Body Talk: Conversaions on Transgender Cinema with Caden Gardner: Part Eight

Body Talk is an ongoing series of transcribed conversations on Transgender Cinema as the two of us prepare to write a book on the subject. This installment of Body Talk is on the trap narrative in genre cinema.

Willow Maclay: If I were ever in a situation where I had to start dating again I would fear for my life, because I’m perceived as a cisgender woman by society at large, but I am not one. I’m an actual living late plot twist, and if someone wanted to murder me for this reason they likely wouldn’t face jail time. I would have it coming, because I was a liar. I was scary. I pushed him too far by saying I was something that, let’s be real, no one considers you are, unless you’ve had surgery, and I haven’t had surgery. That’s still some time away, and it could always be pushed back again, so I live as a late act twist that never had to be revealed, because I’ve been fortunate enough to fall in love with a man who loved me for me, and wasn’t threatened by the inbetween-ness of my genitals.

This is not the case for most people. I am not the majority, and I am lucky.

In a larger cultural sense it all started with Psycho (1960). It was the late act reveal that a character wasn’t who they were supposed to be, and it was the demonic femininity of men in dresses and lace that became the lasting image. Yes, she was stabbed in the shower and the music pierced us all, but the killer behind the blade was a man who thought he was a woman, and genre filmmaking have been milking this for all its worth ever since.

This doesn’t happen in real life, but the closest image we have to the manic tranny with a blade between her legs is that of actual transgender women. We are the broken and the damned and worse than that, we might just be psychotic. We might just kill you. There are more instances of trans woman appearing as murderers in movies than there are good films featuring actual trans women in meaty, acceptable, dense roles that approach their humanity with something resembling respect for the difficulty it takes to be trans. The murderer has persisted. We haven’t.

In this segment of Body Talk we’re going to be discussing that plot device. Caden, when did you first see a movie that used this narrative trope?

Caden Gardner: We’ve talked about this in the previous installment of Body Talk that primarily dealt with cis actors in trans roles. That conversation also spilled over into cheap third act reveals of characters who, ‘Are not what they appear to be’. Some of that ranged from The Crying Game to Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. These characters are not murderers, but unstable and in the latter’s case a villain, with the comedic effect of the reveal played for gross-out laughs and showing how normalized the trope had become. I remember the ongoing gag in the Austin Powers series of removing a wig from a character who appeared to be a woman with Austin exclaiming, ‘It’s a man, baby!’ So I saw the jokes first, how situationally, the panic and anxiety was normalized by the status quo and how the ugly stereotypes within those fears became the punchline. Then I got into the fear and panic at the heart of earlier films than those comedies.

Now I had seen Psycho but I always found Norman Bates an incredibly sympathetic, tic-filled, ball of anxiety. Anthony Perkins gave Norman depth, layers, and even humanity, where you can retroactively, after the twist, realize how at war he is with himself. Hitchcock allowed you to root for him when he was covering up Marion Crane’s murder by sinking the car. I had seen Gus van Sant’s Psycho remake which sexualized Norman’s voyeurism. Van Sant opted for a shot for shot remake so the contemporary knowledge of this twist informs everything Norman does, and after so many Psycho knock-offs where transness is at the forefront and tied explicitly to the twist it becomes an entirely different experience, and not a better one. To move away from Psycho, slightly, one such example of this trope that I came to know very early in my life was Robert Hiltzik’s 1983 slasher Sleepaway Camp.

I’d like you to get into that, but before I do, Willow, as I think you eloquently stated your position on that film and twist in Cleo a few years back.

WM: I similarly don’t have many problems with Psycho, even if I think the last ten minutes is an unnecessary and ultimately clumsy act of explanation. What separates Psycho from many of the films we are going to be discussing in this installment of Body Talk is that it is not fundamentally hinged upon the twist ending. There’s a lot going on in Psycho and cinephiles, at least, remember much much more than Norman’s cross-dressing and murdering. The craft in that movie is maybe the zenith of Alfred Hitchcock’s career. If one wants to argue that Hitchcock was a master of control then Psycho is the last movie where that is easily apparent. I find his period after Psycho fascinating, because he loses grip of his movies, but that’s another conversation. Psycho is a totem for a reason and I love it, even if it unintentionally spawned many poorer copy-cat films.

One of these is Sleepaway Camp , which you brought up. I’ve seen that movie a half-dozen times for one reason or another. The only movie I outright hate that holds that distinction. I wrote about it for Cleo Journal, but the gist of my problem with Sleepaway Camp is that it intentionally makes the reveal horrific and the movie only works as a late act plot twist. Everything beforehand is slop to say the least. If it weren’t for the fact that these filmmakers wanted to show a girl with a dick the movie wouldn’t be remembered. One could argue that final scene is useful in pointing out how cisgender people view transgender bodies. I don’t think that’s a bad idea, but I think it’s a cynical one, that doesn’t carry as much weight when placed against the brunt of that characters struggles to deal with her own body. Angela isn’t trans, but her body is how cis people perceive transgender bodies and the co-signing this film has for the horror of the onlookers is damning. It’s a horrifying image to have Angela slack jawed, completely nude, caught in mid-scream, heaving like a demon. It is even worse that those onlookers react with total disgust of her body. They don’t find her murders horrific, but she has a dick? That’s the scariest shit ever. There’s no covering that up and reclaiming the image. It’s the only image people talk about with Sleepaway Camp, because the movie is otherwise shit. It’s canonized, because of that image. An image that doesn’t have the cultural staying power of Buffalo Bill tucking in his genitals, but it is nevertheless synonymous with the phrase “chick with a dick”. Being one myself, I can tell you, it’s not all that tantalizing. It’s boring, mentally arduous on a personal level, and tucked away all of the time, but that doesn’t sell. Flaccid never does.

CG:  Sleepaway Camp makes Angela (Felissa Rose) a timid creature (and I do mean creature, the film is too trashy and low-brow for any humanity in anybody, but especially her) that then becomes a dehumanized monster by the end. It dates back to her crazy aunt that the audience gets doses of through flashback. Angela is forced-femmed (for lack of a better word) by that aunt, her history rooted in a trauma to a horrific accident that claims members of her family, that includes her sister, the real Angela, that is shown in the flashback that begins the film. So Angela is living as a woman and being socialized as a young feminine girl. This was not her choice or inherently innate to her. She never outright states that she saw herself as a woman. I recall that people treat Sleepaway Camp’s twist as a surprise but the film does leave clues that honestly have the subtleties of anvils. Angela is confronted by girl bullies for her timidity, sniffing her out like she has something to hide from the get-go. She doesn’t go swimming, she doesn’t take her clothes off, and she does not shower in the presence of others. As if saying to the audience “What’s up with that?” and these bullies will not quit trying to figure her out. What is disturbing about this film for me is that it emboldens the suspicions of those wretched characters by having that twist with Angela exist. The film, unintentionally, almost predicts gender gatekeepers who want to harass any ‘not normal-looking’ person who goes to their preferred bathroom or dressing room of fucking Target in Anytown, USA that can then extend into law with not so enforceable anti-trans bathroom bills and ordinances in those areas of the country. I think there could have been many films where the version would be to humanize Angela, or give her depth, a sense of who she is or how she relates to her body in being socialized female when she has this whole history about her. But she lives by the twist and dies by the twist in that image that is haunting not for the body count she leaves, but in how the film can treat that character type, thinly drawn mind you, with such animosity and inhumanity.

People can be quick to dismiss any concerns about this film as, ‘It’s only a movie’ or ‘It’s just a cheap slasher’, but for me we have gone through a lot of genre films that explore the body and gender in fascinating ways and also see how even when seeing real monsters like Jame Gumb in The Silence of The Lambs, that there can be moments of humanity in seeing pain and confusion and not just a cheap twist, thrills, and kills.

WM: As a diehard fan of the genre I’m typically more forgiving of horror films for being uncaring, but I think Sleepaway Camp is merciless in a way that isn’t fun to watch at all. I’ve heard better things about the sequels, in that, they have a sense of humour about the subject matter, but I haven’t watched any of them to date. I know Laura Jane Grace (Against Me!) is a big fan of Sleepaway Camp, but I don’t see the value in reclaiming it unless you take up an entire fuck the world attitude, which I wouldn’t begrudge any trans person for having, but that isn’t me. Moreso than being offended, I find the entire affair just catastrophically boring, even for the relatively conservative structure behind slasher films. My main issue with Sleepaway Camp, beyond the obvious, is that if they were going to go with that ending why not lean all the way into it and make it so completely offensive all the way through, negating the twist, and basking in the glow of being a fucked up movie instead of half-assing it by sweeping the big reveal under the rug? It’s just annoying, and it’s not the only movie of this type to exist. In a larger cultural sense though, it’s probably the most famous example in the horror genre of this trope outside of Psycho. Sleepaway Camp definitely has more cultural staying power than something like Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill, which annoys me all the more, because at least Dressed to Kill has the common decency to be well made. De Palma, as much as he annoys me sometimes, was never asleep behind the wheel. He always directed something 100%, but Sleepaway Camp? It’s barely a movie, but in the horror community it has been canonized. Their opinion being that It’s worth getting through the slog, because you’ll get to the girl with the dick. The only image in the movie.

CG: The early 1980s Slashers, basically Friday The 13th (speaking of a Psycho rehash) and after, had a habit of being in conversation with the genre by responding to one movie’s ridiculousness- be it kills or twists- and outdoing it. Resulting horror films were in conversation with Friday the 13th , because it was a huge success, and even Friday the 13th itself was in conversation with Psycho and Halloween (1978). They took the twists and the formula and embellished it in their own mold, but the results, were as you state, half-baked and cheap. I probably do read like a moralist, I actually do love a lot of the horror films from that era, even some that are well, not exactly expertly made cinema and have a nihilist streak about humanity, but I find the canonization of that film to be a mistake in taste. I am sure some of the appeal is the sleaziness and trash, the lowbrow of it all that horror nerds can embrace in ways cineastes and more mainstream audiences do not.

