FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Dec 7, 2018

awesome movie poster friday - the TELEKINETIC QUEENS edition!


Just this morning I looked at my phone and I made a mental note that today is Friday. "Oh, it's Friday," I thought. Then the word "Friday" spun around and around in my head, all kaleidoscope-style, kind of like a bunch of prom-goers laughing at me because I'm all covered in blood. Then I had my second thought of the day:

"Today would be a great day to bring back Awesome Movie Poster Friday, what, with it being Friday and all."

And here we are! Whomever could have predicted?

If you have one of those Marilu Henner-esque beyond-photographic memories, then you know I did a telekinetic edition of AMPF way the heck back in 2010. 2010! A lifetime ago. What a different world it was then, wouldn't you say? I think I was living on the other coast. Horror movies weren't in the best place: the Saw, Resident Evil, and Paranormal Activity chugged along. Insidious was unleashed. Remakes were plentiful and mostly terrible. Quite frankly, my feelings about the genre were beginning to wane.

But here we are, eight whole years later. My, how things have changed! I now live on this coast. The world is a trashfire, but horror is in a pretty dang good place. (Hmm, funny how that works.) I feel revitalized about it. I treasure new stuff and want to spend time digging around for treasures of yore again. Neat!

The point is, you can peep the link to the old telekinetic AMPF and get an eyeful of some Carrie and Jennifer posters (and more). I'm not gonna re-post all the old Carrie stuff in particular...but what I am gonna post about that film reflects another trend that's occurred since that original post: the rise of the fan poster. You've seen 'em, and you might even have some. Alternative movie posters! Often they work solely as fanservice; I'm thinking in particular about the extremely minimalist ones, the ones that may be beautiful but don't work as, you know, advertisements. Sometimes they give away twists and secrets, or they're a wink and a nudge to the people who already know the movie by heart. The ones I'm posting for Carrie (with artist credit and links), I think, are lovely simply to look at, but they also work as and feel like "movie posters."

As for Jennifer, there simply aren't a lot of posters out there. I was sad about that until I found one--you'll know it when you see it--that makes up for the deficit by being so effing EVERYTHING that it contains the power of, like, 12 posters.

And then there's Thelma, which...I like some of 'em. Heck, I have the bird-on-the-face one that's sliiiiiightly reminiscent of the poster for The Silence of the Lambs. But, like, inverted. Or something. It makes sense in my brain, okay? But unfortch Thelma's one of those new horror movies with posters that are just Photoshopped photos. Thelma deserves better!

art by Adam Juresko

art by Guy Stauber

art by Beyond Horror Design

Dec 6, 2018

Sisterhood of the Traveling Christian Fashion Nightie

The 11th (eleventh!) episode of my podcast Gaylords of Darkness is now a-LIVE and a-VAILABLE. In "Sisterhood of the Traveling Christian Fashion Nightie," my co-host Anthony and I discuss, fawn over, and fall for the terrific telekinetic trio: Carrie (1976), Jennifer (1978), and Thelma (2017).

I don't know if the episode is any good--well, scratch that. I think it's good, but who cares what I think? What I mean is, I don't know if there are any, you know, trenchant insights or whattheheckever. There might be. But I am kind of in a fugue state while we record, and then I come out of it and I don't know what happened. Look, if you've listened to Gaylords, then you know what to expect, I guess. I'm not trying to neg myself here! But what I do know is that my (our) passion for the subjects overfloweth and it's perhaps the one episode I was most amped for, and the one I had the most fun researching.

Side note: yowza, we watch a shitton of stuff for this show. Sometimes that's great, and one of us is introduced to a gem. (Hi, I now love the Child's Play series more than I ever could have anticipated I would.) Other times, we have to sit through Mother of Tears. (Or another movie that we'll be talking about later this month, one I am not looking forward to watching for the second time, one I can't even believe I'll be watching for the second time.)

Oh man, I actually forgot that I endured The Haunting (1999) again for a previous episode! Seems my brain is starting a purge (not to be confused with The Purge). Until it purges something vital (like my feelings about Suspiria (2018) or how to put on pants or whatever) I suppose I should be thankful.

