in their power as a team. Bobbie and Joanna will get through this together. They will escape Stepford and be free women. And then, out of NOWHERE Joanna comes to Bobbie’s house and what does she find:

It’s unexpected, frightening and a horrible blow to the viewer. Dear GOD, no, not Bobbie! Why!? Why, Bobbie! And then things get even more horrifying as Joanna gets closer and closer to the truth about the wives of Stepford. In one of the most terrifying scenes of the movie, Joanna confronts Bobbie proclaiming “I bleed! Do you bleed!” before stabbing her with a kitchen knife. It’s a moment of profound horror, and I may read just a bit too much into it in how I interpret her words and the area where she stabs (not quite her stomach but just below near a more…sensitive area). Instead of bleeding or showing any human reaction at all, Bobbie merely pulls the knife out. She doesn’t bleed. She is not a woman at all.

“Bobbie” then goes into a mechanical loop, monotonously repeating words and phrases, dropping cups and just tweaking the fuck out. Because she’s a goddamn robot. ROBOT. We don’t know what actually happened to Bobbie, we don’t know what horrible end she met and who or what offed her. All we know is that she disappeared and was replaced with this.

Bobbie Markowe is, for me and I’m sure for lots of other viewers and lovers of this film, such a significant loss. The entire film is so bleak. There is no escape. There is no way to get out from underneath the oppression we as women experience living in a patriarchal society. Bobbie and Joanna represent the fight against all of that, the constant angry cry against everything that holds us down. And it’s so upsetting that Bobbie-strong, willful, opinionated, quirky Bobbie-is dragged down and ripped apart by this over-exaggerated caricature of  male oppression. If I could have, I would have saved Bobbie Markowe.

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