On movie sex and movie love...

Tag: 3/5 (Page 1 of 2)

Carrie

  • YEAR: 1976
  • DIRECTOR: Brian De Palma
  • KEY ACTORS: Sissy Spacek,  Piper Laurie
  • CERTIFICATE: 18
  • IMDB SCORE: 7.4
  • ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 93% 

SEX SCORE: 3/5

✔️ This is a tough watch, but I still think it is rewatchable.
❌ But I don’t want to fuck the cast. The 70s styling is too much for a start!
❌ And I will admit to fantasies of telekinetic powers, but I don’t think those are the kind of fantasies this questions means…!
✔️ This absolutely passes the Bechdel Test. With so many women characters, I’d be concerned if it failed!
✔️ And I will give it mark for sex positivity. Mrs White’s rants about sin and judgement are correctly seen as bullshit  

As always, this contains spoilers so watch the film before you read on…

STREAMING: Virgin TV Go (free with subscription), Amazon Prime (free with MGM subscription upgrade, rent £3.49, buy £4.99), YouTube (from £3.49). For a full list of streaming options, check out JustWatch.com

The poster for Carrie, showing her covered in blood and standing in front of a fire

I had grand plans to write a few Halloween posts this year but October got away from me somewhat and I didn’t find time to finish any! I’m afraid that you’ll have to wait for next year to hear my thoughts on scary movies such as The Addams Family or perhaps American Psycho. But today is Smutathon – the annual charity erotic writing marathon that I have been taking part in for the last five years – so I thought I would at least finish one Halloween post during this frantic day of writing!

For 2021, we are raising money for two charities that do incredible work to support trans people – Gendered Intelligence in the UK and Trans Lifeline in USA. To steal Quinn’s words from our launch page, ‘these are charities who your hard-earned cash will really make a difference to. With the hate campaign against trans people the media are waging and such a concerted effort to roll back the rights of trans people this year, it feels more important than ever to Do Something Practical about All This Transphobia. Especially if you’re cisgender, this is a really practical way for you to show up for trans people right now.’

Please check out Smutathon and donate to our charities. So much incredible erotica and writing has been shared already and it is only going to get better! Follow @SmutForACause and the hashtag #Smutathon2021 for all the filth and deliciousness shared this year…


Of all genres, horror is one of the most clearly misogynistic. Pages and pages have been written on the subject, including by me, and the question doesn’t tend to be ‘why are horror movies so misogynistic?’ and instead we accept this as fact and so ask ‘why do women like these movies when they are so misogynistic?’ Obviously, there are feminist horror movies – Jennifer’s Body and Ginger Snaps are two that I’ve reviewed – but they remain the minority, and tropes about virginal final girl survivors and terrifying mothers persist. 

To me, the answer to why horror movies are still so appealing seems to be because they often tell stories about issues that affect women, albeit in a hugely hyperbolic and often frankly horrific way. But in an industry that remains woefully cis and white and male, these stories aren’t often told in a way that we can recognise without some sort of Patriarchy-pleasing sugar-coating. All women (cis and trans) and people who experience misogyny are at risk of violence, particularly from men. Those of us that choose motherhood know that it is a transformative and not always easy time. Puberty and menstruation can be emotionally and physically difficult. And sometimes it’s helpful to see the horror and violence in these life events that we’re supposed to just accept with a smile…

Shelley Stamp, a film professor at University of California, Santa Cruz, talked about exactly this appeal of horror in The Guardian for Carrie’s 40th anniversary in 2016, explaining that ‘the same qualities which lead some to label horror as misogynist may be the things which explain its appeal to women. “Horror, more than any other film genre, deals openly with questions of gender, sexuality and the body,” she said. “Yes, femininity, female sexuality, and the female body are often presented as ‘monstrous’. But that doesn’t mean that women aren’t interested in watching and thinking about these issues. In many ways horror films bring to the fore issues that are otherwise unspoken in patriarchal culture – which itself constructs female sexuality as monstrous.”’

So what about Carrie? A movie that easily passes the Bechdel Test as all the key characters are women and is about puberty and the trauma of being brought up as a teenage girl? Could that still be misogynistic?