Anyway. The point of this is this: yes, new episodes of Gaylords of Darkness magically appear on The Internet every Wednesday when the clock strikes 6:66. No, I haven't been very good at reminding you about that! Nor have I been very good about anything else here, and here sure is gathering dust. So I thought, rather than simply posting "new episode, here's a link" every week, why don't I write...something? A supplement piece, you know? Because even though talking for the show is way, way (way) easier than writing (who knew??), well, I'm not ready to purge that ability quite yet. So, two tastes, tasting...something together.

Carrie, Jennifer, and Thelma are three women who wield unearthly powers so strong that not only can they kill you with a mere thought, they have whole movies named after them. Each character (and her respective film) stands on her own in a multitude of ways, but considering them as a triad is the way to go, baby, as it reveals a beautiful evolution of empowerment.

Everyone, of course, knows Carrie White. She eats shit, she burns in Hell, everyone is going to laugh at her, et cetera et cetera. Heck, if you want to know just how famous she is, you only need to check out the archives here: she won the first (and only) (so far) Maniac Madness tournament in 2014, beating out horror luminaries like Michael Myers and the Possessed Floorlamp from Amityville 4: The Evil Escapes. Here's what I wrote when she was crowned winner:
You know, I take Carrie for granted a lot of the time because it's become this thing bigger than the movie itself. Does that make sense? I mean I reference it all the time (see "get out your dirtypillows and clap 'em together in celebration"), telling my friends "they're all going to laugh at you" or talking about dumping pig's blood or whatever. I've suggested so many times that someone plug it up, you feel me? It's so easy to forget what a brilliant film it is, or how intense and perfect the iconic prom scene is. And Sissy Spacek, man. Her Carrie is the most terrifying person you just want to hug.
It's all true. Carrie is still one of the greatest horror films of all time, perhaps the best of the many, many Stephen King adaptations out there. Brian De Palma's vision is simply fucking brilliant, a masterclass in creating tension through pacing, editing, and direction. The entire prom and the build-up to the tipping of the bucket is brutal, even if you know it's coming and precisely when. The slow-motion...Sue Snell putting it all together, trying to save the day, and being thwarted by the well-intentioned Miss Collins...Chris Hargensen crouched under the stairs, licking her lips in anticipation...and Carrie, poor Carrie, resplendent in her homemade gown, crown on her head, beaming beneath the sparkly cardboard stars. Her moment--finally, her moment!--seems as if it will last forever.

But it doesn't. (I know it doesn't, we all know it doesn't, but I never stop hoping that it will.) The blood pours down, the pointing and laughing begin, and so does Carrie's revenge.

It should be cathartic for us, watching the outcast, picked-upon, downtrodden, telekinetic underdog stop her tormentors for good.  That's why we watch Death Wish, or Mandy, or I Spit on Your Grave, or any other revenge flick. The good guy suffers, and the bad guys eventually get theirs. If good guys must suffer, this is how we want it to go. So when Carrie turns her impossibly wide-eyed, somehow vacant power gaze on her bullies and the sparks start to fly--literally--we get ready for the sweet, sweet comeuppances. And we get them, but we also get a lot we didn't ask for.

Carrie's rage is indiscriminate. Either she can't control her powers once they're fully unleashed, or she simply no longer gives a fuck. She imagines slights and mockery where there is only kindness, as is the case with Miss Collins, the one person who tries to help Carrie simply to help Carrie with no personal gain, the one who pays a brutal price simply for being present. No one is spared from Carrie's wrath, and what should be a liberating triumph becomes a devastating tragedy.

It's compounded when Carrie returns to her mother, who is also a tormentor...but a tormentor she knows. Carrie begs for comfort, but Margaret White is incapable of providing. You know how it ends. Again, I always hope it'll end some other way, that Carrie will be able to salvage some kind of a life, find her place, and make her way in the world. But no, she dies a pathetic death in the Jesus Closet, clinging to the body of the mother who tried to murder her only moments earlier.

It's's so damn depressing.

While Sissy Spacek and Nancy Allen are GD perfect and Carrie is a sight to behold, it's not a film I turn to time and time again because it's too sad for my frail ol' heart. Perhaps I'll take a cue from my co-host Anthony, who largely enjoys the camp maelstrom that is Piper Laurie as Margaret White. She really is too much, isn't she? Practically rending her garments as she growls about her husband's whiskey breath that one time she enjoyed sex, going on about dirtypillows, gobbling reminding Carrie that they're all gonna laugh at her.

