Very spoiler-heavy thoughts/analysis on Gaspar Noé ‘s outrageous 2018 psychological horror Climax. If you have not yet experienced Noé’ latest freefall into the abyss of disturbia and acrimonious oblivion but intend to, I implore you to turn tail right now.
Seriously, I am gonna spoil a fundamental truth in this movie, so if you haven’t seen it, please, don’t read any further because this one is best experienced going in with very little to no idea about what transpires.
For those of you still here either because you’ve seen the flick or don’t really care about spoilers, heeeeeeeerrrrrrrrre weeeeeeee gooooooo!
I often joke that when Noé (or as I affectionately call him, ‘Uncle Gaspar’) fathers a film, you should never take your eyes off the man given just how much he dares to delve into the controversial content he creates from all sides, some anticipated, others completely unexpected.
That being said, for all of the troubling thoughts his movies and their characters burrow into your skull, they are not done for the simple shock of it all. Noé possesses his own unique methodology when it comes to storytelling and none of this includes INSULTING the audiences’ intelligence. Shocking their immediate sensibilities, yes, but not once does Noé undermine those who gather the courage to watch his work. He rewards bravery with the breed of savagery and intelligence he combines in each of his projects because he knows what truly begins an intellectual discussion; human conflict in all of its forms with refreshing straightforwardness.
So this dance scene is utterly awe-inspiring. Frantic, pulsating and utterly vital to watch with incredible sound design and camera work to further complement the visual splendor. I can almost always say for certain I watch it at least every day and get swept up in the adrenal rush of it all. Every performer is bringing their A-Game here and may I say, Sofia Boutella is one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen, her acting in this film is breathtaking, her dress is fucking AMAZING and I love her so much and she is consummate Wife Material.
Sorry, got side-tracked.
Not only is this number a showcase to the skills every one of these people have at the controlled height of their powers which will soon be snatched away, it also serves as a magic trick of the Smoke and Mirrors variety. A very blatant and sinister one which gives away the identity of the architect of the terror which is about to follow.
At the 4:07 mark, a statuesque blonde (played by Thea Carla Schøtt), unseen prior, effortlessly enters the frame in a spaghetti-string dress which she quickly takes off revealing an eye-catching bikini set of underwear as she boldly stares directly into your eyes as she thrusts, gyrates and sways out of the human cocoon surrounding her.
This is Psyche.
This is the woman who is ultimately responsible for the unimaginable horror you are about to witness.
Before I continue, I feel the need to explain the meaning of Psyches’ name of which there are two major sources because I refuse Uncle Gaspar selected this particular moniker by accident.
The first example of the name Psyche comes from one of two titular characters in the Greek myth commonly known as that of Cupid and Psyche. Psyche, whose name means ‘soul‘, was a beautiful human princess who rouses Aphrodites’ supremely fragile butt-hurt by being THAT hot that she commands her son, Cupid, to inspire Psyches’ love for only the most despicable of men. However, when Cupid saw her, he fell in love and as Psyche slept one night, he spirited her away to his divine bachelor pad and paid nightly visits to her because the term ‘Creepy Bastard’ clearly hadn’t been invented yet. Although Psyche is initially confused about her new dwelling, she more or less falls into routine and does her thing, all the while being told by Cupids’ disembodied voice not to look upon him when he comes to her under the cover of darkness, telling her that he is so obscenely ugly that it would surely kill her. However, one night when Cupid slinks by for a game of Hide The Loukaniko, Psyche can’t help herself and lights an oil lamp to look upon her enigmatic abductor and boom, she gets an eyeful of his sexy, bemuscled, oiled-up winged fuckboi self which… doesn’t go down well with Aphrodite. While sources of the tale are subject to a vast variety of folk motifs, the most common rendition conveys an allegory of the progress of the human soul guided by the power of love. In the case of THIS Psyche however, she is looking for a very different sort of love, or specifically, a perversion of it which I will explain shortly.
In the second example as to why I feel Psyches’ name is particularly significant, let’s have a quick look into the mind-boggling realm of human cognitive psychology. Although the term psyche has been present since the days of Plato (at least in recorded history), Carl Jungs’ contemporary definition of it is through our own lens the most appropriate. Here is a quote from the man himself which offers a definitive explanation to his theoretical approach.
“I have been compelled, in my investigations into the structure of the unconscious, to make a conceptual distinction between soul and psyche. By psyche, I understand the totality of all psychic processes, conscious as well as unconscious. By soul, on the other hand, I understand a clearly demarcated functional complex that can best be described as a “personality”. (1971)
While I am not a psychologist, I feel it’s not too far off the mark to say that the character Psyche is a sociopath, and sociopaths have a certain means of living in society, one of deception and total self-interest. Sociopaths adopt and forge fraudulent personas, characteristics and even names to blend in so that they may achieve a goal of their own desire, that of bolstering their self-inflated sense of ego through validation. Sociopaths are hollow predators who only partake in various facades to get what they want and a common thing most sociopaths want is attention, adoration and desire. They want others to love them, be in awe of them even though they cannot reciprocate that love onto anybody but themselves. THAT is the version of love I mentioned earlier. To be unique, to appear having a personality by doing sincerely little as possible.
Again, look at how Psyche dances.
While this is most certainly NOT a knock on Schøtt herself (primarily because I haven’t seen any of her previous work for all I know, she could be insanely brilliant), for all of the characters’ Juno-esque bared body and flashy waving of arms and legs, her set is not as physically dynamic and individualistic as the rest of the troupe, suggesting that while she may look and perform to a certain degree, she is missing what everybody else on the floor has.
So here she is, openly exposing herself for you to see, but you are so caught up in the overall spectacle that it doesn’t even occur to you that you are seeing a true vision of human evil before your very eyes.
Throughout the entire film, Psyche lingers in the background, appearing as a vague thought in ones’ mind, but upon second watch, knowing she is the perpetrator, the scenes she appears in takes on a whole different meaning, but it is this very scene which lays down the measure of evil you are about to see.
Disclaimer: No, my Damsels of Digital Distress project has NOT fallen through but I GOT A BADASS COLLECTIBLE FIGURE OF SHAY CORMAC AND THE GUY ROCKS AND THIS IS MY BLOG, DAMN IT!!!
While the Assassins’ Creed franchise has undoubtedly veered into different and controversial directions, 2014’s release of Assassin’s Creed: Rogue is the game which has firmly lodged itself in my mind like that of an ice-cold hidden blade… and I couldn’t be more thankful for it.
Taking place prior to Assassin’s Creed III, Rogue follows the journey of young firebrand Irish Assassin Shay Patrick Cormac in the Colonial Brotherhood and his eventual realization that the Assassin Brotherhood is as questionable as the infamous Templar Order which he eventually falls in with when he begins to question the validity of The Creed and those who myopically abide it.
The game offers nothing new mechanics-wise save for a few alterations of traditional AC formula and rather pedestrian mission parameters, but the games’ true beauty lies in its story as well as, and most importantly, character arc of the protagonist/antagonist himself, Shay Patrick Cormac.
Many of the principle characters of the AC franchise are commendable, some more so than others, but I didn’t feel connected to any of them on a personal level.
That all changed when I played Rogue for the first time.
Shay was the one who broke the veil for me, the polygon who made me look at myself, reflect on my own history and realise we had a few things in common. Obviously I’m not an Assassin or a Templar (officially) and I don’t adhere to their doctrines because let’s face it, that would be utterly nuts, because I am the very picture of sanity, nor have I been through the identical trials and tribulations as Cormac, but playing the game as him allowed me to step further into his boots at a psychological level.
When we first meet our man, he is a brash crackerjack with a Woodstock mane and a quick mouth, but he is clearly clever and he is thoughtful. Very early in the game, he displays that he thinks outside of the box and makes it a point to question some of the more nebulous aspects of the Assassin Brotherhood of which he serves. For example, the Brotherhood preaches freedom for humanity yet it is very staunch in the tenants it demands its indoctrinated to follow. Shay doesn’t feel free except when he is commanding his ship on the high seas, but even that is policed by the Creed.
Shay isn’t contemptuous of the Brotherhood itself though, quite the opposite, he believes in the true cause, or rather the cause of which he has been inducted into and he jumps at the chance to ruin some Templar lives in the process. He’s a go-getter, he doesn’t rest on his laurels and he isn’t content waiting around for the action to come to him because he knows he has a lot to give. At the same time, his betters, while convinced of Shay’s talents still call his incendiary personality into question because he is lackadaisical about the finer details of training for the Brotherhood. While Shay is a good student when it comes to utilizing the abilities he is taught, he doesn’t like the monotony of waking up every morning and spending hours in bettering his approach to his work.
Backwhen Beatrix Harper was that way, and in a sense, she still is.
I like to get in there and get my hands dirty because I enjoy gaining experience and respect from my peers and while I will always be happy to learn, I can also be impatient when it comes to getting something done. I feel if something is within my purview, I can take decisive action. This has been a curse and a blessing for me as for every success I have in following up on a hunch, I’ve also been meet with failure and it burned my arse. I’m confident you too are privy to the feeling.
