Month: July 2021

July 26, 2021

Good for Her: Defining a Trope

By: Haley Powell

(Contains spoilers for Ready or Not, Midsommar, and The Witch)

With genres always evolving, different tropes are constantly defining new decades of cinema. The last decade or so has seen many new approaches to well known archetypes and plot devices, and especially in the age of social media, more and more people are becoming able to voice their film opinions online. Inevitably, this has led to the use of memes not only for jokes, but also to describe subgenres of film.

“Good for Her” began as a quote from actress Jessica Walter on the show Arrested Development, which was turned into a gif that has become a popular response on social media sites. The original scene consists of an offscreen voice that says, “Claiming she could take it no more, the young mother released the emergency brake, allowing her car to roll backwards into the nearby lake,” (Arrested Development) to which Walter’s character replies, “Good for her!” The gif is used in countless contexts, but recently and predominantly in reference to women of horror or thriller movies. “Good for her” is not only the name of at least two hundred letterboxd lists, but it has also grown into its own subgenre of films.

But since the growing popularity of the phrase, there has been constant disagreements on social media over what technically qualifies a film for the phrase. Is “good for her” just a joke taken out of context, or a serious display of how viewers can misinterpret a film’s central themes? Ready or Not, Knives Out, and The Invisible Man, are some of the most common examples of “good for her” films, but many feel that the inclusion of movies like Gone Girl, Midsommar, and The Witch, where the female lead makes increasingly morally gray decisions as the film progresses, go against the basic meaning of “good for her.” 

Ready or Not is one of the more widely accepted “good for her” examples. The film’s lead bravely and consistently defends herself against attackers and ends the film victorious against her enemies. With only a small portion of any of the bloodshed her own personal doing, and all of it done in self defense, she gets revenge against her lying husband by surviving his family’s attacks which in turn triggers the curse that kills them instantly. This leaves the protagonist as a virtually completely innocent victor that the audience can happily root for.

A “good for her” example that is less widely accepted is the popular horror film Midsommar. Depending on your perspective the movie may seem like an odd contender for the trope, considering the movie ends with the female lead joining an evil cult that’s responsible for her friends’ horrific deaths; but others defend protagonist Dani’s placement amongst the other “good for her” leads. She ends the film as May queen. She’s finally able to express her emotions in a cathartic way after the death of her family. She gets “revenge” on her abusive boyfriend by allowing the cult to sacrifice him. With these factors, one could argue that Dani ends the film in a more powerful position than she starts. Though she is no longer our morally pure protagonist, Dani outlives her emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend and finds a new family in her fellow cult members. 

The Witch is another intriguing example of this. At the film’s end, lead Thomasin becomes a part of the evil she was threatened by in the beginning; the evil she was wrongly accused of being involved with the entire time- but in doing this she escapes her controlling and abusive family. Obviously, nothing about her dead family is “good” no matter the circumstances, but one could argue that Thomasin’s joining of the coven shows her finally escaping the unhappiness and persecution that she felt before. After all that’s happened, Thomasin ends the film not only free from further judgement or accusations, but able to live “deliciously” and presumably go on to join the other witches in torturing settler families. Though this makes her a villain and shows that Thomasin has lost her original morality, this wouldn’t necessarily disqualify her from “good for her” status in the eyes of many horror fans who enjoy and appreciate more morally gray characters.

Horror in particular is a genre known for its villains. Characters like Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, and Jason Voorhees are praised as the stars of slasher movies without much need to discuss the objective despicableness of their actions. No one has to specify that their appreciation of those characters are in purely a fictional way; we all know that slaughtering camp counselors and babysitters is something not meant to extend into real life. But does this same idea apply to the cult of Midsommar, the coven of The Witch? Or are Dani and Thomasin excluded from “good for her” because we must specify that evil cults are, of course, bad and not exhibitors of behavior that should be emulated in real life/

 Is there a difference between appreciating the brutal work of Mr. Krueger, and feeling satisfied that a woman has survived deadly circumstances and ended the movie more powerful than they’d ever been? Are these characters critiqued differently because they’re women, or because they begin the story as morally pure protagonists?

Is “good for her” literal, and meant to only be used in morally black and white situations? These questions all come back to what you think “good for her” means, and whether or not you know that the context of the original quote is in reference to a woman driving into a lake. 

REFERENCES

Feig, Paul, dir. “Arrested Development.” Arrested Development. Fox. 19 Sept. 2005. Television.

