I'm not very well versed on the whole Twilight phenomenon, but I'm also pretty sure I don't have to be in order to fully grasp what's it about. This isn't because I think the books/movies are all that one-dimensional (well, okay, it partly is), but really because I was into angsty vampires when the current crop of Twilight tween fanatics were probably still learning to read. It's nothing new. Sure, this version of vampire lust seems to have moved slightly more mainstream emo than the alternative goth edition I remember, but essentially, still the same. It's really too bad I didn't have these books back then, because I would have likely been, embarrassingly enough, the biggest Twilight fan ever.
At this point, however, I think it's a little behind me, much like the days of rereading Poppy Z. Brite novels, constantly spinning The Downward Spiral and watching The Crow for the 300th time. But nostalgia is fun, and the mention of Twilight does seem like a good opportunity to dredge up my favorite vampire saga from my own misspent tween-hood: Forever Knight.
Zombies and girls (and zombie girls, and girl zombies, presumably) are in the film news lately - as well they should be.
I haven't even seen this documentary, Zombie Girl, yet, but already its star, Emily Hagins, is my new heroine. How could she not be? She's twelve years old, and she's directed her own full-length feature zombie movie. Check it out:
Also, io9's Annalee Newitz just produced an excellent piece on zombie feminism:
Along with other recent indie horror fare like Zombie Strippers, Deadgirl turns zombies into figures for militant social outcasts — preyed-upon women who return to wreak vengeance. Call it zombie feminism. It's a subgenre that goes back to the 1980s, and every time it dies, it just comes back stronger than ever.
The new film she's referring to is Deadgirl, which looks like a great arty horror film. (The trailer is at the io9 link - it's not overly explicit, but still might not be everyone's cup of tea.)
Question for discussion: is it a coincidence that as torture porn and its misogynistic appeal fades from the horror movie scene, there's a revival of female-centered revenge film?
A couple of weeks ago, I posted a quote by Joss Whedon, from a recently posted article called "Let's Watch a Girl Get Beaten to Death." The incident that inspired the article was the 7 April murder of seventeen-year-old Du’a Khalil Aswad, who was stoned to death. What made her death so notable was the fact that it was recorded by a camera phone and uploaded to the internet. Not only can you find still images of the attack, but video. You can literally watch a girl get beaten to death, from the point of view of someone standing amidst the crowd that killed her.
Honor killings are a huge challenge to human rights, and, because they generally (although not exclusively) target women, they are also often a special cause of women's rights movements. But Whedon's piece is not just about honor killings. To him, the phenomenon of digitally recording a woman's murder and sharing it across the internet for everyone to see is inextricably tied to a current Hollywood trend - that of extreme horror movies, such as Captivity and Hostel: Part II - movies that have been labeled "torture porn" for their almost fetishistic concentration on gore for gore's sake.
Whedon goes much farther into a panic of real-life misogyny (he's right, for all intents and purposes, but the issues he raises are too complex to address fairly in a single website post), but I'm branching off the discussion into a consideration of the connection between filmed fictional violence and filmed violence in reality. It's a question at the very least worth asking. What exactly is the difference between our desire to see girls on movie screens mutilated, tortured and killed, and the desire of those swapping footage of a girl being kicked, stoned, and beat to bloody death in a public street? Is there one? And if there is, is it smaller than it should be?
I have never been a fan of extreme horror films. The first I saw is, well, Saw. It's probably the most credible of the genre, but I still found it both trite and disgusting. I am, however, a long-time fan of horror, both print and screen, in general, and I don't have a problem with gore and explicit violence within the course of a worthwhile story. Or even with an artistic twist. I can appreciate Dario Argento and George Romero. Surprisingly (and to no one more than me), I can even handle some Rob Zombie. I didn't expect his film work to have the creativity and perspective it does.
That last, though, might just be my impression, considering that Zombie is an outspoken defender of extreme horror movies. In a recent NPR piece, he described the genre as harmless "escapism." Maybe so. But is this the best world to which we can offer an escape? One of senseless violence and death? And what precisely are we escaping? The drudgery of our daily lives, as Zombie suggests - or, as others suggest, the distant terror of war, persecution, and tragedy that already inhabits our collective unconscious? If that latter is the case, experiencing fictional violence can help make the real violence more distant and less important. Which can make us feel superficially better, but doesn't do much to solve the real problems, either in besieged foreign lands or within our restless minds.
Where is the line drawn, anyway? What makes a horror movie cross into "extreme" territory? I don't think it's just the equation of how much violence it contains. I think the difference between good horror and torture porn, between cinematic violence and real violence is very simple: context. Real violence is so shockingly horrendous because of the context in which it was done - which is, namely, reality. Fake violence gets a pass because it's not real and thus doesn't really matter. But what about distinctions within the realm of fake violence? Is there ever a point where it becomes just as reprehensible as real violence? Definitely. It happens when the context in which the violence is placed - artistic context, historical context, even a decidedly escapist context - becomes less context and more backdrop, or just an excuse for the violence. When that happens, essentially the same dynamics are working as are during instances of real violence. In both cases, the end is violence that fulfills a base human need, and it has no higher purpose than that - or a morally supportable purpose at all.
Of course, I've readily admitted I've personally seen very few of the entries in the torture porn genre, so it's possible my opinions are off the mark when it comes to the individual films. However, I also couldn't bring myself to view the online video of Du’a Khalil Aswad, struggling, screaming, and ultimately dying at the hands of a vicious mob. If it's the same impulse that keeps me from both, I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing.
Some other discussions on the merit (or lack thereof) of extreme horror, inspired mostly by the release of Hostel II: