Disgustingly offensive—two words I would associate with Sarmiento and Harel’s horror film entitled, “Deadgirl.” Despite my negative feelings towards the movie, it was still a good film because it can point the audience towards intelligent discussion.
The plot revolves around a girl found by Rickie and JT under the sewers of an abandoned hospital. They presume that the girl is dead. However, the presence of the dead girl elicits an erotic response from JT. This develops into necrophilia (sexual interaction with or attraction toward corpses). As a horror film, “deadgirl” can be considered as effective because it showed the beast within man.
Unpacking this even further, Tudor (2002) in his article entitled, “Why horror? The peculiar pleasures of a popular genre” states that “human beings are rotten at the core, and horror resonates the feature of this human condition” (p. 48) In the film, JT shows us how rotten man truly is. He pushes the boundaries of bestiality, by showing other people (Wheeler) how one can derive pleasure from such unconventional activities. He pushes the limit even further when he learned that he could create more “dead girls.” Even if JT’s character seems to be lacking in depth, he succeeds because without his character, the film would not have been able to elicit the staunch disgust it needed to get from the audience as a “horror film.”
Tudor (2002) also notes that the “attraction of horror derives from its appeal to the ‘beast’ concealed within the superficially civilized human” (p. 48). I think Rickie’s character was able to bring to life this aspect of horror best. Similarly, Rickie struggles with what is right and what is wrong, and with what he desires but cannot have (the apple of his eye, Joann). His friendship with JT is an interesting juxtaposition of their traits because they have stark differences, but somehow, their friendship worked. JT knows what he wants and does everything to get it. Rickie plays the “sensitive dude” archetype, the one who’s not over his childhood sweetheart, and the one who needs to grow up. All in all, what makes these characters interesting is how they reflect the repressed and extremely bestial desires of men, which are often ignored or generally frowned upon by society.
The film begins with a close-up image of Rickie, eyeing Joann from head to toe. Even though Rickie tried his best not to become a necrophiliac like his best friend, he too was guilty of objectifying Joann. He even had “wet dreams” about the girl, which just goes to show how sexually repressed Rickie was. Here, one can clearly see the struggle of the young and hormonal Rickie when it came to Joann. His desire for Joann eventually led to his becoming a “monster.” Sadly, in the end, Rickie became the person he was trying not to become. Rickie became another JT, fantasizing over his own “dead girl.” Additionally, the setting of the film was quite smart. The dead girl’s body was found beneath the sewers of an abandoned hospital. It adds to its character as a horror film since it sends across an aura of repression. All the film’s pivotal cathartic moments happened there.
Speaking as a woman, “Deadgirl” was a very disturbing horror film to watch. Although the objectification was not directed towards me, I felt violated and horrified. The way the film treated, or perceived the woman is one of the reasons why it is a horror film. In some horror films, we look at the woman through the male gaze and women in such films barely have any agency. They usually appear weak which makes them the target of unfortunate events. The dead girl in the film had no agency at all. She did not even have a name. She was treated exclusively as the object of perversion and the insatiable sexual desire of males. One of the few instances wherein she showed agency as a character was when she was able to literally break free from being JT’s sex slave, and running into the outside world. She also showed a little bit of emotion towards Rickie, because she was able to recognize that he was one of the few men that did not even try to touch her. As for Joann’s character, even though she blatantly showed her slight dislike for Rickie, she also kind of sent the message across that she somehow enjoyed it.
To conclude, “deadgirl” succeeds as a horror film, albeit gross and disturbing, because it successfully showed how women are objectified and oppressed through the male gaze. It was horrifying because these things reflect what happens in our society, and all too often, women are not given the capacity to defend themselves.
Source: Janovich, M. (2002). Horror, The Film Reader. London: Routledge.