Wednesday, May 14, 2008

You Can't Joke About Rape, Rape Isn't Funny

I've heard it said that there are certain topics you just don't joke about, rape being very high up on the list. But every once in awhile it's fun to break with tradition and thumb our collective noses at the norms of society. Such was the case for myself and a group of others last night as we attended a theatrical screening of the 1972 Wes Craven classic, "Last House on the Left".

LHotL tells the story of Mari Collingwood, a young girl turning 17 who plans to celebrate this event by venturing into "the city" to see the band Bloodlust with her friend Phyllis. Her parents, though not enthralled at the thought of their young daughter going to what is essentially a ghetto area to witness a band most famous for dismembering a chicken onstage (but they only did that once!), are nevertheless a progressive and caring lot who lovingly lavish their child with affection before sending her on her way.

Mari and Phyllis are ultimately good kids, as evidenced by the scenes of them playing by a pond and enjoying ice cream together, but they still like to get into a little mischief here and there and decide on the way to the concert to get their hands on some marijuana, so that they may better enjoy both the show and their evening. Keeping their eyes open for someone who might be holding, they finally manage to spot a young man named Junior and follow him back to his place so that they can score.

However, had Mari and Phyllis had been as astute as the audience, they would have noticed the warning coming over the car radio earlier advising them of a gang of escaped convicts who have already left a swath of death and destruction in their wake. (At least a priest, two nuns, some guards and even a dog have paid the price for standing in their way.) It goes without saying WHOSE apartment Mari and Phyllis end up at.

Soon thereafter the psychotic gang, made up of ringleader Krug, creepy Weasel, psychotic Sadie and Krug's heroin addicted son, Junior, decide to kidnap the two girls with the intention of raping and murdering them both. Unfortunately their car breaks down (right outside Mari's house, no less!) and they take the girls into the woods to commence with the good times. Good times, of course, meaning the 20 minutes of rape and violence that the movies delves into. The girls are tortured, dehumanized and violated before being violently dispatched of. After cleaning up the gang stop by the nearest residence (Mari's house) for an evening of rest and relaxation.

Mari's parents, however, soon catch onto the fact that A) Mari is dead and B) this gang killed her, and launch into a Culkinesque scheme of setting traps around the house and then killing off the gang one by one in progressively more savage manners.

By the time it's all over, the entire gang has been killed and poor Mari's death has been avenged. Queue the house lights, everybody shuffle out.

Part of what makes the film interesting is the juxtaposition of barbaric imagery with lighthearted moments and music. There is a side story of two bumbling cops (one played by a young Cobra Kai leader) attempting to make their way to Mari's house to track down the gang. Between running out of gas, hitchhiking, and a misadventure involving a truckload of chickens, they manage to lighten the mood whenever the rape and torture gets too heavy.

The music itself seems oddly out of place, with songs written and performed by David Hess, the actor who plays Krug. The songs describe the action on screen, down to mentioning raping and killing the girls, but is all done with banjos, acoustic guitars and kazoos. It's all so whimsical that you can't help but chuckle.

Of course, this film being 36 years old ensured that everybody attending the screening last night had seen it multiple times, so it was not unexpected for people to be loud or raucous during the course of its presentation.

I attended the viewing with Captain Colitis, and before we had even made our way into the theater the rape jokes had started. The presenters were offering the opportunity to get your picture taken in a recreated scene from the movie. (For once I declined, as I was being entertained in the line by a magician.) More than once it was mentioned that tonight was to be a celebration of rape, and I joined in the fun by loudly announcing that, "Tonight is a good night for rape!"

Any time the goofy music would kick in during the film, I would sing improvised songs of rape to accompany the on screen action. I heard jokes aplenty from others in the theater as well, and laughter abounded throughout the screening.

I couldn't help but get a chuckle at the thought of a hundred people walking out of a theater showing a RAPE movie with big grins, all having had a right jolly old time watching the horrific events unfold.

To be honest, it's things like this that make me love the horror community. Yes, the subject matter is dark and no, none of us actually find humor in rape. But the fact of the matter is it's a movie and nothing more. It's not a fictionalized account of reality, and nobody was actually injured in its making.

This was nothing more than a gathering of people there to enjoy a rare treat, a bonafide horror classic on the big screen. It is an honor to share that experience with a group of people who are there for the sheer love of both film and horror.

Last House on the Left was part of the Splatter Cinema series of films at the Plaza Theater in Atlanta. Every month they present a horror classic on the big screen in full 35 mm glory. This is not the first time I've written about them, nor will it be the last. Come check it out sometime, it really is a great time.


Saradevil said...

I think with a film like this it is being able to share a collective experience in which justice is served in a way that, while unrealistic, is satisfying to the viewer. How often do we wish for revenge in an unjust society and see revenge undeserved. At least the movies provide the escape we want.

E said...

You are completely correct in that assessment. A large portion of the appeal in this genre is the come-uppance that the ne'er do wells receive at the end of the film(s). Justice is rarely meted swiftly and appropriately in this country, so there is the thrill of both efficacy and immediacy. In many cases, these films also empower the woman by giving them power and control over their attackers by the end of it all.