Professional pounder of the patriarchy.

Posts tagged ‘horror’

The Curse: Womanhood and Horror

While I wasted my obligatory horror film post back in May, I realised that I hadn’t really gone into depth about the underlying theme that links most (if not all) of the films on that list together – the way the horror genre exoticises and demonises puberty, sex and womanhood. Slasher films are particularly guilty of this. In many slasher films, especially in early examples, the “final girl” survives to the end of the film and defeats the killer. Usually, she survives because she is a virgin and the other female characters – normally sexually active women – are punished by the narrative for their promiscuity.

It’s true that women are often the victims in horror films that treat puberty as a cause for alarm, as a step into a world of violence and fear. However, there’s certainly no shortage of women who commit violence within the genre and, equally often, such violence is presented as a coming-of-age ritual for the female protagonist. Either as a victim or as a perpetrator, her experiences with fear and with conflict are integral to her “growing up”.

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“It’s corn syrup, Daddy. Want some?”

Themes that crop up a lot are menarche and menstruation; it’s easy to see why. It’s cyclical, linking it to curses and prophecies within horror – you know the one, “Every 20 years, the great god Cthulhu demands a virgin sacrifice.” It also appears predominantly in films that explore lycanthropy (werewolfism!), which in most myths is dependent on the lunar cycle. Furthermore, menstruation is the only entirely natural process in which blood is excreted from the body. Despite being an absolutely normal and non-threatening experience, it lends itself to narratives that treat menstrual bleeding as equivalent to violent injury like stabbing or mutilation. The point of the horror genre is to unsettle and unnerve us. What better way to scare us than to convince us (at least for roughly 90 minutes) that our own body might turn against us?

A good example is the film Ginger Snaps (2000). In the film, Ginger Fitzgerald, a 16-year-old girl, starts her period. On the same day that she receives “the curse”, as she refers to it, she is attacked and bitten by a werewolf. Her younger sister Brigitte must find a way to cure her before Ginger is completely transformed into a monstrous creature. There’s very much a conflict between the girls’ mother’s romanticised idea of menarche, the school nurse’s calm explanations and Ginger’s own experiences. Her transformation is marked by exaggerated indications of puberty – we see her struggling to shave off thick hair, her period seems to go on for weeks and her sexual awakening results in a near-death experience for her boyfriend, who contracts lycanthropy like an STD and has a period of his own. Of course, the film is hyperbolic, but when you go through menarche as a teenager, these new and often painful experiences can feel very much like a nightmare.

At its heart, Ginger Snaps is a film about sisterhood. It explores the complex bond between young women, related by blood or not, by candidly depicting internalised misogyny. The Fitzgerald sisters frequently denounce their arch-enemy Trina Sinclair as a “slut” and she responds in kind, but all the teenage girls in the film are a united front when it comes to boys and their tenuous, uncertain interactions with them. In fact, Trina’s death scene and her conversation with Brigitte prior to her death is particularly fascinating. In reference to seeing Brigitte hanging out with Trina’s ex-boyfriend, Sam (who helps Brigitte find the cure), Trina says to her: “If you’re so f*cking smart, you won’t give him the satisfaction. Somebody, just once, shouldn’t give that f*cker the satisfaction!” That doesn’t strike me as something a nemesis would say. To me, that sounds like Trina trying – if haphazardly – to protect Brigitte from earning a reputation like hers. The girls show awareness of the sexual double standard earlier in the film. Lamenting her bad experience with her boyfriend, Ginger remarks to Brigitte that “A girl can only be a slut, a bitch, a tease or the virgin next door.”

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Along those same lines, menarche is undoubtedly linked with the onset of fertility and sex. It’s fairly archaic symbolism and bears less relevance in the modern era, as obviously not all women want to or are able to have children. In addition, not everyone who experiences the menstrual cycle identifies as a woman and trans women may not experience it either.

