Scream notes

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  • 1. "Not in My Movie": The Slas/her, Scream and Spectatorship 1 home about projects writing itp contact Background "What's your favorite scary movie?" It's a game in which whether you win or lose the outcome is the same. Within the game, guessing correctly or incorrectly yields the same result just as identifying with either player yields both sadism and masochism. In the formula of the slasher film the pleasure is derived from the blurring and transcendence of binaries. Shifting loyalties between the killer and the victim/heroine, the spectator negotiates a fluid identity which is not hindered by race, sexuality or gender. Despite its neoconservative politics, the modern horror film expresses the repressed through queer bodies and subtexts. As the narrative unfolds, the series' active intertextual comments create a different type of spectator. I have been experiencing for so many years now. Upon reading Carol Clover's groundbreaking essay, "Her Body, Himself," and interjecting my own expanding theories on critical/resistive spectatorship, I came up with an answer. Horror films are queer. “The queer tendency of horror films, in my opinion, lies in its ability to reconfigure gender not simply through inversion but literally creating new categories (Halberstam 139).” They blur the boundaries of gender, sexuality and racial identity in the queered bodies of the killer and the victim/heroine who survives aka the Final Girl. Halberstam adds to Clover's arguments of gender that “improperly or inadequately gendered bodies represent the limits of the human and they present a monstrous arrangement of skin, flesh, social mores, pleasures, dangers and wounds. The bodies that splatter in horror films are interestingly enough properly gendered 'human' bodies, female bodies, in fact with the conventional markings of their femininity. Female bodies that do not splatter, then, are often sutured bodies, bodies that are in some way distanced from the gender constructions that would otherwise sentence them to messy and certain death. Carol Clover has named the improperly gendered, de-girled being as the 'final girl' (141).
  • 2. ” The monster is queer. The final girl is queer. Victims, however, are the pictures of normalcy and hegemony. It is therefore imperative to explore the significance of identifications between the spectator and these queered bodies. The horror genre is often seen as misogynist fare produced by and for men who revel in the depiction of the mutilation of the female body. With few exceptions, the killer is male and although there is an even mix between the sexes, the victims with the most scream time are female. The formula of the slasher film relies on a few simple rules which are laid out by Randy, Scream's own horror film expert: “There are certain rules one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie. Number one: you can never have sex. Big no-no! Big no-no! Sex equals death, ok? Number two: You can never drink or do drugs. No, the sin factor...it's a sin, it's an extension of number one. And Number 3: never, ever, ever under any circumstances say, 'I'll be right back,' cause you won't be back...You push the laws and you end up dead. See you in the kitchen with a knife. ” Horror films are seemingly obsessed with teenagers, their hormones, vices and punishments. Is it any wonder the body counts are so high and that typically the only survivor is a female "virgin?" It is only this surviving virgin that “always outsmarted the killer in the big chase scene at the end.” Randy is speaking specifically of pioneer Final Girl, Jaime Lee Curtis, whose strength and hormone-free wit enabled her to evade and subdue her demented brother Michael Myers. It is this ingredient, the Final Girl, which is the focus of Carol Clover's deconstruction of the horror spectator as a site for trans-gender identification. Horrifying Formulas The origins of the formula can be traced to some parts of classic horror but its main elements echo Hitchcock's Psycho quite clearly. “It's elements are familiar: the killer is the product of a sick family, but still recognizably human; the victim is a beautiful, sexually active woman; the location is not-home, at a Terrible Place; the weapon is something other than a gun; the attack is registered from the victim's point of view and comes with shocking suddenness (Clover 24)”. In the case of motivation in Scream, the main killer Billy Loomis wants it clear that “movies don't create psychos; movies make psychos more creative!” However, he does give in and eventually reveals that "maternal abandonment can cause serious deviant behavior," and cite both himself and Sidney as examples. At this point the masks have been removed and the humanity, while demented, has been revealed for all to see. The victims in neoclassic films such as Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the Thirteenth and Nightmare on Elm Street are terrified, hormonal teenagers who break the rules. The great deviation in postmodern horror film Scream is that even while Randy is listing the rules, Sidney, our requisite Final Girl, is losing her virginity to killer boyfriend Billy. The filmmakers intended for the audience to now wonder "is she really going to die?" In the beginning of Scream, Drew Barrymore is brutally murdered in a lengthy sequence intentionally drawn out to force the question, "is she really going to die?" They can't kill Drew Barrymore right? Scream knows the rules as well as the viewer, but it's where the film breaks the rules that a kind of jarring of the
  • 3. audience occurs. The audience's reactions to modern horror are unique and complicated. While watching the movie “spectators tend to be silent during the stalking scenes (although they sometimes call out warnings to the stalked person), scream out at the first slash and make loud noises of revulsion at the sight of the bloody stump. The rapid alternation between registers-between something like 'real' horror on one hand and a camp, self-parodying horror on the other-is by now one of the most conspicuous characteristics of the tradition (Clover 41). ” While the modern horror is self-parodying, the postmodern horror as parody speaks differently to its audience motivating them in turn to recognize and (de)construct the genre. This is a critical moment for the spectator and in that moment awareness is either formed or lost. Switching from inactive, or slightly interactive (yelling warnings at the screen) the spectator is brought into an active and critical awareness. ” If this is the case for modern horror, Scream and its postmodern offspring put these ideas to the test hoping to engage, according to Wes Craven, the “hard-edged cynical attitude that children have today.” Resistive Spectatorship Even more exciting is the validation of resistive forms of spectatorship and the establishment of the postmodern cinema as a training ground for critical thinking. It not only invites the female, the queer and the non-white gaze, the film attempts to affix the gaze into a mode of active participation from anyone willing. In turn all of this power stems from an alignment and identification with the queers, the monsters, the geeks those whose difference is what keeps them from "messy and certain death." Once activated the spectator can actively engage the "Other"-ed perspective in order to address the concerns the film aggressively raises. “As usual in Gothic, the chainsaw cuts both ways and the splattering of bodies simultaneously pulverizes otherness and sutures it to new and increasingly odd subject positions (Halberstam 160).” The blurring of boundaries traditional to horror combined with a cheeky, postmodern self- awareness and critique create great possibilities for new, more inclusive and
  • 4. responsible formulas. I only hope that some day Jada Pinkett Smith will get her shot at being Final Girl.