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Boy Bands

Heeeeeey, blog.

I’ve been a terrible blog keeper. I’m sure I don’t need to explain why. I’ve begun to make a list preparing myself for another Horror Movie Extravaganza, but seeing as that’s not till October, I’m here to prep myself with some good old recreational blogging!

I feel like I’ve been perpetuating this theme of horror and monsters, and I have all intention of keeping that up. It’s just that today we’re going to talk about a different kind of monster…

*NSync

A Fame Monster… as it were, albeit an old one.
…I just realized two of them are not wearing shoes.

So, it was 1998 and I was twelve years old and there was an N’Sync (‘N Sync? *NYSNC?) concert on Disney so… that’s how that started. I always erred on the side of *NSYNC, as opposed to another popular boy band consisting of 5 kids coming out of Orlando in the 90’s. Fast forward to 2011, and as a 25 year old I got bored one night and downloaded the N’Sync discography and wasn’t all that sorry about it. After having a good long listen in the shower and realizing that I remembered way too many of the lyrics, something hit me:

These kids were geniuses.

Okay, all the boy bands of that era had the same idea. But let’s face it, between Backstreet Boys, *N’Sync, Youngestown, LFO, 98 Degrees, Hanson, 2Ge+Her (I mention that one satyrically), the first two were the front-runners of my generation. Except again, I liked N*'”;SYNC better so I’m going to be talking about them pretty much exclusively.

The smart thing about boy bands follows thus: they capitalize on the underdeveloped sexuality of teenage girls. Have you ever been a teenage girl? They have no idea what they want. The real estate is prime then, for telling girls what they *should* want, and that translates into a small briefcase full of archetypes: “The Bad Boy”, “The Jock”, “The Boy Next Door”, “The One No One Likes”, you get the idea. Take this, put it in teen mag quizzes “Which Backstreet Boy is Right For You?” and girls can immediately zone in on their ideal boyfriend.

And what is even better than having a super hottie to fantasize about going to prom with? A super hottie who is sensitive and in tune to your feeeelings. Check these lyrics.

Now I toss and turn
Cause I’m without you
How I’m missing you so bad
Where was my head?
Where was my heart?
Now I cry alone in the dark

– Thinking of You (*NSYNC 1998)

He doesn’t give you the kind of attention
That a girl like you needs (that a girl like you needs)
Cause he always looks around
His eyes wander ’round
He doesn’t see you like I see

– No Strings Attached (No Strings Attached 2000)

“Girl you’re turning me on,
You’re such a fine lady,
And sugar, more and more,
You’re driving me crazy
`Cause you’re just what I want,
And I’m just what you need,
Oh it’s on
I’m gonna make you my baby;
Sweet darlin’ all I can see, Is you and me”
– I Just Wanna Be With You (*NSync 1998)

He just wants to hold you, baby.

Synopsis!
-He cries Read: sensitive
-He will treat you better than your current boyfriend, who sounds like a real dirtbag
-Vague promises of sexy times

Do you know what was sexy to me when I was twelve? Cuddling and kissing. When I was that age, “girl, you’re turning me on” did not translate into as it does today – “girl, you’re giving me a boner and I can’t stand up or it’s going to be embarrassing for both of us”. To me, it meant “girl, I wanna hold you and tell you how much I love you all night long and we’ll keep our clothes on”.

And for the most part, these boys were all about keeping it sexy while telling you you’re pretty and keeping the kicks above the waistline. It really plays into this notion for young girls to think they want sex without getting a clear idea of what a sexual relationship entails. Granted, I do feel like twelve year old girls these days have a way clearer idea of what sex is than I did at that age, and that’s precisely why we don’t have bands like N-Sync anymore. They toted an ideal of what a boyfriend should be for a girl growing up in the late 90’s – and weirdly enough, it was all kind of effeminate. Sensitive? Not afraid to cry? Always chasing after you? Impeccable fashion?

Girls bought into it, hard. How could one resist with titles like: “God Must have Spent a Little more Time on You”, or “I Want You Back”, even songs like “Bye Bye Bye” which carries a message of “I love you so much but you’re hurting me” puts the power in the hands of the women. Clearly, we are the most desirable things in the world to them, and what girl doesn’t want that?

But, the fact of the matter is, we all grew up eventually. And if you’re a happy, healthy, well adjusted lady, you realize what real men are and what life is like with them. You start appreciating aspects of masculinity and realize it has nothing to do with being able to sing tenor. At the end of the day, I’m not criticizing *NSYNC or boy bands at all. I do not feel they stunted my growth as a woman, nor do I really feel they did all that much damage to me in terms of my expectations of dating in middle/high school (mostly because I was that loser kid who didn’t date at all). They’re fiction – really catchy fiction that inspires dancing in the shower.

The beautiful thing is that I wasn’t the only one who grew up.

And if that doesn’t earn JT some mad respect, I don’t know what does. Well played, good sirs. Well played.

I like to ask my peers from Iowa if they remember the crazy statue from the Merle Hay Mall. Every one of them does, and to be honest, I’m not surprised. You don’t forget something like that. A behemoth of metal and stone, what came to be known as ‘The Angel of Merle Hay’ was described by most as anything but an angelic.

