Friday, 8 July 2011


I got struck out after two loads of pillowcases and the twenty-fourth black rinse. The whites are waiting, and I’m going to make them wait. This is only because I have to wash them because I’m off on some weekend where you have to exclusively wear white and because this is a requirement, I can’t be fagged doing it. I am like this all the time: if something is necessary, I just can’t do it. I can only do unnecessary things. This isn’t as inefficient as you think, because the moment I have a list of tasks to perform I disobey it and do other things, things that probably belong on a terribly urgent list somewhere that if I knew of would ignore, of course, as ‘too bossy,’ ‘too fascistic,’ ‘too unimaginative’ and ‘too viciously complaisant towards the superego,’ but because I don’t know of it and didn’t write it, think that I am acting independently and from some bright, unencumbered spirit of creative ingenuity. And that’s why I decided, now all my sheets are fresh and sparkling and my pillowcases sweet as the day, which is the only important thing as who needs clothes, to forget about picking up my rejected work from the Royal Academy, getting a mount cut for BITE, and - by the way they’ve destroyed my Internet access so I can’t talk to anyone - picking up my umbrella from the leg-wax place, buying an espresso machine because I burnt the handle off my old one, and a hair-slide because all my hair-slides are broken and my hair’s really long and gets in the way the whole time, and watch Deadgirl instead. There’s another film called The Dead Girl, actually starring a real life dead girl called Brittany Murphy, but that’s not the Deadgirl I mean. The one I’m about to watch is a lugubrious indie type film with rather awful American teenagers in it, at a school, an American High School, and these two boys are about to bunk off said school and explore the local asylum, which is an old disused building full of labyrinthine tunnels and dripping with unconscious material. I’ve already seen this film, and have been saving up my second viewing for a rainy day. It’s not raining, in fact quite the opposite, so not only am I not doing all the things I need to do I am also avoiding something I really love, sunshine, and the chance to lie in the park in my bikini. The fact that I am sacrificing not only moral obligation but also personal pleasures increases tenfold the subversive satisfaction I shall receive from this movie and already - before I’ve even started - makes me feel as if I too am going down into those worrying corridors to visit the dead girl and do awful things to her, things that I can never get caught for, or punished for, the sorts of things certain men like to do to me, but are so horrified by the lack of restraint opportuned them that they cannot bear to repeat them. Except sometimes. It is to those men - in fact, there is only one - I dedicate this post.

Just so that I’m behaving extra badly, I’m going to drink and smoke while I’m watching it. I’m always smoking, so I don’t really need to say that part.

OK, here are my thoughts so far. This is just on the bit before the credits and during. It reminds me a little of Halloween, in that it’s got lots of beautiful trees and pervades sense of health and the pastoral, at least in the ‘normal world,’ and also because it is supposed to be Real Life but isn’t. Though there’s no wide-angle lens there’s a spooky mien to the film, something to do with the way it’s shot and the quality of the emphasis placed on people and indeed landscapes. There’s a lot of watching going on. J. T. (or Jay Tee) and the other one whose name I’ve forgotten keep getting seen from a long distance, walking over this barren landscape with the sun-dried flowers hissing around, over-heated field and the dead red track, and that makes them tiny and unimportant even though they also keep flashing right into our faces so we have to listen to their silly conversations. I quite fancy both of these two so it bothers me not at all what they say, in fact it would be annoying if they said something intelligent as I’d have to think about that instead of focussing on style, which is a combination of aesthetics and emotion and is more dramatic if sloughed off from intellectual concerns. The one whose name I can’t remember has this big crush on JoAnn, the kind of girl I find utterly repulsive because she is smug and wholesome, and I like deranged freaks with unholy beauty and a vast amount of sex appeal they cannot contain or control, of which JoAnn is the antithesis. Even in a porno movie she would look like white bread in a plastic wrap with some dingy label on it and a price tag, and people like that are as nothing to me. 

Her swain, however, who can’t seem to get at her or not since some sweet moment of connection when they were twelve, has a lost, sinister quality. His yearning has been going on unsatisfied for years, and Jay Tee berates him for this as a waste of time. Immediately, I love this. He is involved in some unrequited love condition and isn’t even ashamed of it, despite the fact that teenage boys place a vast premium on a) evidence (having a girl on your arm, visible to one and all, who is your property and scrupulously compliant to your needs) b) sex (actually doing it instead of wanking). He will get neither form of satisfaction from his hapless ardour and even though the object of his affections is a boring, sexless, arrogant moron, I admire and applaud this slightly revolutionary take on things. He is doomed to failure - in the eyes of society at least - which matters extraordinarily to everyone in this film - and doesn’t care. Also, he has that dreamy dungeon look in his eyes, which you only find when you get a particular combination of mental regression and intoxication, with a slight toss of psychosis thrown in. I’ve seen it once before when Joaquin Phoenix was playing that very slow student in love with - or at least sexually in love with - the red-haired witch in To Die For. (JoAnn also has red hair, a very bad sign.) Even though Joaquin went on to play Johnny Cash, thereby losing all his attractiveness, in that film he was very attractive indeed, because he was so obsessed and so stupid. This guy is slightly more active in his stubborn, humiliating desire, and therefore even more attractive. We will watch him mulling over his options and wondering why, and, to me, it’s interesting watching someone stupid and in love and cute, and the more cute for being so uncertain, fumbling through decisions, whereas of course I would know what to do right away and be annoyingly articulate and decisive. I lack mood, as a character. But that’s brilliance for you.