I truly do not consider myself a violent individual in sum, but I tend to take my more grievous errors seriously, yet in recent years, I’ve learned to galvanize that sense of self-loathing defeat into resolve. It’s not a trait I have always possessed; in fact, it was one I developed when I chose to invest myself into my nursing career, so you could say I was definitely a late bloomer in that regard. Regardless, when I want something, I will chomp at the bit to get it, even if others are questioning my integrity from an misinformed perspective of me.
Another element of my identity I can confirm is that I am a very curious, inquisitive person. Much as I would like to say my first word was ‘Why’ (it was actually ‘Ging now’), this leading inquiry was always something I asked if I did not understand something being said to me or I wanted to know more. When somebody gives me the vague answer of ‘Because’, I want to know why, I have the compulsion to strongly request justification because I need to understand. Although I performed at an average level in my early schooling, my teachers always wrote in my report cards that I was incredibly persistent with my questions to the point of which it almost frustrated them. Of course there was only so much my undeveloped brain could comprehend, but nevertheless, my desire for that magical ‘Why’ continued to drive me through primary, to secondary and to tertiary education and now I am thankful I had never let that go. The world is a complex place filled with complex entities, every twist, every turn can be a curve ball to one’s mind, but daring to question, wanting answers, that is a constant if you choose to wield it.
A quarter way through the game when Shay realises that the Assassin Brotherhood are actually not as wise or benevolent as he originally believed, it strikes him so hard.
BIG BUBBA KISS-BOY SPOILERS AHEAD
IF YOU HAVE NOT YET PLAYED THE GAME AND WISH TO DO SO, DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER.
On a tip about a Piece of Eden being located in the city of Lisbon, Shay is tasked by his Mentor Achilles Davenport to commute to the Praça do Comércio during All Saints Day where he enters the house of worship during a religious service. After clambering around the ceiling, suspiciously unnoticed by parishioners , he opens a door toward the back of the building which leads him to the mythical Piece of Eden hovering near a grand altar. Shay regards it for a moment before he takes it and that is when everything goes to Hell. The cathedral shakes violently and Lisbon is thrown into the infamous earthquake of 1775. Shay bolts through the streets, the cries of the confused locals echoing in his ears and he makes for his ship, braving infernos, crumbling buildings and the splitting earth. Finally he makes it back to the ship as the city collapses into devastation. Shay looks on in horror and shock, realising he was the one who directly caused this tragedy. He condemned all of these innocent souls to death and all because of a mysterious artifact the Assassins prize. This is the true point of Shay’s dissent toward the beliefs of the Brotherhood.
Shay, fuelled by red hot rage and guilt returns to the American Frontier when he rifles through his Mentor’s private documents to retrieve a map chronicling other Eden relics in the dead of night. If one Piece could level an entire city, what would happen if the Assassins disturbed all of these Pieces? The Assassins clearly knew they were dealing with something completely beyond their understanding yet they still chose to meddle. Shay takes the map before being confronted by Davenport and makes a run for it, with most of the Assassins on site in pursuit. Finally Shay is cornered on a cliff where Shay’s best friend Liam attempts to reason with Shay one final time before another Assassin shoots the distraught Cormac (until the end, Shay believes it was LIAM who fired the shot which adds additional emotional weight to the predicament). Cormac tumbles over the cliff and into the cold waters of the harbor far below.
Okay, so this is a difficult nut to crack in literary form, so I implore you to bear with me because this marble statue ain’t gonna carve itself.
Again I must stress I didn’t cause some great catastrophe, at least not while I was awake, but Shay’s eye-opening moment comes in the form of seeing the world from another angle, one he hadn’t fully entertained the notion of due to being in league with the Brotherhood. Although we are all aware there are multiple points of view in the world, we don’t either don’t look fully into them or we make a choice to ignore them. While hopefully when we reach a revelation we hope it is done in a generally agreeable way, it can also take the form of a scarring life event, a trauma.
There wasn’t one explicit moment when I reached this definitive point, but it was more of a culmination, but to give an example and one that relates a little closely to the correlating item, I was an idiot because I followed my former best friend to high school. To begin with, it was awesome, we hung out, talked a lot. It was as if we never truly left primary school. Eventually, an ugly series of developments occurred, she befriended some other girls in school, which I was cool with, but then she became more and more distant, she would walk by me and not give me a smile or a ‘hello’. Gradually it got to the point of which she completely ignored me and to make matters worse, she befriended the school bully who was more than content to make my life hell and then SHE got in on the act for no other reason than to fit in with her new clique.
I felt betrayed.
Every night I would basically cry myself to sleep if I could sleep at all due to stress-related insomnia. My grades flipped, I became a miserable, nervous wreck.
Finally, my parents got me out of that school and put me into a new one and while I was never popular there, I managed to make friends with the ones who have come to count and who I still keep contact with. Oh and my grades improved enough that I managed to graduate Year 12 and was admitted into university, which was cool too. But on a serious note, what happened at that other school wounded me significantly and it took some drastic measures to bring me back to a level which I didn’t dread going to school every day. I was thankful to my parents for the fact they were always looking out for me, it’s just a shame it took some crud-soaked coal to make what would become a far better-looking diamond.
When Shay is found by a kindly Irish-American couple, he is nursed back to health in New York where he quickly takes stock of the situation. A multitude of gangs have taken root in the community, troubling the already struggling populace. Pairing his desire for justice and mercy with his lethal abilities, Shay begins to liberate New York from the influence of these gangs, who work for the Assassins. Yes, you read that true.
It is not until quite later Shay finds out his former comrades in arms are connected to these people, he nevertheless does what he does to atone for his self-perceived sins and his brash nature is gradually refined into one of determination under the tutelage of several new friends and allies, who are, as you have already may have guess as well, Templars, the very people he hunted. As it transpires, the man who dragged him out of the ocean, his savior, is the high-ranking Templar Colonel George Munro who was well aware of Shay’s allegiance. Despite of, or rather because of Shays’ past, he divined greatness in the young man and decided to gradually induct him into the Templar Order, not through force, but through respect, empathy and compassion.
When Shay finds himself shaking hands with the very people he previously hunted down with extreme prejudice, he smirks at the irony, but after getting to know his new bedfellows, he realises they are not so different from him. Not only is he being recognized, he is also finally perceiving them as complex entities of grey when in the past he saw their kind in black and white. When Shay finally earns the trust of his colleges and dons the Cross, it is due to his hard work as well as his tempering of his formally impulsive nature. Shay is concerned about how the people respond, not just about an idea alone and a lot of what he does is in the interest of helping others as opposed to pressing an ideology.
Prior to earning my nursing degree, I previously studied and completed two other courses, Theatre (acting strand) and Archaeology with a dual minor in Sociology and Anthropology. I want to make it known I don’t regret one moment of either, their ups, their downs, everything I learned I did so of my own free will because I was fascinated about how to convince others I was somebody else (legitimately) and the world with people of a past I had only imagined until then. However, neither were entirely practical to what I wanted in life as a whole. The city of which I live in doesn’t offer a lot of opportunity to actors or fledgling archaeologists, it’s certainly a case of “Right time, right place, right connection”, so I buckled down and threw myself in a far more practical pursuit- health sciences.
Nursing school was a grueling, soul-changing gauntlet, and by no means easy. Learning to care for my fellow humans for a living is hard work and it should be- you aren’t simply dealing with written words or computers, you are also dealing with the human machine at all stages in it’s life and often times when it is not operating to it’s full capacity. Late nights, early starts, assignments making like food in a bird’s digestive system (straight in, straight out), tears, looking for the most right answer, these and more contributed to the experience. However, I quickly realised the best way to combat them all was to become hungry, and to accept what happened and move on, forewarned and forearmed, and remember you have a network of people who want to help you succeed.
I will now take this opportunity to provide an example; during first year of clinical placement, my preceptor, a seasoned and pleasant lady for the record, asked me how I was feeling. I figured it was best to be honest because I felt that was the best policy and she was my teacher so I could confide in her, so I confessed I was feeling a little nervous. She then put a hand on my shoulder and said “Are you sure you want a profession in nursing dear?” I don’t know if this was a calculated means of providing motivation or a genuine assumption on my character in one moment of private weakness she of all people would have empathized with, but I was astounded she said such a thing. That day on, I resolved to 1) work harder, give more and 2) NEVER share my feelings with her again because hot damn, lady, where do you get off further shaking the confidence of a First Year student who had never been in a professional medical environment? Sheesh.
For the next two and a half years left of my degree, I embraced what I had once tried so hard to deny and finally, on the day of which I was handed that piece of paper while wearing that ridiculous graduation cap. Although before this in my darkest moments I still asked why I was there, I pushed forward, I earned what everything I set out to achieve. Adversity may knock you down, but you also don’t need to let it knock you out. In addition to learning all of these new skills and enhancing my own innate ones, I also managed to moderate my blindly passionate nature, not by extinguishing it, but shifting its focus from blindly passionate without direction into being intent on the tangible. Make no mistake, I’m not Mary Sunshine 24–7, nevertheless, I legitimately ENJOY being happy, and maintaining a positive attitude, because at least for me, it yields the sweetest fruits. Change happens, and even when you don’t know everything you will still know more now than you did back when you started.
