A personal version of my favorite Andersen tale. I hope you will like it.
I am different. I have always been. For my mother, it’s as if I were an extra-terrestrial. But having no place among those hanging around on a mound of dirt doesn’t seem so bad, when you have the whole sea as your home… If I could properly redefine the terms myself, I would say that they were similar to each other; not that I was different. They were the ones who looked nothing like me; who had neither my ardor nor my boldness.
At the first rays of the sun across the big blue, you had to be up already, doing the healthy breaststrokes of the morning, in order to thank the day for having put an end to one more night; in our beliefs it meant that the end of the world was still far away. In this precise order, you had to let the whales, huge and graceful, pass first. Then came the turn of sea turtles, accompanied by molluscs. Afterwards, in a rainbow torrent, a whole flock of diverse, multicolored fish rained down, some more cheerful than the others. And finally, the parade of mermaids, in well-ordered rows, from our coastal cave to the coral reef, without forgetting to always throw the first fin stroke from left to right. Always ! This, orchestrated with the most perfect harmony in the azure and salty blue of an awakening sea. “Stand up straight on your tail! I heard my mother grumble every morning. “Brows up! All, without exception, gave themselves up with grace and zeal to this abominable morning masquerade. And to close the show, it took hours to harvest enough seaweed for the day’s meals. Aren’t they fed up? As soon as I reached puberty, I withdrew from these activities. My rebellious behavior had ended up driving a wedge first between my mother and me, then between the other mermaids and me. The difference was scary. They didn’t look like me, so they kicked me out.
I liked it better in my corner of the sea, waving my massive tail softly, my beautiful brush set with precious stones in my hands, languidly combing my abundant hair. I had found a secluded, deep space not far from the reef where I could snuggle up in the hold of an old ship that had sunk. He was massive. Wonderful. He bore his name well; “La Santa Ma…” printed on its side. The Santa Madonna? Santa Marianna? Santa Maria…? That was all that was legible; “La Santa Ma”… The rest had been erased, and destroyed. I wonder what hair-raising adventure this boat has had… At its prow stood a magnificent woman’s trunk; she had a haughty bearing, her arm firmly raised, and her hair frozen in the direction of the wind. Sometimes I tried to talk to her, to find out her story, but she kept the secret of her eternity to herself, her gaze lost in the distance. Time crashed heavily like waves as I hid in this haven. I contented myself with swallowing what fell under my fins; small crustaceans, worms, sometimes even shrimp hidden here and there in the hold of the boat. But no algae. I could no longer bear this vegetal taste which marked in bitter letters the dreary and monotonous existence of a siren. There had to be something more than just existing. And one night, I discovered it. The Big Blue had fallen into a deep sleep that night. Inky night on land, and under sea. Only the distant glow of a timid moon glided over the almost motionless surface of the water; grain of light in my salty night.
Not a single small fish in sight. Everything was sleeping. Except those above…. Suddenly I felt a call. From the top. He was powerful. Like a punch to the heart. He was almost overpowering my own will. I perceived moreover, a metallic scent, delicious, new, that I did not know. I soared towards that call, cutting through the sea. I carefully stuck my head out of the water, dazzled by mysterious hymns emitted to the tribal sound of the drum, by a crowd of restless earthlings dressed in white. One of them saw me and exclaimed:
— There it is…the water spirit! She heard us!
Saying this, he grabbed an empty conch shell and began to blow with all his might. A bewitching sound made me shiver and prompted me to reveal myself then in full to them, erect on my large shimmering emerald tail, garlands of pearls at my belt. They were much smaller than in my memories, these earthlings. Dead silence. They all knelt down. Except one, waist deep in water, who seemed to implore me with a whimper. He was restrained by heavy chains. Looking at him I understood that he had been beaten. The metallic smell became stronger, more insistent, so I approached him, looking for the source of this intoxicating aroma that had pulled me out of my hole. Staring at his dripping wrist, I then discovered that red, throbbing elixir tickling my gills from the depths.
— What is your name, spirit?! I was shouted — I am Simbi, I answered. — Accept our sacrifice, mistress of the waters, and give us back the rain!
How? ‘Or’ What ? I was just a simple mermaid. What power did I have over nature to the point of extracting the rain from it alone? I had never touched a hair of an earthling; but by the time I came to my senses, there was nothing left but chains reddened by the feast I had just enjoyed. I had crunched many times, while an explosion of new flavors made me vibrate from my claws to the tip of my cock. I cheerfully licked my fingers, my arms, my lips. I wanted more, I wanted more…I approached the shore, beckoning the other earthlings to join me in the scarlet water… A flash of lightning streaked across the sky. And the clouds began to cry, the birth of a sea monster…
Today I bring you a horror story. The beginnings of this story were written some time ago, quite a long time in fact. I started writing it shortly after my accident. I found it in a pile of writings that my grandmother kept, then I reworked it to become what it is today. This story comes from the bottom of me so I’m very attached to it, but I know that it may not please everyone.
If you want something happier, I suggest you wait until next week for another much lighter story.
This story was written at a time when I was not doing very well and is much darker than what I usually write. I’m talking about violent scenes that might shock some people and I use profanity there.
The man wore an old-fashioned black suit, he sported a thin mustache and his searching eyes were like two balls of hot coals. He was tall and thin, almost inconceivably. Alicia cringed when she saw him on her doorstep. A strange apprehension gripped her, gripping her heart in a vice of ice. The stranger entered the vestibule. Discovering a razor-blade smile, he said in a honeyed voice without even introducing himself:
To form a couple, it inevitably takes two, is not it?
Uncomfortably, Alicia nodded. However, she did not understand what the man was talking about. The young woman bitterly regretted the absence of her husband: Paul would never have allowed this individual to enter their house! He had a holy horror of door-to-door salesmen, especially when they were as intrusive as this one. Intrusive…and bizarre, with its long, spindly body, which reminded Alicia of a horrible stick insect with a human face… In the hallway, the stranger gave her a wink.
“Relax, dear! he declared. You have nothing to fear. They call me Benitor, the miracle worker. My partner and I are here to help you…
Alicia winced: her partner? Until proven otherwise, the seller was alone. No one accompanied him. At least, so far… The man reached inside his black suit. Alicia had the absurd belief that he was a pervert. The patient was about to throw himself on her, armed with a kitchen knife, a taser or an ice pick… But the intruder contented himself with extracting a soft and shapeless mass, similar to a mask of rubber. He quickly put it on his right hand. A rattling voice then rose:
— Bonjour, ma petite ! Je suis Compère, l’assistant de Monsieur Benitor, mon bon maître… Son bras droit, en quelque sorte ! Enfin, l’assistant, c’est un peu facile : d’un bout à l’autre des Mondes, comme à l’intérieur des Cercles d’ailleurs, c’est moi qui me tape tout le boulot !
The so-called Benitor raised his shark gaze to the sky, as if to say: “Ah! He’s starting again!”
A ventriloquist! Well, as a way of selling, Alicia had to acknowledge that it was original. However, she remained anxious, almost frightened, because the puppet was not reassuring. It was a head, obviously that of a man, with a pale complexion and blue lips, stringy hair and eye sockets filled with darkness. Morbid, was the word that came to the young woman’s mind, and it was the adjective that best suited this hideous figure.
The thing resumed:
— We are here to offer you a unique offer, which you cannot refuse. Yes, yes, I assure you: no need to play scared sluts!
Alicia doubted she had heard correctly. For a moment, she thought she would take to her heels. But, paralyzed by fear, she remained incapable of the slightest reaction. And something, in the stick man’s sooty gaze, nailed her to the spot… Adopting the cavernous tone of his own voice, and wearing a serious countenance, Benitor continued:
— Be sure that we understand your sadness. We sympathize. After all, fate has befallen your husband. It’s natural for you to be upset…
Buddy spat on the ground, at Alicia’s feet. A reddish spit, within which a horde of maggots was struggling. The young woman felt her heart racing. But, stunned by what she had just heard, she found herself once again unable to make the slightest gesture. Paul had been in hospital for two weeks, in critical condition following a serious car accident. He lay in a coma, and doctors were pessimistic about his chances of ever waking up. How did this stranger know her husband? And then, what did he want?
— You’ll soon understand,” the disfigured puppet gritted, as if reading his thoughts. We have come to offer you our services, because we are able to help you. Finally, it was he who insisted, above all…
The mask nodded in the direction of its master.
— I was just going to take it easy,” he continued. But hey: it’s the great chef who leads the way! Anyway, what you need to know is that your husband can be cured today…
Alicia blinked, but didn’t formulate her thoughts. Nevertheless, the human head belched:
— Of course it’s true! What do you think ? That we came to cut the piece of fat, while your stupid husband slaps?
The word “slap” was accompanied by a deluge of scarlet sputters.
— So, the mask said, like I said, he could come home and you’d be free to get laid again, and everything and everything… At least, if you wanted to?
The sentence remained suspended, like a slap in the face. Of course she wanted him more than anything!
Benitor took the floor again to exclaim cheerfully:
— Good ! In that case, all you have to do is give us your okay, dear, so that we can get your husband back on his feet. My partner and I have exceptional power, which I like to call a gift. The power of life over death.
Alicia felt her heart skip a beat. If it was a joke, it turned out to be in very bad taste! Nevertheless, somewhere deep inside her, the young woman knew that an incredible thing was happening. She felt it dimly in the way the stranger spoke, in his horrible puppet parody, and in that strange vibration that seemed to cloud the air.
In a calm tone, the Tick-insect-man continued:
— Know, however, that in return, I will come and take what is rightfully mine. This is an honest deal, made between well-meaning people…
Compère partit d’un rire éraillé.
— So, continued Benitor, I ask you again: will you allow us to save your husband? Without quick action on our part, he will die, I can guarantee you that.
The young wife was flabbergasted by the audacity of the seller. However, driven by despair, she found herself sketching an affirmative nod. After all, what did she have to lose?
Benitor then declared, loud and clear:
— All in good time ! Your wish will be granted, and we will exercise our special gift on your loved one to save him. As for us, we will see each other very soon!
Buddy laughed again, an icy croak that twisted Alicia’s eardrums and hammered her skull. Then the ventriloquist also emitted a strident air, a shrill melody reminiscent without question… The phone woke her up and the dream slipped away like a thief. The young woman sat on the edge of her bed, her head in her hands. She remained shaken for a moment: what a delirious dream! So real… But she didn’t have much time to think about it anymore, because the phone kept whining.