I know this is a little obvious but the film kicks off with stills frames of the interior of the school, library, gymnasium and so on, the final shot being a class room with an abandoned carton of milk (red on white, colours of suicide). There is a pool of milk on the floor below and I am sure we are supposed to think, ‘there’s no point crying over spilt milk,’ of which there is a significant amount. I am obsessed with milk as I don’t like drinking it and had problems with my mother, and so I know, even before the movie starts, that this film will be about a different form of reproduction that doesn’t involve natural birth processes, and is maybe somewhat negative towards the maternal role and at the very least antagonistic towards the idea of what is normal, healthy, decent, regulated, respectable, conventional etc.

OK, I’ve just watched the credit bit again, and have worked out the other main character is called Rickie, the Joaquin Phoenix one, who hasn’t got the blue T shirt or the alcohol. Once they’ve decided to go to the loony bin, a change comes over the atmosphere. There’s a close-up of the sky, full of clouds, and romantic, plinketty plunk music is played, a solo guitar, a melancholy, solipsistic tune, and because Rickie has been sticking to his guns about JoAnn, we are made to feel - especially with the barbed wire and the chain link fence, the scary building looming up, and the memories of a lost love, an impossible love, fast in our minds - that we are now entering a scene of another kind of love, an illicit love, a frightening, dangerous love, but love nonetheless. We are in fact on the threshold of a rare genre that I myself coined a name for, as no one seems to know what it is and just calls it ‘sado-masochistic’ or ‘sick’ whenever it turns up, when it is too sensitive and complex to deserve so scurril a title, so: Horror Love. This is my favourite genre and there are only about two examples of it so far. So rare is it that it is difficult to find in Real Life anyone belonging to it partly because (because of its scarcity value as an artistic phenomenum) it’s practically impossible to impersonate. Those who do are highly original characters spearheading a new way of thinking, though it is just possible that it’s too esoteric and original to ever catch on, and perhaps has to be invented from the fantasies of the individual with no clues from the world around.

From what I read of Deadgirl six months ago, it was considered ‘a highly disturbing movie’, ‘not to everyone’s taste’ and ‘profoundly misogynistic.’ A sick and twisted look at lust gone awry. (I can’t check any of this because no Internet.) I dispute the charge of misogyny, as you’d expect. Deadgirl seems to touch on ‘the dark side’ in human nature in a way that Hostel and Saw do not, and (to me) is part of the timeless and terrifying lure of romance over pornography, which I simply think of as intensity versus banality, and consider the terms interchangeable as metaphysical definitions. I will discuss what intensity means, why it’s radical, why this film is genuinely romantic in the way a rom-com is not, and what the difference between romance in say, vampire or science fiction movies and this one is in just a minute, though I think it all teeters round the notion of just where the fantasy takes place and how involved one is with it. Slavoj Žižek talks about this in his reading of The Birds, where he states that there is something called ‘too much’ which dissolves the fantasy and leaves you cold, over-stimulated, and what is needed is a consistent tension whereby you keep moving between reality and fantasy all the time, and where your own involvement becomes more and more prescient and present, more real. (Someone else explained to me once that this was also how to perform oral sex successfully, and he was right.) Fantasy is required but also a great deal of what is recognisable, or you overdose on either a fiction too far removed from the familiar, or even ‘too much’ of the familiar, so sink into the comatose and lose the facility of your nerve endings. I am sure this is a case of ‘unheimlich’ to a certain extent, but I am proposing more than ‘the feeling of the unfamiliar within the familiar’ and even more than Žižek’s conception of ‘too much’ - too much of either the familiar or the unfamiliar - romantic comedy being a case of ‘too little’ and torture porn ‘too much’ - I am proposing a completely different theory of Love, one that requires perpetual immersion in unheimlich in order to sustain itself. It’s also a comment on human nature, whereby it’s really those with the strongest fantasy life that have the greatest claim on emotional reality. Love can only exist where personal imagination burns on remorselessly, inside reality and out, and Horror Love is the most valid description of this. We feel here not the complacency of love but the danger of it. Something of this was captured in Blue Velvet, something of it in Dead Ringers, and quite a lot in Deadgirl, as we shall see.

Or in fact we won’t, as now it’s become a chore and something I have to do I’m off to do something else. However, because I do have a sense of commitment, especially to things I have got other people on pins about and not just myself, I will return and finish this properly, just not now. I think I’ll phone my framer and see if he has any pale blue mounts as so much time has passed between when I was meant to do this and now it counts as a subversive action, deleted from the superego list, which I must revolt against as a matter of course.

I hate phoning my framer. He is incredibly rude to me and besides, tells lies. Also, I’ve said I’ll do this so we all know I’ll do something else. If I keep this up another ten minutes I’ll be so overwhelmed by the demands of my superego (see Andy, The Fantastic Academic for details, he’s especially good on Guilt, the superego slurping up the guilt at the ego’s failures, gobbling it down, insatiable) that I will return to the movie and its original subversive claim, having given up on the rest as ‘too boring and normal’ including making a green chicken curry, a prospect I dabbled with in the kitchen while decanting replacement coriander.
It is hard being me. I’d prefer it if someone else barked out orders as I might just do what they said and more would get done, benefitting both me and society. But there is no one else.