Carrie tells the story of a young girl, Carrie (Spacek), who doesn’t really fit in at school due in part to her mother’s (Laurie) extreme religious views and is often the target of mockery and bullying by her peers. One day, she starts her period in the shower after PE and, as she has had no sex education, she thinks she is dying. Her classmates mock her terror and throw menstrual products at her, prompting her teacher to ban the ringleaders from attending the prom. Feeling guilty for causing such distress, one of the girls, Sue, persuades her boyfriend Tommy to ask Carrie instead. She goes and has a fairytale time, being crowned prom queen and finally feeling normal…until jilted bully Nancy, who blames Carrie for missing out on the prom, empties a bucket of pig’s blood all over Carrie. Humiliated and traumatised, Carrie unleashes her telekinetic powers that have been teased throughout the movie and kills, well, everyone.

Carrie, walking home from school

Rewatching Carrie to write this review, I realised that the story really does represent a wide range of traumas that those of us who were brought up as women experience during our teenage years, admittedly with the nuance of a sledgehammer, but it did feel good that they are acknowledged. School can be fucking traumatic! Starting your period can be awful, even if you are expecting it and understand it, and was there ever better proof of the need for comprehensive sex education! I shuddered at the idea that pupils at the school could only attend the prom if they had a date as I would likely have never gone to any of mine and I sympathised with Carrie feeling so isolated from her peers that she shrinks further away. The cool girls are always an impregnable cliche and, unless you find your own group, it can be very lonely on the outside.

And while it is hyperbolic to the extreme, I did find myself sympathising with Carrie’s mother’s panic for Carrie while she was waiting for her date for the prom. ‘He’s not going to come,’ she wails, tearing out her hair and scratching her face. ‘They’re all going to laugh at you!’ What happened to her for this to trigger such a violent response? To me, she was clearly terrified for her daughter and did seem like she simply wanted to protect her from whatever awful experience she herself had had. It felt like a glimpse beneath the evangelistic exterior to see that there might have been a specific trauma that caused Mrs White to feel such shame and become so disgusted by sin, turning to God for salvation. Was it her disastrous marriage to Carrie’s father or something more? Which is why it is so devastating that she was right – Carrie was humiliated and they did laugh at her – but Mrs White’s re-trauma has dissociated her from reality and she thinks killing Carrie is the only way to save her.

Carrie's mother, holding her daughter and brandishing a knife

Using magic or superpowers as a metaphor for trauma isn’t a new idea – Practical Magic links demonic possession with abuse, the ritual sacrifice in Jennifer’s Body stands in for sexual assault – but thinking about it in this way does change how I look at Carrie too. Is she a victim or a monster? Is she the hero or the beast?

When writing about horror from a feminist perspective, Jude Doyle’s book Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers has become my main reference so I was thrilled that he had written about Carrie in a recent newsletter. He has taught me so much about the horror movie tropes that surround the transition from childhood to womanhood; from innocent child who needs to be saved to witch or monster who needs to be killed. And, of course, Carrie is exactly a movie about this. Carrie literally gets her first period as the movie begins and, as Doyle writes in their newsletter, she ‘grows from a child to a woman, just as she grows from a victim to a monster, but the story argues these are essentially the same thing. Every step Carrie takes toward being a woman is a step she takes away from humanity.’ Cool.

Bloodsoaked Carrie, walking through the town

But what is different about Carrie is that the ‘misogyny almost always comes from female characters’ – her abusive mother, the girls at school. As Doyle wrote, Carrie thinks there’s something rotten about the whole gender,’ emphasising how it believes that ‘womanhood is connected to violence.’ And blood. Menstrual blood and the blood of violence. The violence between female characters in Carrie saturates the whole movie, from the astonishing number of times the gym teacher slaps her pupils to the violence Mrs White bestows on her daughter in the name of God. The men just seem to play along!

Of course, whether they are victims or perpetrators, all these women are still punished and they all die. They may be powerful and monstrous and have the ability to exact revenge or force their will and fucking feel their anger, but they aren’t allowed to change the status quo and keep that power. The Patriarchy cannot allow powerful women to survive or succeed. To steal a long quote from Jude Doyle, because they’re incredible, ‘if you know, in your gut, that women have good reason to be angry at you, women’s anger can never be anything but threatening. We valorise women who are soft and childlike, women who are victimised and helpless, women who know their place, because, if those women were in a position to demand justice, we might not emerge unscathed.