For the remainder of the game, Shay one by one takes down the Assassins, hoping to avoid another Lisbon incident, and while his actions are cold, his heart still remains warm. Despite the fact he opposes the Assassin aim, he still harbors feelings for those he once considered comrades, not so much feeling hatred for them, but pity. Out of all of the fascinating personality traits Shay has, this is perhaps his most crucial- he feels remorse even when he knows logically he shouldn’t because he is still human. Even though he steels himself to do the deed when he is standing over the defeated body of his adversary, he doesn’t take glee in what he does, it’s a somber means to an end. Several times throughout Rogue, Shay consults his quartermaster and friend Christopher Gist, an up-beat, roguish Templar as to whether or not the crosses he has chosen to bear are the colour of right. While Gist insists they are and remains a steadfast friend and ally to Shay, Cormac still asks himself the same question even when he goes through with his deeds.
In the final sequence of the game, Shay is leaning on the stern of his ship, the Morrigan, contemplating his actions when Grandmaster Haytham Kenway charges him with the responsibility of finding the remaining Pieces of Eden and barring the Assassins from finding them. While Shay pledges his commitment to the long, arduous quest ahead, you can tell by the look in his eyes that he is still deciding as to whether or not the path he has taken is right. It’s a brilliant scene which simultaneously showcases Shay’s resolve as well as doubts he retains AND Haytham’s mastery of manipulation and his precision when it came to his administration of the Colonial Templar Rite.
Oh, and before you ask, I intend on doing a piece on THAT ruthless fucker down the track, stay tuned.
I feel all of us can relate to the feeling of questioning the actions we take when we take stock of their consequences. While we may commit an act we tell ourselves is right, is it? Is it really? There is always that voice in the depths of our synapses, the ones which whisper delicately in your ear, invisible hands which clutch at your arm, holding you back. Life is a constant, flowing tide of elemental change, even when it feels certain, there is only so much we can know. Feeling something is a good or a bad idea is different compared to knowing it is. I can freely admit I have had these thoughts about everything I have done- against what I feel in my heart of hearts, I still scold myself for not having taken up nursing sooner, for ‘wasting’ my time on pursuits which delivered little to no practical, secure avenues. I am happy for all I have been given, all of the people I have been blessed to know and learn from, but as human beings, we will always find ourselves wanting more, whether we may consciously know it or not.
Remaining steadfast and completely consistent in one’s convictions is no easy task, and while it can be incredibly frustrating and draining, particularly when results don’t present themselves when you want. However, you should not suffer eternally for them. You will get knocked down, you will feel doubt, you will wonder if all of what you have done has been for naught, but ultimately, you are still here, you have people who care for you and you still have the capacity to make a change, even if it seems insignificant. All of these steps, all of these moments of triumph and adversity, are part of a bigger picture, even though we can’t exactly take a step back and appreciate it at our leisure, there is no denying the triumph of overcoming the obstacles of which we face every day, no matter how long it may take.
Thus concludes this little therapist couch of an article.
In any event, I felt inclined to exorcise these words from my mind to blog because the trials and tribulations of Shay Patrick Cormac were not only the high-stakes storytelling I love, but also one of the finest character studies, one which caused me reflect upon myself and it is because of this game, because of these particular character, it made me feel seen, vindicated… accepted.
It also inspired me to have a keen fashion sense because HOT DAMN does the man have stellar style.
(Silly note; This is Shays’ theme song. You know it’s true.)
Ever since the dawn of our existence, we humans fear what we don’t understand or in some cases prefer not to understand. The power of giving something or somebody a name comforts us and helps us deal with what that is beyond our control as it at least helps us comprehend it. Nowadays, the broad collective of us know thanks to science, evidence and overall common sense that earthquakes are not punishments caused by enraged deities, mental illness is not a sign of demonic possession and homosexuality is not the product of evil.
When it comes to placing that fear of the incomprehensible into movie form, we can be as creative as we please so long as we please, but I have noticed that pop culture tends to recognize the human monsters the most. Boogeycreatures in films are a reflection on not just human fears, uncertainties and base emotions given face, but also an example of social awareness; they are what we have made them because we’ve made ourselves. When it comes to giving terror and uncertainty a face, Jason Voorhees, Freddy Kruger and Michael Myers are at the forefront because not only do they frighten but they can also astound. Each of these fellows are mirrors of what our culture and by extension ourselves have become and that is why they still continue to be the frontrunners of cinematic scares. While at heart these films were made with a view to entertain and draw reaction from audiences (as well as their sweet dough, let’s be honest), I believe they represent three aspects of society and the human condition which shapes it.
Bearing this in mind, I wanted to share my thoughts on the matter and hopefully even enlighten you if you are open. Please keep in mind I am not critiquing the films of each franchise, I will be looking at the characters themselves in terms of who they are and what they represent.
Strap yourselves in because this is gonna be a psych talk, milquetoast-horror-fan-without-a single-credential-to- her-name-style.
Jason Voorhees Judgement
I am not the biggest fan of the Friday the 13th as a whole (Jason Lives and Jason X rocked, though!) but over time, I have grown to appreciate Jase himself because he has such an endearing and inspirational blue collar quality about him I simply adore. Retroactively however, the more I ruminate about who he kills, I have the conception that Jason is a metaphor for extreme cosmic judgement.
For the most part, he slays foolish, irresponsible and selfish victims, possibly because they remind him of the negligent camp counselors who didn’t come to his aid when he was drowning in Crystal Lake. Judgement is something we cast over each other every day of our lives even though we may not always consciously know it.
We look at somebody who is overweight and we simply assume they sit on their gluteus maximus everyday and eat nothing but junk food. What we don’t take into consideration is if they suffer an eating disorder, or a genetic abnormality that doesn’t allow their digestive systems to function the way they should. Nobody LIKES being at a disadvantage when it comes to daily living, but does the pack mentality care? Jason is an extremely fundamental version of the judgement regarding the worth of others because of the fact he was wronged by the people who were supposed to be looking out for his well-being. Of course anybody with a balanced mind may briefly think about entertaining the methods Jason employs, but we all know better. Jason is like the Justice from Hell as he punishes the ignorant of their trespasses even though he doesn’t know them.
To him, any show of fecklessness must be atoned for through blood all. No matter how fast his victims ran, Jason always caught up because that’s what Judgement does. Well, unless you count Derek Mears who was actually a very physical Jason in the otherwise uninspired remake who actually is the most interesting part of the movie. As for why he chooses to wear a mask, well, he obviously feels very self-conscious about how he looks, but Judgement can be a frightening thing because of how severe it can be and also, a mask is impersonal, which in turn symbolizes the machine-like efficiency of the warped version of justice that Jason serves.
Despite being a serial killer which is frightening to us mostly normal-minded types, I don’t find Jason himself scary- he just needs his mum. But in terms of how he presents an image of a social structure we have created, he is one of the most effective and serves as a contemporary fable that people must take accountability for their actions rather than leave them to fester into deadly repercussions.
Michael Myers Death
Compared to Jason, John Carpenter’s existential spawn of Pure Evil really couldn’t care less about delivering retribution, all he does is go around and claim lives indiscriminately, just like Death itself.
We could certainly argue that when Michael murdered his sister Judith he was suffering from some type of incestuous jealousy, but after sating his desire, what possible personal motivation did Michael have to kill? He didn’t just try to kill members of his own family in the original canon, but basically anybody that got in his way even though he had absolutely no otherwise interest in them, simply because they were there.
All of us know that Death will come for us all in the end, it’s a matter of when, how and why. We modify ourselves with surgery, take on radical fad diets, overdose ourselves with make up, regardless of our expenses because our desperation to stay attractive, or specifically relevant spans from our survival instinct. When our ancestors resorted to cannibalism and ruthless means of maintaining status quo in collectives when necessary, these days us Homo sapiens utilize vanity to delay the decay of our physical body but in the end, we all know it’s useless. Myers is a horrific meditation of the unpredictability that death can deliver- he doesn’t speak, he doesn’t express humanity and he doesn’t care who is on the receiving end when he comes to call with his knife being a substitute for a scythe. He doesn’t feel the need to run because he knows he will claim his due.
Save for Judith and later, his other sister Laurie Strode, none of his murders were particularly personal; he hunted his quarries down and killed them but he gained no visible satisfaction from them. Like death, Michael doesn’t have any of the constraints of ethics and no attachment to the lives he takes. As with Voorhees, Michael chooses to wear a mask because it means anonymity, no means of identity, just a staring, white, expressionless canvas void as well as his iconic nondescript boiler suit.
While the subsequent films have arguably lost their impact, Michael himself has not. He is not even a facsimile of a human being, he’s a force beyond our imaginations given humanoid form, but nothing else. And you know what they say about death?
It can never die.
Freddy Kruger Evil
If I honestly had to choose which of the three I prefer in terms of this classic trifecta, Freddy is it. He is a pop culture icon now, which is disturbing in itself considering Freddy used to be a child molester/murderer, but he is the figurehead of how malevolent exploitation truly is. Sex is meant to be something intimate, consensual and dare I say fun for both parties, however, sexually abusing a child, or anybody for that matter is perhaps one of the most cruel and reprehensible crimes a person can inflict upon another. It’s about disempowering and humiliating your target whilst taking perverse, secretly self-loathing pleasure out of it.
