Tag Archives: Linda Williams

When A Woman Screams Part 2: Sex & violence in hard core pornography & the slasher film

When A Woman Screams Part 2

“Generally, I don’t think pornography degrades women”

-Madonna “Sex” (1992)

“They’re all the same. It’s always some stupid killer stalking some

big breasted girl-who can’t act-who always runs up the stairs when

she should be going out the front door. They’re ridiculous.”

–       Sidney (Scream. Dir. Wes Craven. Dimension Films. 1996)

Violence and sex.  Sex and violence.  These two hot topics have provoked many bloody debates over the past couple of decades, and have continued to captivate society.  Whether it is in the media, the music, or in the movies, people have analyzed and disputed the use of violence and sex time and time again.  However, the truth is that our culture thrives on this discourse.  Sex sells.  The war on Iraq is broadcast on CNN twenty four hours a day.  Sexually violent content in the arts is as much of an influence on society as it is a reflection of our times.  The controversy it generates demands that we question whether sex and violence in the arts is harmful, or whether it is disturbing for people because it is representational of the reality that we live in.  Two of the more controversial types of films are slasher flicks and hard core pornography.  When The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was released in 1974, a new genre of films was born; the slasher film, and the genre was heavily criticized for it’s excessive use of gore and mindless violence, especially violence against women.  The franchise was as underground as it was mainstream, and its popularity continues to thrive in the present day, with sequels to Halloween and Friday the 13th being released just last year.  The “Golden Age” of pornography was also in the 1970’s.  Big budget hard core porn became more accessible to the public, and also became more explicit in its use of sex and violence, with movies such as Deep Throat sparking controversy over its blatant degradation of women.  By the 1980’s, slasher flicks had reached their peak in production, and with the rise of video games and music videos, the concern over the effects of violence increased.  In the meantime, the billion dollar porn industry was undergoing a backlash as women began to speak out about their experiences in the porn film.  The dispute over pornography increased; not only were people concerned with what went on in front of the camera, but were also becoming more aware of what women went through off screen as well.  Both slasher films and hard core pornography have undergone much criticism over the years for it’s use of sex and violence against women and the impact this could have on society.  Both genres function in similar ways and share many characteristics, particularly in the way women are viewed.  Though they share many common aspects, they also differ in regards to the overall influence they have on the individual.  By comparing and contrasting the use of sex and violence against women in slasher films and hard core pornography, we will attempt to decide whether these films are harmful and whether they deserve to be criticized and persecuted.

The slasher film has come to be defined by a number of basic characteristics.  A group of adolescents are terrorized by a masked or deformed male psychotic killer and are killed off one by one in various gruesome ways until only one survivor remains who defeats the killer, or at least until the sequel.  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre established this narrative, and has been the basis for slasher films throughout the eighties such as: Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday The 13th.  The genre continued it’s popularity throughout the nineties with films such as Scream, and I Know What You Did Last Summer.  The production value is very low, relying on cheap locations, a no name cast, low budget camera work and cheesy effects, basically guaranteeing a profit at the box office because of the low investment into the films.  The survivor at the end of the film is always a female, or who Carol Clover defines as the “final girl”[1].  She, alone, must defeat the killer at the end of the film after being chased, wounded and tortured while watching each of her friends die by her side.  She is considered to be a “good girl”, smart, responsible, vulnerable and is not as sexually active as her peers.  Stylistically, the slasher flick is filmed in a way that objectifies the final girl.  The most infamous shot is the point of view shot from the killer.  For instance the opening sequence of Halloween is shot entirely from the killer’s point of view.  We watch through his eyes as he mounts the stairs, knife in hand, sees his half naked sister brushing her hair, and then kills her.  By placing the audience in the position of the killer we are allowed in a privileged, intimate killing situation and the female is at a more vulnerable disadvantage.  This voyeuristic camera work creates the misogyny found in slasher films, for the male viewing audience is allowed to be in a sadistic position.  Pinedo quotes another feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey when discussing this particular system of viewing in slasher films, how “the victims are positioned through the male gaze as objects of sexual investigation: surveyed and eroticized before they are killed”[2].  The way in which a woman looks and how she is viewed creates the link between sex and violence in the slasher film.  The film Scream was incredibly influential in the way it addressed the stereotypes of slasher films and transcended the so-called “rules” of the genre because the final girl Sydney survives in the end despite having sexual relations.  At one point a character in Scream states that: “There are certain rules that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie. For instance: 1. You can never have sex. The minute you get a little nookie–you’re as good as gone. Sex always equals death.”[3].  The final girl, the good girl, survives in the end of the film because she does not have sex, remaining a virgin throughout the course of the film.  For instance in Halloween, Laurie, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, is the single, responsible babysitter unlike her friends who are off having fun with their boyfriends.  Michael Myers, the stalking, psychotic, killer, gruesomely murders all of her friends, and in the end Laurie must fight him on her own.  Laurie remains sexually inactive throughout the film, compared to her friends who are killed off after they have sex.  The females, however, are always eroticized before they are killed, thus linking sex with violence against women in the slasher film.  Before the female is killed, the P.O.V shot is used to place the audience in the killer’s position.  The male audience experiences voyeuristic sadistic pleasure as the killer stalks his prey, spying on the female who is generally clad in skimpy clothes.  For example in Halloween, Laurie’s friend Annie spills oil all over her clothes.  We watch her over the shoulder of Michael Myers, as she strips off all her clothes and puts on a loose, button down shirt.  We continue to watch from his point of view as he stalks her around the house until he finally murders her in a car, still half naked.  His next victim is Laurie’s other friend, Linda.  After watching Linda and her boyfriend have sex, Michael Myers kills her boyfriend in the kitchen, and then goes back to the bedroom wearing a sheet like a ghost costume.  Linda, believing him to be her boyfriend, taunts him by exposing her breasts.  When she receives no reaction, she becomes bored and phones Laurie.  Michael Myers then comes behind her and proceeds to strangle her, half naked, with the telephone cord.  Laurie listens to her choke to death over the phone, but because the choking sounds like Linda is having sex, and Laurie assumes she is playing a trick on her.  The connection between sex and death is made very clear in these two examples from Halloween.  The male viewer is allowed in the voyeuristic position of the killer, and when he sees the naked female body the woman is punished for being sexual.  While the females are eroticized before they are punished, the final girl shares a slightly different relationship with the monster.  In Linda Williams’ essay “When The Woman Looks”, she examines the way the woman “looks” in horror films and what happens when she is granted the power of the gaze.  The look, or the “gaze” is the classic horror shot; a close up reaction shot of the female screaming.  When the “good girl” is granted the power of the gaze, she is punished, and it is this look that establishes her relationship between the monster and the audience, as it transforms the female into a “masochistic fantasy”[4].  When the monster looks at the female, he experiences what Laura Mulvey describes as “castration anxiety” [5].  When the monster gazes at the woman, he sees a mutilated version of his own body and believes that she acknowledges this distortion of her own image, and this drives the monster to punish her.  When the woman looks at the monster, she is horrified because she not only sees a monster, but she recognizes their similar threat to patriarchy, for their relationship is unique in such a way to threaten the male ego.  The look between a woman and the monster reveals the power of “nonphallic sexuality”[6].  The final girl is denied sexual pleasure throughout the film, and when she recognizes that they are both “freaks”, she must be punished for looking and posing a threat to male masculinity.  Since the male views the female through the eyes of the killer, he experiences both the feeling of castration anxiety and the threat to male potency that the female projects. When the female is being punished, the release of this tension within the male viewer gives him sadistic pleasure.