This brings up Brian De Palma. His cinema is sleazy and trashy, but well-done in a way where his commanding scope and playfulness in artifice gave him a lot of respectability (his fans ranged from Pauline Kael to Quentin Tarantino) and currency that still endures today with a lot of cinephiles and film critics in our age-group. He recently had a birthday which on social media seems to give an opportunity for cinephiles that I follow to rank his films. Unsurprisingly, even if I am left quite disappointed, Dressed To Kill seemed to come up frequently as a favorite of people who profess their love of De Palma. I always have an impulse whenever I see it come up in conversation to explore why people like it and reconcile that with the fact that it is definitively a transphobic film.

To be clear, I do not want to #CancelBrianDePalma or act like there’s a moral failing on the part of these people, some of whom I do consider good friends, for liking the movie or finding something to like in the film. I have curiously heard people who have written books that feature Dressed To Kill, state that it is not about transness but goodness. But I bring you this: from the maestro himself who was informed entirely about the film’s transwoman killer from real-life trans woman Nancy Hunt whose story from Phil Donahue he places into the narrative of his film. It is an unsubtle wink and clue of the twist that still angers me upon reflection.

WM: I’ll start by being very upfront that Brian De Palma and I have a complicated relationship as filmmaker and viewer. I adore some of his films and consider them to be all time favourites, like Carrie, which we’ve both praised, and Blow-Out, which is without a doubt one of the best films of the 1980s. My issues with De Palma, and these issues are only mine, is that I’m annoyed by his treatment of women. I get frustrated that, without fail, especially in this period, they seem to be killed in exceedingly gruesome ways after their sexual usefulness has been wrung dry. De Palma’s a very horny director, which is fine, but I don’t get a huge thrill out of watching him have an obvious hard-on for the women in his movies. Does this make me a prude? Probably. Does it make me a hypocrite, because I love Dario Argento, who does basically the same things? Also probably. We’re made of contradictions. I’m allowed to have mine, but with Dressed to Kill it is a different issue entirely, and that’s one where I think he runs into this gigantic problem of mixing the absurdity of the late act plot twist in Psycho with real life problems transgender people have. Psycho is not a relatable target in any estimation, but Dressed to Kill certainly is for two reasons. First the inclusion of Nancy Hunt and also due to the discussion of sex reassignment surgery which is a mirroring scene explaining transness, poorly I might add, that is an homage to Psycho’s transvestite explanation. Norman was never a transvestite in Psycho, but Robert Elliott is canonically transgender and De Palma uses that as a crutch for his worst tendencies as a director towards things like castration anxiety, the femme fatale and domination.

The problem is that all of these autuerist tics are only noticeable in the form if you’ve seen half a dozen Brian De Palma movies, but if you’re coming to Dressed to Kill as a new viewer it just looks like a blanket “psycho tranny killed women because she couldn’t be one herself” story. I’m not saying movies have to reflect reality and every movie about a trans character has to be nice. Far from it; what I am saying is that it becomes a problem when something that works on an individual level becomes a pattern, and the murderous tranny is definitely a pattern. I have much less problems with these movies compared to the issues I have with the trope. I think Dressed to Kill, in particular, is a really well made film, but when you’ve seen this story more than a dozen times it becomes boring, and it doesn’t really do transgender people any favours in real life that our entire cinematic language hinges on a late act twist.

Did I ever tell you the story of when I came out for the first time on a film forum back in 2011? Well, one person commented, and I’m still friends with this person, “what a twist!”. If that isn’t transness at the intersection of movies I don’t know what is, and the shame of it all is that we could be a lot more if given additional narrative space.

CG:  You never told me about that! I felt similarly that when I came out online- and I admit to being pretty guarded about my online anonymity for a very long time- that there were days of reverberations where some responses were akin to it being a twist ending. Not all gave this commentary of ‘I didn’t have a clue’ or ‘I didn’t see that coming’, but many did see it as a narrative of sorts, as though I had planted and stunted this as a plot thread when in actuality, I was in a very bad place mentally. I felt helpless and it felt was necessary that I come out because it was an election year and one side was absolutely more hostile and transphobic than the other (hint: it wasn’t the Democrats). I have mixed feelings about how I went about it- but that was mostly because I was also in an alcoholic fog and my nerves and mode of behaviors operated differently then as opposed to now, which hey, now I actually am open, out, and have a lot more control because I am transitioning and not trapped in hostility, shame, and the closet.

Now back to Dressed To Kill, I looked back on the way the film was seen then and now, constantly feeling disappointed that nobody who seems to want to champion the film can really ever confront ‘the twist’. It can often just be mentioned in a sentence, admitting to trans woman serial killer as ‘cartoonishly stigmatizing’ as The New Republic did a few years back but at the same time declare that critics should surrender their prudish sides and embrace DePalma’s ‘pure cinema’. Or you can talk around it, in the name of spoilers I suppose, and just use catch-all phrases as ‘sleazy’ or ‘bizarre’ in the twists the film has. Some do not so much dismiss the transphobia but label it as pulp treatment of something real. Then you have a little more problematic readings, some of which I think unconsciously white-wash the transphobia of the maker, by labeling Robert Elliott/Bobbi as schizophrenic and pretending that was DePalma’s intention when he admits he crafted and was inspired by trans women and then linking it to Jekyll & Hyde ‘two sides’ of a person who switches upon sexual stimulation. Now, of course DePalma’s knowledge of transness is off as he only sees the surface but he made a deliberate choice to insert Nancy Hunt’s own image in his movie. He uses clips but if you look up Nancy Hunt, you would also know that she similarly rejects trans as trauma and trans as pathology, viewing the mental health community as hostile towards trans people rather than helpful to her and many people in her position. Hunt lives forever in certain transgender archives but she is used ghoulishly in a film where the director laughs and chuckles like the Keith Gordon character about the idea of a trans woman.

Keith Phipps, to his credit, did confront the transphobia of the film when Dressed To Kill was released on the popular arthouse label The Criterion Collection. But he appears to be an anomaly to cinephiles and critics that probably do not really see the problem of the movie in the way that you and I do. As far as De Palma himself, it perhaps comes off like I hate him. I hate this film, although I find it revealing in ways that he may have not intended, even beyond the transphobia. But I like a lot of his work and quite a bit of it is built within his sense of cinematic language and artifice. However, as Kam Austin Collins succinctly put it in his Letterboxd log, you may love that Museum of Modern Art set-piece, the split diopters, and unreal quality of the moviemaking of fake outs upon fake outs but, “The transphobia is real”.

WM: I love Kam (read him at Vanity Fair). For my money he’s the best working film critic right now, and he’s absolutely right. Dressed to Kill does have an unreal quality of moviemaking that lays on top of this pretty vile center. Isn’t it frustrating that Brian De Palma may have more natural talent as a director than maybe anyone who has ever stepped behind the camera and he mostly uses it to worry about his dick? As far as just pure fucking cinema there are few directors with more skill or have made movies that are as luxurious to watch as De Palma. However, more often than not he almost always does something that creates distance in my ability to fully appreciate his works, and that’s most readily apparent in Dressed to Kill, which is a movie I championed before I came out, but afterwards was hesitant towards showering praise upon. I could more easily ignore the shitty political nature of the movie before I came out, because I was foolish enough to think that wasn’t me, but now I just find it annoying. I’m not even offended by its clumsy handling of gender politics, I just find it dull. Like, by the end it’s, “oh this is obviously a riff on Psycho. I don’t give a shit”. De Palma was like his dad, Alfred Hitchcock, in his ability to completely control all aspects of technical filmmaking, but De Palma’s career is without the same barriers Hitchcock had which negated some of Alfred’s worst tendencies toward women. As a stanch supporter of Marnie, I’d be wary of calling this a bad thing, but it certainly makes me wonder what Brian De Palma could have done in a system where some of his decisions were checked a little more often, because Dressed to Kill is almost embarrassingly a copycat of things better than that movie: Psycho, and giallo plotting. Even the films best scene: the elevator murder is lifted almost directly from the climax of Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion, even down to the outfit Bobbi is wearing.

CG: “Isn’t it frustrating that Brian De Palma may have more natural talent as a director than maybe anyone who has ever stepped behind the camera and he mostly uses it to worry about his dick?” That is a pretty inescapable route to take for even his admirers, as the Jake Paltrow-Noah Baumbach documentary on De Palma shows (and I would recommend watching in relation to some of his films and again, De Palma’s unconscious revelations and confessions about his own relationships to his work, other films, and his personal life). When Pauline Kael, notoriously anti-Hitchcock but pro-De Palma, gave a write-up on Dressed To Kill, she wrote that De Palma has a self-awareness that makes his films have a vein of humor due to how open De Palma is open about his id, “What makes it funny is that it’s permeated with the distilled essence of impure thoughts. De Palma has perfected a near-surreal poetic voyeurism—the stylized expression of a blissfully dirty mind,” believing that Dressed To Kill is a great example about the inherent voyeuristic nature of movies. And I get that appeal and how uninhibited De Palma is, but it is also why I find Dressed To Kill narrow. He was in therapy at the time, but seems to hate psychological readings of the sexual stimulation of a beautiful woman when aimed at himself or his characters.. And of course this male gaze has a certain preferred image of a woman. It is a cisgender woman, not women like Nancy Hunt as he clearly does not consider trans women to be women at all. The uninhibited nature of his work that exists in Body Double, such as the ‘Relax’ sequence, does feel more genuine and not as isolating as opposed to Dressed To Kill where the authorial voice of the film finds people like myself to be disgusting and something to laugh at, or consequentially, nightmare fuel. Dressed to Kill notoriously opens with an insert of a naked woman in the shower that is supposed to be Angie Dickinson’s character- but is so obviously not and De Palma knows it- and if that’s what turns the guy on, then good for him, but he clearly sees trans women as men clothed head to toe in wigs passing through and absolutely not wanting to explore anything beyond the surface. It always frustrates me that when a bad boy director is celebrated for liberation and rebellion , but ends up showing there are actually lines drawn in what they find acceptable and that the ideas of other kinds of people existing beyond their ideal, coveted image of femininity go ‘too far’ for them.