I have in fact made a Thai green chicken curry and not phoned my framer, and have started washing the little white lace things and the camisoles, which is what I had ordained myself with as my primary task at the very start. You’re beginning to see how things get done round here. It’s a question of changing what’s topmost on the superego list because anything threatening and insistent is ‘too much’ and sends me to sleep because of brutality and extremity, too much gore I suppose. Sentiment is too vague and doesn’t get through either, so only the sly and the attractive, the unusual, or what has become unusual, get spitted into action. None of this is arbitrary, just as when people say, ‘oh women are irrational,’ they are not in fact looking at what women are doing, generally something highly manipulative for which they deserve to be killed, not by weirdo men with sex problems but me, as I am an executer, and won’t enjoy it, but am the Lord’s Arm and Will, as we will already have guessed as I think He does things in much the same way, which explains bombs and rainbows.

In Deadgirl, Rickie and Jay Tee have started throwing things around and are trying to desecrate the place. There are a lot of papers on the floor, which reminds me of my flat, and they have to have several go’s at a plate glass window before they shatter it because it’s probably double reinforced glass because of the inmates, as in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. They are drinking beer and there’s a sort of revolutionary teenage rock music song going on in the background. This is actually where I became bored and had to take myself away to chop up chillies. The room they are in now is empty and vast, and Jay Tee is finally coming up with the exciting idea of ‘going downstairs’ (sexual metaphor) where the hairy scary things are, and I think quite enough time has been wasted already on upstairs décor and the cheap promontory - the turgid ‘front’ - of the film, which could have been better done with a greater sense of alienation from the teenagers at their pranks, because it does nothing to warm us to them or to register a system beyond them either, something that is far better done in Halloween (for example). Halloween’s claims on the Horror Love genre are explicit and pronounced but it takes pages and pages to prove it, and sometimes I feel I am fighting for my life, especially when everyone else says, ‘oh it’s just about a psychopath intent on murdering sexually active teenagers out of Oedipal revenge and narcissistic overload.’ Nope, it’s a love affair, I cry, and as usual, I cry alone. 

They go down to the cellars and get chased by a dog. Snarling dogs, and dead dogs are common in Horror movies, because everyone’s meant to like dogs and think something must be up when they snarl, and something evil is afoot when they die. Well, I don’t. I think all dogs should all be shot and that there’s something wrong with the people who like them, so the sight of a nasty, rabid animal like this one intent on blood is (in my opinion) basically what dogs are, and what they really feel about us, had we not doped them with marmoset genes and screwed them up, so my heart really rises when I see one behaving naturally, in I agree, a slightly Freidrich Nietzsche way. Sadly it’s a very short-haired dog, otherwise I’d like it, because I do like wolves. This dog is just bloody ugly and disgusting and reminds me of the dogs in The Boys From Brazil, so I hope they kill it and they probably do, but it’s a Cerberus metaphor if you were bothered asking and hadn’t gone off to watch a porno movie. The curry was delicious by the way, all my curries are.

It’s quite interesting to note just how much effort Jay Tee has to go to to discover Deadgirl, pulling various heavily laden trolleys out of the way of a very unprepossessing but heavy metal door, ignoring Rickie’s lack of interest: ‘it’s probably a dead end’, finally chiselling it open with a cudgel and pushing with all his might. This is PSYCHOLOGICAL. After that, more obstacles: strange pieces of equipment, all in a very dim light, doorways with rotted, torn, shattered pieces of white material hanging and finally the dead girl herself, lying under a piece of plastic, naked and tied to the metal bed with leather straps. Jay Tee finds her and Jay Tee pokes at her, which is how they find out she is alive, because the plastic dips and pullulates, indicating breath. Rickie is very ants in his pants about all this but Jay Tee forages right ahead, as I would, and pulls down the plastic sheet. She’s gagged, and quite attractive. ‘We could keep her,’ says Jay Tee, having pointed out that there’s no one else here in this abandoned building, and that they had to prise open the door to get to her. ‘She’s like something out of a magazine,’ he says, and I think, ‘err, which ONE?’ as she is um, bound and gagged and also looks pretty dirty (I don’t mean sexually) and besides the surrounds are all glum and grim and full of torture chamber equipment and if this is um sexual love, it’s not in Esquire or Playboy. ‘I could spend all day looking at that body,’ he says. ‘She is beautiful.’ But it’s kind of obvious that it’s because she’s passive that he likes her so much. What does this mean?

Please answer that one.

Anyway, they then have a fight, because Rickie isn’t very keen on the idea of touching Deadgirl (I have to elide the two words and remove the preposition as this is done consistently throughout the film and denotes a new kind of person altogether, one who is both dead and alive and curiously personal, like a favourite doll) and Jay Tee can’t wait to get his hands on her. She is very pretty but covered in smudges and I am pleased he finds her attractive as most men seem to like these horribly made-up, over-washed and hairless girls and I quite like all the grub and the gloom, and the tragedy of course, her wilted condition and sacrificial state, though I wouldn’t be so interested in violating it. Still, I am not a man. Though… There are men I would like in this condition. A LOT. I hadn’t actually thought about this when I watched the movie before and just wondered about it in terms of the way men see women, but now I see that this is the way I see men, or at least want to see them. Some of them. Jay Tee throws Rickie out and you see him twitching a bit, preparing to do the deed and the scene cuts to the clouds again, and the romantic music which turns out to be a piano playing and not a guitar as I said before; I also said the track was red which it isn’t, it’s white, and Rickie speeds away on his bike. But this is a love affair. To me, all of this is love. They fight over her, there’s this complicated response to do with respect and abuse, there’s compulsive fascination and there’s her herself, who is this strangely responsive victim, far more responsive than a real human girl. And far more effective, because she’s so feral and emotional. She never speaks but is the most powerful and haunting character in the film; she is humanity in beautiful, paralysed, infernal extremis.

