women in horror

All posts tagged women in horror

Prevenge-A Shudder Canada Exclusive Coming March 24th!

Published March 20, 2017 by rmpixie

Prevenge (2016, 1 hr 28 mins)

Alice Lowe as Ruth wreaking havoc maternity style.

When a woman carries a child, one can only imagine the range of emotions that she feels, from joy to fear to a sense of wonder at the life growing inside her. Only she knows how she feels, and only she has that special connection with her unborn child. But what if that connection is a sinister one; one of murderous intentions and revenge? This is the story that director and writer Alice Lowe brings to us in the dark horror comedy Prevenge. Making its way through the film fest circuit including TIFF 2016 and SXSW this year, you can now see it as a Shudder Canada Exclusive set to launch on March 24th.

Ruth (Alice Lowe) is a pregnant woman grieving the death of her partner. She is shell-shocked, alone, and on the surface, void of emotion. Inside, however, she listens to the nagging voice her unborn child, who forces her to become a serial killer out for vengeance. Ruth keeps a baby scrapbook, but instead of baby’s first ultrasound, there are notes and crudely drawn pictures of her targets. Her vengeance goes into overdrive as the twisted little life inside provokes her to kill these unsuspecting people who, to her, held great significance with the fate of her lost husband.

Absurd conversations and laugh out loud moments comprises this darkly clever film. With plenty of double meanings in the script, is also a thing of reflection as motives and a gross contradiction come into play. The notion that a pregnant woman about to bring a life into the world is also taking lives in most unpleasant ways toys with our sensibilities, conventions and taboos about a mother-to-be.

The nature of this pregnancy is truly parasitic. I have never been pregnant, and never will be, but the idea of being at the mercy of an organism living inside you is an awe-inspiring and scary prospect. I can only imagine what it would feel like to be ruled by something growing inside you: what to drink, what to eat and how you feel dictated every moment by a little interloper in your belly, and Ruth plays host to a rather nasty baby, or so it seems. Her telling appointment with midwife Nurse Jenny (Jo Hartley) is hilarious and chilling at the same time as she tells Ruth that her unborn daughter has all the control and “baby will tell you what to do.” Does this statement push her over the edge, or is the baby really using her as a puppet of mass destruction? We’re not quite sure what to believe about Ruth’s mental state, but it’s a truly interesting ride to say the least.

Alice Lowe is best known for her extensive comedy work, writing and acting in several British television and film projects, especially the 2012 black comedy Sightseers which she also co-wrote. She’s well versed in finding humour in the horrific, and Prevenge is that and much more. It’s a study of what someone who is grieving from loss may feel in an extreme situation, and for all the laughs the film provides, it’s also deeply emotional. Ruth has lost her partner and she is alone with a baby on the way exhibiting some not-so-normal tendencies.

According to an interview from this past February in The Guardian, Lowe reportedly wrote the script in 2 weeks and shot the film in 11 days while she was actually pregnant. For a first time director who has also written and starred in her own film, that’s no small feat, and her cast was just as effective as Lowe herself. With familiar faces like Hartley of David Brent: Life on the Road, and Kate Dickie of The Witch, you’ll enjoy seeing them take part in this darkly humorous fiasco. Pay attention to the throbbing synth scoring by Toydrum and some great cinematic moments, one of which had very distant echoes of the insane subway scene in Andrzej Zulawski’s Possession (1981).

For her directorial debut, Alice Lowe went with what she knew (well, sort of anyway). Prevenge is a study of the fears of being a new mother and the grieving process in a most surprising way. Be sure to see it when it launches exclusively on Shudder Canada this Friday!

 

Grace Hallworth and the Oral Traditions of Trinidadian Ghost Stories and Tall Tales

Published February 22, 2017 by rmpixie

Last year, I gained a new co-worker that turned out to be my sister from another mister. We share a lot of similar experiences, good and bad, and also a Trinidadian heritage. When computer glitches made us scream out in frustration, my lovely co-worker would stage whisper “Obeah!”, eliciting uncontrollable giggles from both of us. Obeah is a West Indian term for witchcraft and general supernatural trickery, often thrown into conversation in a West Indian household with a casual knowing, as if every little thing was explained by that one word.