Alicia walked fearfully towards the bell, not daring to grab the receiver. This call in the middle of the night seemed like an ominous sign. Before she could stop, she picked up the phone.
C’était l’hôpital. Paul était miraculeusement sorti du coma. Ses jours ne se trouvaient plus en danger. Alicia remercia l’infirmière, raccrocha, puis se laissa glisser sur le sol où elle pleura à chaudes larmes.
A few days later, Paul came home. Life then resumed its course. The couple took advantage of the smallest pleasures of existence. Both seemed happy, truly, because they knew ephemeral happiness. However, a shadow marred this idyllic picture.
Alicia felt that her husband was hiding something from her. Paul did his best to appear comfortable, but he often looked distant, bewildered, as if lost in a trying memory. The young woman was burning with desire to know the cause of this hassle, without however daring to question it. Her husband had just recovered from a coma; she didn’t want to rush him.
Finally, one evening when the couple was comfortably installed in their little garden, contemplating a magnificent starry vault, Paul confided. Feverish, he seemed unable to contain himself from speaking.
— I don’t know if you’re going to believe me, Alicia. Perhaps you will take me for a madman? However, I must tell you what happened, just before I came out of the coma…
Her voice sounded hesitant, which surprised Alicia. Her husband had always been someone strong, thoughtful and collected. But this thing that had been gnawing at him since his return… “ He came so close to death ”, she thought, shuddering.
Enough to shake the strongest of men.
— I was in complete darkness, he began anxiously. An intense darkness, almost palpable, which seemed to stretch to infinity. I was vaguely aware of being awake, but not really. It was a dream, or maybe a nightmare, but it was also very real…
Paul secoua la tête, frustré de ne parvenir à mieux s’exprimer. Il cherchait ses mots, incapable de trouver ceux qui auraient retranscrit au mieux son expérience.
— Quand ils sont apparus, reprit-il en frémissant, j’ai d’abord vu l’homme. Il m’a fait penser à un colporteur. Ce fut le mot qui me vint sur le moment, même si j’ignore pourquoi. Il semblait anormalement grand et mince, comme un insecte répugnant…
Alicia felt a deep unease as her own dream resurfaced. Her mind monopolized by Paul’s awakening, she had completely concealed the insane dream. Now the stick man came back to him.
With growing terror, she listened to the rest of the story.
— He held the head of a puppet, horrible, repulsive. Both approached me. I still couldn’t move or run away. I didn’t want to, however, believe me!
Alicia thought about the paralysis that had taken hold of her, in her own nightmare. A shiver ran down his spine.
— L’homme a tendu cette chose vers moi, continua Paul d’une voix défaillante. Cette horrible tête boursouflée… La marionnette s’est mise à dévorer un truc noir qui sortait de mon corps. Un genre de mélasse, ou je ne sais quoi. La créature mastiquait en provoquant des bruits atroces…
Paul paused. Alicia took his hand, both to support him and to reassure herself. When the young man spoke again, he seemed a little calmer.
— The most delirious thing is that it made me feel good! he wondered. Gradually, I regained awareness of the real world. As if this strange duo took hold of the evil lodged in me. Then I woke up.
Alicia remained silent. What could she have said? Her husband lived, that was all that mattered. She was afraid of shocking him, even traumatizing him, by evoking her own dream. Then she was silent, and the two embraced each other tenderly under the stars.
The night after Paul’s story, Alicia dreamed again. The ventriloquist reappeared, alone this time. He was smiling amiably, like an old friend met on the street. However, his arrival owed nothing to chance. Alicia thanked him warmly for granting her wish.
— It’s nothing, Benitor assured him. And then I didn’t do much. It is Compère who should be congratulated, he who courageously took hold of the disease from which your husband suffered. Unfortunately, the poor perished in the business. This is how…
Alicia wanted to tell him how sorry she was, but the man didn’t give her time.
— I’m here to remind you of our market, he went on. You allowed us to save your husband, and now I’m coming back to take what’s mine. It’s because, you see, I can’t practice without a partner. I need someone through whom to transmit my gift. Since you had my help, it only seems right to return the favor. That is why…
As he spoke, Benitor pulled an ax from under his long black coat. Alicia stared at the blade, horrified and fascinated.
— You will understand, and forgive me, what is to follow. I am sure !
The ax sliced through the air and sliced clean through the young woman’s neck. His work done, Benitor bent down to take hold of his head. He put it on his right hand, like an ugly scarlet mitten. The magic worked and the face took on a demonic grin.
— To form a couple, it inevitably takes two, is not it? said it in a nasal voice.
When Paul awoke the next morning, he discovered with amazement, lying in the bloody sheets, the headless body of Alicia.
Attention SPOILERS! You can consult the list of films mentioned at the end of the article.
Out of almost 30 films seen, the number of films depicting male and / or female werewolves is almost similar. We often have the representation that a werewolf is a man, when it is not. The werewolf represents marginality. But this transforming body also refers to that of the woman. We left for the analysis of the representation of the werewolf.
The wolf and the human
The appearance of the werewolf
The werewolf, a shield against gender-based violence?
Love, elexir of the curse
The wolf packs
Conclusion: the wolf is in you
A werewolf (or lycanthrope therefore), is a human being who transforms completely or not, into a wolf. It can transform unintentionally, (often on a full moon), or intentionally. So there is one version of the beast that dominates, and the other that endures. The 1st written record of the werewolf myth dates from the 5th century. Suffice to say that the lycanthrope had time to know several stories.
Although the werewolf is considered a powerful, malignant beast, he is viewed negatively:
It is a punishment of Zeus on Lycaon (Greek king),
He is associated with murderers and child eaters. As for example Gilles Garnier in 1570. We will note here the link with the Big Bad Wolf,
To become a wolf is to be linked to the beast that kills cattle (which represents food and clothing),
There was a werewolf hunt like a witch hunt,
Feeling like a werewolf can be a symptom of a mental disorder.
It is the writer and politician Gervais de Tilbury who is behind the connection with the werewolf who transforms during a new moon (and not a full moon as it is now portrayed). He writes it in his Book of Wonders in the 12th century.
The moon is a satellite that has an important place in our beliefs, whether they are ancient or not. Moreover, it is very present through everyday expressions: being in the moon, getting the moon, being badly mooned, even being beautiful as the moon …
It has several symbols:
Change. A lunar cycle goes through a different perception of the moon. We talk about new moon, 1st crescents, quarters, waxing gibbous moon, and once the full moon is reached, the cycle starts again in the other direction. A gradual transformation therefore. To evoke a changing mental disorder, we speak of lunatic people.
Fertility. With his lunar cycle of 29 days, he is close to a menstrual cycle, usually around 28 days. It took no more for our Greek and Roman ancestors to associate the moon with the feminine (although there is no scientific evidence of a link between the 2). Thus, according to Aristotle, the full moon would facilitate the delivery. The moon therefore has its Greek goddess, Selene, and Roman, Luna. Note that these goddesses are transformed into witches (obviously evil) on new moon nights, following a pact with the Devil.
The power of nature. It is for this reason that witches are said to keep their Sabbaths, this feast, during a full moon. A symbiosis between nature and gods / goddesses, in an isolated corner, which will allow the magic not to be disturbed. It’s not surprising then that the moon is directly linked to the idea that the werewolf is a direct return of man, to nature. These elements make it an undeniable reference to the feminine.
If we look at its more scientific side, it is not devoid of interest either. We can note:
Its link with the Earth. The moon is often associated with the sun when in reality its pair would be more with the Earth. Indeed, 4 billion years ago, the Earth and the moon were one, and it was after a collision with another planet that they were fractured. It is for this reason that rock compositions are found on the moon, which are similar to the Earth. Thus, if we associate the moon with the transformation of man into a werewolf, we can see in it the fusion between the moon and the Earth. The latter obviously represents Men.
Its link with the sea. The moon is a source of reassuring light for sailors. But above all, the combined forces of gravity of the moon and the sun, regulate the tides.
2-The wolf and the human
Before getting to the heart of the matter, it’s worth noting that the werewolf movie subgenre has a reputation for offering a lot of (very) bad movies. And I will not go against this received idea, which is rather true (even if we find some pearls).
What questioned me, however, is why? Because horror subgenres featuring more or less monstrous animals are common in genre cinema. And if everything is obviously not successful, that does not prevent us from having very good films ranging from Alien, via Cujo, The Thing or The Fly, which for some tackle a transformation of the human being.
It remains very complicated to represent the transformation of a human into an animal that is close and known to us. Especially since humans have little to do with a canine, morphologically speaking. It is therefore a tour de force to succeed in making a human body evolve into the body of a wolf. Especially if we have to represent the body which becomes human again. There is a bit of an absurd and funny side in the end. Like a disguise.
On the other hand, the link between man and wolf is very old. These are 2 species that quickly got along. They are social, work in packs, eat similar foods (which explains their clash over cattle, even though we know there are more dogs that kill them than wolves). The wolf and the man are also attached to the notion of territory to defend, to mark it, to conquer it.
But we also know that Man became the first predator of the wolf in the Middle Ages, when their extermination really began. Clashes between inhabitants of mountainous regions and wolves are still raging today. The wolf has therefore been a protected species since 1990, which does not prevent some from killing them, exasperated. The situation is worsening with global warming, which pushes humans and animals to live closer and closer. Yet this cohabitation is ancestral; we just lost the habit of living in harmony with animals. A habit that we will surely have to resume. The human being who must live in peace with wolves. In the same way that the werewolf materializes this challenge for humans to live in harmony with their wolf side.
Man is an animal like any other
With Man transformed into an (other) animal, werewolf films often question Man’s relationship to his animality. The way the bestial aspect takes over, and the consequences that affect his life. As if we were starting from the principle that Man is not an animal, but a civilized being (even if we should define what we put behind the word civilized). Indeed, we know that the genetic differences between apes and humans are minimal. In addition, it should be known that the man is the only one of his kind to strike and kill his companion. So, there are now anthropologists, who tend to put men and animals on a similar level.
3-The appearance of the werewolf
Visually, the werewolf offers few variations. The main difference that can be noted between films, is the choice to show a gradual, partial or radical transformation.
Progressive female transformation
This is the first difference in treatment between male and female werewolves that can be noted. In the vast majority of cases, we see a gradual transformation of women. That is, we see the character’s face evolve; but she keeps her human appearance. When I say gradual transformation, I mean stages that you see for a shorter or longer time in the film. I ignore the gradual transformation that can occur just before the total transformation.