Then there’s an annoying scene with Rickie and his mother’s boyfriend who whines at Rickie for getting hit and offers up his morbid philosophy of the world, ‘you have take care of business… in order to be a man,’ which Rickie counters by saying slumping about his Ma’s house drinking her alcohol and being a lounge lizard parasite who pays no rent isn’t his idea of personal heroism nor does it clarify or cement gender identity as non-epicene in any way (I paraphrase). Definitely this film is about issues of masculinity.

Rickie returns to the asylum to castigate Jay Tee: ‘I don’t want to be an accessory to whatever sick shit you’re doing,’ but gets treated to an inventory of the abuse La Tee’s been piling on her in the meantime and how fast this girl is with her teeth. ‘She just kept gnashing at me. So I hit her again. And it felt good. But you wouldn’t know about that.’ To properly convince Rickie that the girl can’t die, he shoots her three times and confesses to breaking her neck the night before, when, uh, in the heat of passion. ‘I’ve killed her three times. Look at her. She’s pretty active for a dead girl.’

Roughly: they work out that she is not real, maybe supernatural, and they can do what they want with her. Jay Tee has things he wants to do right away (more things) but Rickie faces a dilemma. He is still hung up on JoAnn, but more importantly - and progressively so in the course of the film - humanly involved with the dead girl, or the dead-or-alive girl. He cannot transgress his sense of empathy. Actually, I like both Jay Tee and Rickie because both of them are obsessed with the dead girl and that means both of them are gripped by the dark side. Unfortunately Jay Tee cheapens everything by letting someone else in on their private world (Wheeler) and by the time Rickie turns up again (abandoned by his mother, let us note, and taking to drinking vodka and orange in his bedroom alone) both these blokes are at it, and that, to my mind, and to Rickie’s, is not right. Also Rickie’s beginning to look more and more like Deadgirl - split lip, black eye (from where Jay Tee hit him, as Jay Tee hits Deadgirl), pale, greenish cast to the skin - he is involved with her predicament and her hinterland of fantasy, her dark game, whereas everyone else just skims the surface and takes facile advantage. This is a film where not so much the moral and immoral are pitted but the fatuous and the fantastical. It is a film where one’s degree of involvement is what is paramount. That is the nature of Love.

The teeth snapping blow-job fantasy is wonderful. Rickie - who doesn’t actually do anything bad to Deadgirl throughout the course of the film - can’t avoid the danger in sex any more, the unhappiness of love and the guilt of it. He even begins to like it. He shares Deadgirl’s victim status so can afford to eroticise her predatory nature, hence his confusion between her and JoAnn in his fantasies, and his confusion between love and pain, and sex and punishment. This is part of another theory of mine to do with the sexual power and heroism of the victim, which escalates and irradiates from enforced passivity and intensified sensitivity, creating an imagination on overload and a heightened capacity for empathy and the need for it. Merely exploiting people makes one boring, or expresses the essential boringness. Rickie identifies with Deadgirl. This makes him realise her power, and it also energises his compassion. He now can’t actually think of JoAnn without thinking of Deadgirl, which shows a fascination that could only occur because he has in some ways become her - the many years of longing, trammelled and suffering, metaphorically chained to a lonely bed, cold and waiting, incapable - prey to the primitive behaviour of everyone around him, watching it, enduring it – he has become alienated from the mob, from a mob that is itself alienated from humanity, and has as a result fallen in love with a monster. ‘But she’s our monster,’ as Jay Tee says. And this is true, not because Deadgirl is a vehicle for fantasies and can be anything one wants her to be, but because she absorbs and expresses and very clearly reflects the attitudes of others towards her. She is not a tabula rasa but an absolute and exact mirror, one savage in its sense of justice. As she becomes more and more of an issue of pronounced objectivity to Jay Tee and Wheeler, she becomes more and more of an issue of profound subjectivity to Rickie. The former will be denied, the latter rewarded. She is the human centre of the film.

Down in the cellar, Wheeler and Jay Tee are busy, and keen to share. They even offer Rickie pleasures they themselves haven’t tasted, in hopes to reel him in. ‘You can flip her over, we’ve not done her backside yet.’ But Rickie’s too far gone on identification for this to tempt him remotely, and team spirit is one of the things despaired of in the film, which jump-cuts from the spinning wheels of his bicycle, discarded at the door, and the wheels on the gurney jumping around because of the action above, splicing the two characters and their mutual plight, if we’d failed to notice already, which, having read nearly every review written (my Internet sparked on again), all do but I. ‘She’s not just a dead girl,’ says Rickie. He can’t bear to assault her, not just because he’s uninterested in abusing her but because he’s fundamentally aware that the love he feels for her is not the same as that which he feels for JoAnn. (Wheeler and Jay Tee don’t feel any love at all, which is why they both die, just by the way.) The JoAnn sort of love is to do with idealisation and to a certain extent innocence, and involves sex, and the Deadgirl love to do with identification, and in particular identification with a tortured state, and doesn’t. Rickie is getting better at love, which I maintain is the focus of the film, its evolutionary ambition and metatext: he can discriminate between the love of one human for another, bound in sympathy and that for an idealised creature of personal worship, destined for particular attention. The one is romance, the other, pity, though these feelings are to become aligned and indistinguishable. It’s almost as if there are two films going on at the same time, written by two different people; the combination of this wasted love and the practically necrophiliac sex and contempt don’t tally; it’s a war, not between good and evil or love and death but between the romantic imagination and the prosaic; the nihilism in the bowels of the asylum is no different from that in real life.