The severity of Freddy’s vengeance came from the fact that he was at his most powerful in the realm of dreams, in sleep, where humans are at their most vulnerable. Rather than enact direct retribution on those who killed him, Freddy turned his sights on those his killers held dear- their own children. And it didn’t just stop there. He mercilessly hunted and killed subsequent generations of Elm Street children simply because he could.
It’s not the deaths that Freddy took pleasure in though; it was all about the thrill of the chase. In the dreamscape, he is the epitome of the apex predator and when he sets his sights on a young and vulnerable target, he’s going to make sure they are frightened, ripe and palpable before he devours them.
I also believe Freddy is an observation about the eerie notion of real life villain worship, the grossly idealistic “Stickin’ it to the man” mentality we are all guilty of harboring. What we wouldn’t give to do what we want, when we want, how we want and nobody would be able to touch us no matter how dire the crime He’s profitable, recognizable but unrelatable and yet society adores him because of this vicarious and vicious fantasy we hold. He’s practically the de rigueur of pop culture that has not been matched to this day. He whispers to our forbidden but oh-so-delicious sensitive points, daring them to indulge in his acts.
I will state that despite the fact the remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street was extremely pedestrian at best, Jackie Earle Haley is in a un-poppable bubble because he really made Freddy a nasty creature again. Wes Craven’s A New Nightmare was a revelation before it’s time but it brought Freddy back to his roots again and it rocked like nobody’s business. Celebrity and pop reverence aside, Freddy still remains the pepperoni pizza face of pure human evils and he remains relevant today.
Collectively, one major thing all three of these monsters have in common is that they are all representative of the anxieties and fears of sex in the form of the id as well as the concept of habituation.
Psychologist Marvin Zuckerman states that the reason why people enjoy horror is because we all want to live vicariously, when it comes to horror, we as a species are looking for things that appeal to us constantly, the concept of danger that comes from the need for the individual to be cerebrally aroused otherwise we will lose interest, much like the concept of sexuality. Everybody is subject to the process of habituation- we want something new, something more than us, something that will shock us. With these three characters we have given birth to, they are a result of habituation. Jason and Michael more or less fall into the camp of how sex can mean neglection and the abandonment of the senses, meanwhile Freddy utilizes sexuality as a weapon, something that can be used to break his victims by appealing to their embedded repulsions, those thoughts that we have that we know we really shouldn’t. I guess when it comes to fear, humans are quite afraid of it, despite the fact we all do it- sex in a nutshell is life AND death and it’s no wonder that both experiences are always comparable to each other in terms of power and significance.
All three of these characters, despite their are paragons for what we as humans in contemporary society dread because try as we dismiss our baser desires as uncivilised and not permit them to dictate our lives, we know we can never be rid of these sensations. It is my strongly held belief that Jason, Freddy and Michael were created as a result of this.
There is absolutely no doubt there is a litany of other horror characters who are far more potent symbols of a tainted version of baser human natures, values and illness, in fact, now more than ever there are a slew of icons waiting in the wings to entertain, educate and caution us with regards to the dangers of the world and the minds we share it with in addition to our own. That being said, it is safe to say this new guard owes something to each of these three stalwarts and cinema is all the better for it.
(Disclaimer: I will be regaling this opinion piece to Aya in the first game because, well, that’s when she had character and I will not be going into the deeper particulars of this game because I really want you to experience it if you haven’t already. It’s a heck of a game and best enjoyed without knowing the full story beforehand.)
Body horror, in my mind, is one of the finest sub-genres to exist due to it’s uncomfortably intimate source of terror and the endless realm of possibilities which arise from it. Some of the finest horror films of all time play a lot with the agonising and revolting mutilation of the human body; John Carpenters’The Thing, David Cronenbergs’ The Fly and most recently, Richard Stanleys’ awe-inspiring adaptation of Colour Out Of Space. Naturally, some of the best horror videogames consist of this same breed of inflicting maximum terror and squirming discomfort upon those behind the controller, one of them being Squaresoft’s 1998 title, Parasite Eve which came out exclusively on Playstation.
However, as we well know, most top-tier horror requires worthwhile central characters at the heart of it in order to truly makes us care.
Meet rookie NYPD detective Aya Brea.
When we first meet Detective Brea, she is garbed in a simple, black but stunningly beautiful evening dress on a snowy Christmas Eve attending an opera at Carnegie Hall with a stuff-shirted date in tow who can’t seem to stop complaining. Despite the company, Aya is quietly excited to attend this occasion as she sits down and the stage lights up. The diva strides on stage, regal, resplendent and begins to deliver her ariso with her soaring voice. Aya watches, listens, utterly ensorcelled by the performance as the divas’ eyes meet hers. A transcendental and liminal connection between the two women transpires.
And then… THIS happens.
The first time I saw that cut scene at a tender age of fifteen, still a fledgling in the darker circles of horror, I was gob-smacked.
Aya springs into action, firearm (I dunno where she kept that, but let’s just go with it) in hand, her cop instincts taking the fore. She doesn’t know what she has just witnessed, but what she does know is that a very real and very catastrophic threat has presented itself to the citizens of New York City and it is her responsibility to protect the people and eliminate this new horror before the Doomsday Clock strikes midnight.
Parasite Eve was one of those games which took many risks and for the most part executed them well, but underperformed, not through any glaring fault of its own, but due to the reality that marketing circles didn’t quite know how to sell it and the fact in terms of replayability, it wasn’t as compulsive as say visiting the Spencer Mansion on a dark and stormy night. A survival horror game with essential elements of turn-based, real-time combat classic J-RPG yet with very Western aesthetics?
It was seen as a Frankenstein’s Creature of a property to put it lightly.
That being said, one could hardly call it a failure due to it’s intelligent story, concept and execution, ALL of which is based on a very real facet of biological science. You see, the story is a loose adaptation of the work of pharmacologist and microbiologist turned author, Hideaki Sena who specifically studied the nature of mitochondria In microbiology circles, the purpose of mitochondria is to produce ATP, the molecule that the cell uses for energy when carrying out essential functions in the bodies of living organisms. Sena’s idea was based on a ‘What If’ scenario asking what would happen if the mitochondria went rogue, in this case, the answer is the genesis and evolution of life of the mutated, hostile and existentially terrifying variety.
In the face of these inconceivable odds, Aya steps up to the plate, ready to bat for Team Homo sapien.
Aya is a badass, but like our previously covered Damsel Fiona Belli, her genuine strength draws from her internal reservoirs as opposed to physical force and posturing. While Brea is a trained in the book of the law, pleasantly snarky at opportune moments and a capable fighter, her abilities are proportionate to her sense of morality, compassion and the extent of her limits. Thoughtful, observational and intuitive yet proactive rather than merely reactionary, Ayas’ values have a heavy basis in empathy, that is to say, she believes in the right of humanity to prevail in the face of this adversity and takes active measures to ensure it while at the same time having an interest in the true nature and motives of the threat she is fighting against. She knows the best way to defeat her adversary is to know it, almost be one with it. As one may expect from a detective, Aya finds it prudent to not only procedurally obtain intelligence in order to defeat the peril, but also use the information as a means of psychologically understanding it.
Throughout the game, Aya partakes in a battle of wits with the diva who has assumed the name of Eve, a direct nod to the theory of the Mitochondrial Eve, the matrilineal ancestor of all of the human species to whom we can all trace our DNA, or so the scientific hypothesis goes. In short, your mother is also your sister, your father is also your brother and… uhhh…
You know what?
I’m just gonna leave that and not venture any further down that rabbit hole.
As the situation escalates, Aya finds herself struggling to keep pace with the movements of her adversary, and it is this internal battle which reveals the true virtue of Brea. Aya is not perfect, she is human and therein lies her brilliance. In fact, her journey is eerily similar to Clarice Starlings’ investigation and pursuit of Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs; sometimes she is right, sometimes she is wrong, and the paths she takes yield their own set of consequences. Just like Starling too, Brea is mindful of her defeats and rather than wallow in her misery, she takes accountability, increases her resolve, and thus, like the very organism Eve has fashioned herself after, she adapts.
Short aside here, Ayas’ very name has interesting connotations that can be directly linked to her actions and personality. In Japanese, the name ‘Aya’ means ‘design’, ‘colour’ and/or ‘beautiful’. All of these terms in this case could refer to the design and aesthetic appearance of cells which can be seen as visually pleasing in addition to their practical function and how they influence the life form they make up. In Hebrew, it means ‘to fly swiftly‘, or in abbreviation, ‘bird’. Aya is literally caught up in a race against time in order to save the human species from a terrible fate, so she must move quickly, decisively, precisely like a bird on the wing. In Arabic, the translation is mainly associated with the term ‘wonderful’, ‘amazing’ and ‘miracle’. It goes without saying that when Aya manages to prevent Eve from achieving her global evolutionary homicide, that in itself is indeed a miracle and something that could definitely be described as amazing. In Africa, there is an Adinkra emblem commonly known as ‘Aya’, a fern which is seen as a symbol of endurance and resourcefulness, which clearly refers to Ayas’ skill set. However, one translation which captures my interest is how Aya in the Proto-Tibeto-Burman language means ‘mother’. A mother is held up by many cultures around the world to be protective, nurturing and fierce in the face of those who threaten the lives of her children. Unfortunately, this is not always the reality, but speaking in terms of our subject, I feel the aspect is extremely relevant to the character and one of the primary aspects of the game, that being motherhood.
