We here at CampBlood.org are no strangers to violence, brutality, and horror. It takes a lot to make these seasoned eyes squirm: Clinton has mentioned he watched Cannibal Holocaust while “eating a full spaghetti dinner” and, as Buzz has discussed time and time again, we hardly bat a Fabulash at the breaking of bones, the eating of flesh, and the dismemberment of various body parts.
Unless … they are private parts.
I have seen way too many horror movies and am far from squeamish. But when violence or brutality is visited upon a penis? GAME OVER. That is a line drawn – at least for me personally – as I love penises and it pains me to see any harm done to one.
I drew this line in the sand after reading A.O. Scott’s article about Kick-Ass and the over-the-top use of violence in recent films. Scott wonders if there are lines moviemakers and audiences have agreed to never cross (which, in his example, could be killing a little girl on screen).
To find out what Kick-Ass has to do with I Spit on Your Grave, Willem Dafoe and our favorite pink bits, keep reading…
He spends time discussing the notorious exploitation horror film I Spit On Your Grave, which broke boundaries in cinematic violence and graphic (gratuitous?) sexual acts. He mentions the violent rape scenes and the eventual “serial revenge,” which were truly disturbing then and still are now. The movie brought violent rape and “serial revenge” into the mainstream horror trope, which – to this day – is still a very haunting device. But one item in the film that Scott overlooks, perhaps because it was so fleeting, is the infamous bathtub castration scene.
When I watched Grave, I was already a bit squeamish and tried to stay strong after viewing such brutality to this woman and relentless rape, after rape, after rape. But with a castration on top of it, things went beyond the aforementioned line.
You see Jennifer Hills grab the knife. You see the knife go down below, underneath the water, to the nether regions. You wait, in the worst suspense, for her to actually use the knife — but, instead, have to deal with the knife lingering around the man’s prized possessions. Then, she exits the tub, the man seems normal, until — BOOM — bright red blood and a scream of pain break the silence.
To quote Bill Murray as John “Bunny” Breckinridge in Ed Wood: “Goodbye, penis.”
Even though you do not even see the penis or the horrific transaction enacted between the knife and the penis, you know it was bad. You know that if that were you, you wouldn’t have just screamed — you would have cried like a little baby until you bled to death.
The castration is nothing new in the pantry of cinematic horror devices, as sexploitation and female revenge films of the 1970s championed this go-to move (like I Spit On Your Grave and Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS). However, since those films, the move has not readily been used (even the extended, graphic castration in Hard Candy ends up not being entirely what was expected).
This, Mr. Scott, is one of the lines moviemakers and audiences have agreed to never – or at least rarely – cross: the castration. Most recently, Lars von Trier used this tactic in a harrowing (extended) scene in Antichrist, where you get up close and personal with William Dafoe’s penis (and eventual lack thereof). This greatly services the film (as well as Charlotte Gainsbourgh’s lurking pudenda) and really establishes a tone of true horror — all because of the brutality toward the penis, among other pink bits.
Beyond Antichrist, castration in such an intense representation does not happen because it is just wrong — it’s just too violent and not right. And, with the intriguing and disturbing The Human Centipede on the horizon, we may find ourselves at yet another frontier of graphic bodily harm.
What do you guys think? Is castration in horror films no big deal? Is being unable to view an on screen castration a sign of weakness? Is anyone willing to watch all the films on IMDB tagged with the “Castration” keyword?
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