Which is why Carrie and other horror movies have to be seen as misogynistic despite the potentially feminist themes. It’s like Rosemary’s Babya stunningly realistic portrayal of the dangers of motherhood and gaslighting by the people we trust, but wrapped up as horror to show how helpless and inevitable this suffering is. Which, of course, is terrifying.

And despite how well (or not) these traditionally feminine issues are portrayed, there is no doubt that Carrie was made by a man simply because there is an extraordinary amount of nudity and objectification – naked girls running around the changing rooms in the beginning, Carrie seen topless for entirely avoidable reasons. I honestly don’t understand why they needed to show so much skin, except for male gratification and I don’t see how the nudity furthered the plot. I gather from IMDB that De Palma shot a TV-friendly version of the changing room scene, which begs the question about why the nude one was necessary in the first place. Actually, IMDB was full of pretty creepy trivia, including how De Palma used nude shots of Spacek (with her consent? Who knows…) to persuade the other girls to appear naked when they were hesitant and how he often invited Steven Spielberg to the set, telling him that there were ‘a lot of cute girls down here.’ Gross. PJ Soles, who played one of the bully girls, told the AV Club that Spielberg would ‘hang out and he’d ask us all out and none of us said yes, except for Amy. So she ended up marrying him.’ Grooosssss.

Roger Ebert described how Carrie isn’t a science-fiction movie with a tacked-on crisis, but the study of a character we know and understand,’ and Carrie herself ‘isn’t another stereotyped product of the horror production line; she’s a shy, pretty, and complicated high school senior who’s a lot like kids we once knew.’ Owen Gleiberman for Entertainment Weekly thought Carrie was ‘the strangest, most exhilarating thing: a googly-eyed romantic teen-dream-turned-nightmare…It’s also a rapturously lyrical Cinderella-goes-to-the-prom fairy tale that holds its sincerity up to the light, mercilessly mocks it, and still, somehow, believes in it.’ And I think that’s why I love it and why I find the ending so traumatic and conflicting. I know Carrie. I recognise her, maybe I am her in some ways. Just (regrettably?) without the telekinetic powers.

Carrie at the prom, before the blood is dropped, looking so happy!

Because I love how Carrie comes into herself throughout the movie – she discovers how she can be beautiful, she begins to discover how good it feels to be included, and she doesn’t really change in order to discover this. There’s no big make-over; she simply stands taller and accepts herself as she is. It also really appeals to me that she learns to use her power to be strong, rather than just protect herself. She stops being a victim; she stops being weak and takes control. Sure, she is ‘capable of doing terrible things, after many terrible things have been done to her’ and perhaps she should be punished for that but, to quote Doyle again, ‘the way men treat women isn’t terribly peaceful, either; we’re just used to it by now.’

And so it’s a shame that this great discovery of her power means that she has to be a monster.

Carrie covered in blood and surrounded by flames

NEXT TIME… the return of my Disney Princess series with Robin Hood (who I know isn’t a princess…!)

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Copyright All stills and photos are sourced from MovieStillsDB and CineMaterial, and are the courtesy of their respective production studios and/or distribution companies. Images are intended for educational or editorial use only.

Moana

  • YEAR: 2016
  • DIRECTOR: Ron Clements, John Musker
  • KEY ACTORS: Auli’i Cravalho, Dwayne Johnson
  • CERTIFICATE: PG
  • IMDB SCORE: 7.6
  • ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 95%

SEX SCORE: 3/5

✔️ Interestingly for a movie with a female lead and no romantic storyline, the Bechdel Test is not an easy answer, although this is more related to nuance in the test rather than the movie. Is Gramma her grandmother’s name? Do non-romantic discussions about a man count? Despite these arguments, it’s a clear pass to me!
✔️ But there is no doubt that it is rewatchable. It has the key Disney features of great music, great visuals and inspiring characters, and it’s wonderful!
I don’t want to fuck the cast. Perhaps unlike other Disney movies, Moana is a much less sexualised character and definitely more like a child than some of her predecessors. Which is an important step forward!
❌ And similarly, it didn’t inspire fantasies. It’s just not that kind of movie!
✔️ Is it sex positive? I am going to give it a mark as I can’t find a reason not to. Sex and relationships really aren’t part of the plot but I like that Moana isn’t pressured into marriage and it is feminist and body positive so that’s good enough!