Aya, though not a biological parent, nevertheless exhibits devotion to the protection of her friends, the people of New York and by extension, the world. She deals with its goodness, its trespasses and everything else in between using nurture, balance, and temperance the way an ideal mother does. Eve is the opposing, archaic and monstrous mother figure who threatens Ayas’ adopted brood with her own monstrous children of her own blood and presents Aya with an extremely dark look into a possible future Aya finds repulsive but also extremely compelling the more she and Eve find themselves at odds with each other. Lastly, as previously mentioned, the Mitochondrial Eve geneology that Eve possesses, the overarching mother of all human life is a clear allusion to the role of the mother in human society and how she shapes the world she inhabits. The very definition of motherhood is virtually limitless as there are so many factors which contribute to it and therefore it is impossible to give one fully realised opinion on what being a mother truly is.
Aya Brea may not be a literal mother and she identifies as many other things as a woman, but her caring nature, moral compass and how she is a figure of authority who must lead by example strongly implies that one does not need to have a child to harbor the same amount of compassion, love and desire to do right by others. In this story, Aya is the mother the human species needs to survive and she takes her responsibility, her duty, with utmost commitment.
That being said however, Aya Brea is not an island. In addition to the nameless masses of the Big Apple that Aya has sworn to protect, she keeps company with a circle of friends and colleagues she isn’t afraid to seek guidance from when she requires assistance. Isn’t it refreshing when a character who works in law enforcement DOESN’T have the done-over ‘Loose Cannon Cop On The Edge/Lone Wolf’ personality trope and make use of the valuable resources of insight and emotional support in the shape of friends and family? Aya regularly discusses her findings with her fellow police officers at the precinct through the game as the situation develops while also entrusting them with her deepest feelings, however troubled they may be. Given Ayas’ decidedly introverted personality type, one would be correct in assuming that Aya’s implicit trust is extremely challenging to achieve but once a strong connection is formed and maintained, she is loyal, loving and ferociously protective to a fault. In her mind, these faces, these lives who are a part of hers are what is at stake and that is one of her primary motivations to uncover more of this mysterious crisis. I personally love it when a character realises that the events unfolding are not just about them, but about others which further cements their appreciation and love for those they hold dear rather than push them away. Of course Aya knows the inherent danger of associating with those she cares about as it would mean a display of vulnerability and an avenue of exploitation, but without these people, she also knows she cannot hope to win the war being waged.
Okay, so now it’s time to address the mutated elephant in the room; Aya’s physical appearance.
In the numerous quantities of official commercial material, Aya is shown experiencing many unfortunate cases of wardrobe malfunctions which aggressively pushes her of having a sexy waifish waifu quality that naturally sells to certain demographics. While there is no denying Ayas’ beauty, the game actually does not draw attention to her physical appearance in any lascivious or seamy manner. As a matter of fact, apart from her slinky black number in the opening of the game which is fairly modest by the way, Aya spends the rest of the story fully clothed in a black leather jacket, white t-shirt, blue denim jeans and comfortable boots with her hair sensibly kept out of her face. No cleavage, no midriff, not a hint of luscious thigh or flowing mermaid locks to be scoped. Although there is definitely a time and a place for conscious sexuality and cheeky (heh, ‘cheeky’) fanservice in gameplay (Helloooooo jiggle physics in Dead Or Alive! How YOU doin’ Silent Hill nurses?), Parasite Eve wisely elects not to portray Aya as the cheesecake who just happens to know how to use a gun. Aya dresses for the job she has been employed to do and none of if has to do with being deliberately visually appealing to the eyes of others. Despite the more bombastic elements of the plot and the lore which contributes to it, this story and its characters play more towards the realistic edge of the spectrum, which in turn contributes to the investment the player has. To be distracted solely by Ayas’ physical assets would undermine the gravity of not only the circumstances, but the character of Aya herself.
So yeah, I am of the firm opinion that Aya Brea is pretty swell, yet I feel she still doesn’t get nearly enough recognition that she deserves. Hard-working, intelligent, capable, vulnerable, persistent and takes absolutely no guff, she embodies a lot of what I love about my heroic women in gaming, especially those who face ridiculous odds. Speaking of which, in the next installment of DoDD, we are going to be looking at a Damsel who, just like Detective Brea, takes crap from nobody, even nobodies with no… bodies. One could say she is a… superS.T.A.R.
So yeah, I really dug the necrotic Hell out of Capcom’s latest boarding of the Remake Express with it’s head-lining survival horror series. As a massive fan of the final of the original trilogy (that felt a bit weird to write), when the developers announced they would be having a contemporary bash Jill Valentine’s Last Escape, I was hooked. After the unexpectedly and mostly solid revival thanks to RE7 and the predictable hit that was RE2make, my faith in Capcom had been reasonably restored for me to follow RE3makes’ progress.
For all of its’ flaws (and don’t get me wrong, there were quite a few, some understandable, others baffling and some plain frustrating), RE3make is easily one of the most entertaining and replayable titles I have had the pleasure of feeding my console. After all, I made it my personal mission to push myself to get the Plat and none of it felt like wasted time.
Alrighty, to brassy blood-stained tacks.
The following article will be brief, but it will contain slight spoilers, although it doesn’t so much affect the rest of the game. However, the reason I wanted to bring attention to this particular aspect of the game is how truly clever it is.
***** S P O I L E R / A L E R T / A H E A D *****
After the first cut scene concludes (a very timely one considering our current crisis, yikes), we are placed into the eyes and body of former S.TA.R.S. Alpha Team member and Empress of the Fucking Universe Jill Valentine, awakening from a troubled sleep in her modest apartment. The small bedroom is dark, dismal and void of colour.
A droning downpour buckets down outside and a small television set in the corner is displaying naught but soundless white noise. As we cross to an open window, Jill’s delicate hands reach out to grab the window pane to slam it shut, the rain almost mute, though a crack of thunder still manages to infiltrate Jills’ sanctuary. As she moves around her apartment, we see her shadow dance upon the walls as lightening flashes, startling her with a slight gasp. Tentatively, she makes her way into her bathroom where she notices the faucet is on. She leans down and looks up at her reflection in the bathroom mirror… before she sees her greatest terror realised; she is infected with the abomination that is the T-Virus.
She stumbles away in terror as her body succumbs to the lethal pathogen, veins haemorrhaging at the surface of her flesh, her vision blurring at an alarming rate as she violently coughs up viscous black blood. Her rapidly deteriorating heartbeat beats like the dirge of doomsday in her ears as she summons up the last bastion of strength to grab the rim of the basin so she may set eyes on her undead visage again. Crying, she clumsily grabs her Beretta resting to the side of the sink, hands shaking, the transformation almost complete before she raises the muzzle to her temple, closes her eyes and grimaces… and then awakens. For a few moments, she is safe… but not for long.
I feel the beauty of nightmares comes from how they sometimes are not entirely obvious to begin with and can operate quite perniciously if you are not lucid dreaming. You may start with a benign sense of discomfort, but nothing is outright warning you of the terrible events to follow. In this first playable section, however brief, you get a solid picture of the trauma Jill continues to endure after the horrific events of the Spencer Mansion Incident several months prior. As she groggily says, this fancy gets worse every night, which leads one to question if this slice of unpleasant psychological torture in Jills’ definition was worse, what were they previously like? In fact, this reminds me of Sarah Connor recounting her recurring nightmare of the nuclear apocalypse in Terminator 2, whilst being interviewed by the asylum’s doctors, each one escalating her inescapable mental torment.
Here, I want to give a few nice visual cues the nightmare presents. While one could not accuse any Resident Evil game of being extremely masterful of exploring the concept of dream logic, it was nevertheless refreshing to see this sort of detail being paid to an aspect of Jill Valentine’s mindset during this game.
An unremarkable bedside table with a lamp illuminating a Spartan bed… or perhaps it is a slab in a morgue or maybe in a mausoleum?
Same area, only this time, you see that the curtain which separates her sleeping/lounge area from her kitchen has been closed, a notion of claustrophobia can be felt here, though not obvious.
A formidable, deafening torrential rain outside where nothing else can be heard and a broken television set casting a deathly glare. To me, it feels like a combination of the tomb motif as well as the coming of the Nemesis which Jill may be able to subconsciously feel.
Perhaps a manifestation of wanting to defy the inevitable conclusion of tonight’s re-enactment? That window is the only point that was open before she moves to close it for good. Notice there aren’t too many visible details outside other than the building across the street. Another aspect to note is how other than shutting the window, entering the bathroom and turning the tap off, Jill does not manipulate anything else in this room until her awakening.
This one is my favourite; the T-Virus is known to reduce one’s appetite for regular food as the craving for human flesh begins to dominate the decaying brain. Here, it appears as if Jill’s mind is beginning to warn her something isn’t right, but it will not grant her the opportunity to escape by using this single slice of toast as a hint… or maybe even a venomous taunt.