He tries to free her. He severs half her shackles with a metal cutter and she grabs him. I watched this bit twice, particularly after the moment where she reaches out to touch his hand, and can see that she’s not attacking him, but expressing some other kind of need: she can’t let him go. And God, does she hate those other two. Her teeth bare when they arrive: ‘Hello honey, did you miss me?’ She’s on her front by now and desperate to beat them off, which she now can do with her freed wrists. Everything she does is extreme, a more extreme and livid version of a normal human being. I don’t think Rickie’s identification with her ever wavers. I know this is a film of many levels so I’ve left the parochial level out, you can read that elsewhere.

They get her, re-tie her using a pulley system, and Rickie leaves.

Close-up of a wild flower growing in a crack in the stone floor of the asylum.

This is important. Firstly, it’s a logical impossibility, as nothing can grow here, this far down below, you need sun for chlorophyll, not to mention seeds and water. But still it is here, and it’s the only time we see nature concentrated on in its particularity; the rest is all vague fields, standard suburban lawns, background trees in schoolyards. This flower - I think its a campion - is picked out for special concentration in all its individual beauty and recklessness, and also its commonness, for it is only its situation that makes it uncommon: it is Rickie’s love, not for JoAnn, or not just for her, not for the world above where all is milky white and soft and to a large extent easy, even if inaccessible, because nothing is inaccessible in reality; rather, love down here, in a terrible world: his unique love for Deadgirl, which has augmented the revolutionary nature of his continuing, hopeless, and disastrously specific love for JoAnn, and his burgeoning love for his own soul, a flourishing against all odds. 

Secondly, because of the contrast between this and the dialogue that immediately follows:

Wheeler: ‘How’s her hole?’
Jay Tee: ‘Unwilling but able, as usual. We gotta get some lube or something in there because she is just bone dry.’

Jay Tee’s spent the night there (again) and explains, when Wheeler complains about the smell, that this is due to the bullet wounds, which have become infected, to the point where they readily spill green scum when prodded. I think he suggests that these are holes one can happily use sexually as well. ‘This one’s mine, but there are two others.’ I’d note that green, in the light of the flower, because this is something to do with the revenge of nature and its ultimate victory; or possibly something even larger than that called ‘Supernature’ which some scientist wrote a book about stating that plants were telepathic and sensitive to human emotion and cellular changes occurred in them according to the presence of love or hate, which would explain the growth of an impossible flower and comment on the romantic strength of a personality whose actions seem superficially powerless and hidden. I’m more keen on the mystic value of the flower (see The Cement Garden), and its connection with the leaves and trees Rickie sees when dreaming of JoAnn; there’s an overlap now between love and horror, and both grow together in his mind.

Meanwhile, back in the gym. JoAnn refuses a date from Rickie, claiming that they knew each other so long ago, a lifetime ago. ‘Nothing lasts for ever, Rickie.’ This is a comment Kate Moss made of clothes. Much as I like Kate Moss, she is unaware of just how old a lot of my clothes are and might adjust that remark if she knew, but even she, who is meant to be the ur text on meaningless aesthetics, doesn’t go as far to make throwing out a dress the same as throwing out a person. ‘Nothing lasts for ever’ is NOT a statement one makes about Love, and this vain little girl with her stupid eyes and ignorance will learn different and the hard way, which is eternal. I didn’t like the ending of this film to begin with but I like it now.

Rickie gets beaten up (again) for ‘looking at JoAnn’, which gives us some kind of indication of the level of propriety and possession in this film, and how little it adjudicates with the terrain of Love. This is JoAnn’s respectable and socially acknowledged lover, and just one glimpse of that idiot face with its self-belief and winner attitude makes me gag. He’s the kind who dies fast in a horror movie and he will die fast in this one. But he kicks Rickie first, and also hits Wheeler. That’s not very nice. JoAnn wears a short skirt, and carries a little handbag for this scene. She intervenes on Rickie’s behalf but not hard enough or strong enough. And not for long enough either. Still, weak people. We know all about them.

But oh dear - and I begin to see the relevance of plot here - Wheeler’s so cross about being smacked in the face, and over such a lamp as JoAnn, he starts shouting at the boyfriend and his cohort and showing off about Deadgirl. What we have is better than your boring bit of cheerleader pussy he says. We got our own personal porno star we can have whenever we like, and she is hot (I paraphrase. A little). This means action. And the action is the same as usual.

This scene is brilliant. A lot are, in many ways, but this one is special. The irritating popular guys, Johnny, who is boyfriend of JoAnn, and his thug mate who carries a baseball bat throughout, have forced Wheeler to give them the whereabouts of the loony bin, where the sexual fantasy to end all sexual fantasies apparently inhabits (note: no fidelity towards JoAnn whatsoever; contrast with Rickie’s cross of perpetual devotion even under the most stricken of circumstances). Once they are there, Rickie says they’ve had a wasted journey and is smashed (yet again) for his pains. He suffers a lot for Deadgirl. But Wheeler squeals, and apologises later as Rickie finally staggers over, only to find Jay Tee sitting on his throne of horror, bragging about how bad they treat their creature and how sick and malign their aims. ‘Why’s she so tied up and beat up?’ asks Johnny. ‘Because she likes it that way.’ Then Johnny starts wauling on about how it just ain’t his thing and it’s not because he’s not man enough to do it (yawn to the power of 650 million) or ‘passing up free pussy,’ but: ‘I may be horny but I’m not desperate. I got my own sweet pussy waiting for me tonight.’ This is Rickie’s cleverest move, and of course his most enraged, because it was looking a bit like The Accused back there just for a moment, as if it didn’t always look just a trickle like The Accused. ‘Why not just go for the mouth then. See, she likes it anywhere she can get it, Johnny boy. Betcha you can’t get that off JoAnn.’