However, I still find it interesting. Take the film  The Company of Wolves (1984), for example, based on the short story of the same name from the anthology The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. All the stories in the anthology deal with womanhood in some way – whether it’s through menarche, marriage or sex. The film is no different. While it is admittedly not an easy film to understand, due to heavy use of surrealism, ambiguous symbolism and a blurred boundary between the real world and the “dream” world, it is essentially a coming-of-age story. It’s a beautiful film, but it does take a few repeat viewings to take in everything. There’s so much symbolism in every frame and it can be a bit perplexing initially. The Company of Wolves also features werewolves, although they are portrayed differently to the lycanthropes of Ginger Snaps. Here, although the film makes it clear that anyone can become a wolf, the werewolves serve primarily as an allegory for men. This stems from the morals of early fairy tales, which Carter extrapolates in The Bloody Chamber. The original tale Red Riding Hood, which inspired several stories in the anthology and also the film, can be interpreted as a treatise on virginity. The wolf is a predator, out to steal away Red Riding Hood’s innocence and “devour” her, but she must be vigilant and stick to the path. Carter’s retelling is far more feminist. At the culmination of the short story and the film, the Red Riding Hood character – named Rosaleen in the film – chooses to stay with the wolf who has tricked her and eaten her grandmother. Leaving behind her parents, the village and the expectations that they had for her life, she transforms into a wolf herself and they flee into the forest together.

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“They say the Prince of Darkness is gentleman… they’re right, a fine gentleman.”

Perhaps that’s the secret to making a horror film that treats women’s experiences sensitively while still being, well, horrifying. Strip the protagonist of her autonomy, stop her from being the focus of her own narrative, and you’re guaranteed to make a shitty, sexist film. Giving agency and a voice to women in horror doesn’t reduce the terror, but it does stop the film from contributing to real life attitudes and stigma.

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5 Feminist Horror Films

The horror genre isn’t exactly renowned for its strong female characters. Generally, there’s a lot of running, screaming and dying involved – not exactly empowering.

However, the horror genre is renowned for being subversive, and that lends itself to feminist adaptations of literature, folklore and mythology. I know it’s not horror-movie season just yet, but I watched one earlier (Treehouse, and it was a bit disappointing) and I decided I should write this list now rather than wait for Halloween to roll around!

So here it is – five feminist horror films! (Plus some honourable mentions that only just missed the cut!) I’ve added links to their respective theatrical trailers, if you fancied having a look. Please be aware that the trailers may contain violence or scary scenes.

5. The Babadook (2014)

The Babadook is a unique psychological horror film. Written and directed by Jennifer Kent, it tells the story of Amelia and her six-year-old son Sam, who are tormented by an entity that enters their home through a children’s book. As the story progresses and Sam’s behaviour grows more erratic, Amelia finds it a struggle to love her son. I like it as a horror film because it relies on suspense and emotional tension, not on cheap jumpscares, but I also think it’s a beautiful piece of cinema overall. The real “monster” in the film is grief and insecurity. As Kent explained in an interview: “I’m not saying we all want to go and kill our kids, but a lot of women struggle. And it is a very taboo subject, to say that motherhood is anything but a perfect experience for women.”

4. Ginger Snaps (2000)

I luuuuurve this film. It follows two teenage sisters, Ginger and Brigitte, who are obsessed with death. In their town, neighbourhood dogs have been killed in a spate of brutal attacks. The girls decide to kidnap the school bully’s dog to scare her, but Ginger starts her period on the way, resulting in her being attacked and bitten by the creature responsible for the dogs’ deaths. As the plot thickens, Brigitte grows more and more concerned for her sister, as Ginger transforms into something otherworldly. Honestly, I adore literature and films that turn normal things – like the menstrual cycle – into something epic and mythical, and Ginger Snaps does it perfectly. It’s also a great teen drama as well, exploring the complex social microcosm in high school.

3. The Witch (2015)

I’ve written A LOT about this film – mostly because I was so excited to see it at the cinema! – and you can find those pieces here and here. However, it still deserves to be on this list, because I just can’t praise it enough. In the film, a Puritan family are excommunicated from the church and forced to leave the community, settling at the edge of a forest. As more and more unsettling phenomena takes place on their farm, often at the hands (hooves?) of their goat Black Phillip, it becomes clear that they are being plagued by a witch. At the centre of the supernatural goings-on is Thomasin, the eldest child, and the film acts as a beautiful (if eerie) allegory for her burgeoning womanhood and her fight for autonomy. The Witch has taught us all that thou canst live deliciously if thou wouldst like to.

2. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

Roman Polanski is perhaps not the name that springs to mind when you think “feminism” (and for good reason), but Rosemary’s Baby becomes a surprisingly powerful film if you think about it in context. The first birth control pills became available in the US during the 60s, so women’s reproductive health was a hot topic at the time of the film’s release. The film still feels fresh and relevant, perhaps as a result of the prevalence of pro/anti abortion dialogue in the media recently. In the film, a young couple move into a new apartment, although they’re warned of their home’s unsavoury history. When Rosemary becomes pregnant, the peculiar behaviour of her husband and interfering neighbours makes her increasingly paranoid. Although Rosemary initially felt ready to have a child, she is unable to have the baby on her own terms, and this is a strikingly painful reality even in today’s society.

Honourable mentions:

The Wicker Man (1973) – not the most obvious choice, but hear me out. This film totally subverts the “A Man Is Not A Virgin” and “Virgin Power” tropes, which is brilliant. In the majority of horror films, it’s a pure maiden (sighhh) who is sacrificed; in this, it’s an adult man.

Red Riding Hood (2011) – not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but it is pretty cool with a great female protagonist. She kills werewolves, man. She’s a badass.

Teeth (2007) – this is more of a black comedy, but it’s still excellent. I won’t reveal too much about it; it sort of needs to be seen to be believed. It’s a weird one, yet it works.

  1. The Company of Wolves (1984)

Based on the works of the undisputed queen of feminist folktales, Angela Carter, this is an intriguing film that perhaps doesn’t necessarily belong to the horror genre. Although it’s far closer to magical realism or a gothic drama, I’ve put it here nonetheless – it’s unsettling enough to qualify as at least fantasy-horror. It (loosely) follows the plot of her short story of the same name; however, it is also partially based on other stories from her anthology The Bloody Chamber. The protagonist, Rosaleen, learns about werewolves from her grandmother, who knits her a bright red shawl as a gift (no prizes for guessing the fairy tale the film is based on!). The red cloak becomes an important symbol towards the end of the film. When she accepts her desire for the huntsman she meets in the forest, she burns the cloak in her grandmother’s fireplace. The whole film serves as an allegory for Rosaleen’s first foray into her own sexuality. While she’s obviously confused and scared, the film clearly prioritises her experiences and there’s never a time when Rosaleen is denied autonomy or control.

Trigger warning for nudity and mild violence:

Here’s a clip of one of my favourite scenes in the film, in which Rosaleen tells the story of the Wolfgirl (copyright: Neil Jordan; Palace Productions. Distributed by ITC and Cannon).


So there you have it! There are plenty more I could mention, and feel free to comment with your own suggestions!

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“The Witch”

I went to see The Witch yesterday with my stepdad and, holy hell, it was spectacular. Like, seriously, go and see it if you can. You won’t regret it. As a horror film, it worked brilliantly – I’m never going near a goat ever again! – but it worked even better as an exploration into the paranoid psyche of Puritans in the New World and as an allegory for burgeoning womanhood. Really powerful, really beautiful. But also f*cking scary.

La Brujería: Las Implicaciones Feministas

Este es una traducción (¡aproximadamente!) de un mensaje de blog anterior.

Después del estreno de la película nueva La Bruja, una película de terror del director Robert Eggers, más y más gente está notando los matices feministas. Podría argumentar que sea una historia de hacerse maduro en vez de una película de terror.

Aunque durante la historia muchas de las víctimas inocentes que fueron acusados de la brujería han sido hombres, en las imágenes de cultura popular la mayoría de las brujas son mujeres.
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(Lisa: Cuando una mujer es segura de sí misma y poderosa, ¿por qué la llaman una bruja?)

La evolución de la bruja en mitología está conectado íntimamente con las percepciones sociales de las mujeres. Depende del tipo de cultura también. En el norte de España, en el País Vasco, la palabra para la bruja es sorgina (plural: sorginak). Sorginak son las sirvientas de la diosa principal, Mari, y las descripciones en la lectura y en el folclore normalmente fueron positivas – hasta el Cristianismo llegué. La religión vasca – y la primera sociedad – fue matriarcal, así que falta las figuras femeninas que son engañosas y manipuladoras. Encontramos estas figuras en la mitología cristiana y judía (mira a aquí, aquí y aquí). Las mujeres en las primeras comunidades vascas podían controlar sus propias propiedades y heredar la fortuna de la familia. Tenían más poder que las mujeres de otros países europeos.