In reality, when we generally aren’t feeling well, our nutritional intake tends to minimize but when we must eat, we tend to favor simple food such as plain toast to help ease our digestive systems back to normal function. Compare this with the below images below after the nightmare ends and we see quite a different story:
Not only is the world considerably vibrant, personable and warm, but our lady is carb-loading like nobody’s business! That pizza actually looks pretty delicious if I do say so myself.
Simple, unremarkable yet vulnerable clothing which does not really give Jill a visible sense of identity. Anonymous, one may even say, just like the shambling masses of the undead she is in moments going to become. The colour grading causes her to have a pale, drained appearance which is only compounded by her already slight and petite stature.
Final, terrifying moments of mortality. It makes you wonder if later incarnations of the nightmare would eliminate Jill’s last autonomous human act of picking up the gun to commit suicide. Quite a terrifying notion indeed.
Again, I freely give the developers their due for displaying this nice little piece of character insight and psychology. Precise, to the point and brilliant without insulting the nature of PTSD or the character of Jill Valentine. My only wish is if we had seen two more versions of this, both of which would display terrible revelations as the Rule of Three is a popular fictional trope for good reason.
That being said, however, nothing on this Earth could prepare me for the true horror of this game. The absolute and final atrocity to ever be witnessed by human eyes. A perversity, a transgression no being should ever have the misfortune of witnessing in their lives. The EPITOME of terror none can possibly fathom…
In the previous installment of DDoD, I discussed the underrated brilliance of the protagonist of Haunting Ground, Fiona Belli, who was flung into the deep end of an insidious and existentially terrifying state of affairs with a bit of social commentary and paganism peppered in for good measure.
Now it’s time to discuss her analogue, the self-proclaimed ‘Perfect Woman’, actual damaged lunatic-cum-broken bird, Daniella (superbly voiced by Moira Quirk channeling Mrs. Danvers from Hitchcock’s Rebecca), the maid of Belli Castle who also has the distinction of being one of the most disturbing and sympathetic digital villainesses ever; at least in my grimoire.
From the moment the player lays eyes on Daniella, they are simultaneously struck by her striking appearance (that hair!), somewhat inappropriate for work but dreamy for cosplay uniform and her cold, automaton bearing. With her dulcet, monotonous tone and unnaturally graceful movements, she doesn’t seem to so much see Fiona, but sees THROUGH her, as if the young woman is nothing but a piece of glass. A phlegmatic air of hostility emanates from the frosty beauty, but she does not present an immediate threat to Fiona… to begin with. For a while, Daniella appears completely oblivious to Fiona’s presence as the young woman navigates the expansive estate, cleaning various nooks and crannies, completely contained in her own mental realm, that is until she (very intimately) informs Fiona that dinner is… served.
After having been an indifferent background feature, Daniella cooks Fiona a hearty spread of something… questionable and stands by to watch the other woman consume her efforts as she lacksidasically explains something akin to a truncated biography; that she was created by her ‘Master’ to be the ‘Perfect Woman’ and she isn’t wrong; she is a Waterhouse beauty made homunculus flesh, a manufactured creation made in the name of perfection. As a result of this, she also admits to being anhedonic- the incapacity to experience pleasure or happiness.
If you thought this exchange wasn’t uncompromisingly uncomfortable enough, later, when Fiona sleeps, Daniella hovers over her reposing form, her pale, long-fingered hand overs narrowly above Fiona’s body as she looks intently at every part it surveys; her face, her throat, her breasts, her stomach and finally between her legs. After a moment, with look of frighteningly ardent intent, her hand presses squarely against Fiona’s clothed vagina, causing the girl to wake up in a fright. Daniella holds her gaze several moments more; one can’t decide if the look is supposed to be seductive or malign before she walks across the room to a mirror and, well… that’s when things get UGLY.
Daniella is SUCH an interesting character for multiple reasons; she is clearly mentally unstable, in fact, I would love to see a psychologist do a full profile of the various afflictions Daniella appears to harbor, and while there is little doubt she is terrifying, she is also a cautionary and tragic tale against the toxicity of the unchecked quest for the perfect when it comes to women and their bodies.
You can see where I am going with this, yes? Good, because this is a crucial part of Daniella as a character and her role in the game.
Fiona represents everything Daniella is not; she is human in every sense of the word. Daniella meanwhile is Galatea; an imitation. A beautiful imitation, but an imitation nevertheless. For all of her initial apathy in the first part of the game before she becomes a primary threat, she is a statue in motion obsessively, tirelessly attending to her role of complete servitude all because of harmful patriarchal desire.
Daniella was created specifically to unerringly, unquestioningly obey and undoubtedly to be a target of violent exploitation by two particular denizens of Belli Castle, which I won’t go in to for fear of spoilers and I don’t believe my own words can do the whole foul truth justice. However, as the story goes, a dog can only be kicked long enough before it bites back. Unfortunately in Daniella’s case, having met Fiona and undoubtedly detecting the younger woman’s significance with regards to her Azoth, something inside of her snaps. Daniella craves the ability to feel, she wants the ability to create, she wants to live… she wants to be a WOMAN and the only way to accomplish this is to eliminate the female threat.
In her demented mind, Fiona is the embodiment of her desires and frustrations, but rather than endeavor a treatise with Fiona, or find it within her to feel compassion for Fiona’s plight, her only solution is to kill the girl and take the Azoth for herself as she believes if she does, she too will become a ‘complete’ woman.
Or will she?
The twist? The tragic, terrible twist?
She will not.
Daniella is inferred in game to have always been a woman, born, not created.
From an early age, Daniella was abducted and molded by the Belli Castle denizens to a life of slavery among other things. So powerful and destructive was her conditioning, she accepted the fact she was a forgery. While there is little doubt that some alchemical force had deprived her of sensation and emotion while exaggerating her aesthetic appearance, she was utterly convinced that she was what she was shaped to be. Daniella’s life had been effectively ruined by the concept of perfection being taken to harmful degrees with no say in the matter. When she finally realises the architecture of her existence, it is far too late for her to reconcile or even hope to find a way of taking back her agency, another reason why she pursues Fiona so viciously.
I’m gonna square up with you. I sincerely feel Daniella is an exaggerated take on the female misogynist.
While men tend to take the cake statistically in the more visible arena of misogyny, an alarming number of women are misogynists too. In fact, women use misogynistic language more frequently than men do because it can insidiously be passed off a ‘harmless’ gossip just as sexist conversations between men are insistently regarded as ‘locker room banter’. Like their male counterparts, female misogynists are driven by irrational hate, fear of or contempt for other women. Daniella is a clear representation of this demographic due to how she behaves and reacts throughout the game. While she ultimately hates herself more than anybody else, she projects her hatred upon Fiona, resorting even to slut-shaming the young woman for no justifiable reason. For all of her external beauty, she possesses an ugly interior and because of this, she can’t look into a mirror, both literally and psychologically, which leads to her inevitable destruction.
Additional aside: There is an unspoken convention in storytelling about coding a character’s sexuality via the use of colour. In the case of Daniella with her luxurious purple locks, flawless complexion contrasted by her vaguely sexualised green and white ensemble, one can’t help but associate that particular palette with genderqueer and asexuality. General definition of genderqueer denotes a person who does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions but identifies with neither, both, or a combination of male and female genders. Many interpretations about Daniella’s sexual identity spawned from just how obsessively fixated the character becomes with Fiona, and not only that, the stalk segments involve her literally coming out of a closet with a long, jagged glass blade to surprise and penetrate Miss Belli.
That being said, Daniella appears to identify as asexual. While Daniella looks distinctly feminine with her vaguely fetishistic fantasy maid’s outfit and supermodel appearance, she does not show any hint of having authentic sexual desire. While some cut scenes suggest an eerie sense of sexual tension, it is clear she does not see Fiona as a potential romantic partner but a boon and a bane to her existence to be extinguished and utilized for her own means.
(Note: I could be reaching here, but usually woman-on-woman action is seen as something of a fetishistic fantasy by heterosexual men, but here it is splendidly inverted. I wonder if this was the intention of the creative crew?)
There is so much about the character of Daniella to admire, but I had to sum up why, I feel the best explanation I can provide is that despite her more exaggerated aspects, she is the best sort of villain; one with understandable motives that are visible in our own society… motives we can relate to. The unhealthy pursuit of perfection is a venomous thing as it completely undermines what the human experience is all about and take away what it truly means to be human; to be flawed, to accept our differences. This does statement does not account for every facet of our existence, but the moment we impose our notions of what we perceive as superlative on another person, and not only that, but pay heed to, that is when we lose sight of and deny who we truly are.
We become… incomplete.
By the way, take a listen to her stalking theme. It marvelously embodies the character. Disjointed, disturbing yet tragic, like a robotic swan choking on it’s blood.
First, please permit me to say this, Capcom; please have the Azoth to re-release OR give this game the loving remake treatment it so richly deserves as it is far too valuable to allow to tumble into obscurity!
