Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Pride in Paimon: A Queer Male Reading of Hereditary

(Every month, I choose a horror film to shine a spotlight on and dig into. For the month of June, I selected my favorite film from 2018, Hereditary.)

Since its original theatrical release on June 8, 2018, Ari Aster's film Hereditary has been the subject of much discussion. One area of focus around the talk about the film is its screenplay and the potential hidden meanings that Aster may have laid within the film to mine. There are several fan readings, including speculating if there really is a cult, or if mother-son protagonists Peter and Annie were both suffering from a hereditary mental illness and imagining the events film in their collective delusions. Another analysis views Aster's feature as a socioeconomic commentary, with it being noted that Annie's mother Ellen and her friends of the same generation specifically engineer the downfall of the younger generations of Ellen's family, perceiving it as metaphor for the increasing economic gap between generations in America. However, there is one reading of the film that has been delved into briefly, but not popularized at large by Hereditary's fandom: Taking the queer sensibilities of the film and making something out of them. One YouTuber named Nyx Fears has an analysis of the film as a metaphor for coming to terms with being transgender through the character of Charlie. However, I seek to use Heredtary's queer connotations to craft a reading of the film as a variant on the queer male coming out narrative, specifically through the character of Peter.

The amazing Alex Wolff as Peter Graham in Hereditary (2018)

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

T is for...Trans Killer Tropes

In honor of it being Pride Month, each week I'm going to do a short write up about a movie with some sort of LGBTQ+ representation. This week, I'm writing about Brian De Palma's problematic and campy classic Dressed to Kill.

Who's Dressed to Kill? What is this about?

Dressed to Kill begins with an introduction to Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson): Kate is a bored and sexually frustrated housewife who wants to find a solution to her problems. She tries to accomplish this, not by bothering to try to communicate with her husband, but instead seeking a hookup at a museum after her therapist Dr. Robert Elliott (Sir Michael Caine) turns her down first. After learning that her hookup has VD, Kate rushes to leave the hotel. Instead of returning home, she is murdered in the hotel elevator by Dr. Elliott's psychotic transgender patient Bobbi. Kate's murder is witnessed by plucky sex worker Liz Blake (Nancy "MVP" Allen). Bobbi, witnessing Liz's witnessing of her murder of Kate, sets her sights on killing Liz next. With the police being useless, Liz's only hope lies in a team up with Kate's son Peter (Keith Gordon) to stop Bobbi once and for all.

How is Dressed to Kill queer?

Dressed to Kill's primary queer element is found in its killer, Bobbi: Spoiler alert (even though I rarely give those here), but the Bobbi the killer is actually the repressed femininity of therapist Dr. Elliott. In what has been debated to be either an extensive homage or a total rip-off of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, Dr. Elliott is revealed at the end to be a transwoman in denial of her true gender. Keeping in line with the film's rampant theme of duality, we are given two explanations about Dr. Elliott/Bobbi: The first is the police explaining that whenever Dr. Elliott/Bobbi is aroused by a woman, such as Kate or Liz, their arousal activates Bobbi, whom seeks to eliminate whatever woman is causing the arousal. The second is Liz explaining to Peter how exactly the surgery Bobbi wanted, but Dr. Elliott didn't want, works in aiding the transition from male to female. There is also a lengthy scene literally split between Liz and Dr. Elliott that features Dr. Elliott watching a talk show interview featuring real life transwoman Nancy Hunt as the guest talking about her experience as a transwoman, something that is meant to contrast with the nature of Dr. Elliott/Bobbi.

Sir Michael Caine as Dr. Elliott / Bobbi in Dressed to Kill

Is this good queer representation?

If there's one thing you can say about Dressed to Kill, it's that it's very much a product of its time: There is a lot of now outdated terminology and tropes present in the film,  the worst of it being the use of the depraved/psychotic queer person trope. Especially since not only is the killer transgender, but since Dr. Elliott/Bobbi is a woman trapped in a man's body who is explicitly sexually aroused by other women, she's also a lesbian to boot. Characters that are explicitly or implicitly lesbian and/or trans have been villainized or depicted in other unflattering fashions for years, and Dressed to Kill is no exception. Not to mention that with the controversy surrounding trans visibility, particularly in terms of casting trans performers to play transgender roles, there is no way that De Palma would be able to cast Michael Caine as Dr. Elliott/Bobbi today without backlash. Frankly, as it stands, I think that this entire movie most likely couldn't get made today without some serious revamping.

