Wednesday, October 01, 2014

30 Days of Nightmares #1: AMERICAN MARY (2012)

The Story: A young female surgeon-in-training puts her skills to creative use after she gets raped by a colleague. 

Expectations: I had heard great things about this film from fellow horror fans and, like many of them, I was eager to see Katherine Isabelle (star of GINGER SNAPS) claim her rightful place as a 21st century horror icon.  Other than that, I didn't know much about the film.  Based on the poster art, I guess I was expecting AMERICAN PSYCHO 2 done right.

Reaction: This is a film that's captivating from frame one to final credits, because of its sly fusion of humor and horror.  That's not to say it's a horror-comedy exactly.  On the surface, it's a rape-revenge movie set in the semi-taboo world of body modification.  There's a character who uses plastic surgery to transform herself into a real-world approximation of Bettie Boop, and another character who transforms herself into a life-size asexual Barbie doll, and then there's Mary... the "slasher" who, after being victimized, delves so deep into their world of physical and psychological reinvention that she transforms herself into a murderous ice queen.

What's really interesting is the way the film matter-of-factly plays out the rape-revenge scenario and then quickly moves on, eager to become something else.  This is not HARD CANDY.  There's no high-handed moralizing and no overt depictions of inner-struggle. The characters, especially Katherine Isabelle's monstrous-feminine, are fucked up but genuinely likable because they acknowledge and embrace being fucked up.  These are peoplewho  take pride and delight in being monsters

Non-horror fans may be horrified by what is so obviously a twisted celebration of being fucked up... but the initiated, recognizing scenarios that have been played out in dozens if not hundreds of horror movies--and thus recognizing that AMERICAN MARY casually sidesteps stupid cliches--will be perversely amused for most of the film's running time, right up to an ending that is surprising and thought-provoking in its simplicity.  In short, this movie lives up to the hype.

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: This film was not as gory as I expected (it steers clear of the obvious torture porn route), but it did have plenty of cringe-worthy body modification closeups.  None of them went as far as a documentary I saw a few years ago called FLESH AND BLOOD, which showed a penis bisection procedure.  So, for me, the most nightmare-worthy moment in AMERICAN MARY was a teasing scene that hinted at that procedure.  My memory did the rest.

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