It was the centerpiece for the shopping center; a larger than life naked man encased in bronze. Perched atop a platform of smooth brick, he rode hunched over on a comically small tricycle; limbs jutting out in odd angles, his face screwed into a look of angry determination, lips pursed as though expelling a forceful breath of air. I use ‘comically’ only as the loosest of descriptors, because the reality was that this sculpture was terrifying. Adding to the bizarre nature of his presence were two giant wings that jutted from his back; resembling nothing close to feathers or the leathery wings of bats, they seemed more an extension of obscurity than forms of function. His hair was wild, his genitals exposed beneath the curve of his strained posture; to say that he was intimidating was a bit of an understatement to anyone, much less the child-sized version of myself that became acquainted with him.

Patrons of the Merle Hay Mall called him a demon, an outlandish eyesore unfit for the eyes of mall-goers and their children. People walking by would give it a wide berth, out of state visitors would gawk and take pictures. In my youngest of days it was a thing of nightmares, but as I got older, I joined a smattering of random children in scaling the platform that presented the sculpture. The smooth bricks created a perfect slide, and the figure’s nudity presented me with the irresistible opportunity to embarrass my mom. This was achieved by routinely spanking the sculpture on our frequent trips to the mall.

My blatant lack of respect aside, I often wondered what brought such a creature to our humble shopping center. Admittedly it was nothing like anything I would expect to see in a mall. Perhaps he would have been better housed by our community art center; there dwelled a cornucopia of creepy paintings and unsettling figures. But here was our angel, who considering the controversy he stirred up amongst the soccer moms of our quiet city, was hardly an angel at all.

My relationship with the ‘angel’ was one marked in silence and introspection. “It” became “him” as I fabricated a story that revolved around an angel who had tried to escape heaven but was turned to stone instead. Maybe he had always been there, and the mall was simply built around him. Maybe he had stolen the tricycle and that is what cursed him to an eternity of being on display for some old mall in the suburbs of Iowa. …A dismal fate indeed.

I fathomed a day where the sculpture would spring to life, immediately beginning to pedal off his platform. He would circle the center court, beating his wings, up-down, puffing air through his lungs in huge breaths, trying vainly to take off. The notion was haunting. And yet, I never got a feeling of maliciousness from the sculpture. Disregarding my ominous visions and the accusations of others, I never really derived a sense of evil from it. I grew up, continued to spank his behind for probably longer than was age-permissible, and my theories on his origins dissolved as he became just a normal part of the mall to me.

And then one day, he was gone. There was no dramatic, otherworldly exit, he was just gone. I had no one to ask where he went, or why, and truth be told I gave it no sense of priority to find those answers.

It’s been about eleven years since its disappearance, and six years since I left Des Moines. I’m unsure as to what possessed me, but last summer I began to fill my co-workers’ heads with stories of the crazy statue from Merle Hay Mall. I became obsessed with trying to find the artist. Unsurprisingly, there wasn’t a lot of help that came from googling ‘angel statue at Merle Hay Mall’. With the help of my co-worker, Karen, we turned up with a name: Mark Jacobsen.
Inflated with a personal sense of victory and running off the high of uncovering this part of my past, I emailed Mr. Jacobsen and unleashed my memories upon him. I regaled him with my impressions of the sculpture, owned up to the immature spankings, and then fancifully clicked the send button, feeling sated just to have found the creator of the infamous angel. He even had a name – UpDown.

See UpDown in his original context here! You can even see my original letter to Mr. Jacobsen at the bottom.

It took me completely by surprise, when, three days later, Mr. Jacobsen sent me an email in reply –thanking me for sending him my memories of UpDown. He informed me that he had created it at the age of 26, and at the time the controversy surrounding it derailed his artistic career for a time.

It’s incredible. Being a graduate from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, I’ve grown up in a time where it is the goal of Fine Art majors to create a stir with their art – and as far as grades go, they are praised. And yet, here I had stumbled across an artist who had done just that, and yet the time period and the town of UpDown’s origins were exactly what stunted a piece like this from becoming more than a memory of mall patrons.

I was frankly honored to receive such a cordial reply from Mr. Jacobsen, furthermore he offered to put me in touch with UpDown’s current owner in the hopes that maybe I would get to see him again. I was floored – heck YES I wanted to see him again! Thusly, I was sent the email address of UpDown’s current keeper. …And then I chickened out and never touched it. UpDown again reverted to being just an enthusiastic story that I told to anyone who would listen.

It’s Easter time, ten months after I discovered the angel’s true identity. And three days before I made my holiday pilgrimage down to my Iowan family, I received a strange email:

“Are you the same Jade who spanked UpDown’s fanny while he lived at Merle Hay Mall?

If so, I’m offering an invitation to visit him again.

Jerri”

Whether through act of fate or incredible coincidence, UpDown’s current holder found my comment on Mr. Jacobsen’s website, and googled me just to offer me a gracious invitation to see the infamous statue, which she dubbed ‘Merle’ in reference to the mall. With her address and permission to wander into her back yard, my excitement to see my family was suddenly replaced with my excitement to see the bronzed and naked angel that lurked in the stories of my youth. How could I not??