The female gaze is equally as important in the genre of hard core pornography and both genres share common aspects that focus the gaze of the film onto the female.  Similarly to slasher films, the production value of hard core porn is extremely low.  In the two films examined, The Dark Room and Torment, the mise-en-scene and camera work were extremely low budget.  In the first part of Torment, it appears as though it was shot hand held on video, like a home movie, while the second part of the film took place in the storage room of a film studio.  Straight porn films obviously do not need to concentrate on strong narratives, good camera work or expensive sets, for they will make a profit as long as they accomplish the one main goal of hard core pornography; sadistic voyeurism and the female gaze.

According to Berkeley Kaite, there are three corresponding looks of the female model in straight, hard core pornography: the look of pleasure, the look that is directed at the genitals, and the female’s involvement with the camera/viewer [7].  These three looks create the same relationship between the male viewer and the objectified female body as the gaze in slasher films.  The look of pleasure is similar to the gaze of the final girl when she reacts to seeing the monster, a close up shot that “simulates sexual ecstasy and is signified by closed eyes, open mouth, and head tilted back”[8].  A close up of a female screaming during an orgasm is very much like the close up of a female screaming in fear.  The face of the female is always well exposed to accentuate this look and is similarly highlighted in slasher films, by first revealing the close up of the horrified female to emphasize the gaze.  The audience’s fear is heightened not in view of the monster but because of the female’s reaction to the monster and the relationship it creates. The female face in hard core porn is never covered by a mask or hidden in shadow, for much of the pleasure of viewing is constructed by seeing her facial reaction: “the emphasis here is on the feminine look of pleasure produced, and passion consumed” [9]. For example, in the hard core porn film The Dark Room in the first segment, the film would cut between a close up of the face of the dominatrix and a close up of her “victim”; a female strapped in a circular contraption that pins back her limbs.  However, the male “victim” is more removed from the scene and stands in the shadows and we never see a close up of his face. His face is never “given diegetic dominance; when it is figured at all (and more often it is not), it bears either the look of amused or bored detachment or combinations of pain and ecstasy”[10].  In hard core pornography, the male’s face is shot in a very different way in contrast to the female in order to maximize voyeuristic male identification. In The Dark Room, the male viewer experiences the enjoyment of watching the dominatrix giving pleasure and the “victim” receiving pain, without the interference of the male model’s gaze. The dominatrix takes the role of the powerful male, and allows the male spectator to watch both women gaze at each other without experiencing any feelings of homoeroticism. If there are two men in the same scene as a woman, the men are portrayed through what Kaite describes as the “genital look”[11]; they are signified by their genitals.  Men and woman look at each other’s genitals and woman and woman can share the same look, however two men will never share a look with each other.  This would threaten the voyeuristic gaze, because it is “essentially autoerotic: its object is the subject’s own body”[12] and when a man’s genitals are shown, the male viewer experiences narcissistic pleasure.  He envisions a “fragmented vision/version of his own body, usually seen in conjunction with the female’s facial signifiers of pleasure”[13].  This can be compared with the sadistic voyeuristic position that a male viewer holds when he watches a slasher film, and how he is allowed to be part of the female gaze through the eyes of the killer.  This leads into the final “look” that Kaite defines as the “direct address” look, when only the female is permitted to directly look into the camera and address the viewer[14].  For instance in The Dark Room, the film begins with an extreme close up of the face of a dominatrix who looks directly into the camera and says: “They call me mistress, and they do what I please.  Come into my dark room and experience the pleasure of my world”.  By using this opening shot, the boundaries between subject and viewer are immediately broken.  By having the male “victim” watching in the shadows, it suggests a certain code of behaviour for the audience to follow.  This system of looks is constructed identically in the slasher film.  As discussed earlier, the male viewer is invited into a voyeuristic position where he can experience the gaze of the female.  The killer’s face is always masked or deformed in the slasher film, just as the male face is never objectified in the porn film.  Michael Myers wears a hockey mask, Freddy Krueger’s face is burned, the face of the fisherman killer in I Know What You Did Last Summer is hidden within the shadows of his hooded raincoat.  By removing the killer’s reaction completely, the male viewer is permitted sole viewing pleasure of the female.  In the second part of The Dark Room entitled “Taylor’s Exam”, the male stands in the dark while the dominatrix “examines” her female patient.  When the male enters the scene to penetrate the female, his whole face is covered with a leather mask.  This whole dynamic of the masked male penetrating the female is the same phallic motif used in the slasher film when the masked killer descends upon the female victim to penetrate her with his weapon.