This is the case in the Ginger Snaps saga. We can also note a gradual and partial transformation in the magnificent Danish film When animals dream. Gradually, Ginger and Marie’s face wrinkles, giving them a sharp and pointed appearance. The hair becomes lighter, and the eyes become sharper. Ditto in I Am Lisa.
Their faces are reminiscent of the painting by the German Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Two Women at the Street (1914). In this painting, he represents two women who show their new independence with sensuality and confidence. The angular lines, the vigorous hatching give an impression of a lively and violent movement. The sharp lines and masks of the faces refer to the primitivism that Kirchner greatly appreciates. The independence that goes with their maturity is precisely what characterizes Ginger and Marie.
Note that this appearance also echoes a fairly common representation of the old witch. Long, fair hair, long nails and sharp teeth, damaged skin, sometimes with unnatural eyes. This refers to the witches present in the full moon myths mentioned above. As well as the Goddesses who are endowed with evil powers, also during a full moon.
In the broke but nevertheless partially interesting I Am Lisa, we do not see the total transformation of the heroine. You have to get to the end of the film to see a partial transformation. If the result is not shameful, we are moving away from an aesthetic linked to the wolf. We are more on a representation of demons. So here we are more in the idea of evil powers (like the Greek and Roman Goddesses, which I mentioned above).
Wildling offers quite a few progressive transformation sequences, and besides her end state is quite close to human (she is rather halfway between a werewolf and a “wild” human being) In contrast, the film dwells on the gradual effects of this transformation on her psyche, her relationship with the new world she is discovering.
We mainly see a gradual transformation of women, unlike men
Finally there is only in Wildling, and especially She Wolf of London (but when you know the ending you know why), in which the werewolf keeps a relatively human appearance. Note that in the case of these 2 films, the protagonists fully accept their condition. In Wildling’s case, since she’s been deprived of her body for years, she takes advantage of it. In She Wolf of London, she very quickly suspects herself of having committed murders at night and decides to isolate herself. She therefore undergoes gaslighting throughout the film, while the threat is very real, even if she is wrong about her origin.
Progressive male transformation
As I said, there are rarely gradual transformations of male characters.
On the other hand, there are representations that I would say partial (that is to say that we do not see a wolf monster strictly speaking). In other words, man can always be distinguished through his transformation into a werewolf. This is the case in Wolf, or The Curse of Werewolf, Werewolf of London (1935) or A werewolf boy. But their faces are never disfigured. They are especially hairier! In addition, it has the consequence that one does not see any potential pain.
What are the consequences of these progressive transformations?
Representing these partial transformations assault the face (in the same way as in the representation of possession, it is the women who most often have damaged faces). What represents the very identity, is touched. These women are portrayed in a monstrous light, which can arouse a certain disgust. Moreover, these gradual transformations are often painful, physically or mentally. The character has to adapt to this changing physique. What puts these female characters in a weak position, rather in the process of undergoing this transformation.
On the contrary, werewolf men, rarely knowing this intermediate stage, do not live this in between. No complicated bodily situations to experience. They are most often shown in the light of a complete transformation. This establishes their strength and power, and causes not disgust, but rather fear. And therefore represents a domination.
Note that this difference may seem trivial, yet there is research, notably by Pierre Ancet in his book Phenomenology of Monstrous Bodies which shows the opposite. He notes that we have a real repulsion towards deformed bodies close to human (and therefore our own relationship to the body), unlike plant nonsense or strange rocks. What is more, if a subject is perceived as monstrous, it is first of all because he is seen as such by others. We agree here with the importance of the notion of looking at women.
Moreover, it implies a notion of attraction for this body. Indeed, this strange body gives a lot of unusual things to see, so we experience a fascination (which women are often the object of in genre cinema). But this attraction / repulsion duality means that we no longer see the other as a whole person. You can only see it through this deformity. Thus, we find here the notion of woman as object.
You see what I mean? This disfigurement of female characters has an emotional consequence, or a look at these characters, of which we are not necessarily aware. All the more so if we are used to seeing these progressive transformations mainly on a genre. And above all, unlike the possession which takes its inspiration from the ways of discrediting women with hysteria, I see no reason for this difference in treatment. In the collective imagination, the werewolf is a man, so maybe we wanted to treat the female characters in a different way. Maybe you have some answers?
In most films, we represent the werewolf (man or woman), without intermediate step, as in Wolf, Teddy, Trick Or Treat, Cursed, The werewolf of London, The werewolf of Paris, The good manners or even Howls. This obviously does not prevent the classic tracks of transformation from being launched to the public: the senses increased tenfold, the appetite for meat, for sexuality … Perfect equality of treatment, if I may say so. Except that, the most impressive complete transformations and on which one insists, concern mainly the men. Even when the film features a male and female werewolf.
In The Company of Wolves, we are entitled to 2 striking scenes. The very graphic 1st, based on blood and skeleton, which reflects the brutality of a man who has become a beast, and who attacks his former companion.
The other more moving, with a more carnal aspect, which corresponds to the “subtext” of sexuality concerning Little Red Riding Hood.
However, a female character and the heroine transform at the end. Except … that it is suggested (we do not forget to put a naked one on the other hand). For one, she changes very discreetly in the dark, and the other she is discovered already metamorphosed.
Wolf offers 3 werewolf characters. The 2 male characters played by Jack Nicholson and James Spader are transformed. But not Michelle Pfeiffer, whose transformation is suggested via her beautiful evolving eyes. In The Werewolf of London, Bad Moon we witness one (or more) transformation (s) in a frontal way.
Much like in Howling, the transformation of man is shown in an evolutionary way even though fast. It is interesting to note that the man is sublimated during his transformation through his sexual performance. As for her partner, she is back to the ground, without seeing the evolution of her face. You will also notice that the man maintains a head quite close to his human condition, unlike the woman.
The end of the film mostly shows the heroine’s change of state through her eyes once again. And most importantly, when you quickly show her final state (before she gets killed, unlike male werewolves), she looks like a poodle … This is undoubtedly to distinguish the protagonists from the antagonists. But that does not prevent representing it with a little more class all the same!
In Bad Moon, the werewolf is the unambiguous antagonist of this story, which aims to show the power of a single-parent family. To demonstrate this, the film shows the monstrosity of the character in his psychology (and his manipulation), and through his physique. So we see the werewolf in its entirety regularly in the film; which gradually increases the tension about the danger that threatens the mother.
We can forget the catastrophic representations of the complete transformations of Julie Delpy in An American Werewolf in Paris (3 writers for as much mediocrity is a lot) which are anecdotal. Moreover, we can note that the staging thinks (a little) about the transformation of the male character, by trying to create a climax with the fountain where he hides just before appearing with a bang.
We dwell a little more on Judy Greer’s role in Cursed. The visual effects (already very ugly for the time) do not help, but above all the idea is to show the appearance of the physical monstrosity of the antagonist that the protagonists will have to face. Also, we see very little the antagonist in the film before. So the emotional impact is very different than if it had been Christina Ricci.
Even though the portrayal of women’s transformations in Trick Or Treat is excessively sexualized (I will come back to this later), there are a few interesting points that can be noted. You should know that at this time, they overturn the cliché of Little Red Riding Hood. They are the predatory wolves to be wary of. They shed their human skin, like a costume, which is a direct reference to the tale. It’s a way of shedding their appearance that makes them potential victims. The transformation is not quite complete, but it is coming very close. The case of this film is a bit special because it comes close to a narration of sketch films.
The bad western Blood Moon shows a complete live transformation I would like to say of a female character. The only interesting sequence in the film, where you can feel the body decompose, unfold. Unfortunately as no character is written in this film, this transformation brings nothing (the sequence even comes out of nowhere). Neither in the story, nor in the evolution of the character.
The only films where the complete transformation is portrayed frontally, which involves the willingness to show the final evolution of the character, is in Ginger Snaps 1 and 2 (written by women, I remind you!).
In general, either we put more emphasis on the staging, the complete transformation of a man, or it nourishes the character or the plot.
4-The werewolf, a shield against gender-based violence?
When the main character is female, the stakes are often linked to the idea of countering gender-based violence.
To return more specifically to the case of Marie in When Animals dream, the appearance of her real nature comes at the end of her adolescence (around 20 years old), unlike Ginger (her transformation comes at the time of her period). She is in search of her origins, and she understands that it is hereditary, her mother being struck by the same disease. Here the werewolf myth is used to survive male toxicity. Indeed, her mother found herself in a wheelchair; he was put out of action. She had killed men who had assaulted her. Yet she retains all her strength when it comes to defending her daughter who is in the hands of her father and the doctor.
From the first images, we know that what Marie will suffer first is the male gaze on her. She is half naked, at the doctor’s (the same one who will try to treat her despite his will). Working in a male environment, she is hazed by men, immersed in a bath of fish waste. She is sexually assaulted by 2 colleagues. Men not only pollute the environment of these women, but they also try to make them disappear because they are afraid of their rebellion.
This desire to deviate from traditional werewolf themes (total body transformation, animalization in the forest), passes through the decor. The action of When Animals Dream takes place in a small port town. No forest, trees or a full moon, here we are among fishes and fishermen, with no other perspective for the protagonists and antagonists. But as we have seen above, the moon is linked to the sea.
It is present in a subtle way. Elements that refer to the moon are placed in the same frame as Mary:
Round objects (satellite dish, decorative objects, a small mill that spins in the garden),
The moon, as we saw above is regularly associated with the feminine. In my opinion, this supports the fact that Marie is surrounded by her status as a woman (and by the sea), which places her at the center of the animosity of the men in her village. What I found particularly relevant in this beautiful film is that Mary, who has the status of an animal, is not portrayed as bad, evil. Unlike the men who are considered by the village as civilized beings (because they would try to protect the village from Mary and her mother).
This is also the observation that can be made in the exploitative erotic horror La lupa mannara, but with a very problematic point. Which shows that the same subject does not necessarily tell the same story … The moon is constantly associated with the heroine (who by the way is not really a werewolf, but more like a vampire). Thus, the montage regularly associates the moon with its face. In addition, car headlights are frequently used to remind people of the moon. I would even add that, in this specific case, the moon and the headlights are the symbols of the voyeuristic male gaze (especially of the director) on the heroine. Indeed, it only exists through its status as an object of desire and domination (the rape scene is also very representative of the stinking rape & revenge of exploitation cinema of the 70s).