We all know what’s going to happen, and it does.

I have to just add that throughout this entire conversation, we get images of Deadgirl’s blisteringly beautiful face and bloodstained teeth, and the feeling between her and Rickie is patent. He has fed her this Johnny person - the rest just want her abused for their own ends, but he has given her something she can truly enjoy, which is revenge. And flesh. It’s her one chance, and her one pleasure, and I think she’s really rather in love with Rickie at this point because she’s found an ally. Jay Tee is aware of the risk, but he just thinks it’s funny. He’s not worked out Deadgirl is a zombie who will chomp your fucking cock off and turn you into the undead, but would, at the same time, if you loved her, be very fucking nice to you. Even Shaun of the Dead didn’t cover that. But Shaun of the Dead is a Comedy. Comedy gets you nowhere, not in American High School, not in Dachau, not in Dorset, and not here.

Though I have to admit the next bit IS quite funny. Because ‘Johnny’ beats the fuck out of Deadgirl after he’s had his penis bitten, as he fully deserved and as we all knew would happen, and as always then happens to Deadgirl, covered in blood because no one cares (aside from me and Rickie, and Jay Tee but only for aesthetic reasons) Jay Tee is scandalised, not by the hoo-ha, because he knows no one is going to tell, because they’ll just sound like rapists if they do, but for the physical condition of his sexual partner. Thus he berates Rickie after the blood and the bovine are gone: ‘You are the reason why Johnny came down here, YOU are the reason why he got bit, and it’s bad enough that those two motherfuckers came down here, but look at that shit. LOOK AT IT. I’m going to have to put a fucking bag over her head just to get it up. And you know what Rickie, you know what, now nobody gets what they want. JoAnn Skinner, man, what the fuck were you thinking, this is the best were ever going to have.’

Back home, there’s a very unlikely scene with JoAnn and Ricky, partly because of the music playing in the background (‘Grace Glorified’). He’s come to visit her in her yard (more trees) to warn her of troubles ahead. His concerns are rhapsodic and passionate, he tells her that her relationship with Johnny is pointless because he doesn’t care, which we know is true, and that this is crucial. ‘JoAnn, he doesn’t fucking love you.’ But all she worries about is surfaces, what other people think, her status, Johnny’s social credentials, never mind his inward appallingness, and the ignominy of any liaison with Rickie: ‘what if someone sees us?’ How I hate her at this moment, how I love him. He is as misunderstood by her as he is by Jay Tee; she is oblivious to what matters, and what matters is becoming of greater and greater urgency; no longer a sequestered, concealed, static condition but a rising force of uncontrollable passion.

Then you get this close-up of Jay Tee staring at Deadgirl, an ineluctable stare (I like Jay Tee, underneath it all). Despite what he says, he too is utterly absorbed by her. He LIVES there, down there, with her in the cellar. He NEVER LEAVES. I quite like the hemp bondage he’s fashioned for her now, maybe it’s more malleable, maybe he likes swapping chains with rope for variety. Even the fake dad notices, in yet another torturous conversation with Rickie: ‘I hope she’s hot. Whatever it is you boys are fighting over, you’re sure taking a real beating for her, Jesus Christ man. Just try and relax man, you know. Have fun.’ This is a witty movie.

You get the milk carton again in a lecture about perishables. This is the boring bit, when Johnny turns into a zombie and his insides fall out, so we know this is a disease passed by biting, as in all the zombie movies. But this is not a zombie movie. This is about sex and cruelty, and love. Johnny’s just being punished for being a troll.

Deadgirl gnashes the dog; this is while Jay Tee is trying to put lipstick on her to make her more attractive after the battering (he’s already tried green eye-shadow) and the dog intrudes. Is killed, jugular ripped out, blood everywhere. But oh, Jay Tee. It’s like a movie! It looks like love. He even wears a necklace and seems tender, caring. It’s photographed with that quietened sense of romantic intimacy, far away from the buggery of yore. He is like her, now, locked underneath, in the grave, never seeing the light of day, naked, like her, alone, like her. He lives there, with her. He is OBSESSED. Everyone’s obsessed with Deadgirl.

Having failed with any make-up operations, because she is just too beaten and bruised, Deadgirl now lies with a girlie magazine over her face (or, to be more accurate, the close-up picture of what I hate more than anything, a dumb stupid blonde model girl face who ought never to have a body, ought to be severed and bleeding on a blunt stick from birth). But Rickie is here, and he cuts her bonds. About time!

Oh. It’s not Rickie. It’s Johnny’s friend, the one with the baseball bat, and he’s come to kidnap Deadgirl and take her to the hospital so they can diagnose what’s wrong with Johnny, though we all know what that is, he’s turned into a zombie and will never die, and has to feast on human flesh for nourishment and is quite beyond any personal monitoring of his ferocity so may need to end up tied up on a hospital bed like she is. But hark, Jay Tee has arrived with a flashlight and is about to trounce this marauder. I quite like Jay Tee. We know this. He also looks quite tasty in the crépuscule and is besides something of a zombie himself, cast out from society with no parents, and even though he is just a misogynistic prick, he is at least an obsessive misogynistic prick, rather than some kind of lame happy type with not even hate in his veins. The point of this scene is to establish contagion, since you don’t catch whatever Deadgirl’s got from sex, since everyone’s been doing that with her for days, as Jay Tee is quick to remind us.

