Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Bad News—The Anti-Gospel of Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist

Happy Women’s History Month! I figured what better time to bring up an old, dark current in human history—a question as absurd to our modern sensibilities as it was ubiquitous to earlier generations: Are women evil? Now, I’m not going to attempt to go through an exhaustive historical catalog of theological and philosophical sources that have answered this question (unfortunately, often in the affirmative). But let’s turn to one particular stream of thought: Gnosticism. The religions under the umbrella of Gnosticism are characterized by a dualistic cosmology that pits the physical, material world against the heavenly, spiritual world, the former being seen as profane and corrupt, the latter being seen as good and holy. Unfortunately for women, they were seen as by nature being more closely tied to the passionate, material world, whereas men were seen as being more closely tied to the rational, spiritual world. Can’t sum it up better than this line from the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas: “Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Let Mary [Magdalene] leave us, for women are not worthy of Life.’ Jesus said, ‘I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.’”

Though Gnosticism never won out as a normative expression of Christianity, some of its dualistic thinking about gender and sexuality continued to inspire later thinkers in church history. For this post, I want to focus on just one iteration of the idea: the haunting, psychosexual nightmare of a film by Danish screenwriter and director Lars von Trier, entitled Antichrist. I remember first reading about the film on some internet click-bait page of “the most shocking horror movies” or something like that; and it is indeed shocking. A quick list of adjectives I’d use to describe the film include: brutal, savage, delirious, perverse. Yet the cinematography has a sinister, aching beauty that makes it a morbid pleasure to watch for fans of artsy horror films. With a cast of just two main actors (Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, of all people) in incredibly intense performances, and backed by a research team that includes consultants on subjects from theology, anxiety, and misogyny to “mythology and evil”, horror films, and psychotherapy, it is an unexpected, unforgettable look at the age-old question: Are women evil? Spoilers below.

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A Witch Talks The Witch Part 1

Gentle reader, if you follow the blog closely enough to be somewhat familiar with the various authors, you might know that I consider myself something of a witch. Though I have at times tried to elucidate my spiritual leanings with descriptors such as “eclectic post-Wiccan shamanic neo-Pagan, with influences from Hinduism to Hellenism”, I find “witch” rolls off the tongue a little easier. Something about the richness of the word “witch”, the dark, damp, fertile history of the word, is one of various things that first brought me to Wicca so many years ago. Though at times I waver closer to or further from the word, I find it difficult to imagine a time when I no longer have any connections whatsoever to this potent word and its associated practices. So when I first saw word of The Witch spreading around the interwebs, my interest was piqued. The Wiccan Boom the 1990s promised me never came to pass, so there’s been a dearth of witchy media since Charmed went off the air, except for the recent fiasco that was Witches of East End. This was the first time I’d seen a movie with such an explicitly witch-themed title getting press and interest since The Craft. On top of that, even Stephen King voiced his approval on Twitter! Of course I had to check it out.

the witch movie posterAnd check it out I did. I was hesitant to write a post about it after my first viewing; it conjured up (pun intended) so many thoughts and feelings, I worried I wouldn’t be able to make anything resembling coherence out of the juices of my mind grapes. But after a couple of days of processing, a second viewing, and hours of bouncing ideas around with my fellow author MikelyWhiplash (including the possibility of whether or not Taylor Swift is a witch), I think I just might be ready to tackle this haunting work of cinema. Did I like it? Hard to say: it is visually a macabre pleasure to watch, and I think it’s important for bringing witches back to the popular imagination. Enter with me the world of The Witch. Verily yon wood be filled with witches, and also spoilers.

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“Final Girl” vs. “Horror Heroine”

Laurie Strode Jamie Lee CurtisAs I’ve shown before, I take my horror movies pretty seriously, and I am especially concerned with the portrayal of the characters therein. One of the most important characters in a horror movie is the protagonist who will end up in the final confrontation with the killer. Because this character is almost always female, we call this character the Final Girl.

But what does the term “Final Girl” imply? She is the last one left alive. This doesn’t really imply any level of strength or skill on her part, merely that she has kept breathing longer than the rest of the victims. We also have our protagonist referred to as “girl”, despite the fact that she is most likely a legal adult, which puts her in a position of immaturity and weakness. The title doesn’t even really state that she will triumph over her adversary and still be alive at the end of the movie; it simply says that she is the last in a line of victims.

A less-used term, however, is that of the Horror Heroine. There’s not even a TVTropes page for such a character; she’s that rare. This term implies much more agency in the character. This is not someone who simply does not die; this is someone who is victorious over her adversaries. The reason this term is less common is probably because this character is less common. It’s very easy to make a Final Girl: she simply has to be female and survive between 85-100% of the movie. A Horror Heroine, however, has to be an actual character with strength and determination.

Below the cut I’ve compiled a list of some of the characteristics of each archetype and a few noteworthy examples of each.

