Friday, February 27, 2009

The Reason of Rape

As a subject for "entertainment" (defined very broadly), RAPE leaves many male genre fans conflicted, which is surprising; not as surprising is that most women find the subject difficult.

The RAPE depicted in films is primarily against women by men. The directors of rape-themed cinema, with few exceptions (Lizzie Borden's Forced Entry), are men. For women, RAPE hits very close to home. If the statistics are accurate, a large majority of women have been a victim of RAPE or attempted rape.

To be fair, the stats about RAPE are up because the legal definition of the act has has been broadened.

When I was a kid, RAPE was non-consensual intercourse (vaginal). That made it pretty black and white. Now, RAPE, like ASSAULT, is the umbrella under which a plethora of acts reside.

"...unlawful sexual intrusion" has been added to the definition. That "intrusion" can be by body parts or objects. As a result, a woman can now be charged with RAPE. Before, it was impossible for a woman to have unlawful sexual intercourse with another woman or man because intercourse involved a penis. I'm not sure what they called a woman thrusting an object into another unwilling woman back then, but it wasn't RAPE.

The new definition attempts to encompass a multitude of acts. A lesser traumatic infraction (relatively speaking) now falls under the same general category as a more traumatic infraction. The lesser infraction gets taken seriously now because it's RAPE.

The law is somewhat lazy in its stated desire to be as inclusive as possible and gives lawyers plenty to argue about (how else do they make their money?)

If many women have been RAPED, it follows that many men have been doing the RAPING. I don't know any rapists myself, but I have known several women who have been victims. Perhaps it's fewer men committing multiple RAPES. Has to be.

My closest friends, who aren't RAPISTS, don't have a huge problem with RAPE-themed films. They've all known women who've been raped or assaulted, but they're smart enough to make the distinction between reality and film -- I started to write "fantasy", but the correct word is film. Film (as in: recorded image) and reality are two very separate beasts. Once you film something, it is no longer reality, it's a recording of reality. A perspective on reality. An angle. It's no longer pure. "Fantasy" can describe anything that isn't reality. It doesn't have to be set on Mars.

Guys I meet on the periphery of my existence sometimes exhibit a distaste for RAPE-themed films, a distaste that fascinates me. They will get very excited and enthusiastic about graphic, violent horror flicks such Hostel, Saw, Dawn of the Dead, and Dr. Butcher MD, but when the subject of RAPE rears its head in films like I Spit On Your Grave, Irreversible, and Yasuharu Hasebe's Raping!, their reaction is curious.

A recent reaction from a colleague to my statement that Irreversible is a favorite of mine, and that the RAPE scene is one of the best I've ever seen, was this: "I hated that scene. I just don't think there's any need for RAPE scenes."


Early on in the film, a man has his head bashed in with a fire extinguisher. Caved in, in fact. His head is obliterated. On-screen. It's very realistic. Beautifully done, actually. Prior to that, we got quick snippets of men masturbating, fucking each other, and wallowing in a world of consensual deviance. The fire extinguisher assault and murder are very impactful and confronting. But THAT didn't bother this guy. He didn't tell me that there wasn't any "need" for that.

I think using "need" to negate a subject is a cop-out because "need" is more closely associated with survival than hunger for art.

Do we "need" rape scenes? No.

Do we "need" scenes of graphic murder? No.

Do we "need" Law and Order? TMZ? Larry King? Tom Hanks' movies? Rom-Coms? The Weather Channel? Charles Dickens? Paris Hilton?

Not really. Not in the strictest biological sense.

Physically, we'd survive without them.

But do we need food?








These are basic needs. Accepted basic needs.

Imagine being told that you don't need food, or water... or sex.

Imagine being told that food is bad, water is evil, and sex is just plain wrong.

That'd be the recipe for a fucked-up world... but I disgress.

Gasper Noe's RAPE in Irreversible is a component of a film that sets out to shake us up -- some films do that. They do it with provocative imagery and sound. My judgment that it is a "Great Rape Scene" does not imply approval of the act. It communicate my appreciation and approval of what Noe achieved in terms of cinematic and psychological impact.

I don't feel guilty for loving Irreversible. Why should I?

I don't need it, but I like it.

I do find it interesting that MURDER is far more acceptable as "entertainment" (defined as that which moves me) than RAPE.