There’s a bit of a scuffle and Johnny’s friend gets bitten as well. Jay Tee becomes almost Marlowe-like in his next polemic - there’s something a little Renaissance Revenge Tragedy about the whole film - ‘Johnny is dead. This bitch is dead. Now you’re dead too.’ Then he stabs Deadgirl with the sword - this was quite an odd implement for a modern young man to bring along to chop a rope with but it fits the scene. ‘Youll like being dead. Deadgirl likes it. Dont you.’ He then works out that he can create more of the same type. ‘One bite from her and I can make another’ - worried, I think, as he has been for some time, about the effects of ceaseless brutality on the aesthetics of the victim.

Rickie shuffles around his room. He’s been drawing tormented pictures of naked females with skull faces and bleeding, amputated limbs, which he rips up. He hops about swinging the baseball bat in a lather of frenzied indecision and frustration.

Clouds again, this time by night.

Then - and I still quite believe they actually do this - Jay Tee and Wheeler sit in the car staking out a gas station, to search for girls so they can bring one back to the asylum and do whatever they want to her as well. Therefore, they have to do this ‘check out the jugs on that one’ type chit-chat about some girl in hot pants whom Jay Tee isn’t so keen on because she’s too fat. I know just what he means. ‘But it’s the best we’re going to get,’ says Wheeler. ‘All right, fine. Fine, fine, fine,’ says Jay Tee. ‘I’m really taking a step down, aren’t I,’ he muses to himself, lost in contemplation of the beautiful Deadgirl he already has and who already matters to him, one of the reasons why I believe he hasn’t bothered too much in the small matter of choice with regard to replacements, though this will be hard to prove, given how little Jay Tee actually admits to himself let alone anyone else. I think they shouldn’t have gone to a gas station but maybe some sort of party at The Hamptons where they’d get some posh totty with beautiful skin from all the millions spent on Estee Lauder and taut thighs from all that skiing in Val d’Isère and fantastic teeth from Harley Street dentists. But Jay Tee hasn’t thought this through, and he NEEDS to. Mind you, he is a man of action, and I a man of thought, like Hamlet, which is why I never get a thing done and Jay Tee does; he’s been powering the plot from the start. This particular woman lacks any submissive element whatsoever and when Wheeler hits her with the crowbar lays into them both, beats them up and steals their money. As I say: party at The Hamptons, because the girls not only look better, they have better manners. And since one’s aim isn’t to find a soul mate it doesn’t matter how vapid and corrupt and limp they are psychologically. Not being a man myself, I can’t quite identify with this idea of turning a girl into a zombie so I can screw her with no repercussions and no relationship, and I think even if it were a bloke who was my port of call I’d prefer some sort of personality and would like to think he had some choice in the matter of satisfying me. But God made a mistake when he gave us free will, and I make just the same mistake giving men the same thing. Perhaps I ought to see them as objects for my pleasure and iron out the communication angle and the business of whether they like it or not or deserve any form of consideration, and rope them up and screw them and punch them whenever the hell I feel like it, and then get myself a new one when their flesh packs up and rots under the strain. This film is educational.

Very, very fortunately, just at this point JoAnn shows up, squalling: ‘I want to know what the fuck you did to my boyfriend,’ and banging on the car windows. ‘No you don’t,’ says Wheeler. ‘Why don’t we just show you,’ says Jay Tee, with poise.

Full moon.

Rickie stalks the corridors with a cleaver to discover a changed dungeon rigged out with fairy lights and a fresh victim, Jo Ann and Deadgirl both, hooked up next to each other. JoAnn doesn’t really appreciate his efforts to release her, gagged, blindfolded and chained to the ceiling, though he does his best before she starts screaming at him, the way spoilt brats of inferior soul generally do. It’s the usual guff about how she ‘stood up for him’ and this is all the reward she gets: being ‘kidnapped’ by his ‘friends’; she’s ‘done all she can’ - failing to appreciate that it’s not her empty image that matters but his love, which has withstood more than her craven need for mindless popularity, and makes us sorry he took the gag off in the first place. Jay Tee intervenes. This is Rickie’s ultimate fantasy, he asserts, JoAnn at his mercy and dependent, as she isn’t in real life, and will never be. ‘But down here, we have control. We call the shots, down here. You don’t have to be the nice guy down here.’ (Satan/sex argument.) Rickie does get the blindfold off, and I see this as symbolic because he’s been trying to get the blindfold off everyone from the start of the film, particularly her. Indeed everything he does is about liberation: untying, ungagging, release, speaking the truth and so on. ‘Just let her go.’ But Jay Tee won’t listen. What he tries to do is persuade Rickie that JoAnn in this condition and down here in the cellar is what he really wants, and he’s prepared to even hand her over as a personal slave and not mutual gang bang material, though I hardly believe him. ‘You want what should have been yours a long time ago. You don’t want to share, I respect that. And that’s what I’m trying to do for you. I am doing this for your benefit. She’s all yours.’ Then, when he’s getting nowhere with that one, reminds Rickie that if he does liberate her ‘she is going to send us to jail’, which is probably true, JoAnn being the crashing bore she is and desperate for the ravishings of the status quo. Rickie just stands there. In fact what galvanises him into action is the awful Wheeler who can’t resist JoAnn shackled up and has to grab at her, and knowing what we do about him, we are utterly delighted when Rickie slices his hand off with the cleaver, which he’s been brandishing for about the last ten minutes, there in the half light, with the moody chains and the girls.