But there is no shortage of sexist comments in Lupa Mannara. The heroine is portrayed as the evil witch (she is depicted as in the legends of witches dancing on the evening of a full moon, which I mentioned above). Indeed, it is staged in a communion with the forces of evil, or in nature with a cauldron.
She also becomes puritanical. A victim of rape in her youth, she has since hated sexuality. So she starts killing … women who are sexually active (she will not kill her sister, but will punish her by killing her husband and insulting him). And when she is raped again, she won’t use that same superhuman strength to defend herself. It is her new companion who will leave his skin there, wanting to save her. In addition, his life is ruled by his father. And despite everything she went through, she will die locked in an asylum. The staging, which excessively sexualizes women, only lowers them to the status of a body. So yes, the aim of the film is to vulgarly attract the male customer. But it seemed important to me to point out how this type of work is still a problem.
If Wildling gets lost along the way, entangled in a Twilight-style vibe, Part 1 of the film is clever at portraying the heroine’s control of the body. Anna is the survivor of a wolf hunt. She is picked up (and kidnapped) by a hunter who has no heart to kill her. But having a horror of the werewolf species, he drugs it dangerously to stop its period, and therefore its growth. He therefore takes control of his body from his childhood, which he will try to take back at the end of the film. He tries to perform a cesarean on Anna, in order to recover (again) a child. We can see a subtext on incest and pedophilia, but also on the massacre of the Amerindian population.
The main stake for Anna in the meantime is to regain her body, her mobility, and of course to taste the joys of adolescence. A bodily and psychological change. Here again, his more “wild” state than a wolf, will allow him to defend himself against the sexual assault of a young person of his age (who will be represented by the way as a wolf).
The case of I Am Lisa is special. It is explicitly stated that the heroine is a lesbian, and she is assaulted by women, following the refusal of advances from one of them. Left for dead and bitten by wolves, she will take revenge, werewolf for her condition. Here we find the classic patriarchal scheme, but executed by women. Lisa also helps women (her best friend, a teenage girl abandoned by her mother…). If the film botches its subject too much, and that it can be perceived as lesbophobic (especially since it is directed and written by men), it has the merit of illustrating that patriarchal domination is not exercised. than by men. And that it can be quite internalized by women. Thus, it is a way of destroying the argument often used by men to justify sexism, namely that it is validated by women.
In A werewolf boy, it’s the werewolf isn’t the danger. He is the bulwark against misogyny. We can obviously see the inability of the heroine to defend herself, but to the extent that she comes to the aid of her werewolf lover in another way, I rather retain a form of equality between the 2. It should be noted that unlike the very dark depictions of love in other films, the vision of love is sublimated here. Everything is overexposed, clear, yellow, happy, bright.
5-Love, elixir of the curse
Love is often a major issue in werewolf movies. We find him in The Curse of Werewolf, Wildling, Blood & Chocolate, An American werewolf in Paris, When Animals dream, A Werewolf Boy…
Indeed, it should be known that love is often brandished as an element of care, even a remedy, for the evil of the werewolf. This is the case in The Curse of Werewolf and its reboot / remake Wolfman. The female character is incidental, it exists only through the hero, to serve the hero. In The Curse of Werewolf, Christina (who is presented only as a character promised to marriage), wishes to live her freedom in love with Leon, the werewolf. We will not know anything more about his desires, his personality; it represents care. In the same way that Gwen in Wolfman is first the wife of a werewolf who will eventually be killed, only to fall in love with her brother, also a werewolf. How, in times of mourning, did she discover feelings for the hero, Larry? Mystery. In any case, she is once again the only issue for the werewolf hero. I am thinking here of an editing problem, because we feel a character who undoubtedly had more visibility.
Love interest is sometimes central, and even defines the characters. This is the case in Blood & Chocolate, where the half-human, half-wolf heroine waits for a man to come into her life to emancipate herself. In fact, the only time we will see her transformation is to defend her lover. He is also the only reason she will attack her fellow human beings. A similar pattern takes place in An American Werewolf in Paris. Werewolf Serafine is saved from suicide by the hero Andy. Subsequently, she believes she has infected him, and the rule is that to ward off the curse, the contaminated must eat the heart of the werewolf who attacked him. The symbolism is obvious, Andy, werewolf, must literally tear the heart of his sweetheart. Note that twice, Sérafine wishes to die (from her wounds, and by suicide). Twice, Andy will be the savior. However, instead of trying to save herself (or to exist apart from her stepfather, the toxic men around her and Andy), she will systematically seek to save her lover. Trying to pull him away, almost giving up his life there, even trying to relax him by putting his hands on her chest. Normal.
All of these examples refer strongly to what is called nurse syndrome. For fear of not being loved, to heal an injury, or quite simply because the structural functioning of society is the responsibility of women to take care of others (family, husband, children, etc.), many women seek to cure an illness that gnaws at their companion. To the detriment of their own life, desires, needs.
The only example where love is the central subject of the film and which does not correspond to these observations, is the wonderful Good Manners. The 1st part evokes a love between 2 women (which is not the subject of the film). Part 2 shows a mother’s love for her child who is physically different from herself. If the film obviously evokes marginality, it is reminiscent of the problems encountered by mothers who have an adopted child who does not look like them. Black director Amandine Gay regularly evokes these differences which have very concrete consequences on a daily basis.
The werewolf, a concrete manifestation of human animality, has to do with sexuality. Which I personally have always found quite funny, but I touched on the subject in the introduction, above. You see me coming, so this is an opportunity to come back to the treatment of sexuality according to the gender of the protagonist!
So the female werewolf in Howling is only there to tempt the male. In Trick n Treat, we are entitled to many close-ups of the breasts of the werewolf who transform. Big breasts, very standardized bodies, all added to the fantasies of the costumes… we are swimming in a rather ridiculous excessive sexualization. Note that these 2 examples refer to the dimension of the evil witch, and their dances in the middle of nature, as I mentioned in the introduction on the symbols linked to the moon.
We regularly find the illustration of nurse syndrome
Julie Delpy devotes herself with all her body to relax the hero in An American Werewolf in Paris. And obviously Ginger Snaps illustrates the discovery of the body and sexuality, while not sexualizing its heroine (unlike the other examples). There is obviously the deplorable case of La lupa mannara, the problems of which I have already mentioned above.
There are also cases where the woman is sexualized through the male gaze. This is the case in Cursed. The heroine becomes sexually attractive to all men. This is also the point that can be made in Cat People (although here it is a panther and not a wolf). She exudes such a strong attraction that a passer-by (yes it should be noted that there is still a passer-by!), Seems to love her (if we can call that love), to the point of wanting to marry her. (too) very quickly. Moreover, this state in the heroine rather creates a fear of sexuality. With the help of unsubtle metaphorical images of the padlock and the key (Freud’s concept to symbolize penetration), we understand that she does not know how to manage both her physical state, but also the reactions that it creates on men (both her husband and her doctor). In fact, the first time she kills, it will be to defend herself from sexual assault.
In the comedy My mom is a werewolf, a mother is pushed back with mental strain, and neglected by her husband. This need for love on the part of her husband and children, leads her to give in to the advances of a werewolf. She will not be released from anything, because he actually wants to make her his wife. Besides that, her new state will provoke sexual desires towards her husband, who miraculously regains an interest in his wife. But her situation will become more complicated, torn between her husband and the werewolf. From being a woman trapped in her home, she will pass to a woman trapped between two men. Not to mention that she keeps the same classic injunctions on women (shaving your legs then becomes a real problem!). So yes this is an unpretentious comedy, but the trigger for the film which responds to the protagonist’s basic premise is supposedly depicting a shift, in the form of the werewolf. However, it is not.
Women werewolf wolves rarely hunt their prey unlike men
Men increase their power tenfold
On the contrary, this werewolf power allows men to be sexually active, powerful, and dominant. This allows them to seduce women much younger than them (Wolf), gain popularity and / or seduce women (TeenWolf, Cursed, The Curse of Wolfman, A werewolf boy, The Wolfman, The Company of Wolves) .
The most egregious example is in Cursed. In this (bad) movie, a male and female character are transformed into werewolves (although we don’t see a final transformation). The way of experiencing the transformation is radically different. The suffering heroine hides in the toilet. While his brother lets his new manhood explode, which will finally give him confidence. The purpose of the film (treated superficially) is to show that (almost) all men are beasts, and therefore potentially dangerous. It’s interesting to note that the answer to that, is to place a female antagonist (who only kills women), who attacks the protagonist for the simple reason … that she stole her boyfriend. . Instead of a patriarchal systemic observation, we always prefer to attack women.
The example of Werewolf of London (1935) shows a scientist close to Frankenstein, who once became a werewolf, only attacks women. But women who commit a sin: to walk around alone at night, or to be the mistress of a husband. This is a projection he makes on his own wife, who bonds with an old friend because she is neglected by her own husband. Eventually he will attack them, to no avail. It is not good to have sex outside of marriage …
In Bad Moon, the hero sees his companion devoured by a werewolf in the midst of a sexual frenzy. He obviously becomes a werewolf afterwards and hunts. But forced to move away from where he lived, he found nothing better than to settle in the garden of his sister, a single mother. He is curiously deliberately endangering her (while warning her!). When she finds out the truth, she is insulted copiously against a backdrop of comments tinged with sexism. Thus, throughout the film, he maintains a power over her, threatening her living space. Interestingly, I take this opportunity to note that the man is portrayed as the dangerous animal, through the eyes of the family dog. The dog’s point of view is also used regularly in the film, which helps to create real empathy with him, showing that he understands the situation. It’s rare enough in genre cinema to notice this.
The only example that seems to me to counteract these findings is the protagonist of Teddy. Rather, his transformation into a werewolf destroys what he had (his stammering interactions with the villagers, his girlfriend, his plans), and worsens his predicament. And if he writes Carrie-style vengeance, he spares the one that broke his heart.
Note that female werewolf rarely becomes predatory. Ginger in Ginger Snaps defends her territory more than she hunts, Marie in When Animals Dream retaliates, Lisa in I Am Lisa takes revenge on her abusers. In Cat People it’s about watching over husband and mistress, and in Company of Wolves she doesn’t get the chance to attack anyone. It’s only in Cursed, where the antagonist hunts rivals.
Whereas in Bad Moon, Werewolf of London, The Curse of Werewolf, The Wolfman, Wolf, Blood Moon… men hunt with more or less reason in mind.