However, as I said, this is a product of its time and as much as the queer representation is messy, there's a few points of potential redemption in its favor. The first is that De Palma is careful to use (then) proper terminology in the film: As one example, in the year 1980 (the year of Dressed to Kill's original release) terms like "transsexual" instead of transgender or transwoman were actually considered correct. It wasn't until around 1987, seven years after the the film's original release, that the usage of the latter terms started to take the place of transsexual as being the preferred vocabulary. The second is the aforementioned use of the interview with Nancy Hunt: When you consider that the movie uses the troubling trope of the psychotic and murderous queer character, in this case a killer transgender lesbian, it's cathartic to see another representation of a transwoman being shown, even if it is just in a single scene. It almost feels like the movie is displaying some sort of self-awareness in this scene, wanting to tell us that, despite its antagonist being transgender, not all transgender people are evil killers and here's an example. While making a spectacle out of one transwoman, it normalizes another to assure viewers not all trans people are a certain kind of way.

The duality of trans representation in Dressed to Kill

And then, there's a third and final redemptive point to Dressed to Kill, and that is the second explanation scene. As described above, Liz describes the nitty gritties of a male to female transitional surgery to Peter in full detail. While the description may sound like De Palma asking us gawk at transgenderism once again, he adds an element to alert the viewer that this is not the case: Having an older woman, played by Mary Davenport of De Palma's earlier film Sisters, react with shock and disgust to Liz's dialogue throughout the scene. 

By putting focus on Davenport's reactions, rather than Liz's speech, De Palma gives the scene a much-needed tongue in cheek sensibility. It calls for his intended audience to laugh at an older generation for being dumbfounded and offended by this aspect of transgenderism and to find Liz's speech as informative as Peter does. Frankly, while Dressed to Kill is problematic in several ways, even beyond the queer aspects (Don't get me started on the horrible representation of anybody who's not white in the film, because I will call out De Palma for that), De Palma makes an effort for the film to be fair in terms of queer representation for 1980. And, if you watch it with that in mind, you will find that Dressed to Kill is still worth a watch in 2020.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Performance Piece: Mark Patton, "A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge" (1985)

The Performer: Mark Patton

The Performance: Playing "Jesse Walsh" in A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

Why Him?

So, I mulled over several choices as to who to write about for this month's Performance Piece. For a while it looked like I was gonna write about Heather Matarazzo's memorable turn in Hostel: Part Two, until I decided at the last minute to switch to Mark Patton in A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge. Patton is a somewhat obvious choice to write about for Pride Month since, hello! Freddy's Revenge is the infamously "too gay" Elm Street installment! Every queer male horror fan has probably talked about this movie in some fashion at this point. However, it has come to my attention that Patton is still getting a lot of unfair criticisms thrown his way (how many years later at this point?) for both his performance as final boy Jesse Walsh and for the film in general. Then, I watched the new documentary about Patton, Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street (Available on Shudder for those who want to seek it out), and my decision was solidified. Especially since, after a rewatch of the former film, I have come to the conclusion that Patton is actually pretty good in this role and really doesn't deserve the blame for any of the film's perceived shortcomings. Nor is he and his performance the cause of the film being seen as "too gay", it's actually largely due to the screenplay he has to work with.

Mark Patton as Jesse in Freddy's Revenge

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

B is for...Body Parts

In honor of it being Pride Month, each week I'm going to do a short write up about a movie with some sort of LGBTQ+ representation. This week, I'm writing about the horror film masquerading as an indie drama May, directed and written by (and also humorously co-starring) Lucky McKee.

Who is May?

May revolves around May Dove Canady (Angela Bettis): May is a young woman working at a pet hospital whom has been an outcast for her entire life due to having a lazy eye that required her to wear an eye patch throughout her youth. Now armed with contact lenses and a slowly burgeoning sense of confidence, May tries to form connections with other people in her life, including mechanic/filmmaker Adam (Jeremy Sisto) and co-worker Polly (Anna Faris). When her attempts at forming connections with Adam and Polly don't go as May planned, she becomes distraught and eventually hatches a plot based off of advice her mother gave her as a child: If you can't find a friend, make one. Which May intends to do...with body parts from the people she's trying to connect to.

