What makes too many horror fans truly afraid and uncomfortable?
If a sampling of some reviews of the new Astron 6/Troma Entertainment film FATHER'S DAY is in any way representative then the answer is: Naked men.
Does this surprise you? Expecting to see me talk about grown men scared stiff by the unrelenting nihilism of A SERBIAN FILM or the latest video blasphemy? Nope. The thing that really inspires a squirming, visceral fear – a disturbance – seems to be a few naked dudes. Scared stiff starts to look more like a fear of their own stiffness at seeing nude men on display. At the very least, the reaction has given more legs to the notion of a weird double standard in our society: Female nudity is acceptable and titillating. Men's nudity is shameful and a source of discomfort.
FATHER'S DAY features some really intense scenes of man on man rape and genital mutilation, the latter being accomplished with prosthetic props. There are also 2 scenes where you see naked men with their real penises, no props, no gore, just dudes naked in the context of a scene. Now I get cringing and wincing at the genital mutilation, anybody could do that and be blameless. Who likes to see genitals mutilated? That stuff is normally reserved for good times, not torture. Hell, I brought up the mutilations being cringe worthy in my own review. I also get being shocked by the rape: it's rape, the day it doesn't strike a nerve with us collectively is the day this society is done for.
What I don't understand is the uncomfortable shifting around and the outright revulsion you will hear for the scenes where you just see regular naked men. I also utterly fail to grasp why the man on man rape in this movie is considered more shocking or brutal – and therefore worthy of special warnings – than the rape of a woman. These things just don't make sense to me yet they seem to keep popping up in reviews.
"The reactionary homophobia and misogyny that we've seen since the release is pretty staggering, and we see it in many of the positive reviews for FATHER'S DAY as well as the negative." Says Conor Sweeney of the filmmaking collective behind FATHER'S DAY.
Adam Brooks has a slightly different perspective: "I wouldn't say the homophobic reactions to FATHER'S DAY were overwhelming, it just started to creep up. One after another, horror critics saying they could have done without all the dick and man on man action and then eventually saying they almost turned it off after the hundredth dick or ass rape or whatever."
Could this be the case? Let's take a look at some quotes from reviews found online and see if there isn't something to this "double standard":
"The titillation factor is also present. Ahab's sister Chelsea is a stripper so there is plenty of the bouncy on display since several sequences play out within the strip club. We are even introduced to a half-naked stripper with a very large chainsaw. Not all the nudity puts a smile on your face either (you may want to keep that in mind)."
- Zman, HorrorNews.net
Yikes! Zman here managed to demonstrate the double standard in action in a single paragraph! Great job, Zman! Let's give him the benefit of the doubt for the moment and say he's warning us about the "bad nudity" in the rape scenes but you can easily read this another way and many have, I'm sure.
Is Zman a bigot who wants some gay kid to come read his review and get the impression that female nudity is awesome and male nudity is repellent? Does he want the kid to close his browser window feeling even shittier about himself? I highly doubt it, he's probably a nice guy, has gay people in his life that he loves and would be ashamed of this kind of a message if he were aware it was having this kind of negative impact. That is what is so gut-wrenchingly awful about it: this fear and discomfort is so built into us it just weaves its way into our lives quietly.
"A lot of the movie was centered around male rape so there is a lot of male nudity so if that offends you then this may not be your type of movie. There is a strip club as one of the main set pieces, so there is a lot of chick nudity to help balance it out. There is also a really bizarre semi graphic hetero sex scene thrown in for good measure."
- Jason , Horrorphilia
This is a great example of the "warning". It's like Jason here is saying "Listen guys, I'm alright with my sexuality and all that but hey, if you have some issues I understand that and as a service to your sexual dysfunction let me warn you about this movie."
It's also a shining example of the notion that the tits in the movie negate the dick as if there isn't a sizable portion of the human population who would see that in reverse.
"This isn't your usual over the top gore and broad humor often seen in Troma films; this is a level of depravity rarely achieved in cinema."
- Ain't it Cool News
Now here is where things get...subtextual. On the surface this appears to be a totally innocuous observation, but what does it really mean? I've seen a lot of gory films. I've seen a lot of gory Troma films. Does FATHER'S DAY have gore that really deserves to be considered "a level of depravity rarely achieved in cinema"? Maybe AICN is talking about the overall concept of the Fuchman character, the father-raping cannibal killer? That's pretty depraved, except we've seen all kinds of horrible rapists in cinema, the main difference being their victims tended to be women.
Once again the implication that can be read here is that the extra layer of depravity comes from the homosexual dimension of the film. Conventional social wisdom seems to tell us ass rape is somehow in a worse class of rape than plain old rape, but does that really make any sense at all? Has no one at AICN seen THE MEN BEHIND THE SUN, SALO or COME AND SEE? Those movies are "depravity rarely achieved in cinema".
So what am I to conclude is so depraved here? What "isn't your usual" about it? It almost sounds like the problem might be naked men and sexual violence directed by a man against a man because damned if that is "the usual" in movies. Sexual violence against women is routine at this point – consider exactly what that says about us and our media.
"Between the graphic anal rape scenes and the unchecked brutality delivered to penises of all shapes and sizes, it's sure to make some viewers very uncomfortable..."
- Beyond Hollywood
More "warning" boilerplate here, but at least in this case it is warning about sexual violence, not just a warning about the presence of penises.
Oh-the-horror.com features a Skin Scale as part of their rating system. On the stalwart and trustworthy Skin Scale, FATHER'S DAY scores two sets! Two sets of what, you ask? Why tits of course, what else would you measure a Skin Scale with? They even provide a handy graphic of some scantily clad ladies with...you guessed it...TITS.
