Hellbent: A Queer Occurrence

Slasher has gone through many phases, cycles, changes from its early inceptions to the present day. These films have a varied founding, with conflicting ideas of their origination (some saying with TCM or Black Christmas in 1974 and others pointing to Hitchcock’s Psycho). Whatever the case may be, there have been many imaginations of the formula. Hellbent (2004),

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directed by Paul Etheredge,

is a re-imagining of the horror subgenre, not in that it does something new with the narrative structure, rather it plays with notions of gender and sexuality.

One commonality amongst many slasher films is the final girl. Carol Clover coined this term in 1993 in her book Men, Women and Chainsaws, which, simply enough, identified that there was typically one surviving female character who was ultimately victimised and terrorised until she is either saved by a man or saves herself. Hellbent reinvents the final girl by shifting her gender to a male character, thus creating the final boy.

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Not only is the final surviving character’s gender altered, but so too is his sexuality. What remains, then, is a semblance of the same heroic male figure who must sacrifice himself in some form for the final victim’s survival.

What Hellbent has done, however, is not change solely the final surviving character, rather, the entire stereotypical character pool has undergone a sexuality shift. Where they haven’t shifted, however, is through the fetishisation or sexualisation of the minoritised body.

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As you can see in the photo above, both men are figured as sexual objects to one another. But through their positioning, we understand that the final boy is looking at/lusting after his male, shirtless, counterpart. Not only is this preconfigured through editing and positioning, but it is also configured through the accentuated lighting, which highlights in darkness an idealised/fetishised male physique. Moreover, we can even move as far to say that, through our identification with the final boy, we the viewers are meant to fetishise the sexualised male. However, this is not meant to be a critique of filmic practices, rather an exploration of their alteration to queer an arguably heterosexual subgenre. I do find this an important step of progress in filmmaking, considering that, since the release of this film, there have been several new installations of queer horror.

One criticism I will give this film is that it is overly indebted to negotiating gay male stereotypes, which I find as a gay man to be at times frustrating. Etheredge obviously has in mind a vision to combat negative stereotypes often attributed to homosexuality, however he does not do so effectively with all of them. In fact, through this attempted negotiation, he perpetuates them further, entrenching the gay community into frivolity, capriciousness and promiscuity. The final boy is not the chaste figure the final girl presents, even though this is not so much an issue. What is an issue is that the final boy is easily provoked into sexual relations, a signal that even the most ‘moral’ of gay men are not moral. I admit that sexual interactivity is important to become visible, but not through weak characters. I’d rather see man whores who are proud of their various partners than a character forced into something. Moreover, it positions the final boy as a feminine character, moving away from an independent queer ideology that can be read from the final girl.

My final thought is this: I appreciate the efforts of the film and enjoy it as a film, but as a film that trumpets itself as ‘the first gay slasher’ it really needs to take a page out of Sleepaway Camp (1983) and focus on more non-normative affects of sexuality and identity.

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The Outs

Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the recent trend in queer filmmaking is the web series. While this is not particularly new to queer film/television, nor to the internet, there is a rawness to this series that is unlike many others. Currently, there are several major Queer-oriented web series running (see Hunting SeasonEastsiders for example) that touch on issues of gender and sexuality, particularly Hunting Season, which elaborates on gay promiscuity and the desire to be in open relationships, etc… Naturally these are all pervasive issues amongst LGBTQ audiences, especially with our visibility in the public realm. However, The Outs takes a new approach to Queer identity, intertwining comedy and drama to deal/negotiate with our staggering issues. That is why I have chosen to focus on this particular series, with its heavy fan following, yet minimal visibility in the ‘straight world’. Just as us queers are moving from the periphery to the centre stage, web series such as these are becoming increasingly popular, as television and film does little to entertain the possibility of queer as normal.

We have been represented outside of our own filming initiatives as either the problem or the gay best friend (GBF [2013] focuses on the ‘gay best friend’ and the high-fashion bitchiness that is oft associated with the ostentatious queer). Yet, our stories very rarely feature in prominent films, and if they do, much like the women of the 50s and 60s in cinema or with people of colour, they are always under protection by the straight counterpart. We have very little agency within our own lives, which is perpetuated further in not having our own feature films premiered at standard cinemas throughout the world. Moreover, and more often than not, many of the actors who portray prominent gay figures such as Harvey Milk in Milk or the fictional ones in Philadelphia, are often portrayed by self-defined heterosexual actors, i.e. Tom Hanks, Antonio Banderas and Sean Penn. While I applaud their courage and desire to become visible warriors for the LGBTQ struggle, why do we continue to adhere to the ‘straight world’s’ conventions that to be normal is to be a white, heterosexual male or female. This is even an issue in feminist films and Black Cinema. We need to take things in our own hands and create what should be created, that advances our cause, displays our strife and combats homophobia and inequality at all costs. Surely artistic endeavour makes public change, or else there would be no regulation by the FDA in meat packing plants if it had not been for Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. 