Co-workers and friends got a reprise of my enthusiasm for a memory that only I had. I called my mom, who happily agreed to accompany me on this journey into the past – I mean, she was ultimately the one who suffered most from having the daughter with a flair for smacking bronze behinds.

It was a cloudy Saturday that we trekked to a lovely part of Des Moines in search of UpDown (AKA Merle). As Jerri had described, we could see him from the street, and I believe at that point my vocabulary became reduced to “oh my god” and “there he is”.

He was no longer elevated by the stone platform, but instead was nestled amidst flowers. Brought to ground level now, he was certainly smaller than the image in my mind’s eye – then again, considering that most of my impressions of him came from when I was a lot more vertically challenged, it’s not such a surprise.

Perhaps just slightly bigger than life-size, UpDown remained mostly as I remembered. I was enthralled to see him through the eyes of an adult, where finally I could appreciate the care and effort that had gone into his creation. Gone were my childhood fosterlings of horror, replaced with the feeling of approaching an old friend. Considering the moments he and I had once shared, coupled with the times I spent whiling away on who he was, I felt our relationship more than one of just passing fancy. I circled him, far too intimidated to touch this time around. Instead I filled my phone with photos and grinned madly at the circumstance. Back in June, I had sent that email with no expectations – for all I knew, UpDown was in California somewhere and I’d never see him again. But here he was, not a figment of my imagination or an obscure memory – he was real and safe and no doubt loved by the lucky woman who houses him; keeping the uproar of Merle Hay treasured and remembered.

I hope I am doing my part to keep him remembered too. As quiet and arguably dull as a place like Des Moines can be, UpDown is something I’m truly proud to say was from our modest community. He kept us from being ‘normal’, and prevented trips to Merle Hay Mall from being anything but typical. He made us special. And while he may have caused a ruckus for Mr. Jacobsen at the time, when I ask Des Moines natives if they recall ‘that naked guy on the trike’ in Merle Hay, they always say yes. He may not have been the prettiest of angels, he might not have been an angel at all, but he knew how to make an impression.

You would think that after embarking on such a trip down memory lane that I would be sated in knowing this piece of my childhood is safe. And yet, I hope the future will leave me with yet an opportunity to see him, if only to give my two best friends, fellow native Iowans, a chance to remember a chunk of our local history.

I humbly thank both Mr. Jacobsen and Jerri, who through one way or another reunited me with UpDown – aka Merle. I would furthermore like to thank Mr. Jacobsen for his original contribution to the suburbs of Iowa. I was caught completely unaware by realizing how much UpDown meant to me, but I couldn’t have asked for this all to play out in a more amazing manner. This was by far, the coolest Easter weekend I’ve ever spent in Iowa.

I am going to spoiler all up in this shit. SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS. Why? Because this movie pissed me off.

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The Descent (part 1?) was introduced to me by my ex boyfriend who’s only redeeming feature was the fact that he exposed me to a lot of awesome horror shit. And, as was typical of the scary movies he showed me, I loved it. It was claustrophobic, wet, gross, frightening – watch it in the dark and even in a group setting you’re scared shitless. We watched a bootleg copy of the original English version and no one wanted to sleep that night. One of the things I reveled in (you know, with me being all full of feminist rage) was the strong presence of women in this film. There are essentially no men. Combine that with the fact that (according to Freud) caves are essentially big vaginas and I think we have the feministiest horror movie in existence.

Okay, pretty much all the women die, but it’s not because they suck, it’s just because they’re in the dark with these THINGS and that shit would be hard for anyone to survive. They’re all these strong women who went down there to climb shit and on its own that’s admirable. It’s good, trust me.

By the time The Descent made it to American theaters, I was with a different boyfriend, and I dragged him to see it on the big screen; singing its praises until we were finally sitting in our seats. And we watched the movie, and it was good, and the ending came… and American cinema fucked it all the fuck up. Instead of it ending with the main character dreaming of her escape, she actually DOES escape, in a typical ‘make the audience jump with sudden screaming’ formula. I was appalled, and spent the rest of the night raging to my boyfriend about the ending he was supposed to see. I struck that ending from my memory, and forever preserved the original ending in my mind – therefore ensuring that The Descent remained an untarnished trophy in the list of horror movies I’ve seen.

Last night Descent Part 2 showed up on my Netflix recommendations. It had decent (ha) reviews and so I moved it to the number one slot in my queue and anxiously clicked on it when I got home.

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You know, it capitalized on a lot of the same things that made the first one scary – and in that sense, it became less effective. Basically 2 days after Sarah is found, they go back to the caves to find the rest of the missing women. … “They” being a bunch of detectives/sheriffs/police/spelunkers I don’t know. They take Sarah with them to help navigate the caves. Then a cave in occurs and from there on the clusterfuck keeps going. I vastly didn’t mind any of this, though I wasn’t particularly scared. I was a little baffled that they insisted Sarah be a part of the rescue party, as she was clearly traumatized from the experience. I mean, lady showed up screaming and covered in blood. Doesn’t that at least make her a suspect? Do you REALLY want to take her down in a cave with you? Plot holes aside, I watched it. Badly done fake blood aside (how hard is it to mix caro syrup and red dye?), I watched it.

