Sunday, September 06, 2009

Michelle Orange: Taking Back the Knife - Girls Gone Gory

Taking Back the Knife: Girls Gone Gory
by Michelle Orange
The New York Times


For the most part, except for a few breakouts like “Shaun of the Dead” (and remakes of still-vital foreign horror films), mainstream American horror has become, like pornography, mainly a cinema of graphic escalation. Though often associated with exploitative fare, the director Rob Zombie, whose recent release, “Halloween II,” revamps another 1970s proto-slasher (and one of the original “final girls,” the character Laurie Strode), says the genre’s indulgence has been its undoing.

“The ’80s are the decade that ruined everything for everybody,” he said. “The soul went away, and it became gore for the sake of gore, and kids were cheering at killings and yelling and screaming. It became a roller coaster ride. And of course once something becomes a roller coaster, all you can do is build a bigger, more extreme roller coaster. That’s where I think horror movies really got perverted.”

One feminist who would agree with that is the novelist Rita Mae Brown, who wrote a slasher sendup called “The Slumber Party Massacre” (1982). Under the auspices of the producer Roger Corman, however, the movie was denuded of its satiric trimmings. Ms. Brown, reached at her home in Virginia, is philosophical about the experience. “Horror films are one of the last places where women will make progress,” she said, “because they go to the root of adolescence. They attract adolescence, on some level, even if you’re 50.”

Twenty-seven years later Ms. Cody’s similar attempt at subversion led to pressure simply to tow the slasher line. “That temptation was there,” Ms. Cody said. “I think there were some people involved who would have liked to have made a straight horror film.” Ultimately, however, Ms. Cody’s script prevailed intact. The risk of mixing things up a little was mitigated, it turns out, by the fact that women are currently helping to prop up hard-core horror releases.

It is a development that has confounded even those buying fake blood by the barrel. Mr. Zombie is baffled by the trend. And so is Debbie Liebling, the former president for production at the recently dissolved Fox Atomic, a studio that was dedicated to low-budget, teen-oriented genre films like “Turistas.”

“I’m not sure what the attraction is, psychologically, for females,” she said in a recent interview. “I would love to know why girls are going to see ‘Saw,’ because I have no idea.”

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