Friday, 25 October 2013

H13. Hellbent On The Theatre Of Blood

Sorry about not posting anything yesterday, was out shopping. Anyway, I've since watched two more films. One was Hellbent, a disturbing film for a whole number of reasons which means that the entry on that is less of a review and more of a moral discussion. The other is Theatre Of Blood, a brilliant horror film starring genre icon Vincent Price.

1980, USA, Directed by Roger Spottiswoode

It’s not often that I find myself in situations where my moral stance compromises my artistic appreciation of something. The media I am experiencing at the time is usually setting itself up in one way and I like to think I’m able to challenge or accept these values in terms of my own beliefs. Literary studies has complicated this significantly (by exposing damaging messages in treasured texts of mine), but it has also allowed me to be more open in my understanding of the world we all live in. I say all this because I’m disgusted by Hellbent. It’s a gay slasher movie and I must admit I was quite excited to see this. As a gay man, I generally praise any exposure we get in film/television because it’s so minimal. I was particularly interested in this film because the horror genre and sexual orientation have a curious history. Gay characters are hardly ever represented or if they are they’re killed off early on, or worse, revealed to be the character. One of the most famous horror films Psycho has a gender-bending murderer and the previous film in this marathon has a questionably gendered antagonist. It’s something of a nasty trend and one I wished Hellbent would reverse or, at least, challenge. What I got was something wrong. As a film, it’s poorly acted, structurally odd and ultimately unsatisfying, but that’s not the problem I have with this film. The worry I have with it is all the disturbing things just below the surface. The story of the film begins on a policeman who’s looking up criminals hoping for a hook-up. I was appalled. It’s this sort of thing that gay campaigners try to fight. It’s no excuse that he’s later revealed to be a good guy with a kink for bad boys (something which could have been expanded further to make a more interesting film). As the story continues, I wanted to throw my laptop across the room and here’s why; violence is sexualised, specifically bloody violent murder takes on something of an erotic fixation. This happens to some degree in most horror films (the archetypal horror film is the slasher kills the sexually promiscuous teenagers. One of the more iconic images being a naked girl running away from a serial killer, hence the two categories that I’ve used to distinguish different types of films) and I think there’s something deeply concerning to say about society when that sort of link is made, but there it’s unconscious. An opposing argument could easily be made that horror films are advocating the virginal heroine (something which I have a feeling I’ll go more depth into when I view Halloween), but here there’s no debate. One of the most disturbing scenes sees the innocent character being attacked by chainsaws covering his body in blood. This is all fake, part of a club where this sort of thing is common but its immensely worrying, especially when he’s later killed, as are most of his friends. There’s one scene where the likable character in a drag is murdered after he de-girls as it were because he just wants someone to like him again. It’s a sad, nasty scene. I wanted to throw this film away but I hoped that it would get better at the end when we find out the serial killer’s identity. But we don’t. We don’t know if he’s straight or gay or anything. He’s just a mystery. Some would argue it’s scarier that way, but to me it just feels like lazy plotting. Adding to the sexualisation of violence, it’s telling that the climax of the film occurs specifically because a guy has been chained to a bed (possible sado-masochism and bondage) and it’s just wrong on so many levels. It does get some things right (the moment where the serial killer’s knife audibly scrapes against the protagonist’s glass eye is a truly disturbing image) but they’re few and far between. I think the problem with my viewing of this film is that I half-expect all gay films to be message orientated or at least towards a more inclusive perspective of the world. What I got instead was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen, but what’s more disturbing is that by association (by the simple fact that we’re viewing it) we are involved. It’s never criticised (again a problem that could have easily been solved by explaining the killer’s identity. He could be turned on by violence which would confine it to him) and it just makes you feel disgusting. After I watched this (finishing at 2 in the morning), I felt physically sick. Even writing this review is filling me with that feeling of something truly disturbing. I couldn’t get the image of the killer licking the protagonist’s glass eye and holding it in his teeth out of his head. Never ever watch this movie. Never, never, never, never. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go watch a happy gay movie.
Overall Verdict: 1
  Theatre Of Blood
1973, UK, Directed by Douglas Hickox
Now that’s better. This 1973 camp horror film, starring the inimitable Vincent Price and Diana Rigg, is brilliantly clever, rising above its schlocky peers. Taking the works of Shakespeare as inspiration for a series of nasty murders, it’s just an immensely likable horror film. Basically about a theatrical performer who takes revenge on critics who savaged his work and humiliated him, it’s so much more than that. By using Shakespearian texts, audiences realise just how gory the classic’s plays were. For example, I didn’t know that a Queen was forced to eat her own children. Gross. But then what makes this film genius is that it translates those to a modern (for the 70s) setting. Thus, the death of Joan of Arc becomes a woman being burned to death and Shylock actually gets his pound of flesh (and sends it to the detectives in a memorably gruesome scene; “my heart will always be with you”). It rewards literary fans but is also a great experience for anyone not familiar with the Bard’s work. It works on a number of levels as we are simultaneously made to hate and cheer on Lionheart. This is probably because of Vincent Price’s wonderfully camp performance (particularly when he becomes a gay hairdresser, using the policeman’s panic to safely murder an unsuspecting critic) but it also owes to the fact that many of us in the arts often feel that we wish to attack our critics. Very few of us would probably resort to murder (at least not in reality. We work it into our craft) but it makes for an oddly satisfying film. Diana Rigg also puts in a strange performance as Lionheart’s daughter, seen most of the film in drag as a butch bikie, which is just so not her usual type of role. This is one film I’ll probably want to re-watch after this marathon, once I’ve been more clued up on Shakespeare because I’ve probably missed some of the in-jokes but this is a nasty, camp film that’s also incredibly enjoyable.
  Gore/Violence: 3 (the murders, but the violence is minimal, mainly only blood. It’s suggestion)
Sex/Nudity: 1 (hardly any although it is brilliantly used to replicate another Shakespearian murder)
Scares: 3 (not that scary, but it hardly matters with this film)
Best Scene: “Where are my doggies?” “They’re here with you right now.”
Overall Verdict: 8

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