Sarah winds up being paired with another woman who’s upset because she fears she’ll never see her daughter again. Sarah, having lost her daughter before the first film, becomes determined to get this woman back to her child. They get around silently because the creatures are blind and can only find you if you make noise. Included in the cast of final survivors is Juno, a character from the last movie, and some redneck man determined to prove that Sarah murdered her friends. But hey, Juno’s ALIVE. Female strength back in the game plan! Also going back into these caves sends Sarah into some kinda of freaky survivor mode. A lot of the creatures get their faces punched in by these ladies and it’s kind of amazing. At some point, Redneck handcuffs himself to Sarah and all I can think is “ah, perfect equation for you to get your arm chopped off later, sir!” …I can read horror movies like Louis reads Braille.

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So, we’re at the final race to the finish. Sarah, despite hating Juno for sleeping with Sarah’s husband, tries to save Juno from one of the creatures but is unsuccessful. Woman with daughter tries to get Sarah to get up and go to the exit with her, but Sarah is too busy crying. Other Woman makes a break for the opening, but oh shit, there’s like a ton of those creatures blocking the way. In a valiant display of sacrifice, Sarah screams to get all the creatures to attack her, therefore leaving Other Woman free to run out the hole and escape. The whole scene of her climbing out is almost exactly the same as the scene from the first movie where Sarah climbs out, minus the extra drama that came from the fact that Sarah was tripping on bones to get out.

It’s all very dramatic and you’re glad that this woman made it out. Feminists rejoice.

And then this woman gets hit on the head with a SHOVEL by some bum-1fuck nothing of a character (a MAN no less) from the beginning of the film and then he drags her back to the hole and as she wakes up a creature jumps out at the camera and bam film is over.

WHAT.

I get that horror movies share a tradition of ending bad. But they took away the bad ending of Descent one, and copped out by having Sarah survive. Then they make us think this woman is carrying on the torch of survival, ONLY TO TAKE IT RIGHT BACK? In a display that makes NO SENSE? The SHAME.

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The men in this film spend all their time sucking while the women are forced to be strong and independent and they get themselves to the end and some shit goes down and that sucks… but to waste Sarah’s sacrifice? This is outright unnecessarily cruel. This is being mean at the end NOT to make it a more powerful ending but just for the sake of being mean. I’m NOT okay with that. And I hate that my fellow Netflix community ahs just gone along with it. It’s just more of the same from the first film except it deflated any and all sense of female empowerment. Guys… it doesn’t make sense. Something is wrong here. Someone threw that in at the last minute just to make the ending extra upsetting. But it didn’t need to be that way.

Yes, I’m legitimately disgruntled here. The more all-caps I use, the more likely it is that I’m irate. And this… I can’t even have a comprehensive discussion about this because it’s not okay.

Bad move, all around. I wish I hadn’t seen it, honestly. I would rank the original Descent as one of my favorite horror movies, but this one just leaves a bad taste in my mouth, so much so that it’s turned me off the original for now. Granted, there were different writers, and a different director, BUT the original direct did oversee production and approved the script. He doesn’t get to escape the blame here, which is appropriate because that woman didn’t get to escape either.

My mother did a spectacular job of keeping me away from Freddie Kruger movies. She worked at a video store on select weekday nights and as I would stare transfixed upon the gruesome movie sleeves in the horror section, there was but one warning she gave me: “Don’t watch those Freddie Kruger films.”

Eventually I got older and began to ask her why. Tales of girls falling asleep and being dragged, bloodied, across the ceiling in real life as they dreamt of being murdered followed. To an 11-year-old me, yeah, that was intimidating. I seem to recall a Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror episode that fleshed out the concept a little more, though Freddie Kruger was of course scarier looking than Groundskeeper Willie.

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I was really looking forward to seeing this classic of all classic slasher films. It’s been 26 years of building itself up to be one of the most notorious nightmare-givers of all time. Freddie Kruger is an intimidating figure. He has knives for hands. He has the kind of skin that you try politely not to stare at from across the food court. He’s a creepy old man. Conditions are right for SCARY!

So why didn’t this movie scare me?

The Halloween costumes, the parodies, seeing Freddie vs. Jason with a handful of friends… they really worked against me seeing Freddie as the new and terrifying creature he was when the films first came out. Maybe our culture had to ruin him with over-exposure just to cope with the fact that a guy who can murder you in your dreams is a really scary thing to deal with. But all of these things aside, the movie itself did a fine job of pulling the rug out from under Freddie feet. I thought that being the first film in the franchise, Nightmare on Elm Street would try to really pound it into our heads that Freddie Kruger is scary and ruthless and undefeatable. Of course he gets the last laugh in the end, but it’s ruined by a rather demeaning climax. How he is ‘defeated’ is simply shameful. By the time the ending is revealed all it generated from me was a roll of the eyes.

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1984 is getting into that dated territory where a film has to be pretty damn ahead of its time in order for it to endure the increasingly desensitized public. The concept behind Nightmare on Elm Street was a fine one, terrifying in theory, but in practice in 2010 it falls flat. Again, I mostly blame time and consistent exposure to Freddie Kruger masks at the costume shop. Freddie doesn’t hide in our dreams anymore.

