Compared to the previous movie we watched, “Triangle”, this was much scarier and fits more into the horror genre easily with its emphasis on dead bodies, blood, witchcraft, satanic symbols and the like. It was very intriguing from the start and right up until the end, it continued to surprise with its unpredictability. Knowing nothing about the film at all before hand really contributed to the horror aspect because I really didn’t know that it was going to be a witch movie. I knew something was up with the body because ofcourse the film was titled autopsy of Jane Doe but I never really expected it to be that the body was still alive and was actually a witch that was in a state of paralysis or some weird curse that wouldn’t allow it to move.
From the very beginning, the movie had the makings of a classic horror film. It opens with a crime scene where the family seems to have all died with no evidence as to what might have happened. And strangely enough, there was a half buried body of a naked girl found in the basement. All they knew was that nobody broke into the house and the people inside instead looked like they were trying to escape from something. The mystery and horror was already set from then on.
I actually really found it fun and interesting that the first portion of the film involved showcasing the standard operating procedure of the two main characters of the film: Tommy and Austin who were coroners. It felt like I was watching a scene from a crime drama with a rock soundtrack even playing at the background while they were trying to find out clues on what was the cause of death. Although even at this point, there were already obvious hints to the impending horror that was about to come. When they teased showing the dead bodies to us and even going on further to explain why they had to wear a bell, you just knew that it wasn’t the last time we were seeing or hearing in this sense these dead bodies. It felt as if they were setting up these bodies as boss fights later on that the protagonists had to face. It also helped that the setting of the movie was so cramped and isolated enough that no one would be able to hear their cries for help.
Things really began to get scary however when the body of Jane Doe finally arrived in the morgue. As I said before, the movie had the makings of a classic horror film and this even came complete with a creepy theme song, a tune sung by children, that plays on the radio whenever the “witch” tried to communicate with them. It first played when they were about to cut open the body as if the witch was warning them not to do it but they did….so yup, you knew they were doomed from then on. Aside from the copious amounts coming from the body, there were a lot of strange things that the coroner’s found to be strange. Throughout the movie, Tommy and Austin were trying to make sense of it all with science and reason. But since this is a horror film, we know that things shouldn’t be that easy to explain. And when they were finally convinced that what they were dealing with was indeed with the supernatural, it was too late for them to retaliate. They were powerless against the witch’s powers, even falling prey to its illusions when Tommy accidentally killed Austin’s girlfriend thinking it was the dead body come to life.
Overcome with grief of what he has done, Tommy offered his life to the witch in exchange for the safety of his son. Here we see all the pain and suffering the witch endured throughout the autopsy physically transfer to him. And in the end we were even led to believe that Austin was safe to escape but hey, this is a horror film so nope, he dies as well. In the end the witch finally won and based on the bell ringing in the end, she might finally be able to move and spread her terror elsewhere as a fully functional witch.
In Robin Wood’s The American Nightmare: Horror in the 70s, he discussed the concept of the “other” and “othering.” And in this film we see Jane Doe as the subject of this “othering”. From the moment she enters the scene, she was immediately only treated as an object. They didn’t even know here name and thus had to call her by the general term of Jane Doe. Just like any other body found in the morgue, Jane Doe was an object to be opened up and examined. However we also find out in the movie that what caused her to be like this may have been the process of “othering” itself. It wasn’t clearly stated that Jane Doe was born a witch, but instead insinuated that through the torture, suffering, and rituals she had to endure turned her into the very monster they thought her to be.
The witch turned out to be the product of social exclusion and this fits very well to the “Other” that Wood talks about. She may have been really innocent to begin with, but because of the othering she was exposed to became the image that these people were trying to project on her. I didn’t expect to have learned a valuable lesson in a horror film but I did. Don’t project bad things upon others or else they will turn into a monster and hunt you down. However kidding aside, this really is something we can learn from especially in our society today. Although we may be long gone from the time of the Salem Witch Trials, a new purge is happening under our very nose which is the drug war. These drug dealers/users are immediately outcasted by our society as evil criminals not to be treated as humans with dignity anymore thus making it socially acceptable to kill them. Even scarier is that the people being slaughtered are not only those involved in the drug business but sometimes even innocent people and children that happened to get caught in the crossfire. It maybe true that drug dealers are criminals, but because of this “othering” that they endure we aren’t really giving these people a chance to change and become a better person. All they can manage to do is conform to the situation they are in and become the very monster we project them to be.
In general, I really enjoyed the film as a horror movie. There were definitely times where I would cover my face waiting in anticipation for the next jump scare. It was all fun and horrifying but what I really didn’t expect was the message the film was trying to tell us. Only by examining the film in another perspective was I able to understand its deeper meaning. I believe that if I didn’t take this class, I wouldn’t have been able to understand a film at this level and for this I would have to thank the course for giving me the opportunity to do so.
Robin Wood. “The American Nightmare: Horror in the 70s.” Horror, The Film Reader (Routledge, 2002)