What's so queer about May?

The queer content of May is mostly through the titular character: May is bisexual and, as the plot summary states, she has two primary love interests in the film in the form of Adam and Polly. May's bisexuality is explored through her attempts to connect with both, and one could also argue that the loneliness and isolation that May deals with can also be tied into her sexuality. Many members of the LGBTQ+ community often struggle with feelings of loneliness and depression for a variety of reasons associated with their sexuality throughout their life. I couldn't find an exact statistic, but one article from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that somewhere between around forty five percent of people in the LGBTQ+ community struggle with depression and anxiety. While the film explicitly shows us May struggling with her visual impairment, is it really a stretch to suggest she might have been ostracized by her peers for being bi as well?

The depression and anxiety of May

In addition to May, we also two more queer characters in the form of lesbians Polly and Polly's hookup Ambrosia. Polly's homosexuality is explored, albeit not in...the best of lights (see more on that below) and Ambrosia is a minor character and, unfortunately, doesn't get much to do besides be Polly's fling and someone who susses out May isn't good news.

Is this good queer representation?

I suppose the answer is Yes and No.

Let's begin with the negative aspects: While I enjoy the character of Polly, the character is constantly trying to put the moves onto May. Like every single scene she shows up, she's trying to get a certain something out of May. Admittedly, a few of instances are actually pretty funny, which I'm attributing to McKee's decision to cast Anna Faris as Polly. If there's anything to know about me, it's that I've always found Faris to be an underrated comedic genius and she definitely brings her humorous sensibilities to the role of Polly. What could be a one-dimensional predatory lesbian character in other hands comes across as a campy and funny character with Faris taking the reigns. It's hard not to laugh when she asks May, "Do you like pussy?" and immediately backpedals to "Cats! Do you like pussycats? God, you're a nasty little thing." However, that doesn't change the fact that the character still embodies the stereotype of the oversexed queer person. The other aspect besides Faris's performance that saves Polly from completely problematic is that she gets to deliver the film's ultimate message: When May is measuring Polly's neck during the final act of the film as preparations for her ultimate plan, she notices a mole on on Polly's finger. While May is displeased by the mole, Polly makes a comment about how her grandma said, "It's imperfections that make you special." Something that ends up becoming the film's moral.

Anna Faris as Polly in May

In addition to the messy nature of Polly's character, Ambrosia doesn't fare much better. She's ultimately in the film for two purposes: One, to be an obstacle to push apart May and Polly and two, to be another body in the body count May racks up at the end. With the rise in backlash to the "Bury Your Gays" trope in the media, that second purpose really stands out as not aging well. She also doesn't have much of a personality outside of being the only character that knows May is up to no good, having legs that are literally nice enough for May to steal and looking like Character Actress Missi Pyle. For what it's worth, Nichole Hiltz does her best with this role and at least it gives us this memorable sight gag.

May's got (Ambrosia's) legs

As for the titular character herself? I think the handling of her bisexuality is actually the best handled queer aspect of the film. Her attempts to connect with Adam and Polly are treated with equal seriousness, and the inevitable love scene between May and Polly is not as tasteless as it could be. Especially considering the film McKee would later go on to make with friend and fellow filmmaker Chris Sivertson, All Cheerleaders Die, which (and I apologize to any fans of that movie reading this) is very Male Gaze-y and, in my opinion, exploitative and mediocre compared to May. Plus, if you choose to read the film the way I do, it is a film that actually explores the impact of the consequences of the depression and anxiety that some LGBTQ+ people go through, expressed through May. While I highly doubt the vast majority of these people end up going on killing sprees like May ultimately does, the mental illnesses and effects thereof that LGBTQ+ community members go through should not be ignored.

May Dove Canady: Bicon for the ages

Next Week: The series gets a blast from the past as we move from the B to the T with Brian De Palma's problematic film Dressed to Kill.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Peeping Tom: The Hunger (1983)

(My "Peeping Tom" series is my dives into the choices filmmakers make with the look of their films. It also serves as a general appreciation of the visual aesthetics of certain films. This is the first, centered around Tony Scott's film The Hunger.) 

