Ok, so I saw that we could do slasher films and I chose to do Dennis Iliadis’s remake of “The Last House on the Left.” I have to admit that I have not seen Wes Craven’s original which would make for an interesting comparative response. Regardless, I think there is something to be said about the horror/slasher genre in general and this movie specifically. The horror genre is a certainly a site for constructions of masculinity as Jackson Katz touched on in “Tough Guise.” I remember hearing confirmation of some patterns I have discovered in my own fieldwork. The victim is usually (but not always) a female but not just any female, she embodies the feminine ideal. This is a strategic move because of the practice of victim eroticism, or sexifying (my word :) the victim and then killing her. Katz points move out, saying that this is why young men are turned on by sexual violence; they are conditioned. It arguably contributes to the high numbers of sexual assault and rape. This is a conventional Hollywood tactic and it becomes internalized in our culture perpetuating masculine dominance over others in violent ways. So much of typical masculinity is marked as aggression and heterosexuality it is no wonder the two get mixed up together. Like Tarentino says, “sex and violence are like peanut butter and chocolate; two great tastes that taste great together.” As much as I adore Tarentino, and argue that he is sympathetic to feminism, I am disgusted by this logic that he points out. It’s sad because it’s true. And, to borrow from Gloria Steinem’s logic, it is not true because it is so, it is true because we have made it so. But, to me this isn’t a reason to stop watching horror movies, but it is a reason to engage them and deconstruct them to see what’s going on behind these images. Sut Jhally remarks in his documentary on the WWE, Wrestling with Manhood: Boys, Bullying and Battering, “Anything that’s popular reveals something larger about our society, about its deep seeded values, the morality that underpins it.”
In the remake of “The Last House on the Left” Iliadis mixes some of these signs of victim eroticism in an attempt to highlight the very real epidemic (or even pandemic) of sexual violence. The problem is that we can’t control how people will receive the images we create and there is always the potential of reinscribing sexual violence even when attempting to expose it. At one point, the antagonist, Krug (Garret Dillahunt) explicitly tells his son Justin (Spencer Treat Clark) to “be a man” by forcing him to fondle a woman’s breasts against her will. To most of us it seems clear that this is so clearly not what being a man entails. However, in the process of deconstructing hegemonic masculinity as we have done in this class, I find that this is actually closer to what we are taught makes a “real man.” Control, competition, domination, aggression, heterosexuality and violence. So, I find it very possible that some men watching this movie might actually identify with the antagonist which I find terribly disturbing. I also understand the prevalence of rape myths in a rape culture that makes victim blaming difficult to escape. The girls put themselves in what most of us might qualify as a “compromising” situation and I fear that some viewers of this movie might resort to certain rape myths because of this fact. In recognizing this harmful potential I so badly wanted there to be a disclaimer in the form of Ravarino’s comment that “Nothing women do—and I mean absolutely nothing—warrants sexual violence or domestic assault” (MSO, Ravarino, 266).
The last point that I feel compelled to bring up is in the spirit of Hastings’ article “Violation” which makes a few points abundantly clear: a) there are few resources to help families and friends of sexual violence victims and survivors b) usually this means resorting to violence as the illusion of “retributive justice” c) there is no justice in cases of sexual violence. I have mentioned the first two points in class discussion and the last point in a reply to Ross’s post on gendering violence and I will unpack them here a little further. There really are so few blameless resources to help survivors of sexual violence and few to no resources that I am aware of to help families and friends of survivors (or victims that were killed in the process). This is a problem that leads to other problems, namely lacking an outlet to express these feelings of anger helplessness and pain in a healthy way that promotes healing. It is disturbingly common for men particularly to let these feelings manifest themselves in the form of violent revenge. Yet, as “The Count of Monte Cristo” will tell us, in the words of Lisa Simpson, “Don’t you see dad? The moral is that revenge can make you as bad as the person who harms you.” Revenge and violence are not synonymous with justice. Justice to me means that the act would never have occurred in the first place. So, for those who have seen the movie: I wonder how many of us would do the same, or if this is impossible to answer without being in the situation.
Honestly, I do not think everyone should see this movie. It is excruciating and at times torturous to watch. I had conflicting feelings the entire time and I still have not entirely made my mind up as to whether or not it was genuinely sympathetic to sexual violence or simply exploiting sexual violence in a particular genre to sell tickets. After all, the point of horror is to scare people, no? And the best ways to scare people are to confront them with real life possibilities like Freddy Kruger in “Nightmare on Elm Street” (also directed by Wes Craven). That movie was scary because everyone has to sleep at some point and that’s when he gets you. Maybe one of the things that made this movie so scary is the open secret of rape statistics in this country. The Wes Craven 1972 original tagline, as told on imdb, is “To avoid fainting, keep repeating ‘It's only a movie...It's only a movie...’” Oh, If only this were true.