The use of weapons in slasher films and the use of sex toys in hard core porn films are the more literal images that link sex and violence against women. Weapons are used as important symbols of patriarchal control in slasher films.  Clover notes that the preferred weapons of killers are not guns, but “pretechnological” weapons such as knives, hammers, and axes because they are “personal, extensions of the body that bring attacker and attacked into primitive, animalistic embrace”[15].  For example, in Halloween, Michael Myers attacks his victims with a huge butcher knife.  The fact that the ideal weapon is a knife and not a gun, suggests the need to have physical contact with the victim, to feel the knife penetrating through their body and to feel them squirm and hear them scream before they die.  The knife is very much a phallic symbol, and it represents the patriarchal need to dominate and exert power.  The sex toys in pornography are a strong connecting factor between sex and violence as well.  Similarly to how the woman is punished for being sexual in the slasher film, the female in hard core porn is punished for being sexual as well.  The women wear collars, which are a symbol of ownership or control, and are usually dominated by a “mistress” such as in The Dark Room, who takes on the role of the dominating male.  The females are also clad in leather, which “shares an affinity with objects that are used as weapons”[16], such as the whip.  Woman will use any number of “weapons” on each other or will order a male to do so, and this includes, whips, handcuffs and other forms of bondage, as well as dildos and butt plugs, which can be seen as extensions of the human body.  These “weapons” are used against the female similarly to how they are used to punish the women in slasher films for being sexual.  For instance, in Torment, while spanking her female “victim”, the mistress asks if she’s been a bad girl, and when she says yes, the mistress whips her behind and asks if she likes it.  This not only links sex and violence, but it associates the pleasure of sex and violence against the woman.  Another “weapon” used in hard core pornography is the shoe.  According to Kaite, the stiletto shoe is a fetish that is threatening because a woman wearing spike heels is a dangerous image[17].  Once again, it represents an extension of the body, it is hard and slender, yet the heel can also create castration anxiety within the male.  As in slasher films, the male experiences anxiety because the female is castrated, and the stiletto is a “continual seductive reminder of this”[18] for it has the power to cut, and to penetrate.  The shoe evokes a castration anxiety that is similar to that felt in the slasher film.  When the male looks at the fetish, he feels anxiety because he senses the possibility for the mutilation of his penis.  Although he is aroused, he is also threatened, thus driving him to penetrate the woman, and punish her.  The weapons used in both slasher and porn films are important because they literally link the use of sex and violence against woman.

By examining the film I Spit On Your Grave, we can see how it draws from both the slasher film and the hard core porn film in the way it uses sex, violence, and the female body.  The film is very low budget, with rough camera work, a simple location and no name actors. The final girl in the film is Jennifer, a young woman who decides to leave the city and finish writing her book at a remote cottage.  One day, while sunbathing in her canoe, a group of rednecks attack her.  They take turns raping and abusing her in the forest.  When she finally stumbles back home, they are waiting there to rape and abuse her again.  The second half of the movie is about Jennifer’s revenge.  She seduces each of the men who raped her and kills them. The film is disturbing “because of its perverse simplicity”[19].  The raw camera work creates the illusion of reality, which is very disturbing when there are scenes with graphic sex and violence; we see full nudity, blood and the full penetration of both penis and weapon.  The film is very vulnerable in the sense that it doesn’t attempt to hide anything.  The rapes and murders all occur in broad daylight, which is against the norm for slasher films.  The monster(s) in the film are the rednecks, and are “normal”, for “their brutality is not traced to dysfunctional upbringing”[20]. The film is shocking because of this realistic and familiar quality, yet this rape/revenge film also brings together many aspects of both slasher and hard core porn films.  For instance, Jennifer is the objectified final girl.  As she lies sun tanning in her canoe in a very skimpy bikini, we are thrusted into the point of view of the rednecks who are spying on her from the forest.  This is the sadistic voyeurism used in slasher films, as the “monsters” scope out the vulnerable, eroticized female site.  When they drag her into the forest, we are confronted by close ups of her terrified, anguished face.  She is being punished for looking and because of her sexuality. At one point Johnny, one of the rednecks, says; “you deserve it, you knew everyone could see you prancing around in that tiny bathing suit of yours”, therefore punishing her for arousing him.  The men experience castration anxiety when they see her body, and they must try to overcome this anxiety through force to prove their masculinity. When the men are raping Jennifer, the scene is shot in a very external way, it is mostly filmed in long shots with no close ups of the males.  As in hard core porn, the men never share the look with each other.  Although they are standing around Jennifer and watching each other rape her, it avoids any feelings of homoeroticism by displacing it onto the redneck name Matthew, the mentally challenged virgin of the group.  They cheer him on, and the gang rape scene resembles more of a male sport. The men commit the rape “more for each other’s edification than for physical pleasure”[21].  The dynamic of the male group invites masochistic male spectatorship, for the male viewer is allowed to participate in the group event and can gaze at the female site uninterrupted.  By portraying Matthew as the inexperienced male, the rest of the group is able to compare their masculinity through him.  By raping and beating Jennifer, they prove their heterosexual masculinity.  For the male spectator, he experiences the narcissistic pleasure found in hard core porn.  Since he is able to be in a voyeuristic position, he too compares himself through Matthew and can experience the pleasure of domination and control.

Although the first half of I Spit On Your Grave shares many characteristics with the hard core porn film in the way looks are constructed to maximize the voyeuristic enjoyment of sex and violence against the female, the second half of the film is strongly reminiscent of the slasher film.  After Jennifer recovers from her ordeal, she decides to seek revenge on the rednecks who violated her.  The connection between sex and violence is heightened in the way Jennifer kills the “monsters”.  First she seduces Matthew and hangs him from a tree.  The way in which she kills him is a direct reflection of the damage he inflicted on her.  He was unable to penetrate her, and his “limp hanging” is a symbolic reference to his inability to sustain an erection.  The second redneck she kills is Johnny, and at first she holds him at gunpoint and orders him to take off his pants.  However, she then decides to bring him back to her place where she seduces him in the bathtub.  As she gives him a hand job, he says “God bless your hands, that’s so sweet…that’s so sweet it’s painful” and at that moment she picks up a large knife and cuts off his penis, leaving him to bleed to death.  She literally castrates him using the phallic, masculine weapon.  By using a knife instead of a gun, it reflects the need to penetrate the victim, and how “a hands-on knifing answers a hands-on rape in a way that a shooting, even a shooting preceded by a humiliation, does not”[22].  She punished him in the same way he punished her, because of the sexual threat they invoked.  This film draws together the major elements of slasher and hard core porn films and illustrates the powerful connection between sex and violence against the female, and what she must do to empower and defend herself.