In either case, it is not good to be a werewolf, as the outcome will often be fatal. The concrete animal part of Man does not seem to have its place!
7-The packs of wolves
I’ve talked a lot about werewolves, those beasts that are a fusion of human and wolf to form yet another monster apart. But there are also a few movies where if it’s about transformations, it’s not about werewolves. But wolves, quite simply.
This is the case with Blood & Chocolate, Wolfwalkers, Wolfen (although there is actually no question of transformation) or Twilight. What these films have in common is the pack. The protagonist evolves in collectivity. Unlike the werewolf who is alone (except in Howls where the pack is quickly shown).
In Blood & Chocolate, humans transform at will, especially during a hunting party. A way to stay in tune with their second nature. In Wolfwalkers, it is during their sleep that the 2 heroines transform. The staging makes strong reference to the Zelda video game, The Twilight Princess, with the scent traces clearly visible by the wolves.
It also brings about a significant change in appearance. The character is never a monster. He is still a creature that actually exists. In addition, the transformation does not come through pain. Finally, the power of the protagonists is not increased tenfold. They benefit from the characteristics of each state, whether they are humans or wolves.
In my opinion, this helps to quickly empathize with the characters. Whether in one state or another, these are familiar appearances. What’s more, the wolf is not the most terrifying animal. He looks a lot like the dog, man’s best friend. What is more, these characters have the status of victims, exterminated by humans. They are not predators, which makes a big difference to the werewolf, which attacks more or less blindly and fiercely. Finally, it gives a collective dimension, and reflects a systemic problem. There are many parallels with threatened populations. It is a little used prism, which deserves more relevant works on the subject. Wolfen also explores this theme with intelligence, but it is not a question of werewolves or wolfwalkers, but of wolves outright.
8-Conclusion: the wolf is in you
We have seen that progressive and partial transformations are predominant in female characters. We focus much more on the pain of a transforming body and mind. The werewolf metaphor is therefore ideal for evoking adolescence or entering adulthood. It seems to me that this is consistent with the fact that women’s bodies change the most in a lifetime (adolescence, pregnancy, post-pregnancy body, menopause). It would therefore be interesting to use the werewolf to represent these crucial stages of life as well. And that would make it possible to portray older female characters. It goes without saying that it would take more women at the helm for these stories to be seen on screen (whether writing, producing or directing). I note that there are only 2 female directors out of the 28 films I have seen for this article.
If sexuality has been used in many films, often to the detriment of the quality of the female characters, it would be interesting to explore it other than through the prism of punishment, frustration or manipulation. Sexuality (or non-sexuality) is a vast subject. Most of the movies are still based on a diagram of the mom (or the nurse) or the whore.
Finally, since the male characters see their manly power increased tenfold with the werewolf, it would be interesting to see films digging into Teddy’s example. Show the weaknesses of characters hidden under the appearance of a big strong man. Try to develop psychologies, instead of just showing a classic path that often leads to the same conclusion: death.
The figure of the werewolf will continue to fascinate me because I love the idea of showing that the human has no control over the transformation of his body. This lack of control is also found in the acts committed, which humans do not remember. This questions the degree of responsibility for our actions, our conscience. And this way of visually linking man to animal is fascinating, all the more so now, with the animal condition which is more and more questioned and defended.
The werewolf movie has a bad reputation, but it offers a lot of possibilities for telling the human story. And I hope that new ideas will emerge through this prism.
Films seen / cited
An American Werewolf in London by John Landis,
An American werewolf in Paris by Anthony Waller,
When Animals Dream by Jonas Alexander Arnby,
The Curse of Werewolf by Terence Fisher,
Good Manners of Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra,
Ginger Snaps by John Fawcett,
Ginger Snaps 2 by Brett Sullivan,
Ginger Snaps 3 by Grant Harvey,
The Wolfman by Joe Johnston,
A Werewolf Boy by Jo Sung-Hee,
Wolf by Mike Nichols,
Blood & Chocolate by Katja von Garnier,
Wolfwalkers by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart
La Lupa mannara by Rino Di Silvestro
Teddy by Ludovic and Zoran Boukherma,
The Company of Wolves of Neil Jordan,
Wildling by Fritz Bohm,
Trick Or Treat by Michael Dougherty,Eric Red’s Bad Moon,
“The color out of space” is a short story by Howard Philips Lovecraft published in 1927. This rather short story tells how a strange meteorite, with a very particular color, will bring chaos to a small farm in New England.
As you read this story, you say to yourself that it would be very complicated to adapt it to the cinema, so much it plays on unknown concepts and indescribable forms, that it would be very difficult, if not impossible to bring the screen to life. While this isn’t the first time that this news has tried to be adapted, or at least in part (“The Curse” with Wil Wheaton), the trailer for Richard Stanley’s latest film looked really promising. As fans of Lovecraft’s stories, I couldn’t wait to find out.
Welcome everyone to this new Midnight Session!
“The color out of space” is directed by Richard Stanley, whose last feature film, “Dust Devil” dates back to 1992. Very good film that I highly recommend to you by the way, with the excellent “Hardware” of 1991. Passionate about magic and everything related to the occult, Stanley (not the Marvel guy) has also made many documentaries on this subject. (Difficult to give you an opinion, I haven’t seen them).
With “Color out of space” he finds himself at the helm of a film in which horror will slowly creep in. We follow the misadventure of the Gardner family, whose relations between each member are rather tense and will also have to deal with a strange contamination of their environment following the crash of a meteorite.
If at first it is the children who realize the danger that creeps into their lives, the parents will quickly realize that something is wrong:
Strange colored vegetation;
Mutant animals …
So many things that will get the better of their sanity, particularly that of the father of a family, alpaca ranchers who objectively could not be better interpreted than by a freewheeling Nicholas Cage in moments of madness.
This film is a real gem, which takes the time to deepen its characters, to install its story and to take us into this cosmic delirium with shimmering colors and monstrous creatures, which will not be without reminding us of the brilliant “The Thing ”by Jhon Carpenter, thanks to some old-fashioned animated models, to scenes of transformations, but also because the threat is invisible there, using its environment to create a physical form giving it all a dimension absolutely terrifying!
This film is a real success. Bringing Lovecraft’s short story to life was not easy. The odd color that pervaded his surroundings was surely what was most difficult to convey to the screen. By choosing a mix of purple and pink, it creates a hypnotic ambience that perfectly matches what is described in the original story. Of course, the director takes a few distances by adding certain elements specific to his universe which are perfectly grafted to that of Lovecraft. The couple’s young daughter, passionate about occult science, uses the formulas of the Necronomicon (a fictional book invented by Lovecraft that some occult enthusiasts believe to be true).
Visually superb and inventive, full of humor and scary scenes, “The color out of space” is an all too rare cinema experience, which if you let yourself be carried along, will take you into a hallucinated spiral of madness from which you will not come out. unharmed.
If like me you enjoyed this film, know that the production company of Elijah Wood, Spectrevision, already responsible for this film to sign an agreement with Richard Stanley to adapt two other novels of Lovecraft. If these films are of the same ilk, I can’t wait to see them! And if the success is at the rendezvous, we can, perhaps, hope that the adaptation project of “At the Montain Madness” by Guillermo del Toro is relaunched!
One type of reading and film that I love more than anything, in fantasy or Science Fiction, is horror. And when we talk about horror, a name immediately comes to mind: Clive Barker. I have a lot of time to write this article, three or four months. I wanted to write an article that pays tribute to this writer who I particularly like but, with the lessons and my extra-scholastic activities, I had not really had the time until then. So I could have learned something positive from this confinement, I hope you enjoy it! To show you his genius, I’m going to tell you about Hellraiser and his universe. It all started with a book.
I have always been fascinated by this fabulous story of puzzles from ancient times that, once resolved, open doors to hell. And then one day, a man contacted me to donate me a box from the merchant, an artifact that I had coveted for years. Last night, fighting fear and envy, I performed the ritual deciphering the pattern of lamentation.
After so much research, I thought I knew the secrets of the Hellraiser well. But the mechanism came to life, the box opened … only then did I understand …
For this article, I thought it necessary to make a little warning. If you are under 16, impressionable, or a stranger to artistic darkness, I kindly suggest that you avoid this article. If on the other hand you cherish modern mythologies, the creation of universes and its hazards; if you are fascinated by horror and its symbols then be ready … For you are entering the most infernal cathedral in the fantastic galaxy: Hellraiser.
Before starting our descent into Hell, I would like to invite you to take the place of a creator of horror stories for a moment. As you are a demanding creative person, your secret ambition is to invent an original and detailed universe. We will find memorable abominations, striking images, rich concepts and depth that will allow you the most incredible freedoms. An idea then comes to you and you open your notebook, contemplating the infinite possibilities: We need protagonists with whom all will identify, but above all charismatic antagonists, with inhuman powers, with a legendary and terrorizing appearance. Thus the work will mark minds, inhabit the nightmares of generations, and allow the world to dream and fantasize through your cathartic visions.
The twentieth century has seen a rich and complex horrific culture explode, with many iconic figures, many of whom have become classics. So it’s hard to come up with totally new things … Especially since you’re in 1986, and the heyday of horror is at its peak. What else do you have left to create? How not to reproduce? How to shine brighter than the others in an already dazzling galaxy? Now imagine that you are … Clive Barker.
You are a fantastic young writer, full of ambition and talent. Your first collection, “Book of blood” has a good press and the great Stephen King himself, repeats to anyone who wants to hear it, that he saw the future of horror … and that his name is Clive Barker. You feel it. You are at the threshold of your creative career and you are seething with crazy concepts and the desire to shape the refined nightmares that inhabit you. Besides, for some time now, a story has obsessed you. You feel that it is different, that it conceals a dizzying richness and glows with a black of darkness.
After a feverish and passionate writing, your novel finally comes out and is entitled: “The hellbound Heart”. Even if the literary success is satisfactory, the world has not yet become aware of your history and its potential. Cinema would be ideal, but the studios have already approached you twice and what they have done with your story has disappointed you. So if it takes a film for the world to know, it’s you or nobody.
