Anna Biller’s The Love Witch: A Feminist Approach to the Alternative Horror Genre

THE LOVE WITCH-illustration

Anna Biller’s faux-1960s alternative horror film, The Love Witch (2016), follows the narcissistic and eyeshadow obsessed Elaine in her search for the perfect fairy-tale romance. The self-proclaimed “Love Witch”, Elaine (played by Samantha Robinson) is a woman who uses home-made love potions, sex spells, and her own mysterious allure to seduce men until, of course, it takes an unexpected turn for the worse.

Aesthetics and visuals are central to the film. The costumes, scenery, cinematography, and soundtrack are all carefully directed and consulted on by Biller herself, a Cal Arts graduate. The sequences seem spontaneous, taking on a life of their own beyond the linear plot of the picture. These vivacious, colourful, and intrusive statements guide the film from the tropes of a mainstream horror flick to the unconventional features of an independent art film.

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In the director’s statement for The Love Witch, Biller mentions, “While I am quoting genres, I am using them not as a pastiche, but to create a sense of aesthetic arrest and to insert a female point of view.” Although Biller takes influence from aspects of the alternative horror/thriller genre, she uses a perspective that twists the typical male gaze of that genre, and brings about a sense of female empowerment. By using her knowledge of what men want, Elaine controls her own sexual agency.

This feminist concept is intermingled with the rules of witchery and the occult within the film. This is evident when the members of Elaine’s cult discuss how the strength of a woman’s sexuality both excites and challenges men’s patriarchal position in society, and how this makes men feel inclined to “put women in their place.” It is the figures of magic who bring attention to this, and the concept is juxtaposed with Elaine’s controversial behaviour regarding her lovers. Elaine uses her attractive persona to seduce men, but with her potions and her high expectations of romance, she “loves them to death.”

In a twist, Biller presents the dichotomy of Elaine’s lack of concern regarding her lovers with their increasing emotional attachment and eventual toxic separation from her affection. Elaine lacks any moral conflict in her actions, believing that the tragedies that result are simply a shame.

Biller borrows from the trope of the 1960s femme fatale, utilizing their hatred of betrayal by former lovers and twisting it so the woman gives the man what he wants physically but uses magic to separate herself from the emotional response he desires. Here, Biller references the social ideology in which men are thought to lack an emotional response in relationships. The moment Elaine denies her lover an emotional response is the moment that he starts to long for her love and support.

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Another vital aspect of the plot is Elaine’s obsession with fairy-tale romance. Despite the contrary ways she exhibits this, she greatly desires a relationship in which her love is fully requited and without complications. While Elaine presents herself as imposingly stern and careless, she fantasizes about a pseudo-medieval scene in which she rides off with her prince charming, away from the difficulties of a mundane life.

When Elaine’s curious landlord Trish (played by Laura Waddell) snoops around in her apartment, we are exposed to the hyper-erotic drawings and paintings that cover the room. These depict explicit scenes in an artistic style that is unexpectedly harmless and bubbly. This seems contrary to the darker erotic aspect of the film’s visuals, but its absurdity and spontaneity are central to the alternative rhythm of the plot, and play on the extreme paradoxes in Elaine’s character.

Overall, Anna Biller’s The Love Witch explores the rhetoric of the ill-fated search for a perfect love affair. In unison with the occult genre, this results in over-the-top dramatic sequences, stunning visuals, and a soap-operatic flair. Although the film is identified as a horror/thriller, it most definitely isn’t the type of film that has you at the edge of your seat in anticipation. Rather, the overly dramatic acting, quick-cut sequences, and flashy and comical costumes leave you with a smile plastered across your face.

-Contributed by Mia Carnevale

Swamp Things and Singing True: a Review of the comic Bayou

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Image from lovelaughterinsanity.com

If you’re going to build a world with words, look at Jeremy Love’s comic book series Bayou for inspiration—you can’t go wrong. What began as a web comic is now printed in two beautiful volumes that you need to read. Southern swamps have never looked so beautiful.