July 21, 2021

Not every survivor’s cup of tea: Rape and revenge horror

*spoilers and TW: mentions of sexual violence and discussion surrounding it

The world of horror is wildly vast and exciting. From all the sub-genres and a plethora of movies that rattle our brains as fans, there’s always something new to learn about horror. It’s still an under-appreciated genre and quite frankly mocked by the haters. Though we know the truth: Horror is queer and political by nature. Meaning horror often covers the hard topics directly, such as sexual violence. 


Now, rape and revenge horror isn’t for everybody. And there’s nothing wrong with needing to avoid that kind of body horror. But what’s strange to do is tell survivors of sexual violence that we shouldn’t watch those films. That somehow it’s glorifying that type of violence. When it’s usually quite the opposite, meaning it’s empowering to see the survivor get revenge. Horror has managed to give survivors that empowerment. Whereas other genres don’t always get it right. A recent example is Promising Young Woman (2021), which didn’t handle the subject matter properly. And instead centered the trauma of a straight white woman, who consistently put herself in dangerous situations on purpose,  and wasn’t even the survivor of sexual violence. 
Though even with empowerment comes the possibility of being triggered. And many rape and revenge horror is triggering for viewers. Such as films like the original I Spit on Your Grave (1978) or the remakes that came long after it, American Mary (2012), or The Perfection (2018). Then there are the rape and revenge films where the victims aren’t the ones seeking revenge. Controversial horror like The Last House on the Left (1972) or even the 2009 remake (which features an even more gruesome rape scene). In the original there’s no survival for the victims, they are brutalized and murdered. Whereas the remake is still brutal but one of the victims manages to survive. Resulting in the same outcome as the original – her parents seek revenge for her.

The concept of taking back control and reclaiming your body after it’s been violated is a radical act. It’s powerful to experience and to witness in horror. While returned violence is seen as not justifiable to people who have cookie cutter ideals – it’s certainly satisfying to some. I Spit On Your Grave (1978) is a perfect example of someone, a woman in this instance, who reclaims her body. And she uses that power to destroy those who took from her in the first place. It’s a graphic horror movie, but it displays how explicitly political horror tends to be. There’s not a lot of subtext in this movie because it’s direct with its intention.

Unfortunately rape revenge usually is written off as too controversial. Sometimes even banned because of the content (occasionally that’s a good thing as there’s a line between glorification and otherwise). The Last on the Left (1972), written and directed by the iconic Wes Craven, could be seen as too horrific and tragic. Which of course it is tragic and gruesome, but it’s also the otherside to rape and revenge horror. Victims don’t always make it to the end of the film. It’s something that makes people ask: why watch rape and revenge horror that has no payoff? That question can’t be answered the same for everyone. For myself it’s an unfortunate reminder of those who don’t survive. And maybe understanding that truth is just as important.

Vanessa Maki horror fan, writer, and Afro Horror contributor.

July 16, 2021

A Quiet Place Part II should’ve made Emmett a Black man

When A Quiet Place Part II was released to theatres on May 28th 2021, I’d received both of my Pfizer COVID vaccinations, waited the suggested period, and been to theatres to see Spiral (previously subtitled From the Book of Saw).

On the very same Friday as the release, I purchased A Quiet Place from the Apple Store for $7.99 USD and watched it for the first time. Despite a few pacing issues, questionable choices from some of the characters, and heavy-handed foreshadowing, the first installment was a damn good movie overall.

Curiosity for the next chapter of this apocalyptic alternate reality mingled with my newly rekindled love for the theatre after being locked inside for over a year due to quarantine. Would Emily Blunt’s character Evelyn and her brave kid daughter Regan usher in a new hope for the future with guns in hand? Would the remaining Abbott family members each don one of the father’s “failed” hearing aides in their crusade, of which he left many?

The ending was so feminist and I needed to see if it would continue in that direction and blow through the glass ceiling of tired tropes in the next installment. Well, in the words of American drag queen, musician, and reality television personality Tatianna: “Choices!” Oh, and spoilers ahead.

I threw on my grungiest casual wear immediately after finishing the first installment and went to my local theatre to see A Quiet Place Part II on it’s premiere night. I braved a shockingly more robust crowd than that of Spiral’s and paid for overpriced concessions happily. What I was presented with was a cute little feature that would have been cuter if they didn’t sacrifice all of the Black folk. In fact, A Quiet Place II should’ve made Emmett–an old friend of the family–a Black man (and this is no shade to Cillian Murphy, who did a great job in the role).

The movie started with a flashback sequence to the invasion of the franchise’s signature blind and sound-sensitive space aliens. As a result, we got to see Kransinki’s role of the core family’s recently deceased father Lee reprised. This was okay! Roughly five minutes later, the first Black character—who happened to be a cop who decides to play hero—was sacrificed. This was not okay! However! I was willing to let it go since the aliens were slaughtering everyone indiscriminately. But, wait! There’s more!