This is how Hellraiser came out in 1987. Direct adaptation of “The Hellbound heart”, produced by Clive Barker himself. The 35-year-old has just arrived in Hollywood and intends to seize this opportunity to make an impression. Passionate about the horrifying thing, Barker achieves a real tour de force. With a limited budget and no cinematic experiences, Barker easily invites himself into the pantheon of universal horror. All thanks to powerful concepts and creatures that are second to none in pure terror. Thus the world discovers Hellraiser and its mythology, of which here is the almost perfect narrative invitation:
“There is a magic box in our world, carved out of wood and covered with gold … It is said to allow us to discover pleasures that the mind cannot imagine. Unfortunately, for those who own it, the box is actually a key that opens direct access to hell. From this portal emerges the most sadistic creatures that hell has carried: the Cenobites. “
The film is a success because in addition to a striking and poisonous story, a recognized soundtrack and involved actors, it gives birth to a new icon of genre cinema, which the public will baptize Pinhead.
This man with a bluish complexion, wearing nails and adorned with dark leather joined without waiting the Freddy, Jason and other Leatherface at the table of our nightmares. The film will even have the right to a direct sequel, Hellbound, of which Barker will co-write the screenplay. This quality sequel takes us to hell and shows us a little more of the cenobites. On opus 3 and 4 Barker is only a consultant… and from the 5th to the 10th, B’arker is overshadowed by a franchise that will sink into the obscurity of dispensable films.
At the origin of this disintegration, the transfer by Barker of its copyrights to producers, and this from the first film. And very quickly the saga escapes him … to the point of making Hellraiser the biggest missed event in the history of horrific cinema. We are watching new releases, but more out of nostalgia for the first films than out of real hope. Above all, we are watching, a little guilty, for the arrival of new cenobites, which even in a bad film, remain fascinating and unhealthy monsters. Unfortunately, the films do not deliver many mythological elements and achievements without souls will end up killing the franchise. But the good news is that beyond the film and the first novel, other books and comics give life to an extended universe.
The Extended Universe
So this is where our journey into the hell of Leviathan begins. Any story of the saga begins with a mysterious box that one day ends up in the hands of a person.
But the box chooses such victims at random? Before talking about this evil artifact, I must reassure you, the box does not arise randomly in your life … It only appears to have a certain number of profiles. After having gone through all the stories of the saga, it is possible to identify large families of candidates for damnation, in order to understand what profiles are looking for recruiters from hell:
1 The explorers : Who hasn’t dreamed of knowing more about the secrets of the world? Like Frank in the original story, explorers are looking for secret knowledge and forbidden pleasure. It is therefore not surprising to find among our victims 2 journalists, a photographer, an explorer, a librarian or even a disillusioned detective. Whatever the purpose of their research, it leads them into obscure corners of reality and reason. These profiles have in common the quest for a hidden truth and this thirst for knowledge implacably leads them to the box, when it is not she who comes to them. It is often symbolic of the price to pay for those who seek what a human should not know.
2 Scientists : Another family even more dedicated to empirical research into the unknown. We thus find a doctor, a researcher in virtual reality, a virologist or even a researcher in physics. Either his jobs are close to death, or they raise moral and ethical questions which the box monsters are fond of.
3 The lost souls : Even darker profiles. The box often arises in the hands of desperate people, either to shorten their suffering, or to quench their thirst for revenge … towards those they consider responsible. We find there, a depressed woman who committed suicide in her bathtub, a regiment of ex-soldiers traumatized by the horrors of war. But surprisingly, the box appears twice in the hands of abused children, who without knowing it will invoke cenobites to suppress their toxic entourage.
4 criminals : Despite the apparent glimmer of justice suggested by the latter two cases, the box often arrives in the life of the ill-intentioned who make up this family. These candidates evolve in badly famed circles with often absent morals: bettor, delinquents, members of gangs or sexual predators and even serial Killers. They are somewhere the most anticipated candidates in our traditional understanding of Judeo-Christian hell.
5 the leaders : The family with the most members, bringing together all those who exercise and abuse power over others. It is fascinating to see that its elected representatives occupy different levels of society. From the shady promoter, to the manager of a nightclub, to a tortured horse trainer and an unhealthy producer, one who abuses his position is one of the club’s favorite candidates. The same goes for the authoritarian power exercised by a state or an administration: one thus finds soldiers, police officers and even a prison guard. This family also includes leaders, dictators, business leaders and a bloody tale from the Crusades. Finally something that could seem incongruous, there are also several fundamentalist religious who think to invoke God only harvest Cenobites.
There is finally a last family, that of the creators but it is too early to evoke this strange specificity…
You would think that I have not yet revealed the Mythology of the saga, but we have just mentioned its heart: it is in the realm of human darkness that the Cenobites hunt. Their appearance is the crowning of a human life doomed to the dark side. Then resonate this quote from the author:
“Each of us is a book of blood. When we open it, everything is red ”
It is therefore not surprising to see in the tales of the saga direct references to dark periods in our history. From violent colonizations to fratricidal wars, from slavery to apartheid to Nazi horror, Hellraiser keeps reminding us that the darkness of his Cenobites has nothing to envy to that of humans. With its fantastic charge, the saga could have gone headlong into the most uninhibited dark fantasy, but more often than not, stories are born on the contrary in very realistic contexts that reflect our world. This often puts us in front of what we would prefer to avoid …
It’s time to tell you about the box. Based on the movies, we know very little about this strange artifact: It’s a cubic shape with mysterious patterns. Regarding its origins, the film “Bloodline” reveals that in the 18th century, an architect versed in the occult arts would have manufactured it. His name was Philippe Lemarchand. But, as we said, the films do not reveal anything about the magnificent and sophisticated complexity that gets impatient on other supports
Let’s retrace the journey of this mysterious engineer together to understand his role and his motivations … And since I was lucky enough to be able to go through it, I will give you the contents of his diary.
We are in 1740. Philippe Lemarchand, architect and artist, worships the sacred and mysterious geometry of the Cenobites… Increasingly involved, Lemarchand embarks on a frantic quest for knowledge on this subject. He says he goes through the enigma of Albertus Magnus, devours the writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Agrippa or Pic de la Mirandole, all of which refer to the Cenobites. (The technique of credibility of mythology requires the convocation of historical figures and troubles.) At the end of his research, Lemarchand became obsessed with these legendary cenobites. Although he thinks that some of these writings are fabulous, the architect leaves the domain of reason.
He gradually slides towards the unhealthy by examining works of frightening anatomy and especially by devouring biographies of Gilles de Rais. This lieutenant of Joan of Arc committed such atrocious misdeeds that he became the inspiration for The Bluebeard, very present in our collective imagination. He was accused during his trial of the murder of 140 children and Gilles de Rais is often mentioned as one of the first documented serial killers in history.
In the diary of this sinister character, The merchant discovers that a cenobite would have guided the murderer in his low works, but especially that there is a box containing a magic formula which would make it possible to invoke the monster. Activating his occult networks, he manages to get it. It was therefore not Lemarchand who invented the first box. On the other hand, he analyzes it until he understands its mechanism. His frustration runs away as he approaches supreme knowledge, with forceful sketches and calculations. To complete his apprenticeship, he activated the mechanism one evening and finally invoked Baron, the famous cenobite who had dictated his actions to Gilles de Rais. The cenobite observes Lemarchand’s sketches and feels his obsession with order and symmetry. Baron accepts that Lemarchand manufactures his own mechanisms to invoke cenobites. He thus becomes the first human to have the right to make boxes.
Let’s now enter the depths of myth. First of all, it is no accident that brings up the box in your life. These are the cenobites who spotted you from hell and send you the puzzle, but we will come back to this point a little later … For the boxes to be mythical and credible, it is therefore necessary to create a story for them, but also a striking appearance and operating concepts. In terms of appearance, there are a multitude of different designs. The shape is overwhelmingly cubic but this look is not exclusive. To convince yourself, just browse the cursed pages of the Sigillum Diaboli, a work that lists the appearances and effects of all the boxes. On the walls of this one, mystical symbols and shapes on which, certain precise finger movements must be applied, in order to activate the mechanism. All the inscriptions on the box draw references to Indian myths, to the Jewish cabbala, to the treatises on demonology or even to the Bible, as if the box were an overlap of several cursed knowledge, a key to darkness.
Once the puzzle begins, a music box melody is heard, which grows as the resolution progresses. The final click sounds, the box sets in motion, pivots on itself and metamorphoses, subject to a sinister logic. At the end a bell rings, like an infernal knell. You can hear the stone on the walls groan and fall apart as you approach the cenobites. Then the walls of the room move away and a bluish light shoots out of the darkness. Ill shadows emerge, they are there. And unless there is a market or a miracle, they will leave with you to let you know hell.
Just before seeing what happens to the unfortunate elected officials, one last point on the magic boxes. While they are practical, they are not the only way to appeal to the Underworld. By solving the boxes, we actually perform a geometric ritual called Configuration. In the movies, the magic formulas are hidden in these puzzle boxes, but far more amazing configurations have existed. Some may take the form of a pocket watch, others the appearance of an innocent music box. We also find a configuration in -400 BC which appears under the appearance of a stone table in front of which incantations must be pronounced … Even more surprising, Lemarchand has for example constructed buildings in which the dark ritual is hidden . This is the case for a leprosy treatment center, for an artist’s pension in Paris but also for a disturbing building. For the latter, it is the journey made with the elevator that gives life to the configuration. But it also works with a guitar if the chords played follow a certain pattern. But the configurations can also be hidden in the cardboard pieces of a puzzle to be assembled, in a crucifix, a crossword puzzle, a novel or even in the way of harvesting a wheat field. They seem like there are more highways to hell than stairs to heaven.
What happens after the cenobites are present?
Several scenarios can occur: As long as you have a bad contact, the view can go wrong and the cenobites will make dozens of chains end with a hook that will spread you in a sheaf of blood.
If on the other hand, you manage to arouse their interest, the cenobites can be tempted by a market. For example, to bring them more candidates for hell and therefore to work for them in the real world. Useless to want to double them or to play with them if not return to the first scenario. Let’s assume that the cenobites save your life, that does not mean that they can leave empty handed. So you have to sacrifice someone for you.
If on the other hand they consider that you are ready to leave with them in the lower kingdom, then the cenobites will carry out the weighing of your soul. Depending on the desires and impulses they discover there, they will reserve a spell for you which can vary, but in any case, rest assured that eternal suffering will be there. If the infernal priests believe that your vices are sadly common then you will be just having fun and your destination is called the Well. There are other wandering souls like you, who have the common appearance of the skinned, who drag like a suffering herd on the desolate moors of the place.