Is there any singular figure of the macabre that has stuck with us as the end-all-be-all of scary? When we look at modern day pioneers of blood and gore like the Jigsaw killer or even Samara from The Ring, do we feel like they will continue to carry their crowns of barbed wire, or will they lose their power to the onslaught of emerging technology? What horrors do future horror movies have for us? Will Jason Voorhees continue to be overshadowed by badder, bloodier, more realistic, more demented counterparts?

Perhaps it’s all a matter of personal experience. People who hate clowns may forever fear Pennywise of Stephen King’s It. If Freddy happened to traumatize you as a child, perhaps your fear of him has stuck with you. But I think people nowadays are far more frightened of ‘concepts’ and the execution thereof. Jigsaw himself is an old, dying man. Samara is a little girl. It’s hard to be scared of those things out of context. But in the right light, I think almost anyone could be scary if they were all wet and veiny and dragging themselves out of a TV. …Or it would just be awkward.

I’m very interested to see where horror is going. Amidst the veritable cornucopia of bad horror films in existence, there exists a small deposit of things that really scare people. Some of it may change with time; some of it may always stay the same. You’ve got to wonder what it says about the times we’re living in.

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Movie #9 – Deadgirl

Two boys explore an abandoned hospital of sorts and find a strange girl chained up in the basement. Then one of them decides to use her as a sex slave. From the title of the film, you can guess what’s up.

And they called Cannibal Holocaust controversial.

I feel like a weirdo for watching this film. I feel even more like a weirdo for rating it ‘I really liked it’ on Netflix. I didn’t feel fully like a freak until, while explaining this film to my co-workers, I watched with each passing word how their expressions of ‘attentive listening’ switched to ‘confused and appalled’. I’m sorry, is the rape of the undead a touchy subject?

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Just kidding, I know it is. And that’s why I have these mixed feelings of apprehension and appreciation over the film. Okay, but I’m not trying to cop out in saying ‘I know it’s wrong so I can’t say I liked it or I’m betraying my gender’ or… something like that. I don’t know. I’ve been drinking. But I’m just going to own up to it. I liked this film. Why? Because it treated itself really seriously. It was this very realistic account of teenage boys becoming a slave to their sexuality and impulsive desires. You want to think this is a sexist film about the use of women as sex objects? More than anything this film says HORRIBLE things about the male half of the species. Their desires betray them, they betray each other, they betray you, and this film puts us all in a dark place.

Tackling a subject like rape, much less rape of the undead, is a gutsy thing to do. It borders on the moral debacle of bestiality – as it confronts having sex with a being unable to give consent. Necrophilia is an obvious parallel, but at what point does a human being stop existing as a human being? At what point do we become objects? Does the fact that the titular (pun intended?) character moves and breaths take it to an entirely different place? So many lines, so many ways to cross them.

Do I really want to have a discussion with myself about the moral quandaries of fucking a zombie?

Probably not. But I’d be lying if I said that going to art college didn’t get me into a bunch of absurd and deep and absurdly deep conversations.
We’re touchy about our remains. Our culture is getting into a place where we are becoming more and more interested in what happens to our bodies after we die. What CAN happen is becoming more interesting. This goes beyond organ donning. You can go to the Body Farm so people can observe how the body decomposes under different conditions. You can be plasticined/preserved for a science exhibit. Medical students can practice on you. But some people just don’t want that. For some people, going into a coffin after being embalmed is the only way. Others choose cremation. Some people need to be buried. Others want to disappear. But ALL of this circulates around consent and respect. One COULD argue that being at the Body Farm and being left to decompose in the sun isn’t all that respectful, but that’s more about using your discarded body for a purpose. People who opt for these donations, they understand the detachment aspect of dying; “I’m dead, why does it matter what happens to my body?” However, we have to take into consideration about how the people we love would feel.

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I think about it this way. …I can’t believe I’m about to type these sentences and post them in a blog. Oh god.

If I was dead, and someone got a hold of my body and decided they were going to have sex with it, IF I were to be watching this occur from some sort of after life, my reaction would be “…Ew.” Beyond that, I wouldn’t feel all that accosted. Okay, maybe if they were calling me names I would. I don’t know. I certainly wouldn’t prefer it in any case.

But if I consider this scenario with say, my best friend in place of me; if I caught people doing that to his/her dead body, I would drive cutting shears through their neck. Why? Because it is inarguably disrespectful. Unless my friend explicitly instructed that upon their death X amount of people could molest their body, it is essentially disrespectful. From here we can launch a counter attack against all zombie films that have exploited the undead. Of course it’s not respectful to impale a zombie with a fire poker. Of COURSE it’s not respectful to make zombies cage fight each other. Of course it’s not respectful to, ala Dead Rising style, put a Lego head on a zombie and watch it shamble around until you break its back with a propane tank. But we don’t think about it from this angle, do we? Why? Because zombies are gross and they’re trying to eat us. They become creatures, mindless things that hunger for our blood. They’re not people any more, so it’s okay to run them over with your car.