‘Well, you sure picked a pretty shit poor time to man up, Rickie,’ says Jay Tee.

Throughout you can’t avoid JoAnn crying and rattling her chains, her obvious agony, and Deadgirl too, with her blasted face and eye all swollen up from being punched so often. There’s a dangerous element to this, with the chains and the beauty and the darkness, an insidious erotic quality.

Jay Tee whines on about how they’re together and friends and it’s all about them - which I think is an early form of masculine development where the men stick together as a pack and use women for sport, the basic relationship being a form of repressed homosexual love, before maturity sets in and the man chooses a female mate - and it is this step forwards Rickie is trying to make, but can’t because JoAnn doesn’t love him, even though he loves her and is far better-looking than that idiot Johnny, even before he turned into a zombie, or anyone else in the film, not including Deadgirl. But JoAnn doesn’t understand beauty or love. Rickie understands both but is still not quite acting fast enough with the cleaver. You have to release people. They have to have free will. You can’t be like that person in The Collector and just lock people in cellars to drink in their mysteries, knowing that you’d never get them in real life. You have to renounce power and be alone, or a good deal more persuasive. And Rickie DOES understand this.

‘JoAnn Skinner, man, you think she’s going to choose you? In the real world, man, she’d rather die than be with you.’

‘I know,’ says Rickie. He knows he can’t get her and he sets her free anyway. Together they run through the labyrinth, trying to find an exit. Deadgirl has escaped her shackles with the help of JoAnn and is now feasting on the mutilated Wheeler (and quite right too after all the appalling sex she’s had battered into her by him over the past week. Meat for meat). She is this screaming mad monster, gorging herself on Jay Tee and running around in stark cannibal insanity, frantic for food or freedom. There’s a moment where she looks at Rickie and something in her decides that he is not prey because he has been kind to her, and she simply knocks him over in her bid to flee. JoAnn’s vanished. Deadgirl slams through the iron door that swung shut earlier trapping them all, because she has superhuman strength and incarnates liberty, and disappears in a puff of smoke.

Jay Tee has had his mouth bitten off, and looks nothing like as good as he did before. In addition, he has become piteous: ‘don’t tell my grandma,’ he says - hardly the words of a rebel. The rebel here, in fact is Rickie, who discovers JoAnn, who’s been stabbed by Jay Tee (‘I was just trying to help’), covered in blood and evidently dying. Jay Tee suggests Rickie let him bite her as she’s on her way out anyway so there’s not much else for it. Rickie is too engrossed with JoAnn to pay much attention. It’s quite hard to hear what she’s saying (boring, nasty teenage stuff according to the Wikipedia: ‘grow up’, for example, while she spits blood in his face) but you can hear Rickie all right: ‘I love you,’ he says, over and over. ‘So much.’ And this is really the key to the whole drama. He does love her, even though she doesn’t deserve it, and he did set her free when he knew it meant no chance with her. In addition, he showed sympathy for Deadgirl herself. Therefore, I kina like Rickie, and I liked it when he chopped off Wheeler’s hand as well. He is the only survivor and that’s because he’s the only one who gave a thought for someone other than himself. ‘Take me home, Rickie,’ says JoAnn, a wish that’s somewhat open to interpretation given the heimlich/unheimlich aspect to everything.

Now the final scene, the end of the film. Same romantic music, same old Rickie, sitting around at school with a secretive little smile on his face, looking sweet in a red T shirt. But why? Where’s JoAnn. He wouldn’t look so happy if she were dead, and he wouldn’t look so happy if she were alive, but not with him, as she patently isn’t. So… wherefore the joy? O this bit is just so shocking. He wanders over the bridge, as before, but this time happily chucking a stone into the river, ingenuous as a child. And there’s the asylum again, the strange corridors covered with papers, the metal door ajar, and down the terrible black steps. But instead of all those horrible bloodstained rags that were hanging up before, to indicate the entrance to the lair, there are rather nice white Broderie Anglaise frocks, proper antique ones rather like the ones I myself wear, candles burning in glass holders, a lovely, flickering light, more charming clothes, red and white chemises, shifts, one identical to the one I’ve got hanging right here, if you need me I can always be found (exact lyrics), and there’s JoAnn, tied to the bed, but with nice strips of white cloth on her ankles, not chafing ropes or mean chains. 

She’s got a lovely white camisole on (one I actually envy, and my camisoles are a glory to behold) and, in the last shot of the film, after panning over the bound wrists (clean white cotton, and not too tight), we can see the pallor of her face, that unholy whiteness, the strange cast to the skin, green veins in the forehead (I told you about green) and her eyes, which were shut, snap open (she can hear Rickie, on his way, red alert) and they’re the same, the eyes of Deadgirl, slightly ringed in blood; she’s not gagged because Rickie does quite like teeth and he likes people to be free, as far as is possible, as far as the bonds of love allow. So. Rickie has what he’s always wanted, and has her forever, forever lovely and forever young, tied up and his, his alone. A Happy Ending; and the only one possible. I can see why some might find this destructive of female freedom and inhibitive of feminine desire, but JoAnn messed all that up ages ago. She has eternity to learn, and is a very lucky girl. So, can anyone arrange the same thing for me?

1 comment:

  1. I love this, Jessica, this dissection, this exegesis (is that the right word?). I have not seen the film but now feel I must as a matter of some urgency. You write beautifully - you should write for one of the highbrow mags like Sight & Sound - and I love that you've approached what some would undoubtedly dismiss as a mere teenage exploitation flick with the same attention that others would give to "Wild Strawberries"!