Towards the end of the film, the movie sacrificed Djimon Hounsou’s character who they were too bothered to name despite him having considerable screen time (no, really. At the time of me writing this, his character is billed as ‘Man on Island’).

The meat of an otherwise decent sequel was swathed around the casual dispatching of Black bodies, which soured the experience for me quite a bit. Emmett’s story throughout was a tragedy; while the Abbott’s had suffered two great losses, Emmett lost his entire family during the Alien invasion. Proper utilization of this information for our theoretical Black version of Emmett creates natural social commentary on the concept of Two Americas.

This new Emmett’s apprehension to help the Abbotts, with some tweaking, is okay to keep as well—it creates a chance for character development. His fear and grief stricken reaction of withdrawal and paranoia make sense.

Deciding to risk himself for the greater good by helping Regan makes sense as well, but would still require some tweaking. Both Emmett and Regan need to have something logic-wise that the other doesn’t in a way that allows them to learn from one another, which will fuel their character growth. They need to feel like separate parts of a whole. Otherwise, it turns into a situation where Emmett is a Black man whose only value is risking his life for a white family and we don’t need anymore of that.

In addition to wanting to help Regan and fighting for the greater good (and without adding too much exposition), Emmett should have a personal motivator for embarking on their adventure. For example, maybe he previously allowed an unaddressed phobia to stop him from taking his partner on a cruise she/he/they desired (yes, Emmett could and should be queer as well).

By conquering this phobia partly in honor of his dearly departed, it teaches the viewer to never take anything for granted. Additionally, fighting for the greater good starts at home by fixing ourselves first. Hell, maybe even reward his trials. For example, an unexpected reunion with a beloved family member or old flame awaits his arrival to the island.

Most importantly, all of the tweaking necessary for a Black Emmett creates opportunities for more Black writers who should be hired for proper handling and representation.

Final thoughts?

As a Black man, it’s frustrating to see that our voices are silenced in A Quiet Place Part II. Even in an imaginary apocalyptic world, the only thing that seems to survive are white people and old tropes.

Ryan Kinney is a the host of Brother Ghoulish’s Tomb and a guest blog contributor. @brotherghoulish

July 14, 2021

The Horror Genre’s Structure Will Never Expand the Horror Genre’s House

By R.J. Joseph

I had several ideas to use for this blog post and started actually writing a couple of them. But my muse is fickle and she’s easily swayed by…well, everything. A passing tweet from one of my favorite horror writers changed course and so here we are, talking about Audrey Lorde’s idea of the master’s tools never dismantling the master’s house in the context of the horror genre, it’s expansion, and the upkeep of the house where it resides.

I’ve been in the horror world for a long, long time, first as a reader (from the age of six) and now as a reader and writer. I’ve seen many trends, publishers, and writers come and go. Lots of change. Some good, some not so good. Yet, one thing remains constant: it still ain’t a cozy place for writers of color.

Photo credit: https://tenor.com/search/its-been-84-years-gifs

Before the naysayers and internet arguers with no facts supporting their bad faith arguments come running, I’ll say there has been a tiny bit of progress within the genre regarding inclusivity. There are many more women publishing horror books and stories and directing horror films than at any time before now. The genre has at least two or three pretty prominent voices from varying races and ethnicities where there were none. LGBTQ and disabled creators are finding their way into collections that aren’t only for LGBTQ and disabled artists. But…

A look at any major studio’s horror offerings, the TOCs (tables of contents) for the most highly anticipated horror anthologies, or major horror awards lists reveals gaps bigger than the wide country ghetto one I sport when I smile: these remain highly white and cis male. The mainstream deals in publishing and film that pay the most are often based on these awards lists and TOCs. Guess who the money follows? Even in indie publishing and filmmaking where word of mouth can make or break a production, the words in the mouths of the industry folks are rarely the names of writers of color. 

Photo credit: https://tenor.com/view/huh-what-not-sure-gif-13604410

There’s no argument that staying in folks’ faces on social media or with publications and even convention appearances helps keep writers working. How are writers of color supposed to stay on this merry go round without being paid for their work? Or, being paid well below professional pay rates because the publications that will take works from writers of color can only afford to pay a fraction of that? How can they maintain a social media presence when their visibility there opens them up to attacks from not only heavy hitters who don’t want to cede any inch of the horror house to writers who are vastly different from them to the other writers of color who want to tear them down in vying for the one slot afforded for a writer of color in these spaces?