While De Palma’s biggest fans that I know are straight men, I do know plenty of queer people and cis women who also think he’s great, but this film was enough to keep me at a distance. What’s not to like about De Palma?’ was something I’ve heard. Hell, when I read a recent piece on Dressed To Kill it said verbatim, ‘If you don’t like this [Dressed To Kill], then you don’t like movies.’ I know that people often are in the mood to rehabilitate Dressed To Kill as, like William Friedkin’s serial killer film Cruising, it had protests and vocal dissenters for the movie at the time (not for the transphobia to be clear, but for the violence against women in the film— at the hands of the transgender serial killer). It was a film that in De Palma’s own words did good business. Yes, it got Razzie nominations (I mean, so did Kubrick’s The Shining) but I think the canonization and reclamation of Dressed To Kill for the canon missed more points of view along the way in terms of looking at it now and its cultural significance. But it is a lot more attractive to treat the film as an object of buried treasure or hidden gem which Dressed To Kill is treated as than it is to listen to a dissenting opinion.

WM: I know plenty of trans women who love Dressed to Kill, as well as Sleepaway Camp, and I find no problem with this even if I have my own issues with these movies, but I would genuinely love to hear what it is about those two in particular that speaks to them. Maybe it’s a level of honesty from cisgender voices of how we’re actually viewed without the semblance of political correctness bearing tolerance of our own gender? Or it could be as simple as thinking Dressed to Kill has stellar camerawork and Sleepaway Camp is too goofy to take seriously, and again, these are good enough reasons to like a film, but I have larger culturally specific reasons why these movies in particular rub me the wrong way. One major issue I have with Brian De Palma protesting to psychological readings of his movies is that if we were to push away at these things then I’m unsure what depth De Palma has other than as a sexual charlatan or his admittedly, fantastic camera work, which again, is fine, but I find that lacking in girth. De Palma is most interesting to me when I’m trying to figure out how he feels about women in his movies, because that’s absolutely his central hang-up. The Fuck and Kill mentality. Marriage never really comes into the equation. I can see on some level why cisgender women like De Palma’s women and his eroticism, because it’s brutish, tough, and these women are generally arsenic and don’t give a fuck and there’s definitely something appealing in that, but his treatment of transgender women is completely fucking different. We’re the great American nightmare. The total destruction of the male body. The malleability of our flesh into that of a woman’s is horrifying to him or at least perversely interesting, which might be more honest than not, but when I watch Dressed to Kill I get the sense that he finds bodies like mine absolutely disgusting (disclaimer: I’m closer to Michelle Pfieffer than Michael Caine, sorry Brian).

Part of me wonders if Brian De Palma could potentially have bedded a trans woman by mistake and then felt his heterosexuality capsize as a result. I don’t think that’s an insane thing to think, no? Pure speculation on my part, but he has this strange mixture of self-hatred and lust when talking about or engaging with transness. In the cinema of De Palma if the body of a woman is the ultimate act of cinematic ecstasy then the body of a trans woman is the total destruction of orgasm. A trans woman is castration, and therein lies his greatest anxieties. Dressed to Kill is fascinating for these reasons. It’s the kind of movie you could talk about all day in the context of De Palma’s work. Where it’s more boring is in the greater landscape of trap narratives in movies where it’s mostly the same old thing.

CG: Yes, we are not seeking to bury and ban Dressed To Kill, but the film’s significance is tied to a trope that, as we noted, involves revelation or a twist that’s tied to transness in this negative way. And I totally get your speculation on the root of where this came from (De Palma insists it was just from seeing Nancy Hunt he also grew up in a New York City where the Warhol Superstars were in the same film underground he started in the late 1960s, I find it unbelievable if he did not find himself in the same space- if by pure incident- with cross-dressers or trans women at some factory party to watch independent films), as I often speculate why does there exist moments in movies where a pickup of a trans woman for sex leads to a shocking revelation and male outburst for being ‘tricked’ (think Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting). Even on a more intellectual level, I wonder what is Jesse Singal’s deal (and I am not alone) over his obsession with trans women in his writing. But to get back to our mining through this narrative, I want to return to Psycho as the genesis even if it is not dealing with cross-dressing or gender dysphoria. We have of course talked about the riffs and knock-offs but what is fascinating is how quickly the knock-offs also produced the connection of this reveal to the villain or killer ‘not being who we think they are’ as far their gender and done so in genre-film, B-movie fashion.

WM: There are so many throwaway scenes of cis men fucking trans women and throwing a fit that give absolutely nothing back to the movie it would be impossible to count them all. This goes doubly for throwaway scenes where cis guys clock a trans woman and make fun of her. This even happens in Zodiac (2007) of all things, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why that scene in particular exists. Is it to reaffirm we’re in San Fransisco and cops are jerks? Seems pretty fucking basic considering Fincher, but that scene has also stuck out to me as a microcosm of  issues of transness depicted on screen, and in a larger macro level when that scene is pulled out to its fullest length that’s when you get things like Dressed to Kill. I don’t think cis people get how fucking exhausting that is and how much you have to reconcile to watch movies and realize that these things are just going to happen. Or even, god’s inferior child, Television. For example, There is not a sitcom that exists that won’t take a jab at trans people, and we don’t even worry about these things, because there’s bigger fish to fry with our own issues. Like our passports being denied and the living hell that is the current government of the United States.

CG:  William Castle’s 1961 Psycho knock-off Homicidal is a doozy and laughably trashy in its twists and turns. Its killer is a double-role for Jean Arliss (a pseudonym for Hal Ashby’s wife Joan Marshall) who plays Warren and Emily. So the twist is that the audience sees Emily commit murders and she notably, despite being described as Warren’s fiancee, is never in the same room as her groom-to-be. In the dialed-up, pure William Castle, 3rd act Emily is revealed as Warren, complete with a classic wig removal. Then, much like that awful psychologist explaining it all in Psycho, we get an explanation. Warren was socialized male but- and this is where it really gets crazy- he was biologically born female. His father wanted a son and his mother insisted to keep up the stunt (that apparently worked in ways that are a little unclear— I don’t think Castle and company thought all of this through but complaining about plot-holes from William Castle is just barking up the wrong tree) that included the county clerk marking the birth certificate male. I think there was far more work done to Warren in this ‘forced masc’ tale as we get an allusion to Christine Jorgensen’s sex-change operation by the line, “Then Helga took Warren to Denmark. What happened there, we don’t know”, as the American Jorgensen in the 1950s got her operation in Denmark (similarly, Ed Wood’s 1953 film Glen or Glenda was inspired and marketed as being connected to Jorgensen’s story that caught global public attention). Warren became Emily, fully living, socializing, and possibly getting the medical assistance in hormones and operations but returns home to collect inheritance money, having to return to Warren, a life full of trauma, confusion, and haunted by ghosts and figures of her past. The film is silly and as I speak to the characterization of Warren/Emily deeply problematic, but I see this as necessary to point to the fact that the evolution of the Psycho narrative is more than just Ed Gein (who also inspired The Silence of The Lambs). Clearly, this narrative has been a point of entry into some of the biggest tropes and misconceptions about transgender characters.

WM: I find William Castle’s capitalist urges really earnest. He was a the filmmaker equivalent of a big tent ring leader of the wackiest carnival that ever came to home and there’s something appealing about that kind of salesman. It’s hard to be offended by someone who made The Tingler and whose sole interest in life seemed to be scaring teenagers right at the point where they started to make out during his terrible movies. Homicidal isn’t really any different than the other movies he made, but of interest to us, because of some gender fucker-y. Earlier in this installment of Body Talk I said I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with Sleepaway Camp if it knew how to lean into the absurdity of its source material. Well, this is exactly what I’m referring to when I say lean into your batshit insane idea. So, it’s more fun than harmful. It’s difficult to raise your pitchforks over something this silly, but let’s get into something that is silly on paper, but isn’t in execution.

Caden I want to know what you think of Sion Sono’s Strange Circus, because it flips the gender on the opposite spectrum of this typical trope, which more directly effects you.

CG: I’m admittedly not well-versed on Sion Sono’s cinema and Strange Circus was, to my knowledge, the first film of his that I’ve watched. It is fascinating as it does go back to you mentioning the exhaustion of viewing media as a trans person, where these movies constantly clock or misgender their characters. The character, Yuji (Issei Ishida) is gender fluid but believed to be male assigned at birth assistant to our protagonist. Yuji is constantly peppered with uncomfortable questions about his ‘asexual’ appearance. For a film that is full of sex, rape, and trauma, Yuji at first appears like a sissy stereotype for his long hair (in being trans male, it is admittedly difficult to ‘pass’ with long hair, although Yuji’s hair veers close to David Bowie in Labyrinth) and lanky physical appearance. Basically, Sono’s rude, invasive characters who quiz Yuji about his look are proven right with Yuji admitting that he was actually a female assigned at birth and that his traumas and mental illness inform his identity which to that point, then becomes synonymous with his trans identity. How predictable, how boring.

What is disappointing is Sono desperately wants to be among the misfits and outsiders, with Strange Circus having a kind of cabaret pretension, as this is where the film starts and ends, the film’s named after this club of cross-dressers and drag queens. The extremity that Sono likes to fashion that he is doing though, much like De Palma’s limited uninhibitedness in Dressed To Kill, falls short with the ‘tranny as killer’ trope. Yuji is unstable and in a circle of rebels with piercings and body modifications that symbolize their identity that are remarkable changes in their physical appearance, when Yuji reveals to them his ‘secret’ these exhibitionists are now shown mouth agape. Hypocrites. Yuji is seen as going ‘too far’. I’m reminded of Dressed To Kill of the lead character being haunted by Yuji in her dreams much like Robert Elliott/Bobbi haunts Nancy Allen. It is the flip side, so this is to say, trans men, although not as frequently, also take it on the chin in the trap narrative, which for every banal shot taken at androgyny and transness in something like a square family sitcom the trap narrative also finds its way into certified “cool” film directors like De Palma or Sono.

