Wednesday, October 10, 2007

In Honor of October...

In light of the Halloween season (and also due to lack of recipes since I was sick all weekend--woot woot), I've instead decided to ramble a wee bit about one of my *other* loves in life: horror flicks.

BUT WAIT you are thinking loudly in that skull of yours. WAIT WAIT! This is a vegan food blog. Or at least a vegan blog! You can't do that!

And herein lies the reason you love me and want to fathermother my children:

What I want to ramble on about is one of the reasons (though not the main one) that I love horror flicks so much (and one of the reasons my librarian occasionally hands me the stuff I ordered, which is usually a combination of vegan cookbooks and horror movies, with a "You always order such an interesting variety of stuff"), and that topic is the strange meat-related/slaughterhouse-related subtheme in many horror films, a subtheme that shows up in enough horror flicks that it's worth remarking upon. (And this is even after separating out cannibalism-themed movies; I'm just talking about movies that bluntly and clearly have characters from meat-packing plants or slaughterhouses or explicitly remark upon either of the two.)

And of course, now that I've decided to finally yammer on about the topic, I can only think of three off the top of my head (though I *know* I've seen quite a few more that make these connections, memory be damned), but YOU WILL LISTEN AND YOU WILL LIKE IT AND BELIEVE ME BECAUSE I SPEAK ONLY OF TRUTH.

*clearing throat*

So anyways, despite the gruesomeness of horror flicks, despite what many people deem unnecessary and over-the-top violence, despite the fact that a lot of the population thinks people who are avid horror dorks are creepy and probably a bit off (which is all 100% true, of course--*chewing on a dead baby*), horror flicks aren't ALL fluff. Case in point: Hostel, of all movies. I saw the previews for this when it came out and kept staunchly stating that I was never ever ever gonna see this. I'm not a fan of the "torture-film-as-horror-movie" subgenre, because I think it sort of misses the point OF what makes a horror flick truly scary. And torture as entertainment just seems a bit f-ed up to me. *BUT* they of course had it at the library, and I of course picked it up (because, as with the VT, when it comes to horror flicks, I am also a cheap whore and will take it when I can). And lo and behold, despite the fact that it IS chock full of over-the-top gore, it actually had a surprisingly (oh no don't do it) meaty (hee hee) bit of substance to it, mostly on the theme of objectification, in terms of both meat and women (Carol J. Adams would be proud, though no doubt more than a little disturbed as well).

Early in the movie, the main character comments about how he is a vegetarian and shows disgust towards someone picking chicken out of a salad and ripping into it with their hands. (Spoiler alert, so stop reading if you don't want to hear stuff given away) And of course, the person who is sinking their teeth ever so gleefully into the nice meaty chicken is the person who will usher most of the main characters to their own brutal torture and death. Interestingly, this theme ends up coming up again and again throughout the movie. Initially I was bothered by the ridiculous amount of male-fantasy naked chicks during the first 20 minutes or so of the movie--there is a LOT of female objectification and nudity and sex. But by the end of the movie, it kind of made sense to me. This was a movie about the way we treat things like meat, ultimately. The way we turn living things into detached objects. Women. People. Animals. Etc. We do it through objectification of women and sex. We do it through our treatment of animals. And, in this movie, it is done in the torture of human beings (which has its own bizarre slaughterhouse qualities at times). And for that, the filmmaker deserves a pat on the back, all my skepticism aside.

The original Texas Chain Saw Massacre (which is perhaps my favorite horror movie of all time) is another such example. Leatherface and his family come from a long line of slaughterhouse workers, so it's clear to see why they get noticeably excited when they're hitting someone in the head with a mallet. We even see a truck shuttling cows to their slaughter pass up the main characters early on in the film, nailing these connections home. This movie is RIPE with commentary on slaughterhouses, linking the issue up directly with all the killing taking place. Here are just a few quotes that show how it is touched upon time and time again throughout:

Franklin: They just shoot a bolt in their head, and then retract it. It's just BOOM-shht-BOOM-shht.
Sally: Franklin, I like meat, please change the subject!


Hitchhiker: My family's always been in meat.


Old Man: I just can't take no pleasure in killing. There's just some things you gotta do. Don't mean you have to like it.


-What's that? What smell? What is that stench?

-Hey. That's the old slaughterhouse. That's where Grandpa used... to sell his cattle!