After examining I Spit On Your Grave, one can understand how a male spectator views slasher and porn films, through masochistic voyeurism.  This has created much controversy for it brings into question whether slasher and porn films influence men to be sexually aggressive towards woman.  I Spit On Your Grave draws upon the idea of the rape myth, scenarios that show women receiving sexual pleasure from rape, which is a common theme in hard core pornography.  It is important to note however, that Jennifer never displays any looks of pleasure while she is being raped, and “expresses nothing but protest, fear and pain”[23].  However, throughout the film, the rednecks say that she deserves to be raped for sun tanning in her bikini, and Johnny says that “she really liked it” and believes that she is coming back for more.  Scenes in films such as this can have an enormous impact on the attitudes males develop towards females and sex: “the more they see, the more likely they are to believe that woman really enjoy rape and prefer force in sex”[24]. Neil Malamuth conducted a study at UCLA, where he exposed male subjects to ten minutes of hard core pornography where women were being aggressed.  He found that they were much more willing to accept these rape myths, such as “woman who wear provocative clothing are putting themselves in a place to get raped”[25].  Not only were these subject more accepting of myths about why a woman should be raped, but they also believed that she found pleasure in being raped.  After being shown a sexually violent film in which a woman is turned on by being raped, the study showed that after five minutes of exposure, normal males believed that twenty five percent of the woman they knew would enjoy being raped[26].  With results such as these, allowing the male in the sadistic voyeuristic position can be a harmful influence.  The way the looks are constructed in hard core pornography are very powerful, and effectively focus on objectifying the female and creating a certain intimacy with the male spectator.  When a former rapist was asked why he raped women, he responded by saying: “….because I am basically as a male, a predator and all women look to men like prey.  I fantasize about the expression on a woman’s face when I “capture” her and she realizes she cannot escape.  It’s like I won, I own her”[27].  The look that this former rapist is alluding to is the exact close up shot of the female gaze that is emphasized in slasher and hard core porn.  If these films objectify the female gaze in this way, can it be harmful because of the pleasure it evokes?  Neil Malamuth conducted another study that examined sexual arousal.  He found that fifty to sixty percent of the male students who participated showed some degree of sexual arousal when watching a rape scene in which the victim showed enjoyment.  However, only ten percent of his subjects were sexually aroused by extreme, gory violence where there was very little sexual content[28].  Thus, if hard core pornography is more sexually arousing for men than a slasher film, there is a chance that watching pornography will have a stronger influence on their behaviour.  The fact that pornography is used as ejaculation material subconsciously conditions men to associate rape with arousing female images[29].  The sadistic voyeurism that pornography allows creates a connection that is more harmful than the voyeurism found in slasher films because of the ejaculation conditioning.  Men are more likely to use pornography as ejaculation material than a slasher flick, for hard core pornography is built on fantasy and desire, and glorifies the content.  Slasher films also release tension, but serve a different function.  They are not “built” on fantasy, but reflect society, for “realism is the key factor that differentiates slashers from their predecessors in horror”[30].  The Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho, (which was considered the first “true” slasher film), was based on a book by Robert Bloch about a real killer and a corpse thief named Ed Gein.  The film horrified audiences because it had brought the monster into their home, and revealed the ugliness of society and the monster it had created.  Robin Wood discusses this act of repression and the function of horror films in his article “An Introduction to the American Horror Film”.  His theory is that whatever bourgeois idealism cannot accept or threatens their “normality”, such as sexuality, homesexuality, drugs, feminism, race; is repressed[31].  He suggests that whatever society represses is projected onto the Other and will come back as the monster.  The monster therefore must be either destroyed or assimilated in order for normality to be restored, and society settles back into a state of repression[32].  By using the theory of the Other to examine the slasher film, the genre becomes more than a simple excuse to display violence and gore. The slasher film appeals to teenagers and their confusing feelings towards sexuality, friends, drugs and other adolescent experiences that are often repressed within society.  By allowing teenagers into the voyeuristic position of the killer, they are able to release their feelings of tension.  When the spectator releases tension while watching a slasher flick, they unleash desires that already exist and it is contained within the film, in comparison with hard core pornography where the tension is released externally and is built on uncensored fantasy.

The external factor of hard core pornography is harmful to women in other ways as well.  One of the concerns that arose concerning hard core pornography, was not only the amount of sex and violence inflicted on the women onscreen, but the harm that was occurring off screen as well.  The most famous scenerio is the Linda “Lovelace” Marchiano case.  She became famous after starring in Deep Throat, the most commercially successful porn film about a woman whose clitoris was in her throat.  Her testimony about the abuse she endured on the set of the film brought about a whole new awareness regarding violence against women.  She describes how she was “pimped, pushed around and forced to make Deep Throat[33].  Although the film does not portray rape or violence, Marchiano’s testimony reveals how “it is really a documentary of her rape from beginning to end”[34].  In addition to indirectly conditioning the male viewer to harm women, pornography is also directly harmful to women because they are literally being abused on set.  The issue of whether a female is actually being stabbed in a slasher film is not a concern.  When The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was first released, people questioned its validity, and a myth was created that it was a real documentary of the event.  However, the rumours were quickly discouraged for the film “is essentially harmless and remains an excellent example of how gullible people can be, how they adapt their reality to suit erroneous information offered to them as fact”[35].  There is still apprehension, however, with the objectification of the female in slasher films, and the violence used against them.  Despite the fact that the female is degraded throughout the course of the film, it is always the final girl who is left as the sole survivor.  She has watched in horror as her friends have been mutilated and tortured to death, and she is left alone to defeat the monster.  Thus the female is empowered such as in I Spit On Your Grave, for Jennifer successfully avenges herself against those who have harmed her.  Even though she must take on a patriarchal role to do so, she does not kill for any “deep psychological reasons, the punishment fits the crime and the law of retribution is fulfilled”[36].  She uses the hands that patriarchy has presented her with and applies them in the same way that they were used to violate her.  Another scenario is when a man at the end saves the final girl.  In Halloween, Michael Myers chases Laurie throughout the entire third act.  She fights and defends herself well, defeating him at first.   However he does not die, and rises once more to kill her.  At that moment, the psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis shoots Michael Myers and saves Laurie.  Although her power is taken away, it is still a positive reflection of patriarchy, for the woman is saved by the man who protects her from further harm.  In the most modern slasher film Scream, the female completely empowers herself by killing the monster without depending on the male to save her.  At the end, Sidney shoots the killer.  When he doesn’t die and rises from the ground, Gale Weathers (a news reporter) rescues Sidney and shoots him.  At that moment the police officer Dewey stumbles through the door; too late and is no longer needed for the women defended themselves on their own.  This positive female empowerment is never shown in hard core pornography.  The women abuse each other, or command men to be aggressive towards another woman.  In Torment, the dominatrix female orders the other woman to crawl around the floor while whipping her, and in The Dark Room the dominatrix orders the man to “fuck her hard” while spanking the victimized female.  The women in pornography never gain power unless it is through a patriarchal role for the sole purpose of enhancing male viewing pleasure.