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Beauty and the Beast

  • YEAR: 1991
  • DIRECTOR: Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
  • KEY ACTORS: Robby Benson, Paige O’Hara, Richard White, Angela Lansbury, Jerry Orbach
  • CERTIFICATE: U
  • IMDB SCORE: 8.0
  • ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 94%

SEX SCORE: 3/5

✔️ As a film I’ve easily watched in advance of 40 times, it would be hypocritical of me to say it is not rewatchable.
❓ I want to fuck the cast in fantasy more than reality. Angry men in a scene, yes. Angry men in reality, no. However, Belle is an absolute babe. 
✔️ It did inspire fantasies. So very many. ‘If she doesn’t eat with me, she doesn’t eat at all!’ – do I have to say any more…?
❓ In some senses it is sex positive, mostly in the way it approaches consent, but love and sexual relationships are treated as something for adults, to be understood by adults- as Chip’s questions get brushed aside.
❌ A film with few female conversations leaves little opportunity to ascertain whether it passes the Bechdel Test. Belle is the only human female ‘character’ and only named woman in the film’s dialogue except Mrs Potts. Belle, Mrs Potts and the wardrobe (unnamed) have a conversation about Belle’s bravery for switching places with a man as a result of the actions of a man. Wardrobe also converses with Belle, but this time solely about how good she’ll look for a man.

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Happiest Season

  • YEAR: 2020
  •  DIRECTOR: Clea DuVall
  • KEY ACTORS: Kristen Stewart, Mackenzie Davis, Aubrey Plaza
  • CERTIFICATE: 12
  • IMDB SCORE: 6.8
  • ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 83%

SEX SCORE: 3/5

✔️ Of course this passes the Bechdel Test!
✔️ And I would definitely fuck the cast. I’m pretty much entirely straight and yet I would still definitely fuck either Kristen Stewart or Aubrey Plaza!
❌ But it didn’t inspire fantasies. I’ll admit that sneaking along corridors for secret sex at your parents house is kind of hot, but this is just too awkward…
❌ And the awkwardness means that I don’t think it is rewatchable. I’m not a huge fan of romcoms for exactly that reason and this is too much
✔️ But I will give it a mark for being sex positive – it’s queer positive and inclusive and, eventually, accepting!

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Ginger Snaps

  • YEAR: 2000
  • DIRECTOR: John Fawcett
  • KEY ACTORS: Emily Perkins, Katharine Isabelle
  • CERTIFICATE: 18
  • IMDB SCORE: 6.8
  • ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 89%

SEX SCORE: 3/5

✔️ This definitely passes the Bechdel Test! The two girls talk about a lot that has nothing to do with men!
❌ But it didn’t inspire fantasies. The sex is a bit teenage and a bit, well, violent. There is something inspiring about Ginger, but not as a sexual fantasy…
❌ And I don’t want to fuck the cast. The men aren’t that appealing and, while Ginger is hot, she’s not for me.
✔️ Despite the violence, it is sex positive. It’s a coming of age film like no others, showing the power of women who are in control of their sexuality!
✔️ And it is rewatchable. It’s bizarre and violent and clearly low budget, but it is enthralling!

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A Streetcar Named Desire

YEAR: 1951
DIRECTOR: Elia Kazan
KEY ACTORS: Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh
CERTIFICATE: 15
IMDB SCORE: 8.0
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 98%

SEX SCORE: 3/5
✔️ I definitely want to fuck the cast. Marlon Brando is my ultimate movie star crush, particularly because of this film. His Stanley is an awful, angry man but, damn, no one looks as good in a tight t-shirt. He is stunning.
✔️ So I need to give it a mark for inspiring fantasies as I’ve definitely fantasied about having angry, violent, furniture breaking hot hot sex with Stanley…
✔️ And it passes the Bechdel Test, and does so without difficulty.
❌ But it’s not rewatchable. It’s really quite difficult to watch – it’s intense and upsetting and hard work. I might just watch it for Brando but there are gifs for the best bits so…
❌ And it’s not sex positive. Blanche is literally spoiled and ruined by her promiscuity and ends up in an asylum. I’m not doubting that she’s unwell by that point but it made me uncomfortable how her sexual choices were included among her symptoms.