Perhaps it is even less acceptable to many people today because the definition has been broadened.

If a large number of women have been RAPED (with objects or body parts), the subject is close to home. And because RAPE, by definition, is not MURDER, those touched by RAPE are still with us.

MURDER is not so close to home because MURDERED PEOPLE are no longer with us. Their loved ones are, but the MURDERED PEOPLE themselves have passed.

I think this is why MURDER has gained greater acceptance in the entertainment sphere. It doesn't live next to us. It doesn't threaten us as RAPE can. There are even even comedies about MURDER.

I can't think of any comedies about RAPE. Japan's Rapeman (an eight part series of feature films) comes closest to tickling the subject. It's not a comedy, but it's about a modest superhero who uses RAPE as a legitimate weapon of commercial revenge.

The RAPE scenes are more erotic than brutal, and the commissioning client is often a woman.

As I said in my opening, I can understand why women have a problem with RAPE-themed movies, but the reaction of men is less comprehensible to me.

When you're watching MURDER on film, you know it's a put-on. When you're watching RAPE on film, you know it's a put-on, too. So why, Guys, the squirmy reaction to forced acts of sexual intrusion, but less squirminess about torture, beatings, heads blown off, intenstine-munching, breast mutilation, and endless psychological torment?

The Almighty Keepers Of Society's Morals (the most immoral lot you'll ever come across) have always found the mixing of sex and violence problematic. In countries like the UK and Australia, they argue that graphic images of sexual violence can encourage the act.


Yes, and they are convinced (despite unconvincing research) that such depictions can have a corrupting influence on some people. Not them, of course, but those "impressionable", socially disadvantaged people out there. You know, the poor, the uneducated, the masses who need to be protected from themselves.

In almost every Western country, hardcore pornography featuring fantasy depictions of RAPE is banned or deemed obscene. In the US, lawmakers are terrified of the idea, just as they are terrified of pornography featuring bodily fluids or serious S/M. If you produce this material, chances are you will be charged with Obscenity because the measuring stick is an old-fashioned, pile-of-shit moral barometer called "Community Standards" that assumes that your entire community watches said piece of material as a collective.

Ours is a society of guilt-driven denial and hideous double standards.

You can be thrown in jail for depicting a fantasy rape scene, but if you work in Hollywood and make films like Hostel and Saw that trade on aesthetically rich sequences of explicit torture and bodily mutilation, you're a legitimate filmmaker. And what you're depicting is definitely Not Obscene.

I have no problem with the latter (I've created some ultra-graphic horror content myself), but I have a big problem with the hypocrisy that lies between the two.

Not surprisingly, like everything, it does all comes down to sex, and the efforts of most religions to demonize the sexual act and anything sexual that occurs between two people not joined in the eyes of God.

It's a denial of reality, an attempt to strangle and illegitimize the greatest force on Earth that is a threat to the status quo of organized religion -- and its power to hold you in a grip built on bricks of solid snake oil.

And this brings me to my final point.

RAPE is an effective subject for drama because the act is the personification of human savagery. It is the expression of a primal impulse, the strongest impulse within man. Naturally, any exploration of it is sure to carry dramatic conflict and a strong element of fascination. We are addicted to portraits of our suppressed, primordial selves.

Whether you care to admit it or not, its depiction is erotically charged also because it involves a perversion of sexual intercourse.

It joins MURDER, BLOWING THINGS UP, and COLLIDING METAL as a provocateur of incendiary entertainment.

But RAPE in movies has about as much to do with real life as a happy ending.

So why, then, do women and some men have trouble separating RAPE in the movies from RAPE in the real world.


Ever since I was a kid, I have never understood the shame associated with RAPE.

When a person is MURDERED, their name is published.

When a person is RAPED, their identity is usually obscured.

They enter a strange world of anonymity.

They are protected.

Protected from The Shame.

The Shame is a hold-over from an era when a RAPED woman was considered a bad woman. A loose woman.

It's a hold-over from an era when the world's rulers (men), like the Church now, were threatened by the sexuality of women. Threatened, but also inexplicably drawn to it.

So women got punished for possessing that power.

They were "dirty", "unclean", and "whores".

This attitude prevails and is expressed in the so-called "protection" of a rape victim's identity.

If society truly believed that RAPE was a crime against an innocent woman, it would be acceptable and desirable for a RAPE victim to have a voice, but a voice not diminished by an invisible shame.