At first glance, slasher films and hard core pornography have many common elements.  They both are very low budget, cheap forms of filmmaking whose main goal is to objectify the female.  The most important aspect that they share is the sadistic voyeurism created for the male spectator, and the way in which the system of looks is constructed to exemplify the woman.  The male is allowed to release feelings of castration anxiety and experience narcissistic pleasure by observing the female being punished for her sexuality.  By examining the film I Spit On Your Grave, we can see how all these elements come into play, and furthers the discussion of the impact these films have on men.  Is masochistic voyeurism a dangerous position?  According to studies, men are influenced more from the voyeurism permitted in porn versus the voyeurism in slasher films.  Not only does it influence the way they think, but it can also provoke and condition harmful behaviour.  Hard core pornography in the end serves a different function than the slasher film.  Pornography is built on fantasy, whereas slasher films are a reflection of the society we live in.  While both genres are a site to release tension, slasher films are contained while pornography is externalized, and this is more harmful for women.  Females in slasher films are empowered, whereas women in pornography are abused both on and off screen.  Although, both genres share many similarities, pornography is much more harmful to women because of the way the male spectator is manipulated, and therefore should be censored and persecuted for the effect of the sex and violence it uses against women.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

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Rasmussen, Randy Loren. Children of the Night: The Six Archetypal Characters of Classic Horror Films. North Carolina. McFarland & Company Inc. Publishers:1998

Russell, Diana E.H. Dangerous Relationships: Pornography, Misogyny and Rape. California. Sage: 1998

Shortes, Connie. “Cleaning Up The Sewer: The Containment of S/M Pornography” The Journal of Popular Film And Television. Summer 1998. V 26. p. 72.

Stine, Scott Aaron. “The Snuff Film: The Making of an Urban Legend”. Skeptical Inquirer. May-June. 1999. v.23. p. 29-33

Williams, Linda . “When The Woman Looks”. The Dread Of Difference. University of Texas Press: 1996.

Wood, Robin. “An Introduction To The American Film”. Grant, Barry Keith Ed. Planks of Reason: Essays on the Horror Film. London. The Scarecrow Press Inc:1996

FILMOGRAPHY

Halloween. dir. John Carpenter. Falcon. 1978

I Spit On Your Grave. dir. Meir Zarchi. Espion. 1981

Scream. dir. Wes Craven. Screenplay by Kevin Williamson.  Dimension. 1996

The Dark Room. dir. Edward Mann. Jade Productions. 1997

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. dir. Tobe Hooper. 1974

Torment. dir. Andy Warren. Jade Productions. 1995


[1] Clover, Carol “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film” p.82

[2] Pinedo, Isabel Cristina. Recreational Terror: Women and the Pleasure of Horror Film Viewing p.82

[3] Williamson, Kevin Scream

[4] Williams, Linda . “When The Woman Looks” p.17

[5] Williams, Linda . “When The Woman Looks” p.22

[6] Williams, Linda . “When The Woman Looks” p.24

[7] Kaite, Berkeley. Pornography and Difference p. 80

[8] Kaite, Berkeley. Pornography and Difference p.81

[9] Kaite, Berkeley. Pornography and Difference p.81

[10] Kaite, Berkeley. Pornography and Difference p.81

[11] Kaite, Berkeley. Pornography and Difference p.81

[12] Kaite, Berkeley. Pornography and Difference p.81

[13] Kaite, Berkeley. Pornography and Difference p.83

[14] Kaite, Berkeley. Pornography and Difference p.83

[15] Carol J. Clover “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film” p.79

[16] Kaite, Berkeley. Pornography and Difference p.124

[17] Kaite, Berkeley. Pornography and Difference p.96

[18] Kaite, Berkeley. Pornography and Difference p.105

[19] Clover, Carol. “Getting Even” p.16

[20] Clover, Carol. “Getting Even” p.16

[21] Clover, Carol. “Getting Even” p.16

[22] Clover, Carol “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film” p.79

[23] Clover, Carol. “Getting Even” p.16

[24] Cole, Susan G. Sex, Violence and Pornography p.219

[25] Pornography and Sexual Violence. Everywoman ltd. p.15

[26] Pornography and Sexual Violence. Everywoman ltd. p.16

[27] Russell, Diana E.H. Dangerous Relationships: Pornography, Misogyny and Rape p.115

[28] Russell, Diana E.H. Dangerous Relationships: Pornography, Misogyny and Rape p.117

[29] Russell, Diana E.H. Dangerous Relationships: Pornography, Misogyny and Rape p.122

[30] Freeland, Cynthia A. The Naked and The Undead: Evil and the Appeal of Horror p.162

[31] Wood, Robin. “An Introduction To The American Film” p.175

[32] Wood, Robin. “An Introduction To The American Film” p.176

[33] Pornography and Sexual Violence. Everywoman ltd. p.76

[34] Russell, Diana E.H. Dangerous Relationships: Pornography, Misogyny and Rape p.114

[35] Stine, Scott Aaron. “The Snuff Film: The Making of an Urban Legend”

[36] Clover, Carol. “Getting Even” p.16

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CANDYMAN: BITTERSWEET DIFFERENCE