Look out now, here comes Horrorview's Sinferno:
"Even writing about this thing, investing a few minutes of hard thought into this film (which is a lot more than they spent when they made it) is an exquisite and demeaning pain to me, like being one of the poor Fathers that were senselessly ass raped in this film.
Did my words put you off just now, the hint of generous scenes of unrated ass rape? If not, it's got scenes of a small child being knifed to the eyeballs, a matter of fact confession by God himself where he admits that he is also the Devil, and a scene where a (human looking) demon child is brutally stomped to death by the very main character protagonist 'heros' who helped create it (through incest) a few scenes earlier.
There is one pivotal scene with illustrates how wrong this film is on all levels. In one scene, Ahab is apparently seduced by his own biological sister Chelsea. As he mounts her from the rear, she mysteriously changes into 'The Fuchman'.
I can't imagine who will actually enjoy this thing except maybe for aspiring gay serial killers who hate organized religion and a coherent plot in a movie. All others please steer clear of this 'ass Troma'."
Sinferno, man of principles and great piety, gives FATHER'S DAY one star. The site gives 4 stars (out of 5) to the I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE remake. A skimming of the reviews Sinferno has written for the site show a history of almost exclusively reviewing fetish porn, horror-erotica and cheerleaders vs. chainsaw wielding maniac movies. You can't make irony that delicious in a kitchen, kids.
Was there one review in particular that bothered the makers of the film? Oh yes, almost unanimously it was the Dread Media podcast. Take a listen here:
"I was listening to a podcast review the other day where these two guys lumped in the non-violent, general male nudity with the disturbing, violent, rape scene nudity. That's not only incredibly juvenile, it's pretty sick. They complained that there were "way too many cocks" in the movie, and that it "filled their quota" for the next while, whatever that means. There are, count them, two real dicks in the movie and two prosthetic. There are about fifteen naked women in FATHER'S DAY."
"There are two man-rape scenes in father's day and one of them is in a montage. The male nudity amounts to maybe thirty seconds of a ninety-eight minute movie and is easily outweighed by the female nudity. Horror fans are supposed to want to be shocked and horrified so it's funny when you hear what these same people think 'goes too far'." Adam said with respect to the podcast.
I know what I personally found the most troubling about this review is how casual it was and how much I believe the hosts of the show are probably a nice bunch of guys who certainly don't want to hurt anyone, yet here it is: they cheer for tits and obsess over the dicks and how gross they were. What's the message to the gay audience? To the female audience?
This is all part of a lingering homophobia, albeit typically a dressed up and polite strain of it as outright bigotry is no longer acceptable in polite society - it's all about crypto-bigotry now.
"If you are watching a movie with cock in it and you don't say anything about it, it seems you must be a closeted homosexual, otherwise you would point out that this movie has cock in it! You would be bothered by the cock! It's all very silly to me and we took a lot of pleasure in turning the usual repertoire of these films on its head, for every girl we see naked, we felt we should see a man naked as well. For every violent act towards a woman, we felt there should be a worse violent act towards a man." Says Matt Kennedy, another member of the collective.
"Conor and I grew up in a town where the editor of one of the local newspapers did a page on how BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN is ruining the masculine image of the cowboy that John Wayne created and made so dear to all of our hearts. We are no strangers to homophobia. Many times people from our hometown categorized us as being weird because of the content of our films and I once heard about us being referred to as Matt and Conor Kennedy (as if we were a married gay couple). So all of this considered, the reactions to Father's Day come as little surprise to me. "
Aren't we better than this, horror fans? Are we not among the first people who know what it's like to be a little different, to know that we are drawn to things that powerful elements of our society don't approve of? Don't we all kind of know that singular loneliness reserved for people who just don't fit in in the way we are expected to?
I'd think that would tend to make us a pretty tolerant group of people and I think for the most part you won't find a more open and tolerant subculture, yet the roots of this fear run deep.
It's simple: penises and gay people exist and if tits are acceptable titillation-fodder, so's a cock. It isn't just straight white kids who watch these movies you know, there are gay men and women and other diverse groups who share our love of movies and the horror subculture so can we please finally get together and make them feel welcome?
This also means we need to call out intolerance when we see it and make the point that it isn't acceptable to us and we aren't going to let it pass without mention. Remember, I don't believe these people are frothing bigots (except maybe that Sinferno guy), I just think they don't have a full awareness of the implications of what they are saying. I've said things like "This movie is gay" a thousand times; it wasn't until I heard perspectives of gay people who listen to that stuff that I realized how potentially damaging that kind of language is. We can say all we want we don't mean it "that way" or that words like "fag" have evolved to mean something else now, but the fact remains that "fag" is a slur against gay people and telling people I don't mean it "like that" gives not one ounce of comfort to some people and shields the use of the words by real bigots. Remember, your motives and meaning are often not apparent to the casual listener and are kind of irrelevant. Why should anyone tolerate slurs by just assuming they were meant in some benign new definition? Does it not seem like blaming the victim to say words were taken the wrong way?
This needs to end. I expected this double standard in mainstream film. I expected it from the kind of people who pay to see Katherine Heigl movies and 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS. I didn't expect it from us and that's why I'm calling on everyone who reads this to help make our horror community leaders in acceptance and in challenging bigotry. We're seen as the freaks and mutants of the world too, let's agree it stops here for us or admit we'd betray our own principles as human beings rather than look at a penis. How ridiculous and sad would that be?