I have to warn you though, Bayou is not what I would call easy reading. It will make you think in ways that might not be familiar in your standard, comic-reading experience.

For one thing, Bayou is building on African-American folklore, such as the stories of Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear, and Tar Baby, among others. Their stories come together in a beautiful and horrifying mix of history and fantasy. The world beyond the swamp is a kind of pre-Abolition wonderland, where the characters of slave folklore live under the Bossman’s thumb and try to get by one way or another.

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Image from vulture.com

It does help to have at least a touch of knowledge about these African-American folk tales when reading Bayou, just as it helps to be acquainted with Greek or Norse mythology when reading other comics.

It also helps to have some knowledge of the Blues. Bayou embraces what I have seen other comics merely touch on: song lyrics included in the comic’s panels. You see, our cast of character includes several rambling musicians and singers. The enchantingly beautiful and somewhat deceitful songstress Tar Baby is the mother of the comic’s protagonist, Lee Wagstaff. Brer Rabbit and Bayou come out of their swamp-side world to sing the blues in a Southern speakeasy, and it all goes to hell when the local levee breaks and a flood takes them all. But come hell or high water, these characters get to speak and sing in their own voices. The past and present overlap in Love’s storytelling, and songs ease the transition between them. Similar to how Disney movies use songs in a montage to mark the passage of time—only Bayou never turns away from real-world darkness.

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Image from webcomicoverlook.wordpress.com

Nearly every character in Bayou speaks in a dialect. This includes the Southern accent, and specifically period-consistent African-American slang. It’s easy to pick up as you go along, and what isn’t totally clear becomes clear with usage (such as when one woman calls another a “heiffer” in a barroom spat). It also includes multiple uses of the N-word, with asterisks for the following letters. It’s a jarring reminder of the history of hate and oppression. You can never forget that slavery is in the characters’ recent past—but why should you? Little Lee may be free, but we first meet her as she swims in the swamp to retrieve the body of a boy her own age. Young Billy Glass lies dead in the bayou because local white men lynched him.

This ain’t Carroll’s kind of wonderland.

Bayou is full of love and hate, cowardice and bravery, sinners and saints. Even the characters that are anthropomorphic animals are beautifully and tragically human. You’ll see the best and the worst of the characters in this comic, but all of them are truly people—even if many of them don’t recognize it.

-Contributed by Miranda Whittaker

Harry Potter and the Crisis of Sorting

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Image from bustle.com

It’s safe to say that Harry Potter blazed many paths. It brought life to a dying publishing industry, it launched the young adult and children’s genres into the mainstream, and it gave adults and children alike an outlet for their imaginations. But perhaps most importantly, it spawned one of the most important debates of our era: which Hogwarts house is best? (It’s Ravenclaw)

Being sorted into a Hogwarts house is both a serious privilege and a touchstone of identity for characters in the series and readers alike. Take the traditional Gryffindor pride shared by the Weasley clan, or Harry’s fear of ending up in Slytherin. As any Potter reader would know, this enthusiasm doesn’t just stay in the pages. If you haven’t deliberated seriously over which house you belong in, are you even a real fan?

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Image from mentalfloss.com

Later young adult books have tried to capitalize on this notion of self-identification by means of community, but none of them have been as popular or long-lasting as the Hogwarts houses. For The Hunger Games, it’s a matter of choosing one’s district, which differ in terms of main exports and class distinctions. For Divergent, you choose one of five factions, each placing priority on a different personality trait. But being part of one of the four Hogwarts houses goes beyond these other choices. Choose your Hogwarts house, and you will be part of a lifelong community that shares your values and ambitions.

The introduction of Pottermore made this choice a reality, as readers could take an official online test that would sort them into their house. But wait—there’s more! Did you think that the customization of your wizard identity starts and ends with your Hogwarts house? Pottermore also offers the chance to get your wand (which, remember, chooses you), featuring different lengths, woods, and cores that vary in accordance with your personality. Then you can take the test to find your Patronus—your magical guardian, able to be summoned at will, representing you in animal form (good luck not getting a wild boar… not that it’s supposedly my Patronus or anything). Then, finally, head on over to Ilvermorny, the USA’s own wizarding academy, to be ceremonially sorted once more.