You know what, being a zombie isn’t really respectful business in and of itself. I think, given the choice, most people would prefer to be shot in the brain than wind up half naked and shambling, decomposing all over the place and groaning. Maybe that’s what we say to ourselves to make the thought of killing what looks to be a human being okay. But to have sex with it? C’mon, dudes, gross. Moral quandaries aside, people shouldn’t want to have sex with a zombie any more than they should want to have sex with an inflatable doll covered in decomposing meat. And this girl in the movie… yeah, she’s a good looking lady… beneath the bleeding and sweating and looking generally grungy. You could be ALIVE but I’m not getting in bed with you if you look like you haven’t showered in a month. It’s just… ick.

I don’t know if I’ve really hashed out all my questions. It’s hard when all I have is myself to bounce these things off of, and I’m essentially the queen of playing devil’s advocate with stuff like this.

Having sex with dead girls = bad. This movie on the general whole = good. Point established. The rest of this discussion is for another date and a lot more drinking.

Before I set out on this horror movie challenge thing, I scoured the interwebs for recommendations, hoping that it would point me in the same obscure direction that gave me gems like Murder Party and Head Trauma (two movies I’ll discuss in my next top five list. Somehow I was directed to watch Tetsuo: The Iron Man, a Japanese film about a man who accidentally runs over a metal fetishist, and after dumping the body, he begins to turn into a walking pile of scrap metal.

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It sounds messed up, but after half a month of watching nothing but horror movies, concepts like this kind of lose their edge. Listen. I watched a bunch of bees fly out of Tony Todd’s mouth and I had to witness a guy eating his own penis. Turning into a bunch of car parts has competitors for having the worst day ever.

I’m going to betray every art student ever by saying that this movie wasn’t my thing. It very much reads as an experimental film shot in black and white with incredibly stylized action scenes. You don’t quite get the word ‘stylized’ as a descriptor for this film until you see it, but it’s unfortunately the best I have. I was better off reading a plot description for it on Wikipedia than actually watching the film. Despite it being a foreign film, there’s not a lot of dialog; instead there’s a bunch of tinny sound effects that don’t always portray what I feel the director was trying to get across. By far one of the most ridiculous scenes is when the main character’s penis turns into a power drill and he chases his girlfriend around the apartment until something unfortunate happens.

It sounds AWESOME, doesn’t it? YES I want to see some guy with a drill for a dick! And then you see it and it’s just not what you want it to be. That’s the whole movie. Believe it or not, that’s not even the most ridiculous thing that happens.

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I like to think I’m really running the gambit on all the different kinds of horror on this blog. Classics, box office, funny, foreign, understated… And, in my humble opinion, I think I have established that I don’t need a horror movie with a serious and dark tone in order to enjoy it. I tried really hard to finish this movie for the sake of saying I gave it a chance. It’s a fairly short film, and that was the saving grace for getting me to sit through it. Call me close-minded, but the way this was executed came out really dull to me. The only element that came off as serious and creepy was when the man first realizes there’s a shard of metal jutting out of his cheek. It’s actually a very real moment of confusion and fear, and then the rest of it is cheapened by the film’s pursuit in being edgy.

I wish I had more for this. I’m sure there’s tiny fan base somewhere on a forum having deep an intimate discussions of how Tetsuo: The Iron Man really contributes to the world of film, but it’s too late for me. I bet some day it may show up as a high budget remake made for the cinema, but I think there are enough ‘karma’ films out there that I can find a bunch of alternatives to watch first.

“Our love can put an end to this fucking world. Let’s Go!”

And Number 1)
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We all saw this coming, right? At least tell me you aren’t surprised.

A bloody knife is manageable. A severed limb is shocking. Intestines spilling out of a stomach wound are unsightly. The Human Centipede is GROSS.

The premise was simple enough: three people, sewn together, A-T-M style. When you hear it for the first time you are appalled. Unlike the poor colleagues who bore witness to this monstrosity with me, I had a month to get used to the concept of what I was about to see. I was going to see three people, sewn together, A-T-M style. See? It’s the second time you’ve heard it and it’s lost some of the sting, right? …Right?

I refuse to believe that director Tom Six is the first person to ever conjure up such a horrible thing. There are too many people out there who have gotten to the alcohol-induced levels of perversity required to bring up such a thing in conversation. Tom Six however, was the first one who brought it out into the light and had the gall to put it on the big screen. I didn’t have the privilege (or ill luck) of seeing it in the theater. I DID however, get to see it in HD, which is really not something you should care to demand with this movie. Still, I bribed my friend Joey with my last $5 just so we could all watch on his flat screen as opposed to us all huddling around my laptop. Yeah, I sat with this movie stored on my hard drive for a week, not daring to touch it, feeling too disgusted with myself and too intimidated to watch it alone. What had I gotten myself into? I needed company. So, five of us gathered one evening against better judgment and thus the journey began. I ate a sandwich really hurriedly during the first part of the film, finishing it before the film got ‘to the meat of the matter’.