En la mitología griega, había dos figuras muy famosas que eran brujas. La primera se llamaba Medea, la esposa de Jasón (Jasón y los Argonautas). En la obra Medea de Euripides, Medea mata a sus hijos después Jasón se casa con una otra mujer. En los mitos, Medea generalmente es una sacerdotisa de la diosa Hécate – una diosa que estaba asociada con temas oscuros tales como la muerte, las fantasmas, la necromancia y – ¡qué sorpresa! – la brujería. La segunda se llamaba Circe, una diosa y bruja que figuraba en La Odisea de Homero, la historia de la vuelta a casa del héroe griego Odiseo. En la epopeya, Circe transforma en animales a sus enemigos y intenta a seducir a Odiseo, aunque – con el ayudamiento del dios Hermes – la resiste. Aquí, tenemos una otra bruja mítica que controla a los hombres usando la manipulación y la sexualidad. Los griegos antiguos pensaban que las mujeres inteligentes fueron peligrosas. Las brujas en los mitos de Antigua Grecia representaban los temores que los hombres griegos tenían sobre sus esposas. Si piensas que aparece ridículo, hay un ejemplo interesante en un discurso del juzgado, que Antiphon escribío en 420a.C. En el discurso, un hombre acusó a su madrastra de matar a su padre. Se la llama “Clitemnestra”, que fue una reina mitologíca que mató a su esposo Agamenón. Hoy en día, no podría decirlo en un juzgado, pero en la sociedad patriarcal de Atenas, fue totalmente aceptable.

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Clitemnestra de John Collier

Es posible que la bruja es casi emblemática del feminismo. Las brujas de la mitología eran en contraste con los sistemas sociales patriarcales, subvirtiendo el concepto de la mujer ideal. No es un secreto que mujeres poderosas asustaron a las sociedades del mundo antiguo (y moderno) y los hombres trataron a la sexualidad femenina como un arma. Tal vez la brujería es una manera para manejar este arma.

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Debo decir:

No intentaría a sugerir que las brujas realmente existían en estas culturas. Habían indudablemente sacerdotisas paganas, pero no hay nada evidencia para una religión de brujas. Hay la tradición de Stregheria (strega es la palabra italiana para “bruja”), que está basado en el libro Aradia, o el Evangelio de Las Brujas. Quisiera a creer que había un culto matriarcal de brujas con una mesías femenina, sin embargo es improbable que el libro sea más que una ficción. La gente que sufría durante las cazas de brujas no realizó la brujería en realidad, y pienso que es insultante llamar a esa gente “brujas”.

Tenemos poca evidencia que las tradiciones de la religión moderna neopagana de Wicca tienen alguna conección con las curanderas del pasado. No es una crítica de Wicca. De hecho, creo que Wicca es tal vez la religión más emancipadora del mundo (¡una opinión polemica, lo sé!). Puede aprender más sobre Wicca aquí (el texto es en inglés).

Witchcraft: Its Feminist Implications

After the release of Robert Eggers’ new horror film The Witch (UK release: 11th March), more and more people are picking up on the subtle feminist undertones in the film. You could argue that it’s as much a coming-of-age story as it is a horror film.

Although many of the innocent victims tried for witchcraft throughout history have been male, the pervasive pop culture image of the witch is that of a woman.

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The evolution of the witch in mythology is intimately connected with societal perceptions of women. It also depends on the type of culture. In northern Spain, in the Basque Country, the word for “witch” is sorgina (plural: sorginak). The sorginak are the servants of the goddess Mari and were rarely portrayed negatively in literature and folklore – until Christianity arrived. The Basque religion – and, arguably, its early society – was matriarchal, so it lacks the deceptive, conniving female figures found in Judeo-Christian mythology (see here, here and here). The women in early Basque communities could control their own property and inherit the family fortune. They had much more power than women in neighbouring cultures.