WM: So many of Sono’s films seem desperate to me, and while I like some of them, like Love Exposure and Suicide Club, I find his tics really aggressively on the nose. He’s working in a similar mode as Takashi Miike where he tries to follow these outsiders and misfits, but fails to capitalize on his freaks. Miike on the other hand sympathizes, pointing to a cultural reason for “why” these characters are outcasts, and emphasizes their own humanity, even if they turn out to be evil characters. Miike makes sure his characters are heard, even if they’re wrong. Sono on the other hand just points and asks the audience to “look”. Strange Circus is the worst film of his I’ve seen, because it so desperately wants to be trangressive and taboo in a really intellectual way, but what does it have to say about gender at all really? I can’t think of anything, even in the context of Japan’s more easygoing nature towards drag queens and cross-dressing in their entertainment. In Japan these representations are typically played for laughs, but like a trojan horse they emphasize the faults and struggles these characters face, which honestly gives them more depth. That’s key in genre cinema anywhere on any subject you want to tackle, but with Sono I typically don’t see depth and that is never worse than in Strange Circus. I don’t get why anyone would want to check out this movie when Visitor Q exists. That film is complicated, uncomfortable, formally daring but has guts in what it’s actually trying to convey about gender, family units and violence. The only new wrinkle in Strange Circus is that the gender of the typical trap trope is reversed, which is maybe meta, but it’s certainly thin.

CG: I thought a lot about the cultural context in Japan with Strange Circus and just found that I got a lot more out of twisted Oedipus Rex snapshot of ‘gay boy’ culture in Japan from Toshio Matsumoto’s 1969 masterpiece Funeral Parade of Roses as far as transness, and outsider narratives go. I similarly feel like I’ve only scratched the surface with Miike but I definitely agree with you that I sense he gives his characters a better chance for the audience to understand and even empathize with their extremities and peculiarities. It really can make a difference as far as saying ‘pay attention’ to the audience rather than insist on the audience give a gawking ‘look’ when it comes to portraying trans people in film.

And to go back to misfits vein that Sono strives for but falls into the trap narrative trope, I think about Tetsuro Takeuchi’s Wild Zero where a character is revealed to be trans and while the male protagonist becomes incredibly anxious and put off initially about this revelation Takeuchi has the film’s Greek Chorus, the J-rock band Guitar Wolf, tell the lead character Ace that love has “no boundaries, nationalities, or genders” and that he should get over that hang-up and follow his heart, which has him be in love with the trans woman, Tobio. Wild Zero does not really subvert the trap narrative (the body reveal happens), it confronts the anxieties around initial stigma in being trans and in love and falling in love with a somebody trans and then just goes with it in a pretty sweet if simplistic way amid the backdrop of an apocalyptic zombie invasion (there are just bigger fish to fry!). I dig Wild Zero for many reasons but it being a respite to the trap narrative goes a long way for me.

WM: I think with films like Wild Zero, various work from Takashi Miike, and even aspects of Homicidal we can see an “other side of the coin” effect with how to handle transness and typical tropes in genre cinema. Whereas some of the other films we’ve discussed like Sleepaway Camp and Dressed to Kill fail in various ways. I don’t think the intention we ever had here is to say that genre cinema is bad from a moral perspective, but that it needs to be smarter about applied tropes. I think there is a good film to be made about the trap narrative in genre cinema by subverting it and shifting the positional power therein but I haven’t seen one that quite fits what I’d want yet. I don’t need an empowerment movie necessarily, but one that understands the game, and by and large these directors who work primarily in genre cinema that we’ve discussed thus far, struggle with these things, and it comes back to needing more trans people involved in cinema. When our perspective gets heard. maybe then the narrative will shift from the trans woman who is a trap and in turn a murderer to the trans woman whose trans status is revealed and more likely to be killed, because that’s the reality underneath the trans trope. We’re the ones that suffer both in cinematic representation and in reality where we face the danger of being killed just for being trans. That’s what cinema has to learn.

Body Talk:Conversations on Transgender Cinema with Caden Gardner: Part Six

Ginger Snaps (2000)

Body Talk is an ongoing series of transcribed conversations on Transgender Cinema as we prepare to write a book on the subject. This part is on the horror subgenre of “body horror”. 