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Hitch

YEAR: 2005
DIRECTOR: Andy Tennant
KEY ACTORS: Will Smith, Eva Mendes, Kevin James, Amber Valletta
CERTIFICATE: 12A
IMDB SCORE: 6.6
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 68%

SEX SCORE: 3/5
✔️ This is rewatchable. It shouldn’t be. It should have aged very badly and be too annoying to watch now…but it’s still pretty enjoyable!
✔️ I’d definitely fuck the cast! Will Smith may not be at his Independence Day era peak but he’s still looking great and Eva Mendes is stunning. STUNNING!
✔️ And it did inspire fantasies but they’re ones that make me a bit sad now – I would simply fantasise about someone liking me enough to make that much effort like the men in the film. Oh dear…
❌ But it definitely fails the Bechdel Test. I don’t think there are any conversations at all in the film that aren’t about dating!
❌ And I can’t give it a mark for being sex positive. It may be relationship positive and encouraging of sex within a relationship, but casual sex is less acceptable. It’s something desperate woman and sleazy men do, not something good people do. Yeah, not great…

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The Holiday

YEAR: 2006
DIRECTOR: Nancy Meyers
KEY ACTORS: Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Jack Black, Eli Wallach
CERTIFICATE: 12A
IMDB SCORE: 6.9
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 49%

SEX SCORE: 3/5
✔️So the cast are definitely fuckable. I’m not a Jude Law fan as such but, wow, this is extraordinary levels of hotness and Kate Winslet is never better than playing an English Rose
❌ But this film didn’t inspire fantasies. In fact, completely the reverse. I actively didn’t want either of their lives!
❌ This may just be my opinion, but I also don’t think this film is rewatchable. I hate Love Actually and I watch it all the time. I have only seen this twice and that’s too many times!
✔️It does pass the Bechdel test, although I am pretty annoyed that this is another pass because of conversations with children. Adult women can talk too!!
✔️ But I do think it is sex positive. It’s full of romantic cliches but the sexual ones are pretty well handled.

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Love Actually

YEAR: 2003
DIRECTOR: Richard Curtis
KEY ACTORS: Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney
CERTIFICATE: 15
IMDB SCORE: 7.6
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 64%

SEX SCORE: 3/5
✔️ I’m begrudgingly giving it a mark for being rewatchable as I do watch it every year, despite it being a definite hate watch now!
✔️ But this isn’t nearly as begrudgingly I’m giving it a mark for passing the Bechdel Test. In a movie all full of women, the only conversation between named female characters that wasn’t about a man occurred between Emma Thompson and her daughter about being a lobster in the nativity. Wow…
✔️ It’s difficult to decide but I think it is a sex positive film. It’s unfeminist and it’s problematic but it doesn’t really shame its characters particularly for having sex. I don’t think…
❌ I don’t want to fuck the cast, despite how hot many of them were at this time. I just don’t like them enough to fuck them!
❌ And it didn’t inspire any fantasies. Even the romantic fantasies are looking pretty problematic now!

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Basic Instinct

YEAR: 1992
DIRECTOR: Paul Verhoeven
KEY ACTORS: Sharon Stone, Michael Douglas, Jeanne Tripplehorn
CERTIFICATE: 18
IMDB SCORE: 6.9
ROTTEN TOMATOES SCORE: 53%

SEX SCORE: 3/5
Fails the Bechdel test – none of the female characters speak to each other – and it generally portrays women very poorly…
✔️ I’ve not seen this for years but it definitely stands up to a rewatch and I’d be happy to watch it again so, yes, rewatchable!
✔️ I do think the cast are fuckable but this point comes with a caveat. The sex is hot and Sharon Stone is HOT but I really don’t rate Michael Douglas – as an actor or as an attractive lead. I don’t know why but he does nothing for me. And yet…
✔️ It did inspire fantasies – luckily for my husband, not fantasies of murder or manipulation but of sex that hot and of being a women who was in control her own pleasure. Who wouldn’t want that?
❌ But is it sex positive? Yes, it’s hot and explicit and kinky and mainstream and all about female pleasure but it’s kind of homophobic and the women are awful and sex is used as a weapon or threat and there’s the infamous story about Stone not consenting to the upskirting and I just can’t give it the mark…

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