Tag Archives: David Lynch

Weekend Reading List: Busting up gender all over the place


It’s been a while, how’ve you been?

Image: Film still from Hidden Figures

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Horror Films: LADIES BE CRAZY (Take II)


There is such a rich history of horror films and thrillers dissecting female neurosis that it was impossible for me to only write one blog post about it. Women who lie, who kill, whose sexual desire manifests in culturally unacceptable ways are perfect fodder for a genre that revels in the taboo and the forbidden. For audiences who watch these films, not to mention the male directors putting them together, women who behave outside of what is respectable are a source of cultural anxiety that can easily be turned into uncomfortable, unpleasant, and even horrifying films.

These four movies all deal, in their own way, with women’s sexualities, and the deep-seated apprehension that arises when that aspect of women’s lives, usually so controlled and restricted, becomes ungovernable.


Mulholland Drive

David Lynch, 2001

The story: A mysterious dark haired woman survives an attempt on her life and, confused, wanders into an empty home. Shortly after, peppy aspiring actress Betty Elms arrives and finds the woman asleep in the bed. The woman doesn’t remember who she is, and she and Betty become close. At the same time, a man in a diner tells his friend about a nightmare he had, only to collapse when the figure from that dream shows up behind the restaurant. A movie director is told to cast a specific actress in the lead role of his film by the mob, and is also kicked out of his house when he finds out his wife is cheating on him.

Why you should watch it: In typical Lynchian fashion, the film twists and turns, focusing on characters that seem to have nothing in common, and never staying in chronological order for long. To this day I’m not entirely sure what’s going on. In fact, the first time I watched it I paused for a nap halfway through, and when I started it back up again was convinced I was watching a different movie. But it’s all rather purposeful as part of a meditation on love, obsession, jealousy, and revenge, and the heady cocktail these emotions create in the mind of the decidedly less than perfect Betty.


The Haunting

Robert Wise, 1963

The story: Dr. John Markway wishes to study the paranormal activity reported at Hill House, and brings together a psychic, Theodora, and Eleanor, who dealt with a poltergeist as a child. The two women grow closer as they almost immediately begin to experience supernatural phenomena, and Eleanor’s mental stability rapidly declines as her mysterious affinity for the house increases.

Why you should watch it: Mulholland Drive taught us that queer desire will *~*mess with your mind*~* and the same can definitely be said for The Haunting. Though Theodora is one of the few non-predatory early lesbian characters in film, it can definitely be argued that her effect on the already timid and guilt-filled Eleanor leads to the latter’s susceptibility to the house’s evil. Based on Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, the film’s off-kilter, distorted shots make every scene feel threatening and claustrophobic, and at no point does Hill House feel safe, especially for Eleanor.


The Devils

Ken Russell, 1971

The story: In 17th century France, the Cardinal Richelieu has convinced the king that decreasing the independence of the country’s cities by tearing down their fortifications will stop the rise of Protestantism. The city of Loudun is governed by the priest Urbain Grandier, who is both very popular and very promiscuous. Sister Jeanne des Anges, the abbess of the local convent, has become sexually fixated on him, to the point of harassing a young woman whom she finds out Grandier has married. As revenge, when the authorities come to tear down Loudun’s wall but are stopped by Grandier, Sister Jeanne reveals his affairs, and accuses him of witchcraft, leading to horrific interrogations, mock trials, and misery for all.

Why you should watch it: The Devils was extremely controversial when it came out, and remains an uncomfortable film to watch to this day (think orgies, enemas, masturbation, torture, that sort of thing). But there are some gorgeous visuals to be found, and the themes of desire and religious hypocrisy are endlessly fascinating to me. Vanessa Redgrave manages to pull off Sister Jeanne’s repressed, obsessive lust perfectly, terrifyingly.


The Exorcist

William Friedkin, 1973

The story: Actress Chris MacNeil is living in Washington DC with her twelve year old daughter Reagan who, after playing with a Ouija board, begins behaving strangely. She swears, complains that her bed shakes, and is abnormally strong. After consultation with many doctors, who all come to the conclusion that there’s nothing physically wrong with Reagan, Chris decides that her daughter is possessed and that an exorcism must be performed. She calls on two Catholic priests, including an archeologist who may have encountered this particular demon before.

Why you should watch it: Having accidentally watched the much longer—and frustratingly slower-paced—director’s cut, I’m recommending The Exorcist almost exclusively for its extremely influential place in horror film history. It was groundbreaking in many ways, including its use of special effects, and many critics have read Reagan’s possession as a metaphor for her growing sexuality. When thought of this way, the endless scenes of Reagan surrounded by male doctors and priests trying to figure out what’s wrong with her, how to render her docile, take on a whole new meaning.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Horror Films: BODY HORROR


I’ll be the first to say that body horror, or horror that relies on the graphic destruction or modification of the body, isn’t my favourite subgenre. I prefer to think of it as a natural preference for more cerebral fare, but most likely I’m just squeamish. Fans of gore and guts and other gross things have, however, over the years been well catered to, and here are a few titles that take up the body horror mantle with creativity and skill.