-We got an uncle that works in one of those places outside of Fortworth. See those buildings there? That's where... they kill them. They bash'em in the head with a big sledgehammer!

- That's awful.

- It usually wouldn't kill him. It'd start squealing and freaking out, they'd have to... come up and bash'em or times. They'd scatter them before they were even dead.

- That's horrible! People shouldn't kill animals for food.

- They don't do it like that anymore. Now they get this big air gun... that shoots a bullet into the skull and then retracts it.

Again and again, we see the humans in the film being treated like animals in a slaughterhouse--hung from large hooks as though about to be eviscerated, hit in the head with large mallets, stuffed into freezers, chased after and brutalized when they try to escape imminent death. And although we all know that working in a slaughterhouse doesn't automatically mean that one is going to find joy in killing people and serving them up as food (clearly), there have been numerous studies done on slaughterhouse workers that reveal an increased propensity in violence and domestic abuse among those forced to suffer the strain of killing animal after animal after animal all day. (You can check out Slaughterhouse or Fast Food Nation for more information on this topic.) It is almost a necessity to desensitize one's self to the scream and pain of animals that you are killing for no other reason than that you need to make a living somehow and this is the arena in which you are forced to make that living--so in order to survive, you must become numb. And needless to say, it makes sense that this desensitization towards violence and torture easily spills over into other arenas of one's life as well. Again: people and animals as objects, a topic that The Texas Chain Saw Massacre toys with well.

One final example that I'll offer up is perhaps one of the WORST horror movies I've seen (which of course made it at least entertaining, camp-value-wise)... And that's Motel Hell. This movie is yet another one about people feeding people to other people in the guise of meat. And boy do the folks love Vincent Fritters' meat. Little do they know that he is farming people to GIVE his meat that little bit of extra oomph. Again, the connection is made between the suffering of farmed animals and the torture taking place in the film: to quote Vincent Fritters, "I take better care of the people I kill than most farmers do their livestock." And though this is tongue in cheek, the connection made is an important one.

What I think is most interesting about the frequency with which slaughterhouses are alluded to if not outright MENTIONED in horror films is that it reveals that they DO unsettle us, what goes on in there DOES make us squeamish, otherwise these horror flicks wouldn't waste their time making the connections because they wouldn't understand that it automatically instills within us subconscious (or conscious) feelings of disgust and horror. People *know* that the shit that goes on in these places is cruel and terrible, they just avoid thinking about it because it makes getting through the day easier. And many horror movies play on this fact, and in doing so, oftentimes hold us culpable for the fact that we're perhaps just as bad as the brutal people like Leatherface that are born from the violence inherent in the killing of animals, calling into question how far removed we really ARE from all this brutality and suffering.

Hopefully E won't kill me for talking about his school-related stuff (and probably butchering the idea behind it, since it's been a while since I read it), but in one essay he wrote, he discusses how the poems/literature that really allow us to understand the animal from the inside, to empathize with them truly, are the ones in which we sort of BECOME the animal. The only way we can come to an understanding and empathy is to come as close as possible to BEING this other suffering being, to experience the fear from the inside. And I think much the same can be said about many of these horror films--essentially this is their goal, to make us feel and empathize with the victims, to fear for them and in turn, ourselves, because we can PLACE ourselves in the horror of that moment. We can imagine the fear rising up in our chests as we try to escape our own death. So much so that the viewer watching the film actually has visceral reactions to the fear pumping through the television--fast heartbeat, nausea, etc. And in making the connection between brutal killing and the brutal killing in slaughterhouses, and in doing so, making a connection between the humans in the film that are being brutalized and animals in slaughterhouses receiving the very same treatment, we are forced to become the victim, to feel from inside the victim, whether we like it or not. Human victim and animal victim both. Horror movies don't smooth these things over just to make us feel better--replacing eviscerated cows with smiling happy cow cartoons. They unmask the brutality inherent in violence against humans and the violence against animals. And that's a good thing. A very very good thing.

Oh, and yeah, sometimes horror movies are just fun. Like when you're in the mood to watch some awkwardly heavy guy run around with a chainsaw or something. And some are just plain trashy goodness. Lest I sound like I take them too seriously. (Although the chainsaw no doubt represents the phallus and the mask represents the mask hiding the phallus, in other words, yeah, ah but I kid all feministlike and whatnot. Carry on.)

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