When she brought me a book on folklore from Trinidad, I squealed! Entitled “Mouth Open Story Jump Out” (which basically means you feel free to gossip or tell tales), this book contains all the stories my mother and grandmother used to tell my sisters and I, either to scare us into good behaviour or just freak us out in general. I could once again read about “La Diablesse” or “The Suocouyant”; remembering how frightened I was when the women in my family would recount the “true” stories from the Trinidadian backwoods, otherwise known as “the bush”. This book inspired me to dedicate a post for Black History Month and Women in Horror Month to Grace Hallworth, a Trinidadian storyteller who carries on the tradition of the island’s folktale and ghost stories in both the written and spoken word.

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Hallworth, retired librarian, has a number of children’s books under her belt. Born in Trinidad and moving to England in 1956, her storytelling and writing would honour the tradition of Trinidadian folktales for decades. There isn’t a lot of information on her since she is senior and now resides in a retirement home northwest of London, but she is still active and celebrated within the storytelling community and a great reference for those in the children’s literature and academia world.

Storytelling is ingrained in our human DNA; from the beginning of civilization it has brought us together, connecting us and keeping our traditions and cultures alive through the spoken word, song, dance and pantomime.  It is an exercise in remembering ancestry, entertainment and community in one fell swoop.  In island culture, a simple gathering can result in stories about aunts, uncles, cousins and all the weird and wonderful things they encounter in ” Nancy” stories, a word spawned from the original tall tale figure Anansi, the trickster spider from West African tales.

The stories I remember most were the aforementioned “La Diablesse”, a hoofed woman who leads men astray and “The Suocouyant” an old woman who becomes a ball of light and sucks the blood of humans and animals. I thought about these ominous figures in an abstract way, in the same way a kid thinks about the devil or the boogeyman. These were our boogeymen, or women as the story goes. They were ours and everyone else’s it seems, as these phantoms went by other names across the world, like the Phillipines blood sucker The Aswang and the Succubus who keeps company with The Soucouyant, who in turn shares similarities with the Spook Lights featured in Eden Royce’s collections of Southern gothic horror. Even the Loup Garou, or werewolf, stays the same in France and the West Indies. It never occurred to me then how connected these tales were until I started to write about horror themes critically.

Before each set of stories, Hallworth writes a paragraph or two describing the traits of these entities in the chapter, giving a context to the oral tale. You can see a common thread with the spirits and demons that only makes sense since Trinidad and Tobago are like many Caribbean islands that have a long history of colonization. On top of the indigenous people of the islands, settlers from Europe, Africa, The United Kingdom, South Asia and China came in as well, so there is no wonder that some phantoms share the same traits as their originators back on their home shores.  It’s actually comforting to know that Hallworth worked to validate and document these folktales so that they could stand with their global counterparts in unity as they scare children worldwide.

Hallworth preserves regional dialect or patois, traditions and nostalgia as well as the tales themselves.  Some of the stories provide a moral like be careful what you wish for or living in harmony with the natural world, and some were just meant to scare the bejesus out of you.  It is a feat the can’t be done without some effort, but she takes these oral traditions and commits them to the page with an ease that makes me hear my mother and grandmother’s voices as I read the words. At the very least, it would be a treat to hear Hallworth herself recite these tales, as she will still do from time to time in the English libraries and schools even though she is reportedly in her late 80’s.

As kids become more sophisticated with electronics and adult life readily at their fingertips, it’s comforting to know this little book of Nancy stories persists on library shelves so the original monsters under the bed or at our windows don’t fade away.  I am grateful for Grace Hallworth because it is through her book that I remember my mother (my original woman in horror) and my heritage.  She is a storyteller, writer, children’s author and an honorary woman in horror for preserving these tales.

Grace Hallworth is a patron for The Society of Storytelling in the U.K. and has been nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2016 and 2017.

For a list of all her books, check here.

Sevdaliza’s “Human”: An Unlikely Woman in Horror

Published February 12, 2017 by rmpixie
sevdaliza

Sevdaliza in “Human”

 

 

A screenshot of a woman, her arms stretched out, intrigued me. She had piercing dark eyes, long black hair and was wearing an intricate, bejeweled bra-like contraption that left little to the imagination. “Can you click on that one?,” I asked the horror boyfriend as we cruised different music videos one snowy, Saturday night. And so, he did. What unfolded before my eyes took me down a rabbit hole to a world of danger, sensuality and speculation.