WILLOW MACLAY: Alyssa Heflin tweeted not too long ago upon the occasion of the release of Lukas Dhon’ts cis wet dream “Girl” that as it existed Cinematic language couldn’t tell or interpret transgender stories in a suitable way. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, especially as it pertains to our general thesis of “What is transgender cinema?” and I’ve come to the conclusion that I think she’s right. Transgender Cinema as it is understood by cisgender filmmakers is exterior forces and changes, but we understand transness as an internal, textural, abstract energy. Especially in the case of dysphoria. What cisgender filmmakers typically do not understand is that for us, the internal becomes external, not the other way around. Dysphoria manifests itself in real exterior ways, but it originates from an internal place. In order to accomplish something resembling a real transgender cinema cisgender filmmakers (and transgender ones too) need to work from the inside out and they shouldn’t be afraid to obscure or unsettle the image, because as trans people our experience of being alive is something that is never going to be 100% right. Of course you have to write the character with the full intentions of giving them scope and life, but transness touches everything for us, and we perceive the world in that way. This is why I think body horror is the closest thing mainstream cinema has to transgender cinema in terms of cinematic language. In body horror you get characters who are often unfairly stricken with something they had no control over until it begins to eat at them completely until they become at one with their own sickness and come to grips with their own monstrous qualities or fall by the hand of society or their own hand. The genre is rich in transgender stories, because it’s a mode of storytelling which fundamentally concerns itself with bodies, and as trans people we can never remove ourselves from the knowledge that we’re inside of our own skin. It’s always present and in body horror it’s present too, even if it is often about nightmarish monstrosities like flies, werewolves or the undead. 
CADEN GARDNER:  The transgender allegory found in the body horror sub-genre is connected to our own trans experiences in dysphoria, something that is not exactly predicated on time or controlled like some common pain like a headache or a head cold. It is chaotic. Cis people don’t really pick up on it, but sometimes in the most extreme cases, side effects of dysphoria are visible, be it self-harm or certain eye-catching images based on anxiety and stress. I will put myself out there and say that for years I developed a compulsion to scratch my arms in dysphoric episodes. It was not self-harm but there was a sense of helplessness from my unconscious signals about my issues- that for years I never had the courage to say out loud- were there in plain sight, until I realized I had to conceal my arms. I was embarrassed because this thing I could barely internalize any longer was starting to show itself. That trans experience is not uncommon. Have I seen that trans experience on-screen? No. I can’t say I have. Generally speaking, interiority can be difficult to convey in cinematic language but it often feels like cisgender filmmakers just see the exterior changes as a crutch and a fulcrum for the entire existence of these stories without delving deeper. There’s nothing layered in how their trans subject relate to the world, their place, and whatand how their gender dysphoria manifests itself as. In that regard, Lukas Dhont stating he wanted to make a universal experience about a trans character is immediately off. He is hardly alone in wanting to connect trans characters to some universal ideal, as that type of art seems encouraged by liberals as an antidote to reactionary conservatism. But it misses the point. Trans people have had decades of misunderstanding by cisgender filmmakers and to now go off into thinking we are all one is an incredibly insincere pivot. To course correct from decades of filmmaking that misunderstood trans people, we need to start with why we are different while grappling with no longer being an other. What does it mean to have a transgender body? We are not served that on film, so we go look to where trans people are usually conditioned to find their most common representation: the villain, the outsider, and the other.
Science fiction and horror were built from the foundation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The monster was created from a scientist playing God and a text about a body that had no control over their reanimation. Once undead, he becomes aware of the world around him and the society that is afraid of his very existence- he hides and seeks a partner, as he is alone. Issues of identity and control of the mind and body are all there in Frankenstein and continued forward. Over time, those genres of sci-fi and horror grew and expanded into more stories and perspectives. Horrors of transforming, mutating, and deteriorating due to various forces, some of which came from within or something elusive. There was no antidote or cure in some cases, but an existential question never to be solved. The body as a vessel for chaos and the horror of that lack of control is a trans story. Not the only story, of course, but an essential text that makes up part of our narrative 
Frankenstein (1931)
WM: This conversation is going to lean so heavily on dysphoria that I feel like it’s important we talk about how it manifested itself in each of us. One thing that Lukas Dhont immediately got wrong out of the gate was trying to make his film a universal experience like you said, because transness is very specific and something like dysphoria can vary from person to person in severity. For me, dysphoria was something that I immediately felt in my life. I didn’t know the word for it, but I felt ashamed of my own body because it wasn’t like other little girls and then I grew up and things got exponentially worse until I couldn’t handle it anymore. From an outsider’s eye my dysphoria probably looked like depression. I shut myself off entirely and stayed hidden in my bedroom because going out meant other people would see my body and I couldn’t deal with that, but internally it felt like my brain was poisoned. I’d punch certain parts of my body as hard as I could to the point where I’d bruise myself because I hated myself. And I’d avoid mirrors like the plague. My dysphoria has lessened tremendously over the past few years through transitioning but I still find myself hating my body and calling myself terrible names and hurting myself every now and then even today. Dysphoria lingers, even if it lessens over time. We never fully disengage ourselves from the root point of why we needed to transition in the first place. It’s something that’s just in the air of our reality.
To pull this back to cinema though, it’s going to vary from filmmaker to filmmaker in how something like body horror is expressed. We talked in the Under the Skin entryabout how science fiction and synthetic bodies grappled with questions of transness incidentally, and that’s the case here too. To my knowledge there aren’t any direct representations of transness as body horror in cinema where it’s literally about dysphoria, but there are films where girls go through puberty and turn into werewolves and hate every fucking second of it, to name one example. Something like that is close enough in my understanding of dysphoria that I can point the screen and say I recognize what that character is going through. Dysphoria is so individual and unique from person to person you’d likely get a different example from every single person you ask when you bring up the question, “what does dysphoria look like in movies?” For me, it’s that puberty is hell, but the puberty you never asked for is deadly. 
CG: You indirectly brought up Ginger Snaps and the moment that stuck out for me in that film was when Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) reveals to her sister Bridgette (Emily Perkins) her scars from the wounds she received from the werewolf. It’s not just on her chest, but the scars are growing hairs. ‘I don’t want a hairy chest!’. Ginger confides to Bridgette with absolute disgust. It is so striking. Ginger Snaps consciously builds its puberty metaphor, within the text, as menstruation is explicitly mentioned for sisters Bridgette and Ginger. I remember going through puberty and while I knew nobody would understand why, and I did not have the words, I would say this out loud, just moments of exasperation in the realm of, ‘I don’t want this!’ I can recall a parent, or a family member telling me, ‘All girls go through it’, but if you never saw yourself as a girl, well, tough luck. Pretty much every trans guy in my position can understand why that would be difficult. It just feels like such a disturbance to your body that reoccurs over and over as though to remind you of your differences, undercutting any sense of worth you might have for yourself. Ginger had a disturbance too, but in the form of a creature who attacked and bit her, but she does her best to negotiate her now fractured self (one who is now a sexually active young woman and the other who is a werewolf) but it ultimately does weigh her down. She’s been infected with something that she cannot undo and it is helpless. I can understand that and so can you. 
Ginger Snaps (2000)
 WM: That’s exactly it! It’s something happening to your body that you so completely reject. I’m fortunate in some sense because I’m intersex, and because of that puberty was never this thing that felt completely irreversible. I feel for anyone who is in that boat, as there are many. I didn’t have loads of body hair but what I did have felt like the end of the world. Another big moment in Ginger Snaps for me is when Ginger is trying to hide the fact that she’s grown a tail over night, and her immediate reaction is to cut it off. That scene could so easily be placed alongside a trans girl tucking, doing everything in power to get rid of this thing that’s between her legs which basically ruins her mindset 24/7. It’s the same vibe. Puberty was a fucking nightmare for me as soon as I was told about the birds and the bees and how my body would be developing. I’d become a man (editor’s note: she did not), and nothing seemed worse to me than that fate. I spiralled and everything got so much worse for me, and if we link that back to Ginger Snaps we have Ginger who is 16 and hasn’t had her period yet and after she is attacked by a werewolf she starts menstruating and turning into a lycanthrope, and once her change begins there’s no undoing the side effects. The filmmaking really taps into the bodily dysphoria and the interiority too. The hiding away in the bedrooms, the panic, the fact that the film isn’t afraid to show bodies going through change or gore. It’s all metaphorically the destruction of a body at the onset of puberty in addition to being an allegory for being a teenage girl and growing into an adult. It’s a dense movie. One I’ve always liked and one I’ve come back to again and again since figuring out why I’m attached to it in the first place.
CG: A major one for me was Brian DePalma’s Carrie. That gym shower scene, where Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) gets her period, is horrifying, grotesque and the way the other girls treat her is unbelievable. DePalma plays on how subjective that sense of shame is versus reality, putting into question how much of Carrie’s insecurities are mental versus the actual severity of the bullying she faces. Sometimes he plays too heavily into his usual artifice, but that sense of shame in feeling like a freak, however, is incredibly relatable thanks to Stephen King’s text. Everyone is laughing at her as she’s going through this change and it feels like she is being punished for something she never asked for. That was me- to the degree that my first period happened in school and well, I guess I should be happy it wasn’t in the gym showers. It might as well have been as my embarrassment from the incident painted this target on my back in much the same way. To return to the film, Carrie is othered despite her ethereal exteriority. She seems blank to the other kids, unable to really shape her own identity due to her domestic circumstances. That makes her vulnerable and innocent, but it also makes her perfect prey to attack. In the wake of her menstruation Carrie feels like the telekinesis she develops as a result is an affliction and her mother hovers over her, threatening her with eternal damnation for wanting to try to pass off as a normal girl. It goes badly. Carrie gets her revenge but has to be taken down too, because her type of story ending that way is the logical conclusion. I mean, thank God I never went to prom. 
WM: I never went to prom either. Does any trans person ever truly go to prom? Realistically I think we should hold an adults prom for us only. That would be more than swell. But yeah, Carrie is this really intensely tactile film, and I can 100% understand relating to her horror at getting her first period. In that scene De Palma shoots all these other women as if it’s like this garden of nymphs, and here’s Carrie White, fundamentally different from the rest in her own mind and in theirs. It’s incidentally De Palma’s only film of consequence in terms of transness, because we both know he’s a blithering idiot on the subject. I love that one though and a lot of it has to do with the way Spacek plays the part and the way we’re foregrounded in her point of view pretty frequently. We’re asked to empathize with her, and as a trans person I think we can, because typically we are bullied, and in addition to that we’re dealing with the horrors of our own bodies in similar fashion. 
Carrie (1976)
 CG: Thankfully there’s a generation after ours that’s coming out and transitioning at a younger age who perhaps get to experience prom (I am sure there exists that story that makes allies happy about one school having a trans homecoming king or queen that gets passed around and shared on Facebook), although who knows if they’re in the safest, most comfortable environment in their high school. Schools have changed from my health class where transness never came up but that doesn’t correct every misunderstanding and ignorant thought about our community whether they are coming from students, teachers, or parents.
I would say before puberty I was much more gregarious and I had a very diverse friend group. Some of whom would later come out, but after puberty most of my male friends stopped talking to me. It got more polarized and gendered. I could not identify with a lot of the girls at my school and they seemed to have an idea that I was different on some level. I honestly never heard the term ‘tranny’ or any trans slur at any point in school (that may be the only benefit of the trans erasure), but they knew how to get under my skin. I was bullied and harassed, it’s not very unusual, but that doesn’t mean it somehow made the harassment and bullying feel normal or something I could escape. I had to go to school. I carried so much anxiety and pain for the fact that I knew I was different. and I could not express myself or attain any idea of who I was in my teenage years. The words eluded me and the images I could connect with were unavailable beyond internet searches that I could only get after school. Often during school I disassociated, to the point where there are no memories beyond what I have only spoken about. I was that good at disassociating. It made me become invisible and frankly, I’d rather have that than catch hell all the time.
As a result, my middle school and high school experiences were extremely interior and isolated. Some of that converged with me literally going into a room where I could be by myself. I could hide from the world. What could I do? I mean, I would watch movies but sometimes the disassociating would be so severe that I’d lock myself in spaces. Coming out of those spells was beyond difficult. I felt threatened by the outside world but what was there for me to show any sort of growth when I didn’t feel like I could express my problems? I did not watch the film until college but the Todd Haynes film [SAFE] may be the only film to convey that sense of isolation and disconnect of my body and mind, and the side effects of that. It is a body horror movie, and one that is unsettling in the sense that confronting the problem by the main character Carol White (Julianne Moore) eludes her, she can only play a part to barely survive and it is literally eating away at her. 
[SAFE] (1995)
WM: I think you know my high school story, and if you don’t I’ll very briefly give you the gracenotes of an otherwise blank period in my life. When I was younger I still felt dysphoria, though I didn’t have a word for it, but not to the point where I couldn’t live my life. I could go to school, make good grades and hang out with other girls, and boys. It wasn’t a millstone tied around my neck at that point, but after puberty I started to make myself throw up before school started so I wouldn’t have to go, because I was that terrified of being seen, and it was around the time when I completely checked out. I was homeschooled after that and no one knew what was wrong with me, including myself. I didn’t know the words “transgender” or “gender dysphoria” but if I would have I could have pinpointed what was wrong with me. 
During all of this time, I also isolated myself and shut the world out. The internet became my home, along with my bedroom, and our local cinema. The cinema was the only place I felt comfortable going because I was going to be shrouded in darkness. No one would see me.
When I came across the films of Chantal Akerman, and to a lesser extent Sofia Coppola, I immediately made a connection, because she’s this very interior director. She’s patient. She’ll let a shot sit for an absurd lengths so that we can feel the time, but for me, stasis felt like home. In The Meetings of Anna she frequently shoots her lead character Anna (Aurore Clement) staring out windows watching the world instead of being in it herself, and almost all of her films have moments like that among other things I’d gravitate towards. I think of Je, Tu, Il, Elleand the opening passage where Chantal sits in a room with no furniture for upwards of 40 minutes writing in a diary and eating sugar. It felt like cinema that fundamentally understood me and SAFEis an extension of that. Haynes, and much of the new queer cinema group of the early 90s, conisdering they were disciples of Chantal Akerman in a stylistic and thematic sense. 
Je, Tu, Il, Elle (1974)
CG: When I was a teenager, I had some idea about the New Queer Cinema movement. There was Gregg Araki, who had just put out Mysterious Skin and I was interested in watching more Todd Haynes after coming across Far From Heaven, I’m Not There., and Velvet Goldmine. However, it was Haynes’ Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story that made me think he was a filmmaker who I wanted to follow for the rest of my life. Haynes had an understanding of what it is to be a person who was a prisoner of an identity. In the case of Karen Carpenter (recast as a Barbie doll) it was an exterior, that was effected by her internalization of the absurdly high beauty standards expected of a pop star like herself. Most notably stemming from the widely circulated, notorious comment, that the eating disorder that took her life was based from somebody calling her fat. Haynes understands his characters are on the margins of society. Some of the harshest conditions that can take control of a human body come from an exterior place, that then influence their interior selves but also reveals and informs that interior side that has long been there, unsatisfied. That is [SAFE] and for me, it hits on a trans-allegorical level even if it is something people would not immediately be drawn into perceiving.
I like that you bring up Akerman, as her film Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels is a clear influence on [SAFE]. Jeanne Dielman (Delphine Seyrig) goes through a series of routines that she must do over and over as a housewife and mother to an ungrateful son (Jan Decorte). She is framed dead-center as audiences watch her prepare meat loaf and peel potatoes in real time. Her routines wear her down and she reaches a breaking point while internalizing her feelings of unfulfilment. It ends badly with the cataclysmic breaking of routine. We feel tha due to Akerman’s patience and insistence that we watch this woman and perceive her thought process. We begin to see ennui become more visible and she’s worn down from playing by these rules that she so closely followed. [SAFE]’s Carol White never has a handle or any real ownership of herself in the same way Jeanne Dielman does, but we watch her in a similar way with a focus on her failed attempts to fall into a routine to gain some sense of self worth. But the problem with Carol White, and why I connect with her on such a deep level, is that she has no identity or really anything to claim as her own. Her home is her husband’s money, she cannot nurture her stepson because she did not give birth to him, and the domestic roles to keep the home nice are done by others because Carol’s husband has money. Her attempts at doing simple jobs like ordering a couch or just her attempting to look ultra-feminine backfire. The moment where Carol gets a perm is her cataclysmic event. Those events expose her to chemicals that reveal she is a sufferer of environmental illness, a real life illness, that is tied to her trying to assert her femininity and identity. Julianne Moore as Carol gives a full bodied performance that I still cannot shake. Her performance is criticised sometimes as being merely a cipher, but listen to her airy, high register voice that feels like it wants to leave her body. Aside from her performance there’s also intricate detail in the costuming. Look at the gauche 80s clothing that she wears, and how her wardrobe becomes washed out and blank as she gets sicker. She’s a blank slate and still unable to connect to something that can unlock her illness. She’s goes to Wrenwood, a New Age community that is all about positive affirmations but a community that avoids confronting their problems. These issues stem from their place in society. The world doesn’t know what to do with them, let alone the medical community. There isn’t a word for what they’re experiencing and their place in the world is fractured because there isn’t a language to discuss their problems. Sound familiar? 
[SAFE] was made after the height of the AIDS/HIV crisis and serves as a conscious allegory of it by a queer filmmaker that correctly presented how society did treat people with AIDS/HIV at the time. If you did not die from the disease, that did not mean society understood or willing to help you. You may seek out communities but getting actual help in confronting your illness beyond positive affirmation was a serious issue. It’s something that films people want to retroactively assign an AIDS/HIV allegory miss. What could you do if you had AIDS/HIV, environmental illness, or gender dysphoria when there were no words or a dialogue happening about it? Carol White sought out empty spaces, be it an empty room, or an empty car garage. I sought an empty room in some of my dysphoric episodes too. I still do that sometimes, but I also need to have help and people to talk to rather than sink into my shell.