This is the part where the common refrain comes from—some who are well-intentioned, I really want to believe—folks in the genre saying, “Well, all good writers will eventually rise to the top.” I scoff at these words over the top of my hard won MFA and the degrees and experiences of my fellow horror writers of color. I’ve been reading my favorite Black horror writer, Tananarive Due, since the 1990s. Due is just now having one of her many film worthy works produced on screen in AMC’s new Black horror anthology series later this year. I’m sure she has always had many pokers in the fire with her work but she said this is the first television adaption of her work she didn’t produce herself. She has written rings around so many of the writers who get multitudes more big ups than she ever has. Her work should have been all over movie and television screens for years now. This is where the whole, “quality rises to the top” sentiment rings hollow for me.

Photo credit: https://tenor.com/view/huh-what-not-sure-gif-13604410

We can have all the education we want and write perfectly and prolifically but the genre just may still choose to maintain its current status quo. There will likely never be a point where using the horror genre’s structures of writing degrees and awards nominations and film options will create an extension on the horror genre’s house where writers of color can reside as comfortably as our counterparts. The house the horror genre keeps up is the house the horror genre wants for itself. The genre seems hellbent on remaining a homogenous monolith that will eventually have to cannibalize itself without any new blood.

I posit we would be better off using our tools to build our own houses: publishing houses, conferences, awards programs, writing programs, professional writing groups, and studios that not only welcome work from writers of color but also afford us further opportunities to nurture a wide range of expressions from within our communities. 

Imagine having an editor who not only understands that there’s nuance in the storytelling and language of people of color but who embraces these delicious differences and would never reply to a submission with a very color coded, “I can’t relate to these characters”. Consider a writing program where a writer of color isn’t admonished to erase all instances of their identity from their story until it’s workshopped into a bland semblance of every other thing the horror community upholds and celebrates. How much joy would numerous studios that produce movies based on varying works from multiple creators of color depicting disparate experiences of their own ethnicities bring to our hearts? At the very least, this world should be refreshingly void of stereotypical characters and judgement about what constitutes a valid expression of any race or ethnicity.

Photo credit: https://tenor.com/view/kids-dancing-blackboyjoy-ayye-lit-gif-12883212

This is a radical vision I propose but I’m not alone in advocating for it. I and other creators who want to build these horror houses understand perfectly this is a long range vision dependent on many variables, including our tenacity to work with what we got to get what we want and partially on the true allies in the horror genre who will take our work on and pay us what we’re worth to lend us the validity and investments within the genre we would need to build our structures. Until then, we fight. We write. And we dream. We continue to collect our tools and use them to build what we want. What we need.

R.J. Joseph is a Texas based Bram Stoker Award™ nominated writer who writes academically about and creatively within the horror genre. You can most often find her on Twitter, @rjacksonjoseph and (after August 1, 2021) on her newly minted, teenager created website at www.rhondajacksonjoseph.com.

July 12, 2021

Perspective versus perception: A Review of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart

“Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded—with what caution—with what foresight—with what dissimulation I work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him” (Bloom, 2009).

Was the person in “The Tell-Tale Heart” really driven mad due to an unnerving eye or were they a murderous deviant? Maybe the truth is within both concepts. The Tell-Tale Heart tells a story about a person (the narrator) who attempts to convince the reader of their mental stability while simultaneously describing a murder they committed. Written at a time when mental health was still a developing concept (JH Bloomberg School of Public Health, 2013), The Tell-Tale heart explores perception versus perspective from an antagonist standpoint. On one hand, one could advocate for the mental instability of the narrator, but on the other hand, one could state this is a case of a narcissist, murderous psychopath. Much like modern literary works such as You by Caroline Kepnes, A Tell-Tale heart allows the reader to go on a journey from the “bad guy’s” perspective and often they view themselves as the protagonist in the story. But perhaps they are. 

Perspective and perception are two concepts that shape our existence. We all have different experiences, upbringings, values, and morals that shape how we view the world (perception) and how we interpret the world (perspective). Our perspective and perception may be influenced by external factors such as societal norms and laws. There is a school of thought that says perception is reality and there is some truth to this statement. A person’s perception may not be a reality, but it may be their reality. So now, let us juxtapose this aspect over “The Tell-Tale Heart.” If the person thought that they were sane, but everything around them was “distorted” then is not this their reality. At what point are they deemed not the protagonist?