Candyman: Bittersweet Difference

One aspect that horrifies society is that of difference.  What differs from the norm and that which we do not know are what perpetuates fear within society.  This too is what inspires the horror film.  As we have studied often in this course, what is different from the norm remains repressed within society until it is projected and unleashed as the monster; the symbolic difference that represents our fears.  This is the case in Bernard Rose’s film Candyman.  In his film, what is different is what is repressed, so much so that it has taken the form of the “myth” or “legend of the Candyman.  The Candyman signifies difference in many respects.  He is firstly created as an outcast and monster based on the legend itself.  The story is that that he was brutally beaten and cut with razors, stung by a hive of bees and then burned to death.  If one chants his name five times in a mirror, he will appear only to murder you with the large hook he has for a hand.  The reason that he was killed is because he impregnated the daughter of a wealthy white man.  This leads to the main idea of difference within the film: that of racial difference.  The Candyman is black and the constant contrast between the races is a significant difference that helps drive the horror throughout the film.  The mere fact that Candyman was murdered because he was with a white girl and that he is created into a “mythical” monster because of this is discriminatory enough.  There are also other contrasts that further emphasize Candyman’s difference in society.  The woman who is investigating the case, Helen, is white and her partner, Bernadette is black; the contrast between the nice part of town and the ghetto are constant reminders of difference in society.  The film also compares family life and contrasts how white people are treated versus how black people are treated.  At one point, after Helen is attacked, she states: “Two people get brutally murdered and the cops do nothing- a white woman gets attacked and the whole place gets shut down.”  By using emphasizing Candyman’s alienation by contrasting how different races are treated, the film develops the underlining message that what is truly horrifying is racism in society.  It is racism that created the Candyman and it is racism that continues to fuel his legend.

There are many ways in which this theme of difference is used to signify horror in Candyman.  In the essay “When the Woman Looks” by Linda Williams, she discusses the significance of the woman’s look in relation to the monster and her male counterparts.

Difference is also discussed in Lucy Fischer’s essay “Birth Traumas: Parturition and Horror in Rosemary’s Baby”.  It is pregnancy and childbirth that alienate the woman from society.  Finally the destruction of difference is discussed using James Conlon’s article “The Place of Passion: Reflections on Fatal Attraction” and how passion must be destroyed or it will wreak domestic stability.  By examining these three articles, we can begin to understand how difference is used to signify horror through the use of the woman’s look, parturition and passion versus domestic stability.

The use of the woman’s look is an important part of Candyman for it also helps to explain difference.  In Linda Williams essay “When A Woman Looks”, she begins by discussing the difference between the way woman look versus the way in which men look.  While men make it a point to look, woman “cover their eyes or hide behind the shoulders of their dates” (Williams 15).  An interesting an example of the way men look versus the way woman look can be seen in the opposition that lies between Helen and Bernadette, the two woman who are investigating the case.  Helen, who is white, is never afraid of anything.  She does not believe in the Candyman and is not “afraid to look”.  Bernadette, on the other hand, who is black, is always cautious, wide-eyed and afraid.  How the two woman test out the “candyman” legend by chanting his name five times in the mirror it is Bernadette who cannot bring herself to say his name five times.  When they go to investigate in the ghetto, it is Bernadette once again who wants to back out, and it is Helen who later on crawls through the mirror to take pictures.  While Bernadette is taking on the role of the woman who is afraid to look, Helen takes on the role of the man.  She is determined and not afraid to “look” into anything.  Williams discusses when a woman does “look and sees” and observes how they “must be punished in the end” (DD 17).  This is indeed true with Helen.  At one point she is investigating the bathroom where one of Candyman’s murders took place and is “punished” by having four black guys beat her up.  One is actually playing the part of the Candyman and Helen ends up with a black eye: her punishment for looking.  The fact that it is four black males who beat her up is even more significant, for it was her “look” that invites the horror of difference and emphasized that racist undertone in the film.

Helen continues to pursue her investigation of Candyman and is again “punished” at the end of the movie.  She has seen too much.  She invades his privacy and literally steps into his world when she steps through the mouth of his graphite face on the wall.  Similar to the example that Williams uses of Christine in the Phantom of the Opera, Helen violates the Candyman’s privacy and she “becomes responsible for the horror that her look reveals” (Williams 19).  As a result, she appears insane to the outside world for only Helen can see Candyman, and slowly loses control as he invades her mind.  He places her in a trance and then she blacks out, only to wake up in a pool of blood with someone dead beside her.  The fact that she is the only woman who looks in the beginning of the film foreshadows the end when she is punished and in a sense “becomes” Candyman.  He is left to burn in the fire and she returns in his spot.  She has become the “male” and even appears more masculine in the last bathroom scene because of her bald head.  She reverses roles with her husband, for in the last scene he takes on a more feminine role.  He looks in the mirror and says her name.  He sees himself as a woman sees herself in a mirror as a “biological freak” (Williams 21) and recognizes himself as a monster.  The fact that he “looks” how a woman looks results in his punishment.  He saw or “said” things that he should not, and therefore Helen appears and kills him.  The fact that she looks is a signifier of difference for in the end she takes on the male role and becomes an outcast from society like Candyman.

Williams expands on the idea of when a woman looks and how it is often “simultaneous with her victimization” (DD 18) and discusses the connection between woman and monster.  She discusses a “trance-like” look that overcomes a woman that she shares with the monster as they “recognize their similar status”.  When Helen first sees Candyman in the parking lot, she is held in a trance-like state and as focus on her look.  She remains paralyzed and the audience is left urging her to jump into her car and flee.  As Williams explains: “where the (male) voyeur’s properly distance look safely masters the potential threat of the (female) body it views, the woman’s look of horror paralyzes her in such a way that distance is overcome” (DD 18).  While Candyman calls Helen in a long shot, Helen’s trance like face is held in close up and intercut with close ups of Candyman’s graphite eyes, thereby holding her in place at this sign of recognition.  He, in turn, is allowed to master her through her look (Williams 18).  Similar to the example Williams uses of Christine in The Phantom of the Opera, Helen “follows her master’s voice” (Williams 18) by not escaping in her car. “Be my victim” Candyman calls, emphasizing that her first look at him is also her first sign of victimization.

The relationship between Helen and Candyman is important to examine in light of how they both represent difference as a signifier of horror.  Williams discusses how sexual interest “resides most often in the monster and not the bland ostensible heroes…..” (DD 20), and this results in the connection between woman and monster.  While Helen is investigating Candyman, her husband is having and affair with one of his students- proving that he has failed to be the male counterpart.  What ultimately drives her to Candyman in the end is when she ends up in a psychiatric ward.  Helen escapes, and when she comes home she walks in on Stacey, the student, repainting her home.  They look at Helen as if she has gone mad and her husband barely pretends to know her.  The husband has shown that he is useless at a crucial moment when Helen needs help.