WM: I think one of the most brilliant aspects of [SAFE] is Julianne Moore’s performance and it absolutely wouldn’t work without her full understanding of who this character is, and her place in the frame. She mentions on the Criterion Collection interview with director Todd Haynes that upon reading the script she was dying to play the character, because she immediately understood that this character didn’t want to take up space anywhere. She wanted to minimize her presence and make herself as small as possible. This ties into your comment about her voice. Notice that she’s not speaking with the full depth of her vocal chords, but merely letting words flutter out. Like she’s speaking at the top of her throat and not from her body, because there’s a disconnect between her brain and her self. Todd Haynes amplifies this by framing her in ways that reduce her physicality to the point of a small dot in the larger scope of a room or space. And we do that as trans people. We blend in, but even more than that we make ourselves invisible, especially when dysphoric. Is it a life when you flee from everything that makes life worth living? That’s a question I pretty frequently asked myself when I was a teenager, and I realize now that it wasn’t necessarily my fault for retreating in the same way Carol does in this film. I had an illness that couldn’t be treated, and damn sure wasn’t understood considering this was pre-mainstream trans presence age. I felt like if I actually spoke up about what was wrong with me I wouldn’t be believed, and I wasn’t when I eventually did talk about what was wrong with me. Carol wasn’t believed either. She was second guessed and at absolute worst even gaslighted about what she was going through in this movie. Haynes positions all of this as an AIDS allegory of sorts, but it works on multiple levels like you said, and it’s an easily identifiable film in something resembling a transgender canon even though it doesn’t directly represent transness or talk about it at all.
I think as trans people when we talk about transness we have to widen the scope of what is transgender cinema, because the literal texts so often miss the point. It’s also why queer cinema has to move beyond just what pertains to sexuality. Sexuality is important and so are stories that are literally about transgender people, but as an art form cinema can handle topics of a wider scale in different ways than direct representation. It’s intellectually dishonest to pretend otherwise. 
 CG: Precisely. As a physical being Carol White is at the margins of her own story, the very frames of the film. She is so uncomfortable in her own skin and no matter how much she wants to assure people in her life that she is getting better, her body tells you otherwise. It is such a tough movie to watch. You’re seeing somebody never getting better because the chaos and unknown elude her. The choices she makes in trying to accept a level of culpability in being in her situation in the guise of self-help to be ‘safe’ are heartbreaking. There is a tip-off by Haynes early on that one of the few things that Carol connects to and feels like she has some level of interest in is gardening and walking around in her garden at night. She connects to nature, but a nature that contains the same chemicals that she has been advised are attacking her body. That dichotomy represents the general chaos of existing and having a body in the world. It’s quite devastating that she retreats. 
To talk about queer cinema as far as dealing with bodies, the AIDS crisis did provide an interesting link in presenting a sense of dysphoria on-screen. Characters no longer had control of their bodies. To have had AIDS in the 80s was for a disturbingly long time, an unknown and widely misunderstood condition that was alienating and isolating, and society at large didn’t care. They were more ready to place blame on those with the disease for their lifestyle choices than to actually look at ways in which to help these people. That it’s still hard to this day to present AIDS in cinema as something gripping, real and a distinct period that completely reshaped the world due to conscience negligence is damning. It feels like they’ve swept it under the rug and don’t want to recognize it and stare it point blank right in the eyes. To get into other body horror films is to approach some of the films made during the time period. I mentioned how I am a bit guarded about being so insistent on assigning some of these movies as AIDS allegories, as some of them do make the host of the disease and condition that riddle through these films a complete monster, inhuman, de-personalized, and making society the victims, when that is not the AIDS story at all. But there was one that stood out for me and it is perhaps because the filmmaker had an understanding of the frailty of the human body and daringly empathized as much as one could with a person who took on such a debilitating condition. I am talking about David Cronenberg’s The Fly. In its own way and throughout his career, Cronenberg really seemed to get how much of a personal terror it is to not feel like you’re present in your own body, with your skin morphing and deteriorating in such gross, disturbing ways. Dysphoria was not as gross as a Cronenberg film to me, but boy it can feel that way. 
The Fly (1986)
 WM: A friend of mine once said that “Long Live the New Flesh” (the final, iconic line from Videodrome) works as both a monument to Cronenberg as a director and to his place as a filmmaker who unintentionally made a half dozen or so films that could easily be placed alongside words like “body dysphoria”, and I think that just about perfectly sums him up. I think your insistence that The Fly is his best is spot-on, even if I love quite a few of his films. Cronenberg always had a tendency towards playing in his own goop, but it’s that very essence that I think aligns him to a cinema we can understand. It’s a cinema of bodies in disarray first and foremost, almost in a state of decay from the onset with characters fighting against that feeling. It’s a kind of Canadian disposition of surviving winter and living with the cold of death hovering around everywhere, but I think it’s something we can understand fundamentally too because in a sense we have to kill our past self to bring a newer version of us into existence. We are our own ghosts and Cronenberg’s characters are of a similar disposition. But I want to hear more from you about The Fly. It’s one of my favourites and I’ll get to it in a second, but I’d like to hear you elaborate first. 
CG: What I like about Cronenberg is that there are, as you said, bodies in complete disarray and characters grappling with various levels of control with their bodies. Some of these characters know and have a certain level of agency over how they are treating themselves that is mostly out of step with society’s norms. There’s a sense of reckless abandonment, like Videodrome, in being so disconnected and seeking out something more experiential than what society is giving you, but I don’t sense a moralist streak in Cronenberg. It’s quite queer, and Crash is the best example of that sense of bucking society’s norms on a sexual and identity level played in hypertext. But to hit on The Fly, Cronenberg’s more mainstream and major studio works showed more of a relationship to normative society existing around these characters. The earlier works, Shivers, Rabid, Scanners, and Videodrome are still playing within a level of their own logic that the audience is dropped into and needs to be acclimated to rather than our common, normative world setting the rules. Cronenberg’s remake of the Kurt Neumann’s The Fly from the 1950s has its entry point be Geena Davis’ Veronica ‘Ronnie’ Quaife following and then engaging in a relationship with Jeff Goldblum’s Seth Brundle. Brundle is cast immediately as an eccentric and somebody who wants to please Veronica by having his work impress her. He’s insecure and it clouds his judgment, his experiment on teleportation becomes tainted, that then leads him to take on the characteristics of a fly. It is a deterioration that is quite devastating but initially Seth’s results show that he becomes an ideal partner to Veronica on a physical level, and he credits his teleportation. But his changes become more negative, violent, and averse, he transforms into a monster, but even before he goes full-blown monster, he ceases to be the man that Veronica once knew, and was in love with. He is dehumanized and has his humanity removed. That does not mean Veronica completely recoils and rejects him despite gaining her own trauma due to the fact that she gets impregnated by him and has nightmares of giving birth to a creature (probably the biggest connection to the AIDS allegory is the fear and anxiety of having a condition transmitted sexually). She wants to care for him and save Seth but does not know how, but does grants Seth his wish of being shot with a gun to kill him and end his misery. The deteriorating body that isolates and alienates, a monstrous sight at a man who wanted to play God and self-improve in order to be somebody more than an eccentric nerd. That’s how I see The Fly. The idea of trying and it turns into a self-inflicted wound, a cause for more disarray, chaos, and dysphoria in the body. You look like shit and you cannot really seek help for that. 
Crash (1996)

Rabid (1977)
WM: I think the idea of playing god is also present in our general makeup which also makes The Flymore resonant. What could possibly be more like playing god than changing your entire body and some pre-supposed destiny into something entirely different? Brundle dies for this, but what essentially separates itself from other tragic martyr tropes is that the film is never played for it’s melodramatic reveal. It never unlatches itself from its own DNA in horror and because the film is ambivalent in a moral sense I don’t think Cronenberg asks us to weep for Brundle even if we may. In a narrative context his failed science experiment is not inherently different from the people who died transitioning when surgeries were brand new and doctors didn’t know what they could and couldn’t do. It’s an Icarus syndrome and it’s inherent in us.
Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis do a lot of the heavy lifting in terms of getting across the internal scars of what’s happening between them. Geena is the onlooker not understanding what’s happening to this person she had initially fallen for while Goldblum has to grapple with his body becoming inhuman. Goldblum spends a lot of time in mirrors staring at his rotting flesh while the work of brilliant special effects artist Chris Walas, does its job in getting across how horrific he views his external self while his soul is still clamouring for the life he once had. He doesn’t immediately shut down and decide to die, but it’s a slow, agonizing process where there’s nothing left. He accepts his death, because he lets who he is drift off to sea, never to be seen again. You can’t be a human if you’re so different from everyone else that no one else can understand, and that’s lateral to our issues as transgender people.
Even beyond The Fly I think Cronenberg has a rich visual catalogue of images that feel blatantly transsexual, even if they don’t have further context. I think of James Woods, shirtless, appearing to be a man in all ways, except for the cleft that resembles a vulva on his chest in Videodrome. He panicks, reaches in and finds a gun. Is that a suicide image? His own latent anxiety at what’s happening and his mind summoning a gun? One could argue. There’s also the image of Roy Scheider in Naked Lunch revealing himself to be living underneath the skin of a very normal looking cis woman only to be a bare chested, hairy son of a gun with a cigar in his mouth. That one’s more punk rock. But I think of these images, often, and there’s certainly more than those two.