David Lynch, 1977

The Story: Henry Spencer lives in a bleak urban landscape, and we meet him as he is returning home with some groceries. That night, he goes to his girlfriend Mary X’s house to have dinner with her and her parents. He is informed that Mary has had their child, and that he must now care for the two of them. The child, a swaddled being with a skinless, inhuman face, cries incessantly and, when Mary abandons them, it’s up to Spencer to care for the creature that becomes more and more of a burden as time goes on.

Why you should watch it: Though it bears little resemblance to Lynch’s more famous work, Eraserhead, his first feature film, gives rise to the surrealism and densely woven layers of meaning the director is known for. The film is visually stunning (because of, and in addition to, the mystery surrounding how the child’s effects were created) and delves into the themes of sex and fatherhood in fascinating ways.


Horrors of Malformed Men

Teruo Ishii, 1969

The Story: Hirosuke Hitomi is a young amnesiac doctor imprisoned in an insane asylum. He escapes and meets a mysterious girl who sings a lullaby that reminds him of his past. Hirosuke heads to the coast where the song originated and finds that he bears a striking resemblance to a recently deceased man. Assuming his identity, he goes in search of the man’s father, who lives on a secluded island where gruesome experiments on kidnapped victims are performed.

Why you should watch it: It’s difficult to describe this film, as plot takes a decided backseat to aesthetics and exploitation-levels of sex and violence. Mashing together several Edogawa Ranpo mystery stories with The Island of Dr. Moreau and a post-Hiroshima fixation on deformity, Horrors of Malformed Men is a heady, psychedelic plunge into the grotesque. It’s a go-to if you’re looking for something pinky violent (60s and 70s Japanese action films with eroticized bad girls) or ero-guro (an artistic movement that focuses on erotic corruption and decadence). The film also stars Hijikata Tatsumi, one of the founders of butoh—a dance and performance form engaged with the bizarre and the taboo. It’s his particular movement style that makes the film truly unique.


Dead Alive (Braindead in New Zealand)

Peter Jackson, 1993

The Story: A dangerous Sumatran rat-monkey is captured by a team of explorers and shipped off to the Wellington Zoo, but not before the “natives” (yikes) demand its return, afraid of the creature’s power. Years later, shopgirl Paquita falls in love with Lionel Cosgrove, who’s domineering mother Vera attempts to sabotage the match while the happy couple is out at the zoo. She is bitten by the rat-monkey and promptly becomes a zombie, which triggers an unfortunate series of events culminating in a gore-filled final bloodbath.

Why you should watch it: It’s beyond me how anyone watched this and thought “yep, this dude should definitely direct a multi-million dollar Lord of the Rings franchise.” This movie is everything LOTR is not. It’s campy, unserious, low-budget, and non-sensical. It’s also funny, entertaining, and very, very gross. If you’re in the mood for a film where the gallons of fake blood outnumber the cast 100:1, this is your best bet. Just don’t expect to be hungry afterward.


Naked Lunch

David Cronenberg, 1991

The Story: William Lee is an exterminator whose wife Joan is stealing his insecticide to use as a drug. When he is arrested, he begins to hallucinate from exposure to the bug powder and believes himself to be a secret agent. His two “handlers” are an insectoid typewriter and an alien “mugwump” who tell him he must assassinate Joan. He accidentally kills her before fleeing to the Interzone, where he writes up reports to his handlers. The reports become the basis for a novel, and things only get stranger and more mind-bending from there.

Why you should watch it: It takes some serious chops to adapt a William S. Burroughs novel, and somehow Naked Lunch manages to take the surrealist, meandering source material and make it work just as well on the screen. The end product is the (highly fictionalized) story of how Burroughs came to write the novel, and though it’s maybe not as graphic as the other films on this list, Naked Lunch is no slouch when it comes to the eerie mugwumps and a uncomfortably squirming sex creature.



Mitchell Lichtenstein, 2008

The Story: Dawn O’Keefe is a teenaged spokesperson for a Christian abstinence group when she is introduced to Tobey, a boy who shares her values. The two quickly develop a mutual attraction and meet at a local swimming hole. There they begin to kiss, but when Dawn grows uncomfortable and wishes to stop, Tobey becomes violent, causing her to hit her head and lose consciousness. Tobey takes the opportunity to rape her, but soon realizes that something is very wrong: Dawn’s vagina has teeth, and doesn’t take kindly to intruders. Dawn slowly begins to investigate what is happening to her, and may be able to use her condition to her advantage.

Why you should watch it: If severed penises aren’t enough body horror for you I think you’re on a whole other level than I am. The rape revenge fantasy is a well-trodden theme in horror films, and by playing on vagina dentata folktales, Teeth manages to do it in a new way that avoids getting too dark. The film does deal with sexual assault (and, heads up, shows it happening), but never fails to be centred on Dawn’s experience, her trauma, and her growing control over her power. There are also comedic moments, if you can believe it.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Weekend Reading List: Non-bros and bad boyfriends


Top image by Simon Nyhus.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,