In Greek mythology, there are two famous figures who are witches. The first is Medea, the wife of Jason (as in Jason and the Argonauts). In the play Medea by Euripides, Medea kills her children after Jason marries another woman. In the myths, Medea is generally a priestess of the goddess Hecate/Hekate – a goddess who is associated with dark themes such as death, ghosts, necromancy and – surprise, surprise! – witchcraft. The second is Circe, a goddess and sorceress who features in Homer’s Odyssey, the tale of the Greek hero Odysseus’ journey home after the Trojan War. In the epic, Circe transforms her enemies into animals and attempts to seduce Odysseus, although – with the help of Hermes – he resists her advances. Here, we find another mythic witch who controls men through manipulation and sexuality. The Greeks thought that intelligent women were dangerous women, and the women in the myths of Ancient Greece represented the fears men had about their wives. If you think that seems ridiculous, there’s an interesting example of mythical women being used tactically against a real woman in a law court speech by Antiphon, circa 420BC. In it, a man accuses his stepmother of poisoning his father, comparing her to Clytemnestra (the epitome of a Greek girl gone bad) who murdered her husband Agamemnon. You’d think a jury would laugh him out of the court, but not so in the patriarchal society that was Athens in the 5th century BC. All that mudslinging was totally acceptable.

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Clytemnestra by John Collier

Arguably, the witch is almost emblematic of feminism. The witches of mythology stood in stark contrast to harsh patriarchal social systems, subverting the very concept of the ideal woman. It’s no secret that powerful women terrified the societies of the ancient (and not so ancient) world and a woman’s sexuality was treated like a weapon. Maybe witchcraft – regardless of the form in which it exists or existed – is a way to wield that weapon.

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Disclaimer:

I’m not trying to suggest that witches of any sort actually existed in these cultures. While there were certainly pagan priestesses, there’s little to no evidence that any kind of witch religion ever existed. The closest we have is the Italian tradition of Stregheria (strega is the Italian word for “witch” or “hag”), which is based upon the book Aradia, or the Gospel of the Witches. As much as I’d like to believe that there was a matriarchal cult of witches worshipping a female messiah, it’s very, very unlikely that the book is anything more than elaborate wishful thinking. None of the people who were executed during the witch hunts of the early modern period actually performed witchcraft, and I think the suggestion that they were witches trivialises the futile and unnecessary suffering that occurred.

We have very little evidence that the traditions of the modern neopagan religion Wicca have anything to do with the healers and wise women of yesteryear. That’s not a criticism of Wicca at all. In fact, I think Wicca might just be the most empowering religion out there (controversial opinion, I know!). You can find out more about Wicca here.

Why the Raptors from “Jurassic Park” are my role-models

Why the Raptors from “Jurassic Park” are my role models

Please bear in mind that this is NOT a serious article. 😉

(Warning: this article may contain spoilers for the original film and its two – as of Friday 12th June, three! – sequels. If you haven’t seen Jurassic Park, you need to re-evaluate your life choices, kid. Also, I’d like to offer a trigger warning for some bad language later on. I’m just really passionate about this franchise!)

As Christina Aguilera told us in the ever-poignant Burlesque, it’s “a cold and crazy world that’s raging outside.” If you want to make it, you’ve got to be smart and you’ve got to be resourceful. You have to adapt and evolve. Don’t just beat the system; take it down and rip out its throat.

After watching Jurassic World, I realised that nobody demonstrates this better than the fearsome velociraptors of the Jurassic Park franchise. They’re intelligent, they work as a team, they’re faster than Usain Bolt after a litre of Lucozade. In short, they’re my absolute role-models – and here’s why!

  1. They’re fiercely loyal to their family.

Throughout the entire franchise, you never see the raptors working alone. They eat, sleep and hunt as a family unit. In fact, it’s a key part of their tactics when they’re stalking prey (although I’m not suggesting you & your family should go out and corner an innocent bystander), but we’ll talk about that later. They are depicted as highly sociable creatures and demonstrate a strong bond. In Jurassic Park III, they pursue Grant and his group across the whole island to get their eggs back after they were unwittingly stolen. That’s love, folks. When negotiations take place at the end of the film, they accept their eggs graciously, mind their own business and leave the egg-napping humans to do mammal shit. They’re totally cool like that.

Also, in Jurassic World, they’re trained (as well as one can train a raptor) by Chris Pratt’s character Owen Grady and they kick butt on his behalf at the end of the film. It seems like they have as much love for their human friends/allies as they do for their fellow raptors. We could learn a lot about acceptance from them.