Naked Lunch (1991)
Videodrome (1983)
CG: That image in Naked Lunch is incredible. I recall Cronenberg saying that he
believes everyone has control, with varying degrees of complete grip, over
their identities. This makes sense to me. He is not really casting a judgmental eye but showing people going through self-discovery that it can sometimes be trial and error, wear and tear, and can doom them, but that is more Cronenberg presenting human fallibility than damnation. And his stories make sense as far as seeing these bodies in disarray and these choices being made because Cronenberg’s worlds make sense. The images are surreal, subversive, but the characters are very real, sometimes even operating in very traditional film archetypes. But of course there is a level of transgressiveness in his work that makes his films challenging for people. He knows his characters are not normal based on the rules and understanding of modern society but there is no dictating of norms and rules within his work. That makes his films extremely easy and freeing to watch as a trans person. Even his most classically made work, A Dangerous Method, a play adaptation that’s based on the real life psychoanalysts in Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, and Sabina Spielrein, offers something for me as a trans person through Keira Knightley’s deeply rich, and extremely misunderstood, performance of Spielrein. It’s a full bodied performance, incredibly physical, unhinged jaws and body contortions that make her feel diametrically opposed to Julianne Moore’s Carol White. But Spielrein goes from a patient, considered emotionally unstable, to somebody who confronts her trauma of her past life and is able to finds words of what has eaten away at her. She improves and takes an interest in psychology, becoming a student and then ultimately, one of the first female psychoanalysts. It’s so simple and may be shrugged off as spotlighting a simple feminist strain of a major figure in her field, but I find that Cronenberg shows amid the disarray of his characters and their bodies, there can be a confrontation with the problem and that can be tied to an identity, a trauma, something that had been elusive and hard to explain and that can lead to finding peace. Spielrein in A Dangerous Method is a body horror story, that includes a confrontation in the form of BDSM in her sessions with Jung, that can have a happy ending (well, happy to the extent of Spielrein’s success as her real-life had its own unfortunate end due to being a Jew, her religious identity used against her, in World War II). 
WM:  The most interesting thing to me in A Dangerous Method is Keira’s performance. It’s full body acting and unleashes a kind of torrent inside of her in terms of the physical horrors she’s manifesting through acting. It’s a great performance and everything that Cronenberg does with Body Horror, but on a theoretical level instead of one reliant upon special effects. All the terror is completely inside of Knightly’s own process. 

A Dangerous Method (2011)
WM CONT: You mention the word “trauma” above and I want to get into that a little too, specifically the works of a handful of actors and directors. This isn’t necessarily connected to transgender cinema literally either, but in the ways these things can intersect. Rob Zombie’s films really hammer things home for me in this regard, and I’ve written about them extensively. In The Lords of SalemSherri Moon Zombie plays a woman who is essentially cursed, a daughter of Salem unfairly brought into a centuries old blood pact which leads her to spiral into a mess of trauma, relapsed drug use and hallucinations. Hallucinations in particular are what I want to gravitate towards, because they take the real world and make it strange, and I think that’s how we perceive things, even if it isn’t as loudly stated as bugs ripping into your flesh or vomiting black sludge. The main point is that something is amiss and dysphoria can tangle the world into a poisonous vine of self destruction. This abstracted imagery due to trauma is also strongly present in movies like Jack Garfein’s “Something Wild”, the filmography of David Lynch and in the work of Hideaki Anno’s epochal, Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Neon Genesis Evangelion
 CG: Part of being trans and then telling people about it is how seriously they take you. A lot of that can result in years of internalization for fear of being misunderstood and not taken seriously at all. Telling someone you’re trans shifts their image of you, and that can take its own toll on us, because we have no idea how someone is going to react. If you have no trans health providers or health insurance or find yourself isolated, what can you do? Even with those privileges that I have had, in my period of not being able to tell anyone, I disassociated which has me operating with just periods of my life that are blank for myself despite people recalling me in an image that I was disconnected from in those timeframes. That disassociation came as a reaction to trauma and torment in addition to dysphoria that festered into just more inner-turmoil. When I got older, I was self-medicating my problem, even as I was becoming increasingly aware that I was trans, by drinking alcohol. I am a recovering alcoholic. I am upfront about it because at this point I feel like I have nothing to hide. And I feel like, unfortunately, based on the numbers and studies of trans employment, suicide rates, uninsured, and other surveys done, that we are not really alone in having traumas in addition to our gender dysphoria. I can see a film about an alcoholic or even somebody feeling like their memory has been manipulated in a way where I see a film on trauma and disassociation and connect with those works. I echo your sentiments on the films of David Lynch, Garfein’s Something Wild and would include Lynne Ramsay’s recent You Were Never Really Here as well as Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight as far as achieving trauma, disassociation, and feeling off-centered. That feels right at home for me.
Films gravitating toward body horror that understand the frailties and fallibility of the human body, feel like the closest depiction to our issues I can imagine on-screen even if it isn’t direct text, just shrouded in allegory. Cronenberg did to a trans film called M. Butterfly but that is Cronenberg’s worst film because it betrays a lot of what makes him great. The trans character of Song Liling (based on the real-life opera singer turned spy Shi Pei Pu that “fooled” a French diplomat in identifying as a woman when was just a male performer posing as a woman) just feels at such a distance and enigma who is never interrogated and has that eye-roller of a scene where John Lone strips naked of his character’s ‘true self’ as revelation. That film is perhaps more of a failure of the pre-existing text of the widely known David Henry Hwang play, but it is quite ironic that Cronenberg’s allegories that you can connect to transness feel easier to connect with as a viewer than his film about an actual trans person. That was somehow between Naked Lunch and Crash. I felt like I had a better idea and grasp of the characters turned on by being in car crashes than a trans character ‘pretending’. 
WM: I feel you in a major way. It’s true that telling people you’re trans automatically alters that image of you. It’s like a small death, and it’s on us, perhaps unfairly, to reaffirm to that person that this other thing is the real version of ourselves. It all comes back to images doesn’t it? How we view ourselves. How we’re perceived by others. No wonder we’re so obsessed with cinema considering the image is everything. What is so stirring about body horror is that through it’s broad abstracted images on the human body in a state of disarray it somehow comes close to touching on something resembling cinematic language that is actually functional with transness. Melding body horror into realistic human drama is perhaps how to achieve a true transgender cinema. Something that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in fiction filmmaking. We’ll chase that and keep creating until it exists, and we’ll keep talking about it. Talking about transenss and getting it out in the open is why we, as a community, have made strides so far in the past five or six years, and that’s no small feat in and of itself. Maybe a transgender cinema can exist. 
Inland Empire (2006)

Madness and Women: Queen of Earth (Alex Ross Perry, 2015)

 I’m excited. A final still frame of Elisabeth Moss trapped in laughter gives way to credits and I feel disheveled, invigorated, surprised and unsure. I want to say what I experienced was something close to amazement, but everything is hard to grasp, because Queen of Earth is the type of movie that one cannot place their fingers upon fully at the close. It’s a little too vague in every way imaginable to simply be about one thing, and Perry is a genius at structuring his pictures so that narrative feels resolutely important to the proceedings. In Queen of Earth‘s case the one-day-for-a-full-week horror movie as anti-vacation at a Lake House recalls the first act of Je, Tu, Il, Elle refashioned through Roman Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy, which makes things feel familiar, but altogether different from the disciples it so obviously takes from.

Catherine (Elisabeth Moss) and Virginia (Katherine Waterston) are best friends, but they seem to hate each other. They share every last detail of their lives in long conversations that link them as spiritual sisters. When Catherine’s father dies after killing himself Catherine shuts herself off from the world to rehabilitate herself and her career as an artist at Virginia’s vacation house that belongs to her parents (they both benefit from nepotism in some regards). While spending the week in this cabin things begin to unravel for Catherine as the vacation from herself becomes a series of avoiding contact with other people, bodily breakdown and an evolving sense of inwardness that leaves her in a panicked state of depression. The same thing that eventually killed her father.

The narrative of how close these women are slightly indulges in the persona/swap trope made famous by Mulholland Dr., 3 Women and godmother picture Persona. Moss and Waterstone at first seem to only exist in front of one another, and a long take sequence of a conversation physically links them. “This makes us the same”, Virginia says at one point. Catherine enters in one frame and Virginia reappears in another. This is all perhaps just a smokescreen though, as a means of perpetuating the idea of female friendship as both endearing and toxic that Perry seems to buy into. The yin-yang quality of good and evil and love and hate seems to exist in every moment between the two. It’s ludicrous, but quickly twists into a singular experience, and the picture that had once presented itself as a sister to those others becomes Catherine’s film entirely.

That movie would not work if Elisabeth Moss were not on fucking point throughout. Her ascension as one of the best actors working today began with Mad Men, and has brought us other fine performances such as Top of the Lake and another Alex Ross Perry picture, Listen Up Philip, but it is here in Queen of Earth where her skills as an actor have been brought to the forefront and should, hopefully, guarantee her the chance to play any role she desires in the future. There’s one scene in this movie where Catherine has been sabotaged, and her reclusion has been disrupted by a party that Virginia is throwing. Something seems off though, and her anxiety in being around others forces her to have a panic attack and she envisions them touching her body. She’s been discussing with Virginia the pain her bones are causing her previously so this is at the apex of her uncomfortability around people. She cannot handle this in the slightest, so the following morning when another woman innocently touches Catherine’s face, it is a moment of utmost horror, and Moss’ reaction to this is devastating. I could barely breathe in this moment, and it was then that I knew the insular nature of her character was something I was completely enveloped in due to Moss’ performance.