So, I really don't talk about this enough, but I really love The Hunger. What's not to love about it? You've got bisexual vampires, goth rock, monkeys, addiction metaphors, and a terrific threesome of lead actors in Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie and Susan Fuckin' Sarandon. So, despite the studio messing with the film and forcing a new ending on filmmaker Tony Scott and everybody involved in an attempt to turn The Hunger into a franchise (RE: cash cow), it's definitely up there for me as one of the great vampire movies.

There is one question I've had about the movie for a while, though:



this movie




Seriously, the film is so blue for most of the runtime that I have wondered for years, why did Scott choose this for the aesthetic of his film. So, I decided to do some research into what influenced Scott's choice of aesthetic for the film, including looking through some websites with discussions dedicated to The Hunger, as well as listening to Scott and Sarandon's DVD audio commentary. Here's what I found:

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

G is for...Grindr

In honor of it being Pride Month, each week I'm going to do a short write up about a movie with some sort of LGBTQ+ representation. This week, I'm writing about the TV series Into The Dark's gleefully gay installment "Midnight Kiss."

What's this "Midnight Kiss" all about?

"Midnight Kiss", the fourth episode of the second season of the horror anthology series Into The Dark, revolves around a circle of friends located in Palm Springs, California whom gather annually to celebrate New Year's together. The friends include coy Cameron (Augustus Prew), controlling Joel (Scott Evans), fun loving Hannah (Ayden Mayeri), flamboyant Zachary (Chester Lockhart), naive Logan (Luke Gage), and Ryan (Will Westwater), who doesn't get a defining trait as he's the opening kill. Part of the friends's New Year's tradition is a game called midnight kiss, in which each person finds a man willing to kiss them (consensually, of course) and then have the option to take them home afterwards or not. In the midst of their celebrations, a killer wearing a pup mask begins to target the friends one by one with the intent on wiping them all out. Can the friends contend with the killer, as well as the rising animosity among themselves?

The main ensemble of "Midnight Kiss", in (slightly) better times

What's so queer about "Midnight Kiss"?

"Midnight Kiss" was queer from its genesis onward: Screenwriter Erlingur Thoroddsen, who is queer himself, was approached by Blumhouse Studios to craft an episode for the New Year's slot for Into The Dark's second season. He was not given many specifications, besides the New Year's theme and to craft his screenplay with some queer male content which he obviously ran with. Eventually, Carter Smith, who identifies as gay, was hired to direct, and the cast of mostly queer male actors as the gay male characters, something that was an order of Blumhouse interestingly enough, was assembled. The queer men cast includes Prew, Evans, Lockhart, Gage and Adam Faison, who plays Cameron's potential midnight kiss Dante.

Thoroddsen and Smith's work, itself, is also seeped in several things gay: Besides the characters with the exception of Hannah all being gay men, "Midnight Kiss" examines certain aspects of gay male culture. Including the potential incestuous nature of gay male friend circles (memorably referred to the "sluttiest game of musical chairs ever"), the effects of rejection and gate keeping in the gay community and circuit parties. Plus the use of gay male vernaculars, such as the discussion of using hookup apps including Grindr, the use of PrEP and, of course, the iconic insult, "fucking psychopath bottom who doesn't know what he wants." "Midnight Kiss" also isn't afraid to depict gay male sexuality frankly, as there's multiple love scenes with the men and many, many male ass shots. Those ass shots are abundant to the point where I tried to count how many there were on my last viewing, and let's just say there's enough butt shots to give you alcohol poisoning if you tried to do a drinking game to this.

Some slices of the queer male sexuality of "Midnight Kiss"

I also think it's worth noting that "Midnight Kiss" does take its time to explore the effects of abuse in gay male relationships through the character of Joel and his relationships with Cameron and Logan. Joel, who used to date Cameron before they broke up and is now engaged to Logan, is shown to be an abuser who tries to dominate every aspect of his and Logan's new relationship, while secretly desiring to have Cameron back in his grasp without actually having to commit to him. This isn't explored as often as one might expect, especially in mainstream American LGBTQ+ content, so I give props to Thoroddsen and Smith for willing to explore this in the film.