*insert Indiana Jones theme here*

*insert Indiana Jones theme here*

  1. They know the system and they play it like a finely-tuned instrument.

If there’s one thing this franchise showcases, it’s how smart the raptors are. In literally every film, somebody comments on how dangerously intelligent the raptors are (it’s usually Alan Grant). They’re the real reptilians that David Icke needs to worry about. The first film is literally one big “I Threw It On The Ground” parody for them and, like Andy Samberg, the raptors know you can’t trust the system. What’s more, they’re determined not to participate in it. With a massive middle finger (claw?) to John Hammond’s commercial paradise, they take that shit down from the inside and smash up the park’s restaurant, reception and main building.

In Jurassic World, they’re similarly savvy. They play along with the big bad – the “Indominus Rex” – for a while, pretending to be his minions, then they go full kamikaze and launch themselves at him. The hybrid made the fatal mistake of thinking their loyalty could be bought – they’re archaeological anarchists and they don’t play the game by anyone’s rules except their own. Take that thought away with you. Don’t be a sheep; be a velociraptor.

"Man, smells like capitalism in here."

“Man, smells like capitalism in here.”

  1. They’re exceptional strategists.

One of my favourite scenes in Jurassic Park is when the ranger is poised, gun at the ready, waiting for the raptors to approach. Being tactical geniuses of a calibre known only to such leaders as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, the raptors sneak up on him from all directions. Although I sympathise with the poor bloke, it’s impossible not to love the raptors’ ingenuity and style. They corner their prey, with one velociraptor forcing them to move whilst the others trap them on all sides. It’s awesome enough the first time around, but it’s a recurring motif in all the films and it’s always hilarious to see the “oh shit” look appear on the character’s face when they work out that they’re surrounded.

They’re such good tacticians that, in the latest instalment of the franchise, INGEN actually want to use them as “a living weapon” in the army. Not gonna lie, I think there would be a lot less warfare in the world if we had velociraptors to fight for us. There would probably be a lot less people in the world too, but, y’know, keep it in the small print.

“Team work makes the dream work.” – V. Raptor, 1993.

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  1. They don’t give a shit about anything.

One thing I learned from these films is that the raptors are way too cool to let anything slow them down or stand in their way. They are nearly impervious to bullets. Solid metal doors mean nothing to them. A T. Rex is a minor menace. They take it all in their stride.

More to the point, they have absolutely zero time for bullshit. They stroll around Isla Nublar like they own the place. Ever wonder why they’re so fast? It’s because they don’t waste energy by chasing fucks to give (they’re also agile, lightweight and aerodynamic to prevent air resistance as they run, but I won’t bore you with science…). Basically, they haven’t got the time or patience for haters – and you shouldn’t give them the time of day either. Surround yourself with positive people who motivate and inspire you! Or, alternatively, surround yourself with velociraptor bodyguards.

Note: these are not his bodyguards.

Note: these are not his bodyguards.

  1. They got that gender equality on lock!

Everybody is equal in the raptor squad. In the first film, like the rest of the dinosaurs in the park, all the raptors are female. This prevents them from reproducing without supervision. In The Lost World and Jurassic Park III, eggs are discovered on Isla Sorna, so evidently those sex-changing tree frog genomes were working. This leads me to believe that the raptor crew in the third film is mixed-gender. In Jurassic World, Owen Grady’s Riot Raptors (not their official title) are led by Blue, the pack beta. She’s pretty cool – she kicks some serious Indominus ass. She needs to chill sometimes, potentially, but who can blame her?  Girl’s got responsibilities, bro.

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The Vampire – Horror’s Most Feminist Monster?

I read this article earlier. It’s a deconstruction of the vampire genre from a feminist perspective, from the 19th century novel “Carmilla” to the 2014 film “Only Lovers Left Alive”. Genevieve Valentine asks whether the vampire is horror’s most feminist monster. http://thedissolve.com/features/exposition/964-how-the-vampire-became-films-most-feminist-monster/ It’s a very interesting essay. I love seeing film and literature considered from a feminist viewpoint; I’m thinking of setting up an archive for it on this blog.