This brings me full circle to The Outs. The series begins with the aftermath of an affair. It is a sordid affair, because the infidelity ruins not one, but two relationships. As the story unfolds through the six episode series, we come to learn that best friends Oona and Mitchell are the recipients of that scandal. We see them grow as friends and overcome their heartbreak, but what we also see is an intimate portrayal of the normal queer. Film and television have often foregrounded the damaged ex (female), the result of her partner’s infidelity, and her succumbing to the pain and her eventual regrowth into a powerful character. Rarely is the same shown in feature films for LGBT figures. Their relationships are often of convenience and left underdeveloped. Typically, as in Clueless, the gay figure is on the fringes of coupling normalcy. The Outs does not shy away as Oona and Mitchell regain their footing and deal with the torment of infidelity.

But, the series also portrays the cheater in equally as much turmoil as the ex. He is victim to meaningless sex gained through the creation of a vicious smart phone application, undoubtedly referencing Grindr, that locates men looking for other men to meet, date and fuck. Jack meanders Brooklyn, releasing his frustration and sadness at the loss of his partner to his infidelity, but also coming to terms with the immense unhappiness his long lasting relationship left upon him. He and Mitchell both knew they should have severed ties long before the incident, but as with all couples, whether straight or same-sex ones, we commit not for love but for comfort. This is only a recent development in the world of queer web series and few LGBTQ films, but not at all existent in mainstream ones for us queers. I won’t ruin the series by unfolding too much of the plot, but will say that it is a must see.

I will say it will fall victim to the same type of criticisms often applied to Girls, because it does not feature much diversity in terms of the relationships and prominent characters. However, I do not believe that this lacking makes the show any less relevant. It actually leaves open the possibility for shows to negotiate and explore LGBTQ inter-racial relationships and issues of racism and sexism within the community itself.

Foundation and Migration

As this is a new blog on wordpress.com, I will be revamping some old blog posts previously published in a private blog. These will be media/film related. Once I have resituated them to their new home, I will then be adding more than purely film reviews. My main purposes for this blog are to allow for a free expression of thoughts, but also to explore the intersections of popular culture and popular film/tv. The blog will have a semi-academic focus, but it is more here for me to do what I love: write on film and television. It will be a mixed bag, really. 

The Hollow

Per my mom’s suggestion, I watched the horrible movie The Hollow,

which does feature the one and only Nick Carter. Let me just say that that was a surprise in and of itself. Watching Nick run around on screen, pleasantly overweight, spouting off horrible dialogue, and consistently playing the asshole, brings back so many fond memories of my friends Ainsilie and Nikki. They were incredibly obsessed with the Backstreet Boys, which, for a boyband, did have decent music. (Photo taken from IMDB.com)

First, I just want to mention that this campy flick did have an excellent shout out to Fangoria, one of the best horror magazines I’ve ever encountered – and I was supposed to be a freelance writer for them! Though, that did not help the movie from having horrible actors, unrealistic dialoguing, and obviously amateur cinematography and direction. There was

little to no social commentary, which could have added a redeeming quality, like we see in many of the Troma films. Probably the best thing going for this movie would be the fact that Kaley Cuoco (Big Bang Theory) is the female protagonist, playing opposite the incredibly attractive Kevin Zegers (Photo from IMDB.com, as well). 

For those of you interested in

this fantastical take on the Headless Horseman and Ichabod Crane, the story is thus: Ian Cranston (and yes they go in to detail about why the name changed) moves to Sleepy Hollow (a much better rendition – referring to Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, circa 1999) with his family, where the legend is set to take place. Of course, Ian is the natural legacy to Icabod – they couldn’t even think up a better name than Ian – and has to face the Horseman head on. Like all decently thought out slasher films, which this one would lend itself to that sub-genre, there are the stereotypical characters: sluts, jocks, rebellious kid that just so happens to be the main guy, the atypical cheerleader type who falls for the protagonist, the crazy drunk that enacts the stories subplots and the film’s modus operandi, and the disbelievers.

The minimal plot, along with its several plot holes (mentioning characters’

names that we’ve never met, or incongruously know though we only recognize them because of their comical demise), advance the opportunities for the main guy to get the girl and his chance to shine, thus saving the day – or, in this case, the night. I will admit, however, that there were several campy elements I thought this film did well. Some of the better ones, that actually seemed pretty spooky and in relation to another film Trik ‘r Treat (2007 [2009]) – a much better Halloween film if you ask me – the best feature belongs to the rendering of the Horseman with a pumpkin head. If you really want to celebrate one of the first US Halloween legends, then add the Jack-o-Lantern!

Well, I will leave you on this note: for those that enjoy simplistic horror films with actors and actresses you may have only seen a few times, and with an outrageously campy feel, then I believe you would enjoy The Hollow.