After taking all these tests, based on your favourite book series and developed by the brilliant J.K. Rowling herself, you may feel slighted by the results. Perhaps you’ve considered yourself a Ravenclaw your entire life and have now been declared a Hufflepuff. Maybe your Patronus ended up being a wild boar (I am, ahem, not speaking out of personal experience for either of these things). Don’t throw out your prized Ravenclaw scarf just yet—you may be curious to know what your sorting reveals about you.

A recent study using 132 Pottermore test-takers has shown that what house you prefer reflects your real personality. Those who choose Slytherin, for example, are more likely to exhibit narcissism, while those who prefer Ravenclaw display a higher need for cognition. Hufflepuffs are found to be more agreeable, and Gryffindors are the most extroverted. For this study, the chosen house aligned with the candidates’ inner selves more so than what the digital Sorting Hat said.

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Image from harrypotter.wikia.com

Unhappy with the results of your sorting test? Rest easy knowing that the house you belong in is the one you want the most. As Dumbledore said, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

-Contributed by Julia Bartel

Spec in Song Spotlight: Kyle Morton

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Image from wearetyphoon.bandcamp.com/album/white-lighter

Spec in Song explores the use of the speculative in music, whether it be fantasy, sci-fi, horror, or beyond.

The content of Kyle Morton’s songs is just about as wide-ranging and eclectic as the musical styles he works into them. This makes sense considering that his main band, Typhoon, consists of eleven multi-instrumentalists; their work features acoustic and electric guitars, basses, violins, drums, ukuleles, banjos, and even a horn section. Yet somehow in this mess of moving parts, he manages to craft imaginative and intricate speculative worlds.

Morton is by no means a ‘speculative artist,’ however you might define it. His themes and stories are all grounded in real-world problems such as aging, relationships, and chronic illness—specifically Lyme disease, of which Morton is a sufferer.

However, as he addresses these ideas in his colourful soundscape, the imagery and plot he weaves place him among some of the greatest sci-fi and fantasy writers of our time.

In “100 Years,” from Typhoon’s third studio album, White Lighter, Morton paints a bleak and downright disturbing picture of a post-modern dystopia. After he (or his character) falls asleep under a tree and sleeps for 100 years, he wakes up to find the world changed. “I awoke in the future,” he says, and what a future it is.

Entire cities of old folks’ homes / In every household a hospital bed for everyone / They laid me down and they stripped my clothes / They gave me a shirt that says / ‘I survived my own life.’”

Morton draws a painful link between society’s emphasis on survival over living and his own struggle with mortality. In doing so, he flings the listener into a different world. Yet this world is torn down just as quickly as it is created, giving way to introspection. “I told you / I told you / I have nothing left with which to hold you.”

Morton’s lyrics are an interesting blend of metaphor and hyperbole. Some are realistic, if overstated (like living for 100 years, even in sleep), but are combined with fantastical elements. What comes out of this mix is fantastically deep world-building, spiralling even out of a few short lines.

He continues this world-building on his solo studio album, What Will Destroy You, bringing a post-apocalyptic flavour to tracks such as “Survivalist Fantasy.” This is a song that explores his complicated relationship with intimacy in a sort of ‘last man on Earth’ scenario.

The scene is set by the lines: “The traffic lights are out and all the phones are dead / Don’t answer the door for anyone.” In a world with a zombie apocalypse obsession, these lines strike a cultural chord. At the same time, the lyrics aren’t intrinsically apocalyptic, and can bring to mind real world scenarios of riot and revolution.

Before we lost the power I think the television said / Stay inside your homes wait for help to come / That must have been weeks ago / Now I’ve got this sinking feeling / You and I are the only ones.”

Again, we see world-building that takes familiar themes and alienates them so that they make more sense surrounded by the fantastical. Who hasn’t thought, when fighting with a partner or struggling to communicate with a loved one, that the world is coming to an end? Who hasn’t questioned the value of living when there doesn’t seem to be any life in their years?