Helen is alienated, like Candyman and has no one to turn to.  “They will all abandon you” he chants.  Now that everyone believes that she is crazy she is like Candyman “in the eyes of the traumatized male” (Williams 20).  Their story is similar to that of Dracula.  At the end we discover that she was the white girl he loved in another life.  “IT WAS ALWAYS HELEN” the graphite says over her picture.  “All you have is my desire for you”; “we shall die together”; “come with me and be immortal” are some of the many things he chants that reflect their strange relationship.  He tries to control her to alienate her.  For example, he floats on top of her in the psychiatric ward and asks for a kiss so that she screams and appears crazy to the outside world that cannot see him.  Like Dracula, the connection between sex an violence and the lure of immortality is “not seen as repressed animal sexuality but as feared power and potency of a different kind of sexuality” (Williams 20).  Their relationship is horrifying because it is different.  Helen and Candyman are both outcasts and there is a sort of “sympathetic identification” (Williams 21).  When Helen looks she shares the male fear of the monster’s freakiness, yet she also recognizes the sense in which this freakiness is similar to her own difference. (Williams 21).  After her first encounter with Candyman she blacks out and wakes up in a pool of blood.  She is promptly arrested and strip searched; she too is being “constituted as an exhibitionist”.  She is being put on display and gossiped about like Candyman.  She has become an object of desire to Candyman and an object of horror to society.  It is through the woman’s look in Candyman that initially punishes her and then alienates her from society.  Yet, “her look is more than simply a punishment for looking or a narcissistic fascination with the distortion of her own image in the mirror that patriarchy holds up to her; it is also a recognition of their similar status as potent threats to a vulnerable male power.” (Williams 23)

Another element of Candyman that reveals difference is the theme of parturition.  The baby is the first factor that alienates Helen and bonds her with Candyman and is the final factor that redeems her in society.  Lucy Fischer explores this further in the article entitled “Birth Traumas: Parturition and Horror in Rosemary’s Baby”.

In the section entitle “False Labor”, Fischer discusses the parallels between the macabre and childbirth and the affiliation between pregnancy and the supernatural in relation to Rosemary’s Baby.  She discusses how childbirth has been looked upon over the years and how although the expectation within society is that giving birth is supposed to be a joyous experience, “strikingly less attention has been given to its impact on the mother”.  As a result the anxieties many mothers feel have been repressed and have “returned” in the form of horror in such films as Rosemary’s Baby (Williams 417).  The way in which childbirth is repressed in Rosemary’s Baby can be compared to the baby in Candyman.  First, the cause of Candyman’s alienation is the act of impregnating itself.  He impregnated a girl and was then killed under her father’s orders.  Candyman then became a repressed legend in society who returns to try and reunite with Helen and recreate the family that he once lost.  “You’re mine now, it is time for a new miracle” he says right before the climactic final scene; the miracle meaning the baby in the bonfire that Helen must rescue.

The baby is also a symbol of difference for it is the reason Helen is arrested and shut off from society.  When she first encounters Candyman, she is put into a trance.  In Fischer’s essay, she discusses how Rich and Kitzinger “associate pregnancy with possession”.  She is, in a sense, impregnated by Candyman during this trance and is similarly possessed.  She wakes up in a pool of blood in Anne Marie’s home.  The dog’s head has been chopped off and Anne Marie is attacking her screaming that Helen has killed her baby.  There have been many parallels between the macabre and childbirth (Fischer 418).  When she wakes up in a pool of blood, this links the two with Helen “because of her parturition and the blood with it, she will be impure” (Fischer 418).  She is now impure in the sense that she has become an outcast from society until the baby is found to prove her innocence.

Helen has not only become outcast from society but also from her own family.  She discovers when she escapes the hospital that her husband has been having an affair with his student, Stacey, who has now moved in and taken over Helen’s role.  Helen now resembles the role of the midwife, similarly to Mimi in Rosemary’s Baby.  Helen has “little standing in the community and (is) thought to bear evil spirits” (Fischer 18), people think that Helen is crazy, including her husband.  Midwives were often accused of taking the woman’s baby away and offering it to the devil.  Similarly how Mimi is trying to take Rosemary’s devil baby, Helen is accused of hiding Anne Marie’s baby.  In the end, she finds the baby in the middle of a bonfire and for a moment Helen and Candyman are, for a moment, united with Anne Marie’s baby.  The conclusion resembles the end of Rosemary’s Baby when the coven is circling around Rosemary’s baby.  They are both false family units with the baby representing difference.  While the baby is the actual devil in the later, Helen and Candyman’s baby represents difference because it is the reason they have both been repressed in society.  The fire that burns around them is like the fire’s of hell but also symbolizes a “different” sort of motherhood for “motherhood was always close to death”(Fischer 17).  In a sense, Helen becomes a mother for a moment because she comes close to death and faces the “perpetual fever” (Fischer 417) of the fire.

Helen’s “birth” can be discussed further using Fischer’s section on Hysterical Pregnancy so that we can understand her alienation caused by the child.  Like Rosemary, Helen blacks out when she is “impregnated” after her first encounter with Candyman.  She doesn’t remember slaughtering the dog and what happened to Anne Marie’s baby.  Technically, Candyman did not impregnate her, but this is also similar to Rosemary, for her husband Guy was allegedly uninvolved with the impregnation.  This “evokes primitive beliefs that human males are removed from procreation”.  Oddly enough, we never know who the real baby’s father is in Candyman.

Helen also has similar dreams to Rosemary.  Whenever she is caught in the trance Candyman has over her she is haunted by the baby, which is intercut quickly with flashes of Candyman’s eyes and her own.  Another common dream that many woman have is of a “sharp claw or tooth plunged into some part of her body.  She tries to flee, but her persecutors run after her from behind while she faces another danger in front.” (Fischer 420)  When Helen goes into her second “dream” or “trance” she tries to flee from Candyman but he appears all around her and eventually comes and scrapes his hook along her neck.  This is similar to the dream that pregnant woman have.