Blurred lines between perception, perspective, and reality can be terrifying as we see in “The Tell-Tale Heart.” Now, let us take perception and perspective a little further and examine what is going on in our society with racial injustices. A group of people perceive to be oppressed and another group has a different perception, that the group is not oppressed. Both perceptions are complicated by the perspectives of everyone in the respective groups. In this paradigm, it may be easy to concede that we can agree to disagree, but what if there is an action that accompanies these perceptions and perspectives? Now, there must be a decision on if the action was warranted. People that have the same perspective and perception may agree with the action while the opposing group does not, but everyone believes they are correct in their feelings and thoughts.

The person in “The Tell-Tale Heart” had perceptions and perspectives that may have been distorted by readers, but they were not to the person. They were the protagonist in their mind and everything else was distorted around them. Isn’t this how we are to some extent? So, you see, anyone can be the person in “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

“Very, very, dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? (Bloom, 2019).

https://www.poemuseum.org/the-tell-tale-heart

References

Bloom, H. (2009). Edgar Allan Poe’s the tell-tale heart and other stories. Infobase Publishing.

JH Bloomberg School of Public Health. (2013, November 7). Origins of mental health. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. https://www.jhsph.edu/departments/mental-health/about-us/origins-of-mental-health.html

July 5, 2021

Boys from County Hell

Boys from County Hell, currently on Shudder, was written by Chris Baugh and Brandon Mullin, and directed by Chris Baugh. As a fan of the vampire genre, it’s easy to get into a very predictable formula. Every now and again we get a fresh take on an old story, and Boys from County Hell certainly does that. Set against an Irish backdrop, road workers (against the wishes of the residents) set out to demolish an ancient mound. Once removed, an ancient vampire rises and will not stop until the town is drained of every last drop of blood. I recently had the opportunity to speak with writer and director Chris Baugh about his film.

First, let me start by saying I love Boys from County Hell. I’m always a fan of taking a classic vampire story and breathing new life into it.

Q: Where were you when the idea for the film first popped in your head?

CB: I actually think I was working in a bar in Belfast many many years ago when I had the idea of wanting to make a genre film set in the specific part of Northern Ireland where I grew up.

Q: Do you feel that horror allows you to tell stories and attack themes in a different way from other genres?

CB: I think since its inception, the horror genre has been a way for filmmakers to explore interesting or controversial themes and ideas. I think the genre evolves with the culture and will always be there to hold a mirror up to the darker parts of reality.

Q: Growing up, what was your relationship with horror? Did you have an early introduction to a multitude of monsters, or did horror introduce itself by way of lore and myth?

CB: Not just with horror, but one of my earliest memories in life was seeing Nightmare on Elm Street at four years old. My parents were pretty loose about film age certificates. I still remember seeing the opening with Freddy building the glove and being deeply affected, terrified, and fascinated. That has never really left me.

Q: The relationship between Eugene Moffatt (played by Jack Rowan) and Francie Moffat (played by Nigel O’Neill) is really complex. You have two people living in this world of shared grief over the loss of a mother and wife. They revolve around each other interacting, but never really getting to the heart of their pain. What was the process like creating the dynamic between father and son?

CB: That relationship is really the heart of the movie and some is based on personal experience and people I observed growing up. I always wanted that relationship to be difficult and fraught, but also funny and heartfelt. I tried to do that on the page, but ultimately it was really about casting the right people with the right chemistry. Nigel and Jack knew these characters so well and understood the relationship so instinctively that the dynamic was there from the first rehearsal, really.

Q: The creature design in Boys From County Hell is really striking. There’s no Ferrari-driving, smooth-talking, handsome playboy vampire hanging around the town pubs. We get this beautifully crafted creature from the furthest depths of darkness. It is the thing we fear will rise from the moldy earth and walk into our nightmares. How did your team go about creating and designing your creature? Did you go through many sketches before settling on the look and feel that ended up on screen?

CB: We always wanted to create something that looked terrifying and world class for a low budget movie. The idea was to base his look on bog bodies, which are ancient corpses that have been preserved by peat bogs. Once we had that idea, it didn’t take a massive amount of research and development to land on the right look. Again, it was all about casting the right person (Robert Nairne) and hiring the brilliant Millennium FX and Claire Ramsay who did an incredible job on the creature prosthetics.

Q: How did COVID protocols affect your filming, if at all? Did you find it harder creatively connecting with your actors and crew with the limitations?

CB: We actually wrapped shooting two years ago, so well before COVID. The only thing that affected us was the weather!

Q: What’s next for you?

CB: I have a couple of projects in development that I should be able to announce very soon! Boys From County Hell is currently playing on Shudder and Amazon Prime.

Kamarra Cole is an Afro Horror contributor and horror fanatic. You can find her on Instagram at @kamarranichole

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