Morton writes stories that are both close to home and entirely other-worldly, which makes for a complex lyrical experience. Being familiar and yet new, it’s definitely worth a stumble through one of his worlds.

Suggested Tracks:

-Contributed by Stephan Goslinski

Seven Anime That Require Your Viewership in 2017

I’m just going to say it: 2016 was a good year for anime. New titles like Re:Zero and Mob Psycho 100, and sequels such as Haikyuu and Assassination Classroom were everything that we could have asked for and more. Yes, there were a few disappointments (we’re looking at you, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress), but 2017 offers restitution for every show that made you feel like you wasted your time putting it through the three-episode test. Big names like Attack on Titan and One Punch Man are putting out a second season, but there are other shows that deserve your attention too. They’re great. They’re fantastic. Trust me.

Welcome to the Ballroom – Premiere: July 2017

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Image from animenewsnetwork.com

Welcome to the Ballroom (Japanese title: Ballroom e Youkoso) promises to be a powerhouse of its own. The show will be based on Tomo Takeuchi’s manga of the same name and will be produced by Production I.G. Their involvement with the show is the most promising evidence of its quality. I.G has been responsible for some of the best sports anime shows in recent memory, such as Kuroko no Basuke and Haikyuu. The studio’s best work comes into play in scenes requiring fluidity and attention to detail, both of which will be put to the test in the intense dance competitions that Welcome to the Ballroom promises to offer.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes – Premiere: TBA 2017

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Image of the original Legend of the Galactic Heroes from animeblob.wordpress.com

Although advertised as a remake of the 1988 original space opera, the forthcoming Legend of the Galactic Heroes is supposedly a new take on Yoshiki Tanaka’s lauded story. Legend of the Galactic Heroes has the reputation of a cult classic in the anime community. Though I have not seen the original and cannot speak from personal experience, many have called the show the absolute zenith of Japanese storytelling. Others can’t bear the animation style of the late 1980s, which has continued to be the show’s greatest obstacle in reaching viewers. However, just as hope faded away, in swooped the hero of the hour: Production I.G. Their mastery of dynamic action sequences will surely spread the renowned tale to a larger audience.

Berserk – Premiered: April 7th, 2017

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Image from reddit.com/r/Berserk/

Have you ever found yourself playing a fantasy RPG with a severely overpowered character? Has their total badassery and inability to die made you ponder how awesome a show based around them could be? If so, you’re in luck! Berserk is a fantasy juggernaut that takes place in the war-torn country of Midland. It is based on Kentaro Miura’s original manga, which plays out more like a collection of Hieronymus Bosch’s best works than a manga series. The one downside of the show is that Miura’s incredible attention to detail is lost on the 3D animation and cel shading used in the show’s production. Nonetheless, Berserk‘s story and character roster are reasons enough to give this show a chance. The 2017 season will be the second of the most recent series, the first season of which came out last year. Although the latest series does not provide viewers with the earlier portions of the story, anime-film adaptations of the manga’s prologue arc are available in a trilogy titled Berserk Golden Age. These movies are: The Egg of the King, The Battle for Doldrey, and The Advent.

Gintama Season 4 – Premiered: January 9th, 2017

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Image from showprobe.wordpress.com

We are talking indestructible wooden swords that are made from alien trees and dispense soy sauce. We are talking some of the most out-of-the-box penial humour ever. We are talking Gintama. I know that I said I’d be talking about anime that weren’t big name sequels, but I’m breaking the rules, and for good reason too. Gintama simply does not get the love that it deserves, at least not from Western audiences. Furthermore, good shonen anime have been few and far between recently. Bleach has been discontinued, Naruto Shippuden has ended, and One Piece also threatens to end prematurely as it approaches the most recent source material. Though Attack on Titan season two and Boruto: Next Generation are within our sights, some of us just need more shonen sooner. Gintama is the answer.