This explains the presence of skinned in films. They are damned who managed to escape from hell with the help of a human, this is the case of Frank in the first opus or for Julia in the second. The sentence “Help me I’m in hell ”written in a letter of blood on the wall by the cutaway therefore takes on its full meaning. To hope to become human again, they must kill people to recover their skin. The population of skinned wells is subject to the yoke of cenobites who treat them like cattle and we will even see them rebelling against their masters.
How does one become a cenobite? After a human life turned to darkness, you are called through the box and your future companions come to pick you up. This is followed by a very unpleasant phase, which takes place in a reconstruction room.
This room can take several forms: it is sometimes an iron virgin, a medieval sarcophagus filled with deadly peaks, other times a niche with walls similar to that of the box, but more often than not, it is a bare room to the medical atmosphere. There is a new kind of surgical instrument, but also repulsive tentacles that search your brain. The machine recomposes your body into an abject and fascinating form, which generally adapts to your psyche, but still, your appearance breathes torture, suffering and unhealthy eroticism. Once the operation is complete, you are officially a cenobite. Your goal now is to harvest souls for your God Leviathan, or recruit new cenobites from humans. The demons of the order of the hack, also have a role of police of the hell because their goal and to catch the rare damned who manage to escape from the limbo. The cenobites evolve in a very hierarchical caste with well defined roles, as in a classic religious order.
Before talking about their laws and their motivation, let’s dwell on their appearance, which is beyond measure in the horrifying genre.
Cenobites have the distinction of being as repulsive as they are fascinating. It was in the original film that the cenobites first appeared. The make-up and the game of the cenobites have laid the foundations of their school, even if the comics will reserve the most decadent expressions for us. The choice of black leather is not trivial. When we look at the occurrences of cooking in the Cinema before the release of the first film in 1987, we are already in a fairly marked imagination: in addition to the black jacket of bad boys on motorcycles, leather is associated with domination, sex and to the interlope places. He’s the offender’s uniform, the murderer’s glove. Leather is the ideal choice to combine attraction and repulsion, eros and thanatos. The design of the costumes, between religious clothing and keeping of sm dungeon creates a particular contrast. To this dark sexual aura is added the gashes. Often the costume is mixed with the flesh. It is even often designed to provide permanent suffering to the wearer. What is disturbing about the cenobites is that despite the constant suffering they endure, they are cold, amused, calm and fanatical, worshiping the pain they present as ultimate refinement. Pain is however what we have been fleeing from the dawn of time; so seeing creatures who have embraced it as a religion takes us into metaphysical malaise and makes them totally inhuman.
Cenobites can have very different aspects and dress. Most of them are humanoid but some are more of an abomination, an indescribable chimera. The bake and piercing look is dominant in cenobite but the environment has its originals. We can especially meet demons dressed in white and red canvas. One of the chiefs of the order is even dressed in a Prussian general’s costume, when another cenobite with facial scarification presents all the paraphernalia of the American soldier. Others have a more monstrous physiognomy, the deformed facies, the skin of another color … There are also animals which accompany them and serve them like dogs or bees. The cenobite therefore offers the creators who shape them a great creative attitude with regard to the form they can hear.
The same goes for their characters: the disparity of personality in cenobites very often reflects the humans they were. Some are rebellious and do nothing but lead, others are cynical, some even try to keep a part of humanity in their decision. The cenobites are extremely innovative for me because they have in their way enlarged the spectrum of what the cinema monster can evoke. Their moral ambiguity, the luminous aura that accompanies them, their chilling calm and their infernal cynicism go beyond the terror of classic cinema to transform it into a venomous fascination.
One of the phrases used by Pinhead to introduce itself is as follows:
« Demons to some, angels to others. »
This contradiction is therefore assumed, to place these entities on more intellectual and psychological ground, to blur their motivations and make them unfathomable. And therefore the classic Manichaeism of our society which opposes good and bad is ineffective here, and this is one of the many genius traits of Barker on the saga. This is due to the underlying philosophy of the Notch order. Indeed, cenobites do not read the actions of men under the specter of good or bad actions, but assess your actions according to whether they have generated chaos or order. And that makes their value system more complex. For example, a cenobite will not try a serial killer because he has killed people. but rather he will assess his motivations and the consequences of his actions. In a way, chaos is associated with man and his freedom, the unexpected and the impulses of life. In contrast, order and structure are associated with control, law, oppression and the system. Besides in Hell, this balance is somehow personified by two strange deities called Chidna and Basilisk.
These two antediluvian entities recall the double helix of DNA and symbolize the necessary balance between darkness and light. A quote from the master clearly expresses this balance between two forces: “Darkness has its role to play. Without them, how would we know we are walking in the light? When the ambitions of evil become too grand, they must be thwarted, disciplined, and even sometimes extinguished. Then they will reappear again as it should. ”
The order of the world is therefore a clever combination of chaos and order. If this balance is disturbed, then Chidna and Basilisk will fight, thus alerting the cenobites that they must repair this anomaly by changing destinies in reality. Because the job of a cenobite is to select people who have power over the world, to tip them over, but a cenobite must also answer to its hierarchy. If he has failed to manipulate the right way, then he will be tried in a trial. Each judged cenobite will have to tear out the heart so that it passed without a balance in front of the members of the order. Because let’s not forget that at the end of the chain of command is their supreme God, Leviathan. Cenobites are therefore a form of police force in the service of a religion, with the whole oppressive and rigorous universe that such terms bring together. Pulling the threads of the spirit, they manipulate destinies to twist them in their interest … Some cenobites have been assigned particular functions which make the myth even more profound.
This is the case of Sister Flagellum, who is called the police. Flagellum is plunged into a deep meditative sleep from which it is drawn if its God Leviathan feels a disturbance in the balance of forces. She will refer them to the cenobite teams so that they go to resolve the situation on the ground, much like a damnation task force.
There is another major role played by a cenobite, very symptomatic of the depth of the Barkerian narrative. But to evoke it it brings us back to the very beginning. How do the boxes end up in the hands of their victims? A box is always given, protected and recovered by a guard. In films, it’s always a strange individual who puts the box back is always the same: Initially a merchant, then an art seller, the guard appears most often in the guise of a homeless man with a beard unkempt and with crazy eyes, which seems to have a particular connection with the locusts. Again, these are the comics that give us keys to understanding these famous guards. First of all they are shape-changers, they have the capacity to take the appearance that they wish to approach and seduce the target without it being suspicious. But how are these mysterious smugglers created? Thanks to our famous cenobite with such a special role.
His name is Orno, and he has his own cabinet in the bowels of hell. To create a puzzle keeper, Orno chooses a damned that he calls “Raw Material”. He alters his soul by placing a bit of his own demonic spirit in it. He then returns his guinea pig to earth so that he can have sex with a woman. From this relationship will be born a child who Orno will take care to make orphan. Once he reaches 16 years of a life of sadness, Orno will reveal his true nature to him by offering him the box of which he will be the official guardian.
As a result, with the Hellraiser universe, we are witnessing a phenomenon which is after all quite frequent, which one could call “transmedia mythological development”. It’s the idea of expanding a fictional universe to other media than the one by which he was born. For Hellraiser, it’s a classic journey to Hollywood for a successful franchise: we adapt a book to the cinema, and if it is successful, we then develop comics or video games to tell new stories and spread the universe. And if the adaptations are sometimes soulless commercial moves, there are cases where this passage is extremely beneficial for a work. This is the case for Hellraiser. Making a fantastic film is expensive and we are subject to regulations that limit what we can show. With a comic, no problem. The only limit is the talent of the artist and the imagination of the authors.
In the work, the hell that Barker describes is very different from the classic hell representations. Where we knew a hell of red and burning limbo led by Satan, we find here a blue and icy labyrinth dominated by Leviathan. The first visual representation of the labyrinth of the underworld is delivered in the second film of the saga named Hellbound, during a sequence which literally convinced me that the saga hid an incredible mythological potential. We see there for the first time a reconstruction chamber and the making of a cenobite, but, above all, we discover a landscape worthy of the most dizzying nightmares. Perspectives that are lost from afar, abundances of senseless architecture, bottomless precipices …
The main inspiration for this representation comes from the work of Piranesi, a brilliant Italian engraver who lived in the 18th century. The latter unwound one day to create 16 engravings that would present nightmarish imaginary prisons. In this suffocating world, one enters a monumental architecture, with multiple dungeons, suffocating and dirty, with walkways that lead nowhere to spiral staircases. They are also intertwined with pulleys, chains and other instruments of torture. If the labyrinth also reminds of the Minotaur’s labyrinth, it also summons the architectures of Escher. We can safely quote the artist since a plan of the film shows one of his works.
For Piranesi, The link is especially strong when we contemplate the bowels of the labyrinth with its multidirectional corridors, its abyssal staircases and its general function of prison of souls. The fact that Barker wanted to quote Piranesi to make hell a prison place and cold is of a strong originality, which moreover suits perfectly the cenobites. On the top of the walls of this labyrinth, the cenobites can walk, meet and above all pray to Leviathan, who overlooks this gigantic area. When one descends from the crests of the labyrinth to enter its entrails, one enters a dark and dense area, with stairs which intersect to serve the various places of torture and other hellish abominations. The depth of this place seems endless, like the torments that stand there.
Since the cenobites are ancient humans, it makes sense, after all, to keep activities from their previous lives. So do not be surprised to know that in the labyrinth there are archives of operating theaters, an armory, but also a bar, a theater, or even places for political meetings. Finally above this Leviathan plane labyrinth.
This name originates from the Bible where Leviathan is described in several books as a multi-headed sea monster who revolts against God. We can also make the link with the eponymous book by Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes uses Leviathan as a metaphor for the perfect state, ruled by an absolute sovereign who exercises total control over society. Written by Hobbes during the First English Revolution, Leviathan insists on the need for a strong and total social order to avoid society from sinking into a state of nature which, for Hobbes, is a chaotic war of all against all. This choice of name is therefore not trivial and its symbolism has its place in Hell.
In Hellraiser, this volume of depths is also designated as the God of Flesh, Hunger, Desire, or Lord of the Labyrinth.
It is complicated to create a God in a fictional work, especially if one decides to show it. What form should be given to an abstract idea? Barker opted, not for yet another hackneyed classic demonic abomination, but for a surprising and mathematical form, perfectly symbolic of the concepts of Order and Structure. Indeed, the god of cenobites is an octahedron whose walls recall the esoteric ornament of Lemarchand’s boxes. Leviathan gravitates, lonely, dominating hell. It has the power to launch rays of black light which infiltrates your soul to reveal your sins to you.