Haunting Ground, known in Japan as Demento (デメント), was a PlayStation 2 survival horror which truly was far ahead of its time. Perhaps one may argue, a little too far ahead of its time.
After the blustering failure of Clock Tower 3, Capcom’s studio developed Haunting Ground. While technically not an official Clock Tower game, it still heavily consisted of ties to the Clock Tower series as a spin-off spiritual successor of sorts as it was created with many of the team members who worked on the third game.
In addition, Haunting Ground also bears many similarities to the Clock Tower series such as depraved stalkers who wanna KILL! KILL! KILL!, a panic system, unconventional inventory objects, hiding places and multiple endings dictated by how you elected to play the game. In perhaps the most surprising (but not really) twist, it has also been revealed that it was originally intended to be a Resident Evil game before that idea too was scrapped.
Upon release, Haunting Ground received poor sales due to extremely limited marketing as well as the SMALL fact that an obscure little game known as Resident Evil 4 had been released around the same time.
Yeah, it kinda never stood a chance.
Despite the initial disappointment however, the game received a faithful cult following including yours truly because of the game’s brain-tickling puzzles, intellectual story which plays with the convention of Gothic horror, soundtrack and truly fascinating characters not to mention the very impressive AI for Hewie, intriguing atmospheric aesthetics, respectable facial animation and mocap, effective voice acting, innovative game mechanics, and decent replay value.
So, enough about that, let’s talk about our Damsel.
Haunting Ground delves into the story of soft spoken, thoughtful and gentle teenage college student, Fiona Belli, who becomes trapped in her familys’ monstrous castle full of unthinkable, forbidden terrors and hostile residents who want to devour, kill, impregnate or do far worse.
In order to survive and hopefully her ordeal, she must befriend and utilize the white German Shepard companion Hewie all the while building up a solid foundation of mutual trust and respect with the Good Boye (one of the best game mechanics EVER!). Along the way, Fiona and the player discovers many truths, involving themes and affairs pertaining to legacy, philosophy, psychology, sexuality, alchemy and the perverse nature of belief.
Haunting Ground is a pointedly feminine game and a tremendously psychologically reflective one at that.
Fiona is hurtled into many predacious and insidious situations, all of which involve the goal being the claiming of her body, or specifically, the essence of what she carries inside of it. Fiona has inherited the alchemical Holy Grail known as the Azoth, the power to create and manipulate life. Fertile, ripened with youth and completely unaware of the gift residing within her, she is encroached on all sides by these people who wish to take it from her, regardless of how she feels and how much she knows despite the fact this Gothic castle belongs to her.
This may be her home, a seat of power for her family, but everywhere she turns, her aggressors seek to rob her of that power and self-determination.
The psychopaths do not see her as a fully-realised human being capable of thought with personal needs and desires, nor do they care. To them, she is but simply the means to an end of their own desires, one such looney is the only other female occupant of the castle, Daniella the maid, which further compounds the intense stakes of the game and its perverse and demented implications.
Throughout most of the story, Fiona makes her way through the castle dressed in an outfit that one many ordinarily consider ‘cheesecake’; a pandering ensemble which thoroughly emphasizes her voluptuous figure, but upon second blush, this isn’t necessarily mere fan service, but a strong and almost accusatory statement of Fiona’s plight.
For every jiggle of her generous bosom, the game surreptitiously causes the player to adapt and indulge in the gaze of her aggressors, inviting you to feast your eyes on her luscious figure and lean in closer to the screen to watch how her ample breasts move in her abbreviated outfit. You are seeing her as the object that the stalkers are, and when your realise just how thorough this manipulation is, it adds further to the fact that Haunting Ground is preying on a fundamental female fear. The disturbing notion doesn’t come from the fact that Fiona is clearly a beauty, but how quickly the game draws you in to viewing her through the lens of the very villains who wish to do all manner of unspeakable things to your avatar. It’s so personal, so penetrating and unflinchingly, boldly confronting.
Now, granted all human beings regardless of identity fear being exploited, undermined and being robbed of their autonomy, but it is no secret that women tend to hold this fear specifically given the confusing and frustrating standards they can be held to, most of which can be traced back to their physical appearance. The concept of physical beauty and desirability has shifted throughout history, but the notion of expectation has always remained the same. Even today, this argument continues back and forth between various communities which in turn sends mixed messages to everybody else who is listening.
While most games tend to fall back on a typical interpretation of a Strong Female Character (TM), Haunting Ground doesn’t take that route by placing Fiona’s involvement as a true pacifist who does not at any time pick up arms to fight. A lot of the time, Fiona is highly reactive to the horrors taking place around her, can only run and hide when threatened, never has a formal Enough Is ENOUGH Moment (TM) and cannot for the life of her give or take a punch. She abhors violence so much so that it genuinely nauseates her.
And I bet some of you thought “OMG, she is so LAME.“.
Remember what I said earlier about Haunting Ground being psychologically reflective? What if I told you that your knee-jerk reaction to Fiona’s noted lack of overt and expected proactivity says a lot more about how you think as a person opposed to the character herself?
Something which has always bothered me about central female characters is how unless they are visibly showing any semblance of strength, they are written off as burdens fit to be mocked if not downright reviled. While there is no doubt there are quite a few game characters who follow this trope, in Fiona Belli’s case, her true power comes from within; she is a compassionate, emotionally intelligent young woman who makes it a habit to think before she takes action, regardless of how big or small the undertaking is.
For all of her previously sheltered upbringing and naiveté, this crucible of terror summons forth a mentally fortified individual who is keenly observant and relies on her wits to get out intense situations. In fact, if one were to go a little further, she could actually be seen as a version of the Triple Goddess.
The Triple Goddess is an archaic pagan belief which focuses on the feminine aspect through the depiction of a trio of female deities; the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone. The Maiden represents innocence and beauty, the Mother is the figure of maternity and nurturing (the concept of motherhood is not always literal, mind you) and the Crone is the personification of wisdom and experience. Throughout the story, Fiona uncovers revelations with regards to her familial history, where she came from and what she is capable of. Fiona effectively undergoes a version of this very transformation as she endures every one of her tribulations, even if it is not entirely obvious or mentioned in-game.
A lot of the games’ intimate subtext regarding Fiona’s internal fire comes from her building a close and loving bond to Hewie which is perhaps the most visible and relatable manifestation of Fiona’s positive attributes. We are not often given the opportunity to step into the shoes of a Good Girl character because the trope is consistently written off as being ‘boring’ and ‘regressive’. Fiona is NOT regressive, nor is she remotely boring. Capcom created a character which deliberately goes against the grain and that is what gives Fiona that much more agency. To dismiss her would once again just prove the point that the game makes.
While the romance of the blood-splattered, unhinged and survivalist Final Girl cannot be denied, there is no place for it in Haunting Ground because what enables Fiona to prevail and survive this cruel and unusual series of events goes far beyond a shotgun, a barrage of sassy one-liners and the ability to physically throw down. Haunting Ground is at heart a game about the benefits of kindness, emotional maturity, empathy and above all, the power of love and friendship. What truly endears Fiona to the open-minded player is her capacity for goodness, warmth and her consideration for the ramifications of her actions, regardless of how big or how small they may initial appear. It is because of this she is able to escape the nightmare with a stronger psychological constitution and confidence without having to sacrifice her own fundamental integrity.
A remarkably satisfying and unique character journey if there ever was one.
And the valuable assistance of a Very Good Boye doesn’t hurt either.
This is an announcement post for an upcoming series I have planned devoted to the diverse heroines AND villainesses of horror games, some you may recognise, others you are most certainly glad you will meet while others you wouldn’t want to in a darkened alley… or castle.
To me, there is something Erebusianally magical about horror as far as women are concerned.
While the genre undoubtedly speaks to all and mirrors very particular aspects related to identity, sex and orientation, horror is a particularly cathartic experience for women as it not only allows us to safely indulge in a delicious and varied array of taboos and power fantasies while fostering deep introspection, but most importantly, for every exaggerated stab of the knife there is a home truth which, if you ask any woman, they will be able to tell you they have experienced something akin to it.
It could also be due to the fact that it has the primal root to menstruation, when the female body bleeds in order to maintain it’s balance and order… however that species of discussion is best reserved for another occasion.
And I love gaming, so there’s that.
So, who is the first lucky lady?
Let’s just say this Digital Damsel has inherited not only a bountiful fortune, a Gothic castle and voluptuous, jiggly genes, but also a hideous familial legacy she never even knew she had.
James Camerons’ slasher science fiction classic The Terminator is highly regarded by many, each reason as viable as the next. Arnie being the monosyllabic cybernetic mechanical beast, Michael Biehn’s justified instability and heroic competence as Kyle Reese and the forced awakening of untapped inner strength as beautifully portrayed by Linda Hamilton. On top of that, we get some dazzling visual effects (though obviously some don’t quite hold up, but what can ya do?), memorable set pieces (dat Tech-Noir shootout gives me goosebumps every time I watch it), a banging and expressive soundtrack by Brad Fiedel and a beautiful grindhouse cinema aesthetic which transcends the surface and dares to dive deeper without becoming masturbatory or pretentious. It has fully earned its standing as one of the most important and influential films by the Library of Congress in addition to the adoration it has garnered by legions of fans.