I don't know. I love the film. But at this point I'm incapable of looking at it solely as a camp piece, and I'm less in the mood for "sad girl with powers dies" than I am in the mood for "sad girl with powers isn't so sad, really, and claims her powers and lives her best fucking life." And so my impossibly wide-eyed, somehow vacant power gaze turns to Jennifer and even moreso to Thelma.

The first time I saw Jennifer was...sheesh, like a decade ago (how fucking old is this place/this me?) when I reviewed it for this here blog. I'm ashamed to say I wasn't super enamored at the time! I only saw the similarities to Carrie, which was released just two years earlier. Girl whose name is the movie title has a religious parent, she's picked on, she wields powers, the mean girl dies in a fiery car crash.

Sure, Jennifer is a Carrie riff. It's an American International Pictures picture, after all. But watching it in preparation for Gaylords of Darkness...well, it was like seeing it for the first time all over again, but, you know, with different eyes. Or a different brain. Maybe it's because my relationship with movies (particularly horror movies) and writing about them is so different now. Maybe it's because I watched it within 24 hours of watching Carrie. Maybe I was a dum-dum back then, and I'm marginally less of one now. Who knows? But the result is one that DOCTORS DON'T WANT YOU TO KNOW.

But I'll tell you the result anyway: man, I loved it this time around. It wasn't the similarities to Carrie that really grabbed my attention, but rather the stark differences. (Besides, they're more interesting to talk about.)

Side note: it's good, isn't it, to reassess things every once in a while? Sometimes it can be a letdown: that movie you loved no longer seems so great. Sometimes you find something new in a bad movie and it redeems itself. Sometimes it's The Haunting '99 and it's forever beyond redemption. Sometimes time and experience and whatever other alchemy makes up your life makes you see differently and appreciate what you may have overlooked. Makes me feel like I should watch everything I've reviewed here again! Except The Haunting '99. Three times is a fucking crowd and I am done with it forever.

The largest divide between the two titular high schoolers is agency. Carrie has brief flashes of independence, most notably when she tells her mother to sit DOWN, cuz like it or not she's going to the dang prom. Outside of this, Carrie is little more than a victim throughout her film: bullied by her peers, abused by her mother, and sabotaged by herself. She is pathetic--not that that makes me love her any less, mind you. But that's what Chris Hargensen and Co zero in on: Carrie's meek nature. They sense her weakness, they despise her for it, and Carrie never stands up to them. She only scurries away, whether it's from Chris's insults or Tommy Ross's prom invitation. She never comes into her own, and she certainly never takes control of her powers; at the end of the film her powers are completely beyond her and bring about the literal downfall of the White home.

Jennifer, on the other hand, refuses to play victim, even though her bullies--well, "bullies" is too light a word for these sociopaths, actually--try to murder her on several occasions, take (and post) nude photos of her, make fun of her, try to get her kicked out of school, kill her favorite kitten, and then frame her for its murder. It's only that last one--the kitten murder--that really gets a rise out of our heroine. Everything else, she just deals with. She speaks up for herself and stands up to them all without hesitation, sure, but once the kitten-killin' line is crossed, Jennifer busts out her snake powers and gets her revenge.

But her revenge is not an indiscriminate, wild one. Sure, it's wild in that she summons snakes during an extended disco-lit sequence. But she stays in full control of her powers, she doesn't kill everyone who crossed her, and no innocents are caught in the serpent-laden crossfire. At the end of the film, she isn't burning in Hell far below the rubble of her destroyed house, no sir. At the end of Jennifer, Jennifer is footloose and fancy-free, tossing scarves with her new sidekick (not a euphemism) (maybe), doing her thing, and living her best life, the life Carrie was denied (and denied herself). It's a GD power fantasy, and I am here for it.