Queen of the Earth is also a testament to the power tone can have over a horror movie. Perry has cited Roman Polanski’s The Apartment Trilogy in interviews when discussing his work here, and it shows, and as he considers these movies to be comedies in one way or another his movie isn’t without moments of bleak laughter. This however, is an unsettling movie, and with each passing day of Catherine waking up in the same outfit with the garbage of barely eaten food piling up around her the claustrophobia of the setting overtakes any sense of black comedy and Queen lurches towards pure horror. There’s a disorienting effect surrounding Perry’s camerawork and Sean Price Williams incredible super 16 cinematography. Perry astounds with his ability with a camera, creating split screens out of real space and framing bodies in opposite ends of functionality in one moment and dissolving imagery of the nature that surrounds them the next. I’m most impressed by his ability to shift gears when the film calls for it, because when Queen of Earth moves into the depression fueled failings of Catherine after a male neighbour (Patrick Fugit in a role that undoes his Almost Famous popularity) is interjected into the plot he deftly captures her inability to function by altering his lens from Catherine and Virginia’s shared mental state to just Catherine’s. His repetitious framing on her ever-dirty nightgown and unkempt hair, the dirtyness of her body, the bed she lays in, and the cave she is building around herself creates a sense of isolation within the character and the viewer and with the power of Moss’ note for note perfect performance Perry can achieve everything he set out for.

This is a great movie, maybe an amazing one, but that’s unknown after a single viewing. At current times the feeling of being overwhelmed takes over me. The thought of chasing this movie and trying to pin down what it means or how it gets there is an ecstasy. Unlocking a picture can bring with it its own merits, but unraveling the mystery of why a film is so effecting towards you personally is something else entirely. Queen of Earth feels like the sort of luggage I’ll be carrying with me for the rest of my life.

Queen of Earth will be in limited release August 26, 2015.

Blood and Ballet: A Top 100 in Horror

I’ve always tried to unpack why horror appeals to me and why I like to tread closely to the edge of some of the most depressing and upsetting violent cinema that there is but I’ve never been able to come up with a clear cut answer. I think part of it has to do with having grown up feeling fractured and broken, and horror is oftentimes about women who are trying to figure out how to put the pieces back together in their lives. I haven’t watched nearly as much horror since I’ve grown happier, which lends weight to that theory I suppose, so I have to assume it’s accurate. Up until last year I lived a pretty miserable life, and horror ended up being the safety net I latched onto oftentimes in all those years prior. Not all of these films fit the bill of being about fractured characters, but a lot of them do. I like horror that lingers and sticks with me. The kind of horror that slips into your bones and can’t be scrubbed out. I suppose I like trauma then, and the effects of dealing with it. Laura Palmer comes to mind when I think of horror, and Laurie Strode, Carrie White and Rei. These are broken characters, and up until last year I considered myself among them. I still slip into those modes, but not nearly as often as I used to. I’m grateful I had women who actually felt like me along the way though, and I still sometimes go back to them and wish I could help fix them. 
Having said all that. Suspiria still sits at number one, because above all else just give me witches. For I’ve been called evil in my life simply for my life choices so why wouldn’t I align myself with those of Satan? I appear to be already if my family is any indication.
Hail Satan…..Hail Horror.

1. Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)
    2. The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982)

    3. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

    4. End of Evangelion (Hideaki Anno, 1997)

    5. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hoober, 1974)

    6. The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

    7. The Fly (David Cronenberg, 1986)

    8. Possession (Andrzej Zulawski, 1981)

    9. Cat People (Jacques Tourneur, 1942)

    10. The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, 1991)

    11. The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)

    12. Perfect Blue (Satoshi Kon, 1995)

    13. Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979)
    14. Videodrome (David Cronenberg, 1983)

    15. Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer, 2014)

    16. Inside (Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury, 2007)
    17. Valerie and her Week of Wonders (Jaromil Jires, 1970)

      18. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)

      19. The Haunting (Robert Wise, 1963)

      20. Repulsion (Roman Polanski, 1965)
      21. The Bride of Frankenstein (James Whale, 1935)

      22. [SAFE] (Todd Haynes, 1995)

      23. Audition (Takashi Miike, 1999)
        24. Eyes Without a Face (Georges Franju, 1960)
        25. Halloween 2 (Rob Zombie, 2009)

        26. Day of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1985)

        27. In the Mouth of Madness (John Carpenter, 1994)

        28. The Happiness of the Katakuris (Takashi Miike, 2001)
        29. Gremlins 2: The One With Hulk Hogan (Joe Dante, 1990)
        30. Bastards (Claire Denis, 2012)
        31. Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis, 2001)

          32. Hausu (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977)

          33. Dawn of the Dead (George A. Romero, 1978)

          34. The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, 1963)
          35. Ginger Snaps (Jon Fawcett, 2000)

          36. The Thing From Another World (Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks, 1951)

          37. Martyrs (Pascal Laugier)

          38. Manhunter (Michael Mann, 1986)
          39. Les Diaboliques (Henri-Georges Clouzout, 1959)
          40. Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971)
          41. We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011)
            42. Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976)

            43. Kwaidan (Masaki Kobayashi, 1964)
            44. Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)

            45. Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)
            46. I Walked With a Zombie (Jacques Tourneur, 1943)

            47. Prince of Darkness (John Carpenter, 1987)
            48. Gozu (Takashi Miike, 2003)

              49. The Devils (Ken Russell, 1971)

              49. After Hours (Martin Scorsese, 1985)

              50. Alucarda (Juan Lopez Moctezuma, 1976)

              51. The Skin I Live In (Pedro Almodovar, 2010)

              52. Drag Me to Hell (Sam Raimi, 2009)
              53. Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau, 1922)
              54. Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004)
              56. The Evil Dead (Sam Raimi, 1983)

              57. Evil Dead 2 (Sam Raimi, 1987)
              58. Tenebrae (Dario Argento, 1982)
              59. Rosemarys Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968)

              60. Don;t Look Now (Nicholas Roeg, 1973)
              61. Christine (John Carpenter, 1983)
              62. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1919)
              63. The Masque of the Red Death (Roger Corman, 1964)
              64. Blood and Black Lace (Mario Bava, 1964)
              65. Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931)
              66. May (Lucky McKee, 2004)
              67. The Hitcher (Robert Harmon, 1986)
              68. Martin (George A. Romero, 1977)
              69. Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007)
              70. Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2009)
              71. Near Dark (Kathryn Bigelow, 1987)
              72. The House of the Devil (Ti West, 2009)
              73. The Stepfrod Wives (Bryan Forbes, 1975)
              74. 3 Women (Robert Altman, 1977)

              75. The Terminator (James Cameron, 1984)
              76. The Ghost of Yotsuya (Nobuo Nakagawa, 1959)
              77. The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973)
              79. M (Fritz Lang, 1931)
              79. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1956)
              80. Ghosts of Mars (John Carpenter, 2001)
              81. The Loved Ones (Sean Byrne, 2009)

              82. Se7en (David Fincher, 1995)
              83. The Curse of Frankenstein (Terrence Fisher, 1957)
              84. The Addiction (Abel Ferrara, 1995)
              85. Cigarette Burns (John Carpenter, 2005)

              86. Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986)
              87. Village of the Damned (John Carpenter, 1995)
              88. Trick ‘R Treat (Michael Dougherty, 2007)
              89. The Virgin Spring (Ingmar Bergman, 1960)
              90. Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Benjamin Christensen, 1922)

              91. The Brood (David Cronenberg, 1979)

              92. Witches Hammer (Otakar Vavra, 1970)
              93. A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984)
              94. Pulse (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001)
              95. Girly (Freddie Francis, 1970)
              96. Sinister (Scott Derrickson, 2012)
              97. The Abominable Dr. Phibes (Robert Fuest, 1971)
              98. Dracula’s Daughter (Lambert Hillyer, 1936)

              99. The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, 2014)

              100. Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010)

              31 Days of Horror: House on Haunted Hill

              Film #1: House on Haunted Hill
              Directed by: William Castle
              A piercing scream echoes through the black fog of the first frame in House on Haunted Hill. Horror in a nutshell. A singular moment that encapsulates the desire every director wants to achieve who works in this genre of revulsion. Audiences flock to cinemas to be frightened by the unknown. They wouldn’t dare wish these occurrences on themselves in their own real lives, but in those dark areas of cinema they can almost reach out and touch terror. Safety in not wanting to feel safe. The beauty of screaming, death, ghosts, terror and the end. It’s beautiful isn’t it?
              One house, five people, ten thousand dollars to anyone who can survive, and thus opens up Castle’s playground. House on Haunted Hill has always reminded me of a board game. The premise just screams dice rolling with friends. Castle is a populist director to the fullest degree, and he wanted his cinematic experiences to even sometimes more closely resemble amusement park rides. House on Haunted Hill falls very much in line with the type of gimmick filmmaking he was known for, but this time it’s handled in the plot, and enough winking at the camera to offset any sort of suspension of disbelief. He wants you to know you’re watching a movie and most of all he wants you to have fun. 
              Vincent Price is the grandmaster of ceremonies here, and while the plot sidesteps survivalism for the perfect murder everything still runs through his dungeon master etiquette. He’s the man with the money, and the power, and he’s exactly why some of these guests are planning to kill tonight. It doesn’t always make a ton of sense, but Price is such a pro that he can carry even the most convuluted of plots (and this one is pretty silly). He’s basically the reason to watch this movie, and since I’m a huge Vincent Price fan there is more than enough to warrant this film’s pseudo classic haunted house film status, even though it couldn’t be further from a pure haunted house picture like The Haunting. 
              William Castle isn’t exactly a craftsman in image or themes, but he knows that his films are horror pictures of simple pleasures, and really that’s enough when the players are this game. However, there are a couple of inspired sequences. The opening that lays out the exposition of the picture and the rules of the game so to speak is extremely strong. The scene featuring the one servant of the house floating by on a skateboard is also one of the best jump scare moments in horror from this time period. There isn’t much to grasp onto underneath the narrative’s dual premise of perfect murder and haunted house, but I can’t help but embrace a film where Vincent Price has skeleton friends and the final moment is a warning that the audience is going to die next. It’s pure schlock, but I love it.