It is also common for woman to be paranoid during their pregnancy.  “Woman commonly begin to view the outside world as potentially threatening”.  The baby is shrouded in paranoia.  First Anne Marie is paranoid that someone is going to take away her baby and by the end of the film Helen feels very threatened by the outside world.  No one believes there is a Candyman; her “discomforts are consistently minimized (Fischer 412).  She is also anxious because she is losing control over her body and mind, another symptom often experienced during pregnancy (Fischer 422).  She is anxious about losing her husband, and like Rosemary, she ends up alone.  She briefly “seeks out external support out of a desire to be cared for and protected” (Fischer 423) and goes to Candyman in his lair.  However, in the end she runs away from him and he must deal with the thought that she found “abjection in him (the beloved child)” (Fischer 421).

Partruition in Candyman signifies difference in many ways.  It symbolizes what has been repressed in Candyman and what he attempts to project onto Helen, that which is their reunion.  Only this results in alienating them both from society and his eventual rejection from her.  Helen’s emotions and actions parallel those of a pregnant woman or Rosemary in Rosemary’s Baby which results in her own alienation in society, and it is not until she returns the baby that she is once again accepted.

One can also explore difference in the film Candyman by discussing passion, and how passion essentially destroys difference.  One of the first statements in James Conlon’s article “The Place of Passion: Reflections on Fatal Attraction” is that passion brings destruction.  Plato states that “passion has no place.  It can only bring untruth, pain and destruction” while Nietzsche similarly states: il faut tuer les passions– we must kill our passions.  Conlon uses Madame Bovary as an example of the destruction of passion.  Emma Bovary’s lover had swayed her by proclaiming that her only duty was passion, but believing him ended up destroying her.  In Candyman, the Candyman tries to sway Helen into believing they are meant to be together; that passion is their duty so that the legend may live on. “To make lovers conquer in their rapture”; “you’re mine now”; “we shall die together”; “our names will be written on a thousand walls”; are some of the statements he chants to her that imply that passion is their duty.  Unlike Emma Bovary, Helen does not believe Candyman in the end and runs out of the fire leaving him burning behind.  Since Helen does not believe him she goes on “living”.  However, according to Conlon’s essay, passion must be destroyed, thus Candyman’s passion for Helen is finally destroyed and he dies when she rejects his offer of immortality with him.  This is one of many examples of how passion is destroyed in the film.

One can also look at the place of passion in the film and how it is used “in context with adultery…a specific reaction to domestic life” (Conlon 402) which is how Conlon analyzes the film Fatal Attraction.  One of the first signs we notice that something is amiss in the marriage between Helen and her husband Trevor, is in one of the very first scenes.  Helen visits Trevor at school during his “urban legend” lecture, a subject that they both feel very passionately about.  They have a small dispute; Helen asks him why he held the lecture when she specifically asked him not to, for it might have a negative influence on the interviews she is conducting for her thesis on Candyman.  This is then followed by another small dispute over one of his students, Stacey.  Helen asks him if there was something going on with her for “she could barely look me in the eye”, however, he denies her accusation.  As her investigation of Candyman progresses or the more passionate she feels about the case the more strange and suspicious Trevor’s behaviour becomes.  After her first encounter with Candyman which resulted in her black out and arrest, she finds herself in jail.  She tries to call Trevor at three o’clock in the morning and he is not home.   This is the first link between passion and adultery and how they destruct domestic life.

We must first try to understand the nature of the adultery in Candyman.  Similarly to Fatal Attraction, Helen is like Alex.  She is passionate about her work and is very determined.  Like Dan in Fatal Attraction, Trevor feels threatened by her work, she hasn’t “played by the rules” (Conlon 404).  He shows that he is ashamed by her when he fails to stick up for her at a dinner with another Candyman expert.  Stacey on the other hand offers something “fundamentally different” (Conlon 405).  Trevor can control Stacey, similarly to how Candyman can control Helen.  Trevor and Candyman both hold the power of information and can feed their passions.  Helen can also be compared with Beth in Fatal Attraction.  Helen has done nothing wrong and is an admirable wife, Stacey is like Alex and represent the “passion” that is missing from Trevor’s life.  While Helen takes all the passion from Trevor, she is represent Candyman’s love for her.  Although Candyman tries to reunite with her and build a family, and Trevor and Stacey try to live together after Helen’s death, “passion cannot be domesticated, it must be eliminated” (Williams 411).  This is why Helen must leave Candyman.  He must die for his passions and she must destroy hers, which was the Candyman case.  Trevor as well must die for his sin, and in the end all the passions are destroyed.  What was different was what the characters clung to as their passions which is why all is eliminated in the end.

In the film Candyman, the aspect of what is different is what signifies horror and is shown through three different ways.  Helen’s look in the film sets her apart from all the other woman.  She is never afraid to look, and is therefore punished and becomes an outcast in society.  She therefore shares a bond with the monster for he is an outsider as well, yet although she shares the same “freakiness” as him she rejects him in the end which emphasizes the films theme of racial difference.

Difference is also shown through parturition in comparison to Rosemary’s Baby.  The baby in the film represents the repression from Candyman’s past as well as the factor that alienates Helen from society, yet redeems her in the end.  She experiences many aspects of pregnancy, and to a certain degree Candyman has impregnated her.  The horror of which both Candyman’s past, and the terror Helen undergoes for the baby reflect a sort of racist outlook towards interracial couples.

Finally, by examining the aspect of how passion is played out throughout the film, we can understand why all the various elements are destroyed in the end.  All the characters have an obsession.  Candyman is obsessed with reuniting with Helen.  Helen is obsessed with the Candyman case.  Trevor’s passion is his work but he must have the power and feels threatened by Helen, and can only fill this void by having an affair with someone weaker than him; a student.  Both Candyman’s and Trevor’s passion clash with their domestic life, and therefore must both be eliminated, by Helen.  Although she has been “destroyed” herself, she must return to destroy all other traces of difference and return the balance.

WORKS CITED

Conlon, James. “The Place of Passion: Reflections on Fatal Attraction”. Dread of Difference (DD). 1996: University of Texas Press.

Fischer, Lucy. “Birth Traumas: Parturition and Horror in Rosemary’s Baby”. Dread of Difference (DD). 1996: University of Texas Press.

Williams, Linda. “When A Woman Looks”. Dread of Difference (DD). 1996: University of Texas Press.