After the strong features of a woman flicker on the screen, a waiter, ebony-skinned, handsome but with an unsettling milky eye, pushes a loaded service tray down a grand hall. He arrives at a viewing gallery populated by well-dressed men. They watch, with a palpable expectancy, the dirt floor of an empty and grand arena below. A cloaked figure descends ornate stairs; it is a woman and she moves with a strong stride into the arena. The men sit stoical but the beads of perspiration betray their stony faces as she turns and slowly drops her cape, facing them. She wears only bejeweled cups covering her breasts and a bejeweled patch between her legs. She gazes back at them calmly, and the camera cuts back to show her full body profile. We see she has the legs of an animal. Strong, hooved legs hold up her body, complimenting her curves as she begins to undulate and sway. Her face is defiant and unsmiling as the men watch, her dance exuding a confidence that conveys fearlessness and sensuality.

Each of the men’s faces show something different in their barely-there expressions. Inklings of lust, fear and fascination play on their brows as the otherworldly woman sways and her jet-black hair swirls around her. She stops and stares back at them again, while the waiter seems to watch her as if he is waiting for a cue. She lowers her head, her eyes telling a story all at once: strength, rage, and again defiance. It is here that the video and the song end abruptly, leaving us wondering what will happen next.

The song that accompanies the video is called “Human”. The woman who sings it and performs in the video is Sevdaliza, an Iranian-born, Netherlands-based electronic artist who, while being somewhat new to the music scene, has blown up with her hypnotic sound. She works with producer Mucky and with 2 EPS out, will finally be releasing her album sometime this year.

With such a unique concept, I was struck by the fantasy-horror aspect right off the bat. While she has not claimed any allegiance to horror to my knowledge, she is an unlikely woman in horror with this tension building 3-minute clip. Her mythical character is very close to the Deer Woman, a Native American spirit who can be vengeful to men bearing ill intent to women. Her seductive dance is the last thing a corrupt man will see before she kills him.

This vision also struck me as an extremely important video for many reasons. First, I think some may find the video objectifies with this basically nude, fantastical woman dancing for an audience of men. I would argue that this is actually the opposite. She is strong, she is defiant and she is celebrating her body. I also embrace the implied horror that unfolds. To me, she is in league with the waiter as they exchange knowing looks at the very end. Perhaps she has lured them because of their wrong-doings and seeks to dole out her vengeance, much like the Deer Woman.  Perhaps they have elected to die by her hand, a penance for their evil past.

She includes a quote to accompany the video, “The basic human need to be watched was once satisfied by God.” It’s from a video game, Deus Ex based on a dystopian world made up of secret societies and artificial intelligence.  It’s a quote from Morpheus, a self-aware A.I. character, and goes on to end with, “Now, the same functionality can be replicated with data-mining algorithms.” Morpheus is apparently referring to the vanities of humans, and our need to dominate and control everything we touch.  Named after the Greek god of dreams who would bring messages to mortals from the gods, you can only speculate what Sevdaliza meant with this quote.  Is this dancer in a future world, created for the whims of these seemingly moneyed men for their male gaze and now she has a mind of her own? The theories are dizzying in their numbers, so one can only speculate.  At any rate, she looks like she is about to do some major damage to this gallery of patriarchy, but it is left up to our imaginations the ominous horror that awaits them.

The video was directed by Emmanuel Adjei, who works with Sevdaliza often. His beautiful vision is tinted with sepia tones and the visual effects are seamless-the stuff of feature films.  I would love to see what this dancer has planned, but the same time, I enjoy wanting more without a payoff. This is the crux of the clip. Everyone, from the waiter to the dancer, is waiting in intense anticipation for something, and it seems we will never know what. The desire that comes from the men, also comes from her. The difference is she isn’t afraid to show hers, embracing the animal half of herself.

The song itself is could be called an anthem for those suffering from the effect of current events. The words to the song are simple and effective:

I am flesh, bones

I am skin, soul

I am human

Nothing more than human

 

One could take the song as a plea for understanding or a rallying cry for the oppressed as they break through the chains of judgement.

The next stanza is intriguing:

It’s passing me by

Been in and out

And in front of my judgmental eyes

My precious disguise

Business so cold

Can’t cope with my own

How to not fail

In my interpretation, it appears she has become weary of hiding her true nature; tired of being seen as different or a thing and now seeking retaliation. It’s extremely telling of what could happen (and already is with all the protests and upheavals) if things continue to escalate within the U.S. political sphere. Sevdaliza, however, won’t reveal the meaning of her art, leaving it up to the viewer and listener to find their own truth.