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Set aside the acting. Set aside the script. Set aside anything you could criticize about this film. The trailers promised us three people, sewn together, A-T-M style. And the film fucking delivered. Without being too explicit with visuals, much of the horror was implied. The part of the film that everyone talks about is when the lead of the ‘centipede’ actually has to go to the bathroom, much to the chagrin of the lady attached to his rear end. Nothing is shown; everything horrific about that scene is in the actress’ eyes. You gag on concept alone.

This film has gotten some flack about the fact that it relies on the shock value alone to compensate for the lack of actual horror taking place in the movie. What they don’t see is that the horror IS the shock value. The film didn’t promise social commentary. The film didn’t say it would teach us new things about ourselves. This film wanted to be the sickest damn horror movie in history, and look what it did. …THAT.

Before I get too poetic on you, let me knock it down a bit; I actually kind of regret seeing this movie, mostly because now I can’t un-see it. My friends and I descended from Joey’s apartment changed individuals. My co-worker was clearly traumatized, and remains so to this day. Clearly however I’m not the only one who’s gotten ‘comfortable’ with what I saw. Human centipede jewelry, cat toys, parodies, cosplays; yep, examples all saved to my hard drive, because I’ve become ‘that girl who watched the Human Centipede’ and therefore I get sent all of this stuff. But clearly, those involved with the making of this film have become nothing but legends in the world of cult movie classics. Evil Dead 2, you’ve been outdone.

I hate how casually I’ve come to refer to the movie. I hate that I now make constant jokes to my co-worker, constantly threatening to ‘make him number 2’ just so I can see his eyes widen in fear at the threat. I hate how announcing ‘the rape drug!’ has become a casual exchange between me and my friends. I hate that I’m looking forward to the sequel, wondering how they will own up to the promise of making First Sequence seem like “My Little Pony compared with part two.”

Despite the gross out factor to the film, unlike Saw, it doesn’t really call into question all that much about us. This isn’t about accusing us of being horrible people for wanting to witness the horror, it’s about seeing it so you can say you saw it. The concept itself, despite being treated very realistically*, is too terrifyingly outlandish that no one’s really taking it seriously. Yet that is how the film carries itself. Tom Six is a sick bastard. And he’s going to try to outdo himself.
Personally, I don’t think he has to worry about too much competition.

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Movie #7 – Lo

Lo, like Zombies of Mass Destruction, was not on my original list of horror movies to take down.

Appropriately so, it wasn’t really a horror movie. You have to go into watching this one with an open mind and a willingness to accept the fact that this movie is not what it seems based on the description. Considering the movie itself, this approach is crazy appropriate for a movie like this.

Viewing more like a stage production than a movie, this low budget jaunt into hell is about an awkward fellow, leading an awkward life, who finds a girl – also awkward – and he falls in love. Alas, she winds up being kidnapped by demons and dragged to hell, and in an attempt to save her, the guy summons a demon named Lo to help him get her back. Too bad Lo is a big ol’ asshole.

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This movie (for the first part anyway) reminded me lots of The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Johnathan Stroud. The mischievous nature of Lo had some parallels to Bartimaeus, and the whole ‘If you step one pinky outside of your summoning circle, I’ll eat you’ angle was another similarity that makes me wonder if the director wasn’t a fan of Mr. Stroud. But if that’s the case, the concept was merely inspired and hardly a copy. The movie quite takes its own direction.

I do feel the character of Lo does kind of slap you in the face with how edgy he is too much at the beginning of the film. At first it reads well, then it goes a bit over the top, but by the end it all sort of evens itself out. The hero of the story again seems to emphasize the theatrical nature of the movie by overexerting his facial expressions.

Overacting? Maybe a little. But I really enjoyed the story, and the makeup was top notch; they spent their budget on the things that mattered. There were even (what I interpreted to be) nods to Evil Dead, but sadly I think this fellow needs a bigger budget if he’s going to hit cult movie classic status.

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I would love to see this as a live performance. Call me prone to being blind-sided by plot twists, but the ending was deliciously touching and it was really the moment that won me over. I started watching it expecting a lot more action, but it really was about flashbacks and strange musical numbers which might have seemed out of place if I hadn’t been forewarned about it’s true nature.

http://thedemonlo.com/ is the site. Sadly, this and all of the linked material pointing to the creative forces behind it have been vastly abandoned.

As a bonus though, here is a short film by the same director.

I found it particularly amusing. This guy has potential. Good luck to him.

Netflix has made me into a bit of a monster. I don’t say that to be ‘punny’ with this whole horror movie binge I’m on, but I’ve been devouring movies like a rabid beast ever since I joined Netflix a few days ago and now I’m all crazy backed up with movies to review. The moment I absolutely fell for the service was when I realized I could watch movies from my phone, at work, with nothing but a 3G network. Overjoyed and giddy at the discovery, I abandoned my list of horror movies to watch and went off the suggestion of a friend.

Zombies of Mass Destruction was what came of it.

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Had my boss not sent an enthusiastic text boasting of how great this movie was, I completely would have overlooked it in my Netflix suggestion queue. But behind its seemingly textbook premise (ZOMBIES, right??) there actually lies a fair gem of a story.