However, one aspect I find gets overlooked is the films’ third hero; Detective Lieutenant Edward Traxler played by the late and criminally brilliant Paul Winfield.
Traxler is an honest, hard-working cop with a hard nose for bullshit with a wisely compassionate heart. While most times laconic, particularly towards the media who are trying to muscle in on his investigation in early scenes, there is little doubt in your mind that this guy is more than able enough to clean up the mean streets of Los Angeles circa 1984 with a wire sponge, especially when he finally crosses paths with Kyle and Sarah who have been taken into custody after their thrilling first encounter with the Terminator.
(Note: An awesome detail here is that this takes place after the aforementioned Tech-Noir massacre where a concerned Sarah first made verbal contact with Traxler over the payphone.)
While the film primarily focuses its attention on our two leads who are destined to create the savior of humanity and the muscle-bound mean machine, it is a wonder that one of the greatest character arcs in the film can be seen in Traxler. Although rightly skeptical of the insistent warnings of Kyle Reese about their pursuer being a cyborg sent from the future to slay the mother of a living legend, he doesn’t dismiss the possibility that this indestructible menace exists in the form of the sort of serial killer he has undoubtedly come to loggerheads with in the past. In the scene when Sarah, Traxler, Detective Vukovich (Lance Henriksen) and professional shit-snarker Doctor Silberman (Earl Boen) watch a VHS play back of Silberman’s interview where Reese raves about just what the Terminator will do to Sarah involving reaching down her throat and ripping her heart out, while his colleagues have a good laugh at the dishevelled lunatics’ expense, Traxler is deep in thought.
He isn’t laughing, high-fiving or even letting slip the ghost of a smile; he is thinking critically. The guy cussing on the playback may not possess the soundest of minds and their powerful aggressor may not be something as fantastical as a killer robot, but the traumatised woman by his side is in serious danger and as a cop, it is his responsibility to uphold his obligation to the system.
In the following sequence, Traxler gives Sarah his own rundown of what may actually be happening by his professional understanding and it works… for a time.
Armed with a cup of tea and the soothing voice of sagacious fatherly reason, Traxler consoles Sarah by saying the Terminator is not a impervious cybernetic transhuman abomination, just a very dangerous man who is wearing a particularly fortified bulletproof vest, similar to the one he shows Sarah (followed by Henriksen’s hilarious suggestion of PCP, lol). Additionally, he goes out of his way to grant her a private room so she may rest, assuring her that not only is she perfectly safe but she will be sleeping on the most comfortable couch in the station.
Later, when the Terminator decides to pay a quaint visit to the LAPD and the place erupts into a bloodbath reeking of gunsmoke and nihilistic terror, Traxler jumps into the fray as you would expect, armed with his expertise and a fuck-off shotgun. Tragically, like every other cop in the shop, he is mowed down without a second thought by the Terminator, but in a deleted scene, Traxler is found by the fleeing Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese. In his dying moments he urges Reese to keep Sarah safe and implies that he believes Reese. Unfortunately, this beautiful moment was cut only for the sake of pacing, but it draws a satisfactory conclusion to a marvelously grounded character arc in a narrative of mayhem.
Now, while I am not saying this was Camerons’ or even Winfields’ intention, I find this entire element of the film bears a resemblance the episode of Doubting Thomas from the Bible. In general terms, the moniker of a Doubting Thomas was inspired by the Apostle Thomas who refused to believe in Jesus’ resurrection until he felt the wounds the Son of God attained whilst suffering upon the cross. In regular circles, it is still applied to a heavily skeptical individual who refuses to believe without direct and tangible evidence. In the King James Bible Book of John 20:24–29 the long and short of the tale is as follows;
“24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.
25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.
26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: [then] came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace [be] unto you.
27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust [it] into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.
28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.
29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed [are] they that have not seen, and [yet] have believed.”
While clearly not as cut and dry an allegory in the literal sense, Traxlers’ journey from understandably incredulous policeman who applies the logical to the illogical to somebody who ‘sees the light’ even as he is embraced in the darkness of death and riddled with bullets (an inverse stigmata?) is an amazing one. Thanks to a combination of writing and performance, the character of Detective Lieutenant Edward Traxler should not be overlooked during a conversation involving this film.
Who doesn’t love a good cryptid that also serves as a paragon of the importance of Leg Day?
Luckily, I know that’s not what you are, dear reader so cheers for taking the time to read this exceptionally brief fluff piece about one of my favourite boogeymen, Spring-Heeled Jack.
A brief overview; Spring-Heeled Jack thrived in and haunted the nightmares of those who lived in Victorian era during the First Industrial Revolution in the form of folk tales and the ever so sensational realm of the penny dreadful. The First Industrial Revolution was a monumental time in history which saw the production of goods that had once been painstakingly crafted by hand come to be produced in mass quantities by steam-driven machines in factories, thanks to the introduction of new devices and techniques in textiles, iron making and other industries. In addition to this technology, the topic of worker’s rights, equitable wages and safety policies were being discussed, disputed and deployed into the industry giving those of low means a better work environment and better pay. Of course, this road was not a smooth one and rarely without some source of bloodshed as revolutions tend to be.
However, despite this, as with any season of change there came the inevitable human reaction of fear. Being afraid of change is absolutely nothing new as it has always been the opposing force to any progressive idea proposed throughout history and it continues to be a major aspect of every society. With the workers, seeing these new machines being brought in, they most likely felt threatened, perhaps deep down they felt existential horror; if these hot and metallic monstrosities were the future, did that mean they were the distant past? That they could cease to be once these contraptions had filled up the warehouses? Change is not only necessary, but it is always perceived as a monster of the unknown by those not willing to embrace it, which brings us to my man Jack.
We all know the concept of the boogeyman is the direct fruit which is the result of human paranoia and anxieties, regardless of the epoch. Fairytales once acted as allegories to enforce the obedience of children, Godzilla’s genesis was being the avatar of the indisputable unharnessable power of nuclear destruction while Freddy Kruger represents not only the disparity of communication between the older generation with the new, but also how the sins of one dynasty will heavily impact the next. No matter where you look, the true boogeyman resides in you, me and everybody else.
In the case of Spring-Heeled Jack, he is a clear allegory for this anxiety brought on by the First Industrial Revolution in all of those who worked and/or profited during the time of strictly human-based labor. Spring-Heeled Jack was mostly described by people who claimed to have seen him as having a frightful appearance, with diabolical physiognomy, clawed hands, and eyes that “resembled red balls of fire”. One report claimed that, beneath a black cloak, he wore a horned helmet and a tight-fitting white garment which appeared to be an oilskin. (Note: Oilskin as you may probably know is used as a waterproof garment which was originally manufactured for the use of sailors in the 1700s.)
Many stories also mention a distinctly Christian Devil aspect. Other testimonies noted he was remarkably tall with a lean, sharp face, with the appearance and outward bearing of a typical Victorian gentleman while some even stated that the fiend liked to disguise himself in multitudes of garb so he could pass by the masses unnoticed on his way to his next victim. Several reports mention that he could breathe out burning hot blue and white flames and that he wore sharp metallic talons at his fingertips. At least two people claimed that he was able to speak comprehensible English.
Although Jack liked to hassle many people, he tended to favor the low-level folk the most, with a particular predilection for women (because OF COURSE), with one of the most prevalent testimonies being that of Mary Stevens.
While Mary was walking to Lavender Hill after visiting her parents in Battersea, she was accosted as she crossed Clapham Common by a strange figure who leapt at her from a dark alley. After immobilising her with a tight grip of his arms, he began to kiss her face, as he ripped at her clothes and touched her with invasive iron claws, which were, according to her deposition, “cold and clammy as those of a corpse”. Thankfully, the girl screamed loudly which caused her aggressor to rapidly flee the scene. The commotion brought several concerned residents who immediately launched a search for the aggressor, but he could not be found.
The following day, the fiend was reported to have selected a different victim near Mary Stevens’ home which inaugurated a method that would reappear in later reports: he jumped in the path of a passing horse-driven carriage, which caused the coachman (who was clearly scared shitless) to lose control, crash, and severely injure himself. Although he lived, he no longer drove a carriage after that event in fear of it happening again. Several witnesses to the incident claimed that the attacker had escaped by jumping over a nine foot (2.7 meters for those of you who use metric) high wall while cackling with a high-pitched, shearing and maddening laughter (shearing… like metal on metal?) which rang in the ears of everybody assembled for time to come.
Firey eyes. Infernal breath. Metallic clawed hands. Cold, inhuman grip. Unnaturally high-pitched laughter. An unstoppable creature wearing the clothes of a man but with an inhuman counternance making a mockery of society without regard for law and decency.
Spring-Heeled Jack is arguably the personification of the fear which rode in with the First Industrial Revolution with not only his lurid appearance, but also his behavior; powerful and unpredictable, just like the unusual apparatuses which had begun to dominate the workforce. Spring-Heeled Jack was the exaggerated response to the immortal human terror of change which makes him so compelling to me.
Speaking of which, although there have been a few films which have featured the cheeky son of a bitch, none of them have been worth a damn which makes me tempted to do something about that because the possibilities for the character are endless.