Is this good queer representation?

I have somewhat mixed feelings about "Midnight Kiss"'s representation: On one hand, I think the film does an awesome job at normalizing gay men. Their conversations, behaviors and culture are not made a spectacle of or made fun of unless it's the characters teasing each other. Certain issues within the gay male community are also treated with legitimacy, something we can likely credit to having multiple queer men behind the camera as well as in front of it. It's also really great to see a proper gay male slasher since, from what I've learned from listening to one of the latest episodes of the amazing Horror Queers podcast, the only other proper gay male slashers are 2004's Hellbent and 2018's Killer Unicorn, neither of which I can comment on since I haven't seen either. Another aspect of the film that I really like is the casting of Augustus Prew as final boy Cameron: Not only do I enjoy his performance but, as a gay man who's never been skinny myself, it's awesome to see Prew not be stick thin or extremely buff as most queer men in the media seem to be. I'm not calling Prew fat, or even chubby frankly, but seeing a queer man on screen who isn't super muscular or a size zero is fucking awesome.

Where my less than positive feelings come in is with regards to the character of Hannah: While I do enjoy Ayden Mayeri's performance and the fun energy the character brings, it kind of rubs me the wrong way that the heart of a film so heavy on the queer male content is a straight woman and her friendship with one of the gay men. I personally feel that there are two things that would've made me like "Midnight Kiss" even more: One, make Hannah the killer and give us some commentary on the sometimes fetishistic treatment of queer men and their sexuality by straight women. And two, make the heart of the film the dynamic between Cameron and Logan, which would hypothetically burgeon after surviving both a killer and Joel's abuse of them. In my opinion, that could have been some legitimately powerful material. Alas, I don't fault Midnight Kiss for not going in a different direction with its choices, but I can't help but feel there were some missed opportunities. However, "Midnight Kiss" does a good enough job with its representation that I do recommend seeking this out on Hulu.

Cameron & Hannah: The heart of "Midnight Kiss"

Next week: I'm heading from the G to the B with a film that I consider director Lucky McKee's masterpiece, 2002's May starring Angela Bettis.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

L is for...Lesnicki

In honor of it being Pride Month, each week I'm going to do a short write up about a movie with some sort of LGBTQ+ representation and talk about the content and the quality of said content. I decided to begin with a personal favorite of mine: Jennifer's Body.

Quick, what's Jennifer's Body about?

So, for those of you who don't love this movie as much as I do, here's what Jennifer's Body is about: In the small town of Devil's Kettle, Minnesota we follow teenage best friends Needy Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried) and Jennifer Check (Megan Fox). When a band Jennifer follows, Low Shoulder, arrives to play a gig at a dive bar in town, Jennifer drags Needy along for the show. As Low Shoulder plays, the bar is mysteriously set on fire, which Needy and Jennifer escape from. However, Jennifer, in shock, gets separated from Needy by Low Shoulder's sinister lead singer Nikolai (Adam Brody). When she resurfaces later in the night at Needy's house, she is disheveled, bloody and puking spiked black vomit. The next day, Jennifer shows up at class seemingly back to normal, much to Needy's confusion. However, the truth soon becomes clear: Jennifer has become possessed by a demon after a botched sacrificial ritual courtesy of Low Shoulder, which transformed her into a boy-eating succubus, one that only Needy can stop.

What's so queer about Jennifer's Body?

Since Jennifer's Body gradually gained its cult following of more than just me over the ten plus years since its release, there's been a lot of discussion about the film's queer content. Specifically, that there is, to paraphrase the DVD commentary featuring director Karyn Kusama and screenwriter Diablo Cody, a romance being conveyed between Jennifer and Needy. Something set up very early when another character calls Needy "totally lesbigay" for happily waving to Jennifer. Although this romance between Jennifer and Needy is not as explicit it could be, barring one scene that I'll get into a bit later, the queerness of the two girls is something that is definitely there if you're looking for it.