Zombies of Mass Destruction is not a movie about zombies. It’s a comedic look at a small town and the absurd people in it. I think that Shaun of the Dead (one of my favorite movies – horror or otherwise – of all time) described itself as ‘A romantic comedy… with zombies’, and this follows a similar beat in which the zombies ARE the main conflict, yet they come off as just a detail running in the background while we mainly follow the humor of the heroes’ plight.

Resemblance to Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland aside, Zombies of Mass Destruction is fairly cruel and, for lack of a better term, gutsy with who they chose to die and how they chose to execute it. Touching on issues like racism and homophobia, they managed to find a unique niche in ‘zombie humor’. The gay couple in particular were favorite characters of mine, and I think one would be hard pressed to ignore their charm. Special effects did the job of giving us gore, but you very much get the idea that this was a movie made for fun, not to set out and be a pioneer of the horror world.

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It’s quite okay that it’s done that too. The result IS a fun movie, it’s kind of a pity it hasn’t gotten more attention. Still, it was well suggested by both my boss and Netflix. Definitely worth the watch for any fan of the zombie genre.

2)
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But Jade, you ponder, Saw is one of the most successful horror movie franchises in history! How could you wish you never ‘saw’ them? Nice pun, hypothetical person trying to argue with me, and indeed, their success in the box office AND in making people cringe is not up for debate. The Saw franchise and I, we have a history. It dates back to 2004, when the first movie came out, and I got it into my head that taking my mother with me was a good idea. To this day, she still likes to bring it up in conversation about how her daughter dragged her to this awful movie and how she’ll never trust me to take her to the theater again. Guilt aside, I do have a bit more reasoning to this one.
Saw did a good job of putting everyone through visual trauma as we watched the guy from Princess Bride and some other dude enact the worst hours of their lives. Saw was twisted, stressful, gross, and shocking, and for some reason it didn’t stop there. I’m not going to lie; I stopped seeing them in the theaters after Saw III. “He’s dead,” was my logic, “They can’t make any more.” That was when I stopped paying attention. And it wasn’t until a couple of months ago when I was listening to an intern at my office wax poetic about these movies that I discovered my assumption false. Baffled, and mildly curious, I set out to catch myself up on the movies, knowing then that the last installment was to be released come October. I absentmindedly decided to carry out this mission at the worst times; i.e.: when no one else was home, right before bed, after I had just made myself some soup, etc. It always was sometime around the 5 minute mark into the movie that I would ask myself the question: “Why am I watching this??” The situations that the characters are put in are no less than horrific; the epitome of the ‘man I’m so glad that’s not me’ scenario. Yet you can’t help but place yourself in those traps. To watch these movies is to pose the question: Could I cut off my arm to avoid having screws jabbed into my brain? Could I destroy my hands to prevent myself from getting sawn in half? Could I put myself through considerable pain to save my own life?
I was never a competitive person. I hate feeling pressured. I quit Tae-kwon-do because I didn’t want to spar with people for the sake of getting my next belt color. Jigsaw, I don’t like games. I don’t want to play your game. Let me die and make it quick.
My problem is that I know I would lose these games. I don’t like facing that truth about myself. And sure, they say you never know what you’re capable of until you’re faced with a near death situation, but I’m a real wuss about pain.

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In trying to grasp a deeper sense of the problem I feel with these movies, I consulted with a friend of mine who has, in passing, expressed an actual hatred of the films. When I probed for a reason why, he explained to me his absolute disdain for torture – describing it as one of the most despicable things our species has created. He reeled over just why anyone would delight in watching these films and said that it posed the question: would people want to watch if it were real?
Point well received. I tried to rebut by saying that horror movies give us a ‘safe’ place to face our fears. Snuff films are a downright horrifying thing to fathom in the realm of reality, but give us a film like ‘Vacancy’ and we shell out the money to see it. What does it say about us, that these torture-porn films like Saw and Hostel rake in tons of money at the box office? Are we that addicted to the adrenaline? Do we just like knowing that it’s not happening to us? Or do these movies really send out a call to the darker parts of our humanity? I don’t think (or don’t want to think) that we actually ‘enjoy’ seeing the terrible things that happen to the Jigsaw victims. If I did, I wouldn’t have to cover my eyes the moment before the timer runs out in every movie.
Maybe this isn’t about the sick desire to watch someone die. Maybe this is about facing our own fears, desensitizing ourselves to our own fragility; our own mortality even. The reality of death surrounds us every day. And while the unfortunate factor lies in the truth that there are people who come to violent ends, on the whole, the Saw movies are an exaggeration on a pre-existing fear. No one wants to die a slow and painful death. The movies themselves like to hide behind the villain’s claim that he wants his victims to ‘learn’, but at the very core of it all – it’s about watching people die… creatively.
When it comes down to it, the Saw movies are just plain mean. They are depressing, the endings crush your hopes, and it makes you wonder about the people who *do* come up with the oh-so ‘clever’ traps. Quite frankly, considering that there’s going to be seven of them in total, I would say this is a monster that’s gotten out of control. The first one could have existed on its own and I think we all could have been satisfied. But all the movies contain so many loose ends, and I’m enough of an obsessive compulsive person that I’ll have to see how it plays out. I wish I never got started.

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