You’re a thoughtful, intelligent kind of guy. You’re interested in issues of gender, and masculinity in particular. Who knows, you’ve maybe even read a book or two. Well done. I’ve read quite a lot of books about gender too, and yes, I have learned a thing or two from them. Take Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, for example, in which I learned that gender is performative: no identity exists behind the acts that supposedly “express” gender, and these acts constitute, rather than express, the illusion of the stable gender identity.
OK I’m lying, I cribbed that from Wikipedia. In truth I got to about p.50 of Gender Trouble and realised that I hadn’t taken in a word of what had been said because I was daydreaming about the zombie apocalypse. I already knew gender was performative. I learned that aged about 15 when I first saw the Hammer schlock Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde. You see, Judith Butler is all very well, but her books would be so much more engaging with a gratuitous shower scene and a couple of spectacular decapitations.
It would be a stretch to say that everything I know about gender I learned from trashy horror movies, but hell, it’s Halloween, so I’ll say it anyway: Everything I know about gender I learned from trashy horror movies. Feminists picked up on this long ago. You could paper the walls of the Bates Motel with every undergraduate or doctoral thesis that has been written on feminist horror movies: Alien; Cat People; Ginger Snaps; you know the script. Much less has been written on what the genre tells us about men and masculinities. You might conclude that men have got better things to be doing with their lives, but I’m living proof that at least one of us does not. So to guide you through the spookiest night of the year, here are the top eight lessons for men to be gleaned from monster movies.
8. Look after your mum (but don’t be a dick about it)
Key text: Braindead (aka Dead Alive)
Mothers, eh? They go through sheer hell carrying you and bearing you into the world, raise you and nurture you for a couple of decades or so, and then just when you’re ready to hook up with a nice girl and slash the apron strings, she gets herself bitten by a Sumatran rat-monkey and goes all zombie on your ass. We’ve all been there.
In this 1992 Kiwi gorefest by Peter Jackson (who doesn’t seem to make zombie movies these days, so officially residing in the ‘where are they now?’ file), Lionel tries to do the right thing. He stands up for Mum even when she’s chewing on a local German Shepherd. “Oh my God your mother ate my dog!” his neighbour exclaims. “Not all of it” Lionel retorts defensively.
Inevitably though, there comes a time when you have to take a firm stance. When your beloved mum crosses a line, which may be meddling with your love life, digging out those embarrassing baby bath photographs, or feasting on the gizzards of your friends, it is time to stand your ground. Assert your independence, tell her where you stand, and if all else fails, dismember her zombie minion hordes with a lawnmower.
7. Trust your buddies
Key text: American Werewolf in London.
David and Jack are a couple of good guys who do good things together as good mates should. They go travelling together, go rambling in the wilderness, stop off for a pint in the local pub, get savaged by a werewolf on the way home. As you do.
When this happens to you, it is important to remember that you shouldn’t forget your friendship, even when your pal has returned to haunt you as a reanimated corpse. Friends give the best advice, and they’re often speaking from experience, so when your buddy advises you that you’re about to turn into a wolf and munch your way through the next full moon, he may just know what he’s talking about. Listen to him.
6. Beware the beast inside.
Key text: The Wolf Man
And talking of lycanthropy, 1941 original The Wolf Man is perhaps the creepiest horror movie ever made, and not in a good way. The real action begins when Lon Chaney Jr. spies on the lovely Evelyn Ankers through a telescope as she tries on jewellery in her bedroom. He then crosses the road to her antiques shop and asks to buy a pair of earrings which he now knows she keeps in her bedroom. Dude, that is not cool. Really, not cool at all. What were you thinking? He then asks her out—three times. She says no—three times. He ignores her and sneaks up behind her at night after work and demands she comes with him. At the risk of becoming boring, DUDE, THIS IS NOT COOL! If you behave like this, frankly you have nobody to blame but yourself when you get bitten by Bela Lugosi and start howling at the moon in a savage, hairy, mouth-foaming torrent of animalistic lust and end up getting brained with a silver-top cane. You’ll get no sympathy from me.
5. Looks ain’t everything
Key text: Nosferatu
It is a truth universally acknowledged that chicks dig vampires. I’ve never really seen it myself, but a billion screaming Twilight fans can’t be wrong. The bloodsucking undead certainly get the dishiest casting – before Robert Pattison there were Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, and before those Christopher Lee and Bela Lugosi brought tall, handsome, brooding sexuality to their piercing glare.