Is it not the RAPIST who should feel the shame? Is it not the RAPIST who should feel humiliated?

The woman is the VICTIM of the RAPIST afterall.

No, the RAPIST may suffer a modicum of public humilation, but that's just a form of media revenge.

Suppressing a RAPED woman's identity is an admission that she has good reason to hide her face.

She's dirty.

No name. No identity. If you are RAPED, you become a non-person.

I'm not referring to situations in which men are falsely accused of RAPE by women who ought to be strung up for doing so. That's another discussion.

As a lover of RAPE-themed movies, I'm troubled about the unspoken expectation of shame that surrounds the status of a recently RAPED woman.

I'm convinced that this SHAME and AMBIGUITY are major parts of the reason why women and some men have trouble separating filmed RAPE from the complex physiology of real RAPE.

MURDER has black and white properties in terms of victim and assailant.

RAPE has multiple colors further clouded by religion's uneasy relationship with sex.

Having a passion for the vile and reprehensible nuggets of cinema hasn't robbed me of my capacity for empathy.

Quite the opposite.

Am I off my tree?

I welcome feedback from both genders.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Survivor

Keller, another one of James Herbert's compelling one-name heroes, is the only survivor of a shocking plane crash. He mission to discover why and how he survived drives the book's narrative.

When the souls of the dead crash victims begin to interfere with the lives of those who live close to the crash sight, Herbert springs into action and delivers a classic tale of horror that is less hardcore but no less compelling than his previous The Fog.

In '81, five years after the book's publication, actor David Hemmings traveled to South Australia to direct a film version of The Survivor for producer Antony I. Ginnane.

Fortunately, it's not awful, but it's not a masterpiece, either.

Herbert's smart concept is not well exploited by screenwriter David Ambrose and David Hemmings' direction is plodding.

Production values, however, are decent. The crash of the plane into a field is decently realized, and the music by the late Brian May is moody and rich.

It is the film's failure to embrace the material in a more enthusiastic way that ultimately derails its potential. It's as if Hemmings was uncomfortable delivering a horror film.

Herbert's novel, first published in '76, is a dark and remarkable classic of uneasy terror, and may have been an influence somewhat on the source novel of Peter Weir's Fearless ('93).

The little-seen film didn't hurt the novel's reputation.

Way Back When

I have zero interest (perhaps less) in the recent DVD releases of slasher flicks like Final Exam and Sweet Sixteen.

I saw both of those movies in Detroit theatres in the early 80's (at the Showcase Sterling Heights and Northgate, respectively) and they were beyond execrable. Unbelievably boring pieces of shit that deserved eternal oblivion.

Romano Scavolini's '81 Nightmare (aka Nightmares in a Damaged Brain, '81), not yet released on DVD, is another matter entirely. It is one of the bleakest, bloodiest, most interesting slasher flicks ever made, sharing similarities with Clean,Shaven, Angst, Maniac, Henry - Portrait of a Serial Killer, and even Agnes Varda's Vagabond.

It is NOT a masterpiece, but it has a filthy atmosphere of menace and psychosis that counts for something.

Clearly, the film has rights clearance issues. If it didn't, it would be out on DVD.

Released unrated in most US theatrical markets, it is the film that Tom Savini denied ever working on. Stills of Savini on the set of the film are rife. Thanks for being an up-front guy, Tom.

When this double opened, I ditched the horror-loathing ex- for the night and headed to the Northgate for a night of grim horror.

I'd read Russo's Midnight ('82) and liked it...

... and I was bonkers for William Fruet, Funeral Home's director, after being blown away by his The House By The Lake (aka Death Weekend).

Unfortunately, Funeral Home ('80) had minor impact as a horror pic.

Midnight, though wildly uneven, had a strange, sleazy, Pittsburgh vibe that really turned me on. Lawrence Tierney was creepy as a stepdaughter-abusing cop who redeems himself, and it was great to see John Amplas (Martin) on screen again. There is a terrific on-screen decapitation, courtesy of Savini (who didn't deny doing this one), and the film's prologue, in which a young girl is beaten by a mother and her kids, is delightfully moody.

For some outrageous reason, I went and bought the horrible soundtrack, thinking that it would contain some of the film's moody synth score. I was so wrong. It's actually a collection of putrid folk songs including the title song with the lyrics:

"You're own your own, You're all alone, and Midnight's at your door!"