Being Iranian, Sevdaliza has announced that she will not be travelling to the United States due to the political climate, and rightfully so. The travel ban will go down in history as yet another attempt for supremacy, and with it the call for a show of real humanity. Trump has shown his true colours, and it is evident minute by minute that he brings true terror.

With all the real world horror going on, this song comes at the right time and it couldn’t be more perfectly represented. What do you think? Does it objectify, divide, or show a woman’s strength despite her environment? Is she victim or victor? Was she a creation that has now gone rogue? You decide, because apparently there is no wrong answer in her eyes.

 

The video is up for an Edison Music Award (a Dutch music award) and you can find her at the following links:

http://www.sevdaliza.com/

https://www.facebook.com/sevdalizamusic

https://twitter.com/sevdaliza

http://emmanueladjei.com/

While researching mythologies from other cultures, I couldn’t find any other comparative deities or spirits from the Middle East aside from ancient Greek ones such as Pan and satyrs and the Native American Deer Woman.  Her legend is documented here;

And read my review of AKOÓ! that played at the ImagiNATIVE Film Festival 2016 for Cinema Axis. It features a similar mythical figure called the Caribou Woman that kills men who put women in danger here.

 

Book Review: Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity

Published September 19, 2016 by rmpixie

Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity McFarland & Company Inc., 2016

 Films of the New French Extremity:  Visceral Horror and National Identity by Alexandra West ( McFarland & Company Inc., 2016)

Scholars and journalists Alexandra West and Andrea Subissati, hosts of the Faculty of Horror podcast, focus on in-depth analysis of the horror genre with a feminist approach that would sway the staunchest naysayer.  With their knowledge and background, it’s no surprise that West has recently written a book entitled Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity and after getting to meet the author herself, I had to buy a copy. Once I flipped past the first page I was hooked.

Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity came from a lecture West presented in 2014 for The Black Museum, a series put on by Subissati and Toronto-based writer and editor Paul Corupe where seasoned speakers and professionals in the horror genre present on various topics “from film theory to genre studies”.  It was here that her academic but extremely accessible book was born, and West successfully tracks the transition “from art-house films to full-fledged horror films” that came out of France from the early 90’s to the mid 2000’s.

The genre of New French Extremity is something that for a long time only a few could stomach or relate to. It is brutal, bloody and in your face, but West eases the reader in by giving you a solid base of French history and politics, along with the violence it spawned, in order to help you understand the environment these directors were coming from and the genesis of their films. In essence, French society tended to put a shiny veneer over the ills and wrongs of their actions, turning a blind eye to it all. These films attempt to peel back the shiny exterior of a country celebrated for its culture to show the societal warts that got bigger over centuries. While some of the filmmakers may have different approaches to their subject matter, be it murderous country folk, abused women, self-destructive characters or relentless serial killers, West brings them together to map their contributions to pushing societal, sexual and political boundaries, showing how their films soon became cinematic earmarks as well as social commentaries in the history of horror cinema and what is now considered a critical part of the genre.

Most horror critics and writers like myself have seen many of the films West writes about. I saw them because they were a) French and b) horror or taboo; things I love unconditionally, with Martyrs and High Tension sitting in prime positions on my shelves. They were terrifying films yet I was drawn to them. I couldn’t make connections other than they were all French and showed a darker side to the country I romanticized so much; dots on the same page without the lines to connect them. West is able to create threads of similarities with such coherence and logic, that any French extreme enthusiast feels a sense of almost relief as her analysis pinpoints characters, motivations and plotlines to make sense of the chaos you witness on-screen. All the chapters are riveting, but for those of you who search for some meaning from Martyrs as much as I have, West’s dissection and interpretation of the film comes very near to perfection.

Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity will resonate with those who love French Extreme cinema and those who have visited (and fallen in love with) France like myself; becoming lured by the romantic façade of an aloof yet beautiful country, only to scratch the surface revealing the grimy reality underneath.  Steeped in the history and culture of France, West’s book makes these admittedly horrifying films accessible and convey an understanding much like one would study a terrifying beast for meaning. It is truly a must read for any and all horror fans and academics out there looking for a comprehensive guide to the beginnings of French Extreme cinema.

This Wednesday September 21st, The Black Museum will hold a book launch for Films of the New French Extremity: Visceral Horror and National Identity in Toronto where West will do a reading. Check out the details here. Come out to support great Canadian talent!

 

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