Needy and Jennifer, "Totally lesbigay"

I think that Jennifer's queerness is particularly prominent: A lot of Jennifer's actions after being transformed into a succubus is to use her new demonic powers to eliminate anybody Needy expresses interest in or fondness of. The obvious example is her attack on Chip at the climax of the film, as Chip is Needy's boyfriend and Jennifer's main competition for Needy. Something Needy addresses somewhat when she literally asks Jennifer "Why Chip?" Then there's Colin Gray, the Emo boy who's friends with Needy and carries a torch for Jennifer. Jennifer is initially disinterested, turning down his offer to go see The Rocky Horror Picture Horror because "I don't like boxing movies." It's not until Needy tells Jennifer that she likes Colin that Jennifer just conveniently gains interest in Colin. Finally, you have the character only known as "Ahmet from India." (Something Cody says was part of an attempt to parody American xenophobia.) Ahmet from India is a pretty minor character, only showing up twice, but in his first scene it's Needy who points him out to Jennifer in a pleasant manner. Which leads to Jennifer finding him in his second scene and eventually taking him with the intent on eating him. Basically, the point I'm trying to make is Jennifer, essentially, wants Needy to herself and will literally eat anybody who gets in her way for Needy to keep her best friend isolated and dependent on her, in hopes that Needy will eventually reciprocate her love someday. Something that she smartly tries to conceal by eating a fourth boy, Jonas, to cover up the pattern that connects her other three victims.

Needy's queerness, unlike Jennifer's, is a little harder to pin down: Needy is shown to be quite happily dating Chip throughout most of the film and is shown to be mourning his loss near the end of the film's timeline. However, she definitely has a very queer connection with Jennifer, one that directly leads into a scene I mentioned earlier that Kusama and Cody refer to as "The scene": Where Jennifer kisses Needy, who responds by full-on making out with Jennifer. There has been debate for a long time as to whether this scene has a purpose in the story, or if it's just for an assumed straight male audience to get off to. Not helping matters is the fact that in the draft of the screenplay that's available to read online, "The scene" is nowhere to be found. However, a defense slash reading of "The scene" can be found in arguing that it's not to pander to men who just want to drool over Megan Fox, but rather its purpose is to display where Needy's sexual attraction truly lies. Compare Needy initiating making out with Jennifer versus her sex scene with Chip: The sex starts off normal, but is then interrupted when Needy begins having visions of Jennifer. Needy literally stops having sex with Chip, because she can't stop thinking of Jennifer. It's somewhat reminiscent of the attempted sex scene from the infamously queer film A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge, which features the male protagonist, Jesse, attempting to have sex with his girlfriend before his possession by Freddy gets triggered, which makes him run away. Like Jesse before her, Needy be queer.

Cinematic Parallels: Jennifer's Body & A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge

There's plenty more queerness to be found in Jennifer's Body, including the subtle scene where one character calls Low Shoulder "a bunch of f*g-o's" and Jennifer objects to it. One can read that scene as a part of the film's commentary on small town culture, but one can also read it as a queer woman objecting to an anti-gay slur (Which, you go, Jennifer!) Then, there's also how Jennifer is ultimately defeated: When the two girls are having their final fight, Needy rips off Jennifer's BFF necklace and tosses it to the floor. The BFF necklace is significant, because it is established early in the film that both girls have one as a symbol of their close connection since childhood. When Needy tosses the necklace away, Jennifer looks crestfallen and falls to her bed, allowing Needy to finish her off despite still having the power to eat and kill Needy. This is totally Jennifer realizing Needy is never going to be able to reciprocate the love Jennifer has for her, and choosing to die rather than have to live life knowing Needy will never love her back. Whether you look at the bigger scenes or the littler details, Jennifer's Body is undeniably stuffed with queerness. 

Is this good queer representation?

Well, let's look at the protagonists: Jennifer is a man-killing succubus who exhibits abusive behavior towards her best friend/love interest, with whom she has a toxically feminine and co-dependent connection with. Needy is a queer woman whose queerness is somewhat hard to pin down without going into full analysis mode, as well as the fact that she ends up killing the other major queer character in the film. Not to mention there is some material that hasn't exactly aged well, including Jennifer's use of "I go both ways" to Needy as a punchline when the latter says she thought Jennifer only ate boys. So, this is some fairly problematic queer representation. However, I still think Jennifer's Body isn't the worst in terms of representation since Needy does survive, giving us a badass queer heroine who makes it to the end, and Jennifer is an extremely memorable antagonist. And, on top of it all, Jennifer's Body is just a fun and interesting watch that's worth seeking out.