Fuck me!

Complete retitling of Paul Morrissey's Flesh for Frankenstein ('73).

I attended this screening at the Gratiot drive-in. Liked the film a lot. Udo Kier is amazing. Got sore eyes watching the 3-D. That's pretty standard. The format doesn't agree with me.

I spent an hour driving from Franklin to downtown Detroit to attend the Plaza, an old-style grindhouse.

Although it was cut, it was still horror heaven.

Joe D'Amato's The Grim Reaper (aka Anthropophagus, '80) is not a technically polished or well acted movie, but it is a sincere piece of grisly exploitation that spits in the face of "common decency". It has bloody murders, cannibalism, and a vile villain played by George Eastman.

It's like having someone smearing feces on your eyes for a couple of hours.

Can that be a bad thing?

Ask Veronica Moser.

Pulp as a way of life was being redefined once again at the Northgate, my premier pit for sleaze.

Doctor Butcher MD (Medical Deviate), was also known as Zombie Holocaust and Queen of the Cannibals in order to cash in on Cannibal Holocaust.

I enjoyed it immensely.

It's not non-stop gore and dismemberment, but it features a bunch of showstoppers including a face pulverized by a spinning boat propeller. Lots of flesh chomping, too, and other forms of behavior deemed unacceptable by polite society.

Billed with the Doc was Umberto Lenzi's '76 Assault With A Deadly Weapon, a great police actioner that surpassed the Doc for sheer, polished filmmaking.

Still, Doctor Butcher MD ('80) lit my life up for a couple of hours way back when almost thirty years ago.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

To Be Twenty

Star 8O ('83) is Bob Fosse's extraordinary film about the events leading up to the death of Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten. She was the June, 1980, centerfold.

Dorothy was murdered by her husband/manager Paul Snider.

Her turn-ons, turn-offs, favorite musicians, and secret dreams are to be found on her "Playmate Data Sheet" (below), which, as is customary for Playboy, accompanied her June spread.

While working on the film They All Laughed ('81), with Audrey Hepburn and Ben Gazzara, and the late John Ritter...

...Stratten began a relationship with Peter Bogdanovich, the film's director.

The real Dorothy Stratten with Peter Bogdanovich
in New York in 1981

Snider, already estranged from Stratten, exploded with rage when he confronted her with his knowledge of the relationship, raped her, blew her head off, then blew his own head off.

Mariel Hemingway, sister of the late Margaux 'Lipstick' Hemingway, plays Dorothy with just the right amount of innocence and emerging maturity, even though she isn't near as stunning as Stratten was.

Eric Roberts is simply amazing as Paul Snider, the psychotic, pimp-like charmer who saw Dorothy as his meal ticket to fame.

A role in the underrated Runaway Train quickly followed for him.

The Real Paul Snider with Dorothy

Galaxina ('80), from the director of The Incredible Melting Man ('77), was Dorothy's fourth feature film. It is not covered in Star 8O.

Star 8O focuses mostly on the shooting of Stratten's first starring feature, the '71 Autumn Born (called Wednesday's Child in the film), a below average, almost inept thriller.

Bogdanovich's character, known as Aram Nicholas in the film, and played with awkward reserve by Roger Rees, is directing Straten in an unidentified film in New York (actually They All Laughed), necessitating her being away from Snider while he remains in LA to spend her money, bang starlets, and grow his paranoia.

Interestingly, Snider does come across as a fairly switched-on guy in some respects, possessing the ability to remember the names of people he hasn't met in years and being able to immediately intuit whether someone likes him or not.

Cliff Robertson, who is a terrific as Hugh Heffner, sums Snider up with this: "He's got the personality of a pimp!"

The film, one of many great films produced by the The Ladd Company (Body Heat and The Right Stuff are others), did not do well commercially.

Perhaps it was just too dark and honest.

Generally, honesty doesn't go down well in any quarter, let alone Hollywood.

Certainly one of the most searing indictments of the film industry ever made, and an uncompromising depiction of the exploitation of the young.

Dorothy Stratten was only 20 when she died.

In '86, Peter Bogdanovich tied the knot with Dorothy Stratten's kid sister Louise.

She was also 20.

Dorothy Stratten with Louise