The origins of this entity are unknown, but several clues point to the fact that it has been present since time immemorial. It is even said that he could be the fallen angel of the scriptures, but above all, this strange god is the one who makes the cenobites. It has the capacity to transform any human being into a suffering monster and thanks to its reconstruction chambers and its tentacles, it has total freedom in the grotesque and terrifying form that it will want to give you.
Leviathan does not speak directly, and to be able to exchange with him, it is necessary to go in his entrails. You can enter it thanks to a wall that unfolds and reveals endless markets. Once inside, the cenobites must play hard an organic organ made of supliciaries of hell to hope to communicate with this God. In the film, his only form of external language is a tetanizing foghorn which spells the word “GOD” in Morse code. So here we are at the top of hell.
After this painful journey, we can already note that the only thing that equals the darkness of Hellraiser is its black aesthetics and its mythological sophistication.
A connection with the Bible? In most works wanting to install a contemporary mythology, these almost systematically refer to Catholic mythology, whether it be the films Freddy and the relationship of his famous killer with hell, the game Bloodborn and his pantheon of Gods who seek to procreate or the manga Berserk and its multiple references to the Inquisition…
For Hellraiser, the least that can be said is that Clive Barker has a unique approach to the issue. Like the character, she is amazing and complex. In an interview book with Peter Arkins, one of the great screenwriters of the saga, Barker writes on the question. He immediately confesses to trying in his writings to find the rhythm of the Bible, which he says is his favorite. He also has a sort of fascination with the figure of Christ. Conversely, his vision of the church and of dogma exudes the most dissenting rejection there is. The work translates very well this oscillation of the author between fascination for the verb and the biblical symbols and detestation of what the men of church made of God. And the saga is dotted with games with religious symbolism, often to return the values. The word cenobite itself refers to an existing order. In contrast to the hermit, who lives in solitude and contempolation, the Cenobite monk lives in community. By thus making reference to an existing order, Barker can thus criticize religion while retrieving the lexical and symbolic fields. Pinhead is a nickname but its real dominion is “Hellpriest”, and the monster even marries its gestures. In addition, the cenobites despise the God of men. This phrase from cult Pinhead is a perfect example:
« Do I look like some one who cares what God thinks ? »
Barker’s vision of hell is therefore not made of horned demons who plunge us into the pot of lava, but of a religious, calculator based on suffering.
And if we wanted to go a little further, we might wonder if the cenobites in their concepts are not very close to the Catholic religion. Indeed, among Christians, the supreme act that launched religion is the crucifixion of a messiah, who became a martyr to save men. One can almost say that this act of torture is the basis of the Catholic religion. To the point that the symbol worn by its followers is an instrument of torture. Even if this is presented as an act of supreme love, the fact remains that this myth bases its genesis on the suffering and sin of men. Just like the cenobites.
It is also fascinating to see that the Christ figure has the same right to its rereading with the female figure of Morte Mamme.
In the Barkerian myth, she is the sister of Leviathan, who captured her in a stone tomb thousands of years ago. She is named priestess of chaos and the image she represents is no big mystery. Yet another camouflaged anti-dogma by the author who tells us that Jesus is a woman, that she is the impulse of life and chaos and that her goal is the destruction of the cenobites. Impossible not to see a political dimension when we know the place of women in religions. Thus Clive Barker seems to be in the grip of a fascination for the original biblical stories and the symbolic power of these myths, while castigating the purely evil deviation of our modern religions. For Clive Barker, God is imagination and imagination is God.
He is He may be some of you who are not used to horrifying creations for whom this universe is undoubtedly dirty, shocking, depressing or repulsive. This prompts us to ask ourselves the question: how can we imagine such things? Isn’t creation supposed to generate beauty, transcendence, a pleasure for the senses and the eyes? And I, who am swooning in front of this universe, do I have problems? Am I a creepy person, feasting on the kind of metaphorical darkness? It’s strange because I see the opposite. Barker himself says that what is pornography for some is theology for others. Everything is therefore a question of point of view. As far as I’m concerned, I see in this work an incredible ode to creation. A declaration of love for the surreal adventure it implies. Finally, I see in Hellraiser a reflection on the Artist’s sacrifices. After three months of living in this universe, I ended up thinking about it in my sleep. And one night, I dreamed of this cover of Comic:
We see a painter’s palette there. Brushes are blades and paint hemoglobin. And there I had the feeling to understand. Clive Barker explains that he writes as we paint, and that we only paint with his blood. No wonder, then, that we find our last family of damnation candidates here. The artists…
Inhabited by an intangible and devouring need, they are often visited by the cenobites in the saga. They come to find a young poet, a blind composer, two writers, a crazy painter … The work of a creator consists in deciding between structure and chaos, putting his soul into the configuration that is a work. In Hellraiser but especially in life, Art is a sacrifice, an activity of a reclusive monk who would only have his imagination for God. It’s a life where places are scarce, where the waiting and learning are endless, where you have to undergo the opinion of people who rarely understand you … The artist’s freedom is strewn with a thousand obstacles: how to earn something to eat? How to reach people? How to make a work that excites us ourselves? How to surprise yourself, surprise others and mark their hearts and minds? And how to survive a world that does everything to suppress the dream? Barker is a free spirit, a man who fights daily against the idea of death, a man for whom the imagination is the greatest mystery of humanity. For whom the imagination is God. A man, finally, who is not afraid to rub himself in the dark in order to draw resplendent jewels from it.
I don’t know if you’ve ever encountered a creator virtually. I am quick to marvel at multiple subjects, but feeling an intimate artistic shock in front of an artist’s mind is rare. And that’s what happened to me with this character that I’ve been contemplating from afar for years, without knowing anything about him. On a sleepless night, I tried what I often balk at doing: knowing everything about the creator whose work I explore. For me the work is what interests me in the first place and I was sometimes disappointed when I discovered the person who was hiding behind. But with Clive Barker, the sensation was quite different, around 4am and after 20 interviews, I felt like I had found a mentor, an incredible model, someone I would like to count among my friends.
The sequence that touched me the most was an English interview where Barker faced a crowd of young people whose age was not so far from his at the time.
And all the questions from the public are curiously enough reactionary and suspicious. Hellraiser first of the name had just come out and everyone was suspicious of the singularity and the violence of the work. And Barker to enter into a soft, understanding and sensitive plea on the power and the necessity of the horror stories, on the strange beauty that they contain. Seeing him justify himself in front of people who did not understand his sensitivity touched me in the messages they delivered, and his kindness confused me. So I often think back to his mantra:
“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you can be violent and original in your work”.
One of the beauties of this saga is to see the ambition of its concepts, the creative and symbolic freedom that it contains. What an emotion to contemplate the birth of a world with its geography and macrocosm, to follow its emblematic heroes and demons struggling in an abyssal mythology, with so many readings. If I was talking about the opening cathedral, it is because every detail of this universe is coherent, finely chiseled and that it allows 1000 things, not forbidding anything. We recognize here the work of a goldsmith of horror, of a watchmaker of the imagination … who would take the bias of art to reveal things that life does not show. The work then becomes like a revelation that speaks to everyone, like a metaphorical vision of our world.
I would like to end, with a little heavy heart, this trip in the meanders of this total artist with one of the sentences of which he has the secret:
Today I wanted to offer you a new article format. In “The Midnight Session”, I wanted to talk about more or less known films, all of which had a strange or disturbing atmosphere in common. My goal here is to introduce you to films that are worth watching or to try to teach you some things about others that are already well known to the general public.
What I love about Guillermo Del Toro :
What I like about Del Toro is that he is still one of the only directors to offer original and intelligent stories, populated by strange creatures taking the spectators into worlds oscillating between dreams and nightmares.
And strange creatures, he loves it! It is inside his house nicknamed “Bleak House”, a sort of huge cabinet of curiosities, that our director stores his collections of books and objects related to horror and fantasy. Collection which constantly feeds his imagination and which he transcribes through his films to the delight of fans of the genre.
« The Shape of Water »
“The Shape of Water” tells the story of a mute woman working for the United States government (know you know why I choose this film for this first midnight session 😁). Around a corridor she discovers a room in which a strange creature is held. The two will end up having this friendship, until their relationship turns into a love story.
Guillermo Del Toro signs there a poetic and moving film whose history places it in America of the Sixties plagued by paranoia and racism. The woman and the creature, both too different in their own way will see through each other this beauty that the others do not perceive and will not leave indifferent other characters who will come to help the liberation of the creature.
Kind of Beauty and the Beast aquatic version, borrowing its sticky side from Howard Philippe Lovecraft, “The Shape of Water” is visually superb. With an aesthetic that will also remind video game enthusiasts of the atmosphere of the “Bioshock” series.
One would have thought that this film was a prequel to another film by Del Toro, his adaptation of Hellboy, in which another creature half man half fish was already present, but, although it is the same actor under the two masks , it is not so. “The Shape of Water” is a unique and poetic film that pays tribute to a great film from the 1950s:
“The creature from the black lagoon”, directed by Jack Arnold in 1954. The film tells the story of a team of scientists who during an expedition to the Amazon discover that a very ancient creature lives in the waters of the river.
Accusation of plagiarism!
“The Shape of Water” also raised a few waves of challenges and Del Toro was accused of plagiarism.
It seems that a novel by Paul Zindel, “Let me hear you whisper” would have the same theme. A cleaning lady from a biology laboratory falls in love with a captive dolphin. There are many identical elements:
• The 60s ; • The military scientific complex; • Tyrannical superiors; • The escape in a linen trolley …
Although Del Toro is still prohibited from having read the book, it is doubtful.
Another work may still have been a “strong inspiration”, it is the short film “The space between us”, released in 2015. We find exactly the same themes and very similar plans. Here’s what to make your own opinion:
Plagiarism or not does not detract from the charms of “The Shape of Water”, which I absolutely recommend to you, because this kind of film is far too rare in cinemas. Supported by charismatic actors like Sally Hawkins and Michael Shannon, the work of Del Toro is a fantastic and extraordinary film, as only a passionate storyteller can bring us.
The alternative :
If you liked “The Shape of Water”, on a similar theme, I suggest the film “Cold Skin”. A Franco Spanish film directed by Xavier Gans.
In the early 1900s, a man settled on an island lost in the middle of the Atlantic to study the climate, but the island was also inhabited by a lighthouse keeper and a strange creature. Adaptation of the eponymous Catalan novel, this film is a real gem worthy of the stories of Lovecraft.