The film also as a few things to say--intentionally or otherwise--about class and social issues. Jennifer is the "hayseed" scholarship student at the posh private school, trying to co-exist with superwealthy supersnobs. She battles with the daughters of politicians and a headmistress who values reputation and money above the welfare of her students. Her allies in this are other outcasts: the black women who work in the dormitory kitchens alongside her, and the "dykes" who welcome her to the swim team. The minorities know what's up, they're on Jennifer's side, and no harm comes to them. In fact, Jennifer cleans house and makes it better for all of them. She's a hero, and she doesn't have to stand alone.

This is a huge step up from Carrie, surprising in its message (particularly as an AIP joint) and the agency it allows its title character to have. In short, Jennifer is a treasure. A treasure! I was oh so wrong all those years ago, and it serves as further proof to what we've all suspected from the start: you should never trust my opinions! Except for the opinions in this piece, which are impeccable. Don't listen to old me, listen to now me: Jennifer is pretty effing great.

If we set aside the Carrie...uh, expanded universe?...of remakes and sequels and Broadway musicals, the "telekinetic queen has a movie named for her" lay fallow for decades until Thelma, the 2017 Norwegian stunner. "Decades" is a long time to be sure, but good lawd was Thelma worth the wait.

Thelma is a country girl starting a new life at a college in the city. Well, starting a new life as best she can while remaining tight--like, multiple daily phone calls tight--with her Christian parents. It's not long before she contracts a big ol' case of The Gays, as she's immediately smitten with female classmate Anja. Thelma suffers terrible, frightening seizures at the mere thought or sight of Anja, but the seizures belie something besides repression and fear of sin: Thelma's got mind powers, baby, and she doesn't know she has them.

Religious parents, mind powers, the suffering of a public indignity...yeah, Thelma's right in line with Carrie and Jennifer. But while there are nods and homages and light similarities to the other films in this tiny, lovely subgenre, Thelma is also the endgame of progression in the same. Ultimately it's the story of a young woman who fully embraces who she is and her place in the world. Thelma claims her stake (and her girl) and frees herself from repression, oppression, and all notions of internalized sin. She accepts her powers, loves who she loves, and is who she is. It's a beautiful horror-flavored coming of age story, one that's still remarkable in this day and age for centering on a lesbian who doesn't die, who doesn't commit suicide, who doesn't ultimately find herself redeemed or saved by the love of a decent man.

It's also straight-up genre masterpiece if you ask me, which you sort of did by, you know, reading this. It's a gorgeous film that absolutely rewards repeat viewings: every single scene feels so deliberate, laden with symbols and metaphors and layers and more layers to unpack and unravel.

It's not a flashbang riot--you're not going to get a Carrie flips out at the prom setpiece in Thelma. It's a quiet, thoughtful film that's also incredibly tense. First viewing, you won't know what to expect or where it's going in such a way that you'll suddenly realize just how nervous you are. Then let it settle in your bones and watch it again, looking for clues and angles and colors and try to unravel its secrets. What's this shot mean? What's this motif? It's a gift of a film and it just keeps giving.

Eili Harboe is a revelation as Thelma. It's a physically and emotionally demanding role, and she is an actor who conveys so very much without showiness, with a mere tilt of her head or a single look. It's the kind of performance I love; I revere actors who somehow pierce through and hit a nerve with you, who communicate a truth that removes the barrier between "audience" and "cinema." You know what I mean? It's rare. It's nice when it happens. It reminds me why I love movies. Thelma fucking transcends, you dig? 

Hmm, I kind of like doing this sort of supplemental piece to the podcast, because nearly every week I find myself going "Oh, I wanted to mention this!" or "I shoulda said that!" or "What the heck was I thinking when I said that" after we've recorded. There's often more I want to say, so I guess this is the best place to say it. After all, if you've listened to Gaylords then you know that it's the place for bad amazing Debra Hill impressions and railing against Halloween H40 in between the glimmers of serious discussion. Here at Final Girl and I can still do all that, but now you're forced to read it with your eyes! Think of them as companion pieces, separate experiences that don't need each other but enhance the flavor of one another. GASP just like Carrie and Jennifer and Thelma.

Also, hey: we take listener questions! And we answer them! On the show! Got a question for us about any ol' horror-related nonsense? You can leave it here in the comments, if it pleases you. Or post it on our Facebook page. Whatever, man. I'm too blissed out on these telekinetic queens to worry about it.