Yami Shibai Season 4 – Premiered: January 16th, 2017

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Image from moesucks.com

Ever miss that creepy feeling of being watched just beyond your field of vision? Then Yami Shibai is the anime for you. However, calling Yami Shibai an anime the same way you might call Sword Art Online an anime is odd, as its production bears no resemblance to the glossy, computer-generated animation of today’s market. Yami Shibai is an anthology of Japan’s most spine-tingling folk-stories, and boy, does it tingle some spines. What this show offers is freshness, especially as Hollywood’s adventures into the horror genre have been lackluster and repetitive in recent years. So throw on the show, pop some popcorn, and break out the vacuum for the eventual jump-scare spillage.

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Resurrection – Premiere: TBA 2017

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Image from ukiyaseed.weebly.com

Who was asking for this? Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion had the perfect ending, which I will not be spoiling for those who haven’t seen Code Geass and most likely live in a cave somewhere. Many have considered the two-season series as one of the greatest anime of all time and an effective gateway show into the vast medium. Although it does not currently have a concrete release date, Code Geass: Lelouch of the Resurrection has been promised as a 2017 release. Sunrise Incorporated will be returning to produce another (hopefully great) season of this classic.

Black Clover – Premiered: May 2nd, 2017

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Image from snapthirty.com

If last year’s Boku no Hero Academia and Shokugeki no Soma: Ni no Sara weren’t enough to whet your appetite, then Black Clover is an event to look forward to. With the stampede of incoming sequels and the hype surrounding Boruto: Next Generation, Black Clover simply isn’t receiving the recognition that an original shonen deserves. The story follows Asta, a boy born into a fantastical world of magic lacking any form of magical power. He chases his dreams of being the Wizard King nonetheless, and if that isn’t the premise for a great shonen saga then I don’t know what is. The potential of this anime is heightened by Studio Pierrot’s involvement, the animation giant that brought us crowd favourites like Naruto, Bleach, and Tokyo Ghoul.

-Contributed by Giordano Labrecque

Cringe Fest 2017 Is This Friday!

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CALLING ALL WRITERS AND CREATIVE MINDED PEOPLE!

Ever felt excluded from the high brow poetry slam crowd in your hip local coffee shops? The Spectatorial & UC Gargoyle team up to present Cringe Fest, a FUN-draising event for all, as we celebrate the trials and tribulations you faced in becoming the artists you are today.

We invite you to dredge up your most embarrassing past writing: your angsty break-up poetry, your deep teenage thoughts, your fan-fiction starring you and Harry Potter, and share it in front of a bunch of people who have definitely also been there.

We will also have baked goods, juiceboxes, and other cool stuff for sale as part of fundraising for The Spectatorial’s next issue. More details to come. Bring us the change buried in your sofa!

Please send us a message on our Facebook page or email us at thespectatorial@gmail.com in order to get a spot on the list of readers for the night.

When: Friday, March 24, 7-10PM

Where: University College’s Junior Common Room

Admission will be PWYC (no one turned away!!). If you give $2 or more, you’ll be entered in a raffle to win free books, goodies, and other fun prizes!

AGM and Elections Info Meeting this FRIDAY!

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Do you want to be on The Spectatorial‘s staff next year? Do you want to make a difference in our constitution? Then this is your chance!

Come join The Spectatorial for our Annual General Meeting and Election Information night!

Date: Friday, March 10

Time: 5-7pm

Place: Hart House South Sitting Room

At the AGM, we will read through our current constitution and vote on any amendments and/or additions. This is YOUR chance to get your voice heard and directly impact the future shape, structure, and operations of The Spectatorial!

The Elections Information Meeting will cover all the information you need to know in order to apply for a position for The Spec‘s 2017-18 staff. What are contributors’ points? How do I get them? How do I make my application stand out from the rest? Our current editorial staff will be in attendance to answer all these questions and more!

This meeting is STRONGLY recommended for all members interested in being on staff next year. This is your chance to shape U of T’s only genre journal in 2017-18.

Note: This event is wheelchair accessible. If you have any concerns regarding accessibility, please don’t hesitate to contact us at thespectatorial@gmail.com.