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Trailer Tuesdays: Entity

Entity is a movie based on the creepypasta character the Slender Man, who has become very popular online. There are websites full of fanart, video games, movies, documentaries, photo manipulations, etc., so I suppose it’s not surprising that Hollywood has picked up on the idea. As I watched this preview, though, I thought it had the feeling of a fan film rather than a studio production. It wasn’t that I thought the movie looked bad, it just had that intangible quality to it that felt homegrown, so I looked a little further into it.

From what I learned, the movie was an independent film and utilized crowd-funding for at least post-production costs, if not necessarily the whole project. The movie has a pretty large online following and it seems it was supposed to have been released a while ago but was delayed indefinitely. It would appear that a new producer showed interest in the film and the release was pushed back in order to take advantage of the new opportunities. The team has been rather vague on what exactly these opportunities are, so I’m not sure what this means for the film. Perhaps a theatrical release is in the works or maybe widespread showings at film festivals.

It’s been a few months since the latest update, though, and many fans seem to be losing hope that the movie will ever see the light of day. Some have even claimed that it’s a hoax, since the website has gone offline. I don’t personally believe that’s the case, but I haven’t really been close enough to the project to speak with any authority on the matter. The trailer embedded above is the second trailer made for the movie and is listed as “Theatrical Trailer”. Add to that the presence of an eventful “Demand It!” app on the movie’s Facebook page and I start to think that the delay means there will be a theatrical release for this film and that is the cause for its postponement.

Whether you remain optimistic as I do, or believe that this film will never be seen/doesn’t actually exist, the trailer is well-done and looks like an interesting movie.

The Women of Elm Street: Nancy Thompson

A Nightmare on Elm Street- Nancy ThompsonIt’s time. It is finally time.

Months ago, I began a series of posts in which I endeavored to celebrate the female leads of the Nightmare on Elm Street series. It’s my favorite horror franchise and has many excellent qualities, not the least of which is its celebration of female heroines, so the choice seemed an obvious one. I got through most of these leading ladies in a timely manner, but when it came time to write about the original and greatest protagonist of this series, I found myself incapable of accomplishing the task.

How could I put into words all that is so incredible about Nancy Thompson? How could I do justice to the character who is most responsible for my love of this series and, on a larger scale, the whole horror genre? I was locked in indecision and simply avoided the topic, but now that it’s October and I’m fully immersed in horror and the supernatural, it is finally time to finish this series.

Here we go. Spoilers after the jump.

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Why I Don’t Love Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th- 1980 PosterI mentioned in my most recent post (and I think I’ve said it before) that I don’t have much respect for the Friday the 13th film series. Since this is such an extensive and iconic franchise in the horror genre, I thought I should explain myself a little further. It’s not as if I don’t enjoy the series; I watch the marathons every year around this time and I do find Jason the scariest of the main horror icons, but I just can’t manage to muster up much respect for the series as a whole. Why? Basically, it boils down to its overall lack of depth.

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

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Web Crush Wednesdays: Blinky500

Ready for a spoooooky Web Crush?

zombie-anime-fangirlsBlinky500 is a YouTube user who makes short films with an emphasis on horror and thrillers. Many of his movies are fan films, like character studies of popular horror icons, but he creates original pieces as well. I first came across the channel one or two years ago when one of his fan films came up in my recommendations box. While I don’t remember which film I watched first, I remember thinking that they were all pretty excellent. For example, this Friday the 13th prequel is better than any of the actual studio films in the Friday the 13th series:

I don’t have much respect for the Friday the 13th series, to be honest, so I didn’t feel any level of protectiveness over the source material when watching this. Even so, I felt that the work honored the original very well. The focus on the original killer, Pamela Voorhees, is welcome since she actually had a purpose when she killed in the first film: she was avenging her son, Jason. When Jason took over in the sequels, however, he very quickly became a simple killing machine who was frightening but not the least bit interesting. It’s great to see a killer with some actual character because it makes the movie that much more engaging. Even if it’s just a short eight-minute movie, it makes a more compelling tale than most, if not all, of the official movies in the series.

Now, I don’t just like Blinky’s movies when they improve on a source I feel to be weak. As you may know, I am a huge fan of the Nightmare on Elm Street series and feel very protective of it. Therefore, when I found his film KRUEGER (A Tale from Elm Street), I was more than ready to criticize it, but it completely surpassed my high expectations. The script, characterization, pacing, and score were all excellent and made the short film as good as any canonical entry in the Elm Street series.

The original content is of equally high quality. His originals often deal with psychological issues and they are quite interesting. There are a couple of films which deal with suicide and have very difficult content to watch. I’m not sure I completely agree with the presentations, but they make me think and I feel that makes them worthwhile watches. On the one hand, they both encourage valuing life and resisting self-harm, which is a great message, but on the other hand, they have a sense of vilifying suicidal thoughts which doesn’t sit quite right with me. I won’t embed the videos here, as they may be triggering, but the one I thought was most interesting can be found here.

The movies on Blinky500’s page are varied to say the least. There is a lot of horror, some comedy, and a few psychological thrillers. Hard to digest at times, but overall very well-done, the movies are of a quality much higher than what one may expect from a small independent company whose films stream for free on YouTube. I highly recommend this channel.