But the original (and still the best) vampire movie was Nosferatu, which portrayed a very different vampiric ideal. I had a girlfriend once who was obsessed with the imagery of this film, and she would go weak at the knees when the menacing but charismatic Max Schreck crept up the shadowy staircase. If some women weren’t attracted to pasty-faced goblins with wonky ears and bad teeth the world would be a duller place, and I’d probably still be a virgin.
4. Hate begets hatreds
Key text: Candyman
I’m not the biggest fan of slasher movies, which mostly exist to teach kids that if you have sex, drink beer and smoke pot you will certainly be disembowelled by an axe-wielding maniac sometime in the next 90 minutes. Call me a wishy-washy liberal, but that seems a tad excessive to me. I do however make an exception for Candyman. Not only is the eponymous anti-hero the dangnabbin’ coolest damned mass-murdering ghost in all of cinema, he’s also the most sympathetic. In all honesty, if I’d been a slave who was gruesomely tortured to death for no greater sin than falling in love with a woman of the wrong colour, I’d be pretty damned pissed off about it too, even if it was 200 years ago. No, I won’t “get over it” thank you very much. If you need me to explain this in any more detail, just look in a mirror and say my name five times. If I don’t appear, try saying ‘Candyman’ instead. I dare you.
3. Love doesn’t conquer all, power tools do.
Key text: The Evil Dead
This really shouldn’t need spelling out, but when you’ve got a big old crush on a girl and you’ve managed to persuade her to come with you and your friends to a cabin in the woods, then she gets possessed by the demons you’ve accidentally released from the depths of hell and loses all interest in you, you must accept it is over. Move on. Don’t be a damned fool about it. When the time comes to bury that relationship, don’t be half-assed about it. Get jiggy with the chainsaw and put that baby out of its demonic misery sooner rather than later, or no good will come of it in the end. I should point out I am speaking metaphorically here. Very, very, very metaphorically indeed.
2. Sex workers are people too. Even when they are zombies.
Key text: Zombie Strippers
You might imagine that Zombie Strippers starring Jenna Jameson and Robert Englund is a trashy sexploitation flick mostly made up of lengthy stripping and soft-porn sequences, possibly concluding with an eye-popping reinvention of the legendary Bangkok ping-pong ball trick. Well guess what? You’d be completely right. But as it happens (and I suspect entirely accidentally) Zombie Strippers is also the most ball-bustingly feminist trashy sexploitation flick ever made.
Don’t believe me? When one stripper at the seedy underground Rhino Strip Club is infected with a military-grade zombie virus, her performances take on a certain demonic quality. The customers love it. Her tips go through the roof as not only various parts of her costume but various parts of her body drop to the floor. Seeing what has happened, the other strippers start to queue up to become infected too. In order to become better at their work, they quite literally dehumanize themselves, by choice. Whether or not it looks like a smart choice to you or me is irrelevant. Should you be so bold as to try to “save” them from themselves, you’re likely end up as a zombie stripper supper.
1. Be a good dad.
Key text: Frankenstein.
The author of the original Frankenstein novel, Mary Shelley, was raised by a single father after her mother, the feminist pioneer Mary Wollstonecraft, died in childbirth. That’s a pretty heavy psychological burden to carry through life and when aged only 19, the younger Mary poured all her anguish into the classic parable of birth and death.
James Whale’s magnificent 1931 adaptation captured the essence of Shelley’s book and presented it as a devastating morality tale about bad parenting. There is no greater honour, and no greater responsibility, than bringing a life into the world. If you fail to do your duty, if you reject your progeny and cast it out into the world adrift, unsupported and unprepared, people might consider it a monster, and you little better. Don’t come whining to me when an angry mob of villagers turn up at your castle with flaming torches and pitchforks. You asked for it.
Author’s note: Neither the author nor the publisher endorse or recommend the use of dismemberment, immolation or psychogenic exorcism as a lifestyle option or a solution to relationship problems. Please ensure all friends, lovers or acquaintances are confirmed zombies before decapitation. Always read the instructions before handling a chainsaw. Happy Halloween.