Next week: I'm going from the L to the G with the second New Year's installment of Hulu's anthology series Into The Dark, otherwise known as "Midnight Kiss"!

Monday, June 1, 2020

New Flesh: Knife+Heart (2019)

The Film: Knife+Heart (2019) (A.K.A. Un couteau dans le coeur)

What Is It About?: Set in Paris, France during the year 1979, Knife+Heart revolves around a masked serial killer as they begins to murder gay porn performers with their weapon of choice: A switchblade dildo. As the bodies pile up, gay porn producer Anne (Vanessa Paradis) juggles trying to solve the mystery of the murderer to protect her gay porn studio while trying to win back her ex-girlfriend and film editor Lois (Kate Moran). Eventually, Anne goes on a journey that leads her to the answers she needs to solve the mystery, but can she stop the killer in time?

Why Do I Recommend it?

So, to kick off June (in which, in honor of Pride Month, I'll be writing about LGBTQ content in horror films throughout the month), I wanted to write about Knife+Heart since I figure despite it having been released in America over a year ago, this might not be on a lot of people's radars for several reasons. Probably among the major ones being that it was only given a limited theatrical release in America, and that it is subtitled. Even though the demand for viewers to read subtitles has grown recently, there's a reason why the joke from Daria where Daria and Jane get Kevin and Brittany to literally flee in terror at the idea of a subtitled foreign film still holds up today.

Why shouldn't you flee from Knife+Heart? Well, let's start by talking about that aforementioned queer content: This movie is filled to the brim with queer goodness, which should be obvious from the fact that the entire plot revolves around a gay porn production, and one for a film that is given the title Anal Fury to boot. Most, if not all, of the characters are somewhere in the LGBTQ spectrum, including our protagonist Anne, to the numerous queer men involved in Anal Fury including Anne's confidant and director Archibald, to a queer character who works as a fluffer on the production and is only known as "Mouth of Gold." The only major straight character seems to be Nans, a man Anne recruits to star in Anal Fury whom claims to be straight and supposedly takes the job for the money. It can be argued that Nans might be queer though, as one of the final set pieces of the film follows him going to a dark room with the potential intent on having sex. In addition to all of this, you have several set pieces dedicated to the scenes for the adult film within the film, which does include one scene with a cum shot just to hammer in the gayness of it all.

Besides that sweet, sweet queer content, you also have the fact that, and I'm repeating myself with what I wrote in my recommendation for Swallow, this film is beautiful with a capital B. Cinematographer Simon Beaufils (most well known for his work on The Intouchables) crafts seriously striking sequences, including some splendid murder scenes that help Knife+Heart in its goal to tribute the giallo genre (more on that in a bit). Instead of just telling you about the cinematography, just take a look at some of the shots below and try to tell me that you don't think that is a stylish film:

The combination of the film's color palette which, again like Swallow, emphasizes primary colors and Beaufils's camera work makes Knife+Heart a delight for the eyes and then some.

Finally, what I think Knife+Heart excels at is its dedication to blending genres to create an effective film. As I touched upon above, the major genre Knife+Heart is channeling is the giallo genre. If you would like a well-done explanation of giallo, I recommend watching this video on the topic. Otherwise, the best way to explain giallo in brief is that the films within the genre generally have an emphasis on a mystery typically involving a killer offing victims, as well as stylish visuals and a female protagonist determined to solve the mystery. Knife+Heart hits all of those tropes to a tee. Yet it's not just a giallo tribute, as there are elements of other genres too. You have romance with the subplot that deals with Anne's increasingly desperate attempts to win back her ex Lois. As well as comedy, as the film has a number of surprisingly hilarious moments, that includes memorable lines such as, "I want you all naked and stiffer than President Valentin," and "She saw so many gay flicks, she thought she was a f-g." Knife+Heart knows the ridiculousness that the world of gay adult films can veer into, and mixes it effortlessly with a dramatic lesbian romance and a murder mystery to create something very much worth watching.

Available on: Shudder, Kanopy, iTunes and Amazon