Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Hallowthon 2015 Anthology: For the Final Girl in all of us

Will here: Happy All Hallow's Eve-eve-eve-eve, gentle readers. There are a hell of a lot of horror movies out there and a lot of the same things to be said about most of them: exploitation cliches with sexualised violence against women, weak women predated upon or protected by strong men, and people of colour treated as expendable for shock value.  Racist stereotypes as a source of villainy.  Sex corrupts the young and then they get murdered while the pure girls maybe survive.  We could do a hundred posts and they would all look basically the same.  To save everyone time, here we present the SS&S Hallowthon 2015 Anthology, with myself and the blogqueen offering you some brief thoughts on a score of better- and lesser-known horror films, in case you seek assistance picking something to watch this weekend.

Erika here: Also a warning, a lot of these are movies I saw more than five years ago, so I may have not noticed or forgotten some of the more messed-up aspects of some.

(Content: misogyny, racism, gory violence, and sexual violence.  Fun content: the greatest documentary of our time, and VAGINA DENTATA.)

Erika - As we all know, the greatest documentary of our time. That aside, I think Peter Venkman should get slimer'd. Not that he would notice as he is made of slime. Seriously. Fuck that guy.

Will - Oh my god Erika this isn't a documentary MOVING ALONG

Evil Dead
Will - Not the original with Bruce Campbell, but the remake from a couple of years ago.  Much less terrible than I expected.  Don't know if I could call it 'good'.  Teens isolate themselves at a cabin in the woods--not for a weekend of drinking and sex, but as an intervention to get their addict friend clean.  Everything goes horribly wrong because one guy decides to read aloud from a book that literally has 'don't say these words' written in the margins in blood.  Gory as hell, a huge amount of bodily mutilation, and a literal rain of blood in the last scene.  Not as inherently misogynistic as I would have expected--the original Evil Dead is famous for the 'tree rape' scene, which was exactly as gratuitous and voyeuristic as it sounds (the tree even ripped open the woman's shirt for the audience's benefit).  In this version, the victim does get bound by an animated tree, and some kind of monstrosity spews out a demon eel that slithers up her skirt, but the whole thing is incredibly gross and violating (and a key plot moment) rather than played to arouse.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Erika - When I first saw this movie, I went in expecting it to be awful. I was very very wrong. It was magical. It's campy and cheesy and Abraham Lincoln kills vampires with an ax. Horses are thrown. Love yourself. Watch this movie.

Will - The only caveat I'd add is that this is a very White Savior kind of historical revisionism along with the vampire revisionism.  Abraham inherits his mother's sense of equality ("As long as any of us are slaves, none of us are free", which...) and stands up for it his whole life.  Vampires are responsible for the transatlantic slave trade and they throw in a line specifically to note that Africans were getting 'sold' to white people by other Africans, in that way that really defensive white people always want to make sure that we all know that we're all culpable, really, and I mean I don't even see race so why do you have to make such a big deal about it--et cetera.  So there's that.  On the other hand, Anthony Mackie plays Lincoln's best friend Will Johnson and, upon learning that they're going to fight vampires, jumps right in with deadly efficiency.  Lincoln required an extensive training montage, but Johnson is just like "Oh, are we doing superhero stuff now?" and goes into bullet time.

Erika - My old roommate, Devin and I got back from the bar late one night and weren't ready to crash yet, so we booted up Netflix and found this. It's about a Good Christian Girl who is attacked by reams of sexual predators and defends herself with her vagina teeth. She doesn't escape the non-stop sexual assault, but her teeth give her agency to fight back. Either way, it features a doctor, horrified, shrieking "VAGINA DENTATA" and I don't know what else you want from a movie.

Repo! The Genetic Opera
Erika - It's more an aesthetic than a movie, and not a great one. The music is tragically lacking, but has Anthony Head who is a surprisingly decent singer and makes up for a multitude of sins. Strangely, he isn't even in the best number of the movie. Also Paris Hilton's face falls off.

Will - Worth seeing if you don't mind some gore.  I guess it's supposed to be an indictment of the modern American healthcare system and the encroaching forces of capitalism?  But if I get into dissecting that for analysis, we'll be here all day.  Sarah Brightman as Blind Mag is magnificent and probably a wizard.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Erika - I thought I was buying the first one when I bought it, not the (older) re-make. It's the first time I have bought the wrong movie and gotten a better one than I hoped for. This movie terrified me. It manages to be high tension and super creepy without using jump scares or gore. It's just, it's just a really well written and done. If you like getting your pants creeped off you, but like, not in a sexy way, check it.

Practical Magic
Erika - When scrolling through Netflix with Will trying to figure out what to put on this list I suggested this one. I hadn't seen the movie in like, ten years, but I remembered enough to think there was something to write about. I was right. Not that that should surprise anyone. This is a movie that is about women, and women loving and trusting each other to overcome anything. They also kill the same abusive boyfriend twice.

Will - Also there are two love spells used in this movie and I have a variety of questions as relating to consent and mind control whenever that sort of thing happens.  But I'd say the movie leans toward the idea, not that the targets are compelled to adore each other, but magically made intensely aware of all the things they could love about each other and lets things flow from there?  That's not textual at all, I admit.  Great scenes with women coming together to support each other in dire circumstances, even when they otherwise don't get along.  Like most things in life, needed more not-straight people.

Rosemary's Baby
Erika - Which is scarier? Being impregnated with the literal spawn of Satan (without fun Devil sex but with the extra challenges breast feeding) or having everyone in your life teaming up to gaslight you about it? Well, in this movie, you don't have to choose!

Human Centipede
Erika - I did not want to see this movie when I saw it. I didn't really know what I was getting into, which added to the glee of those with me as they cackled at my unprepared horror. Devin and his twin Doug decided this was what they wanted to do for their birthday, so my gift to them both was having to explain to my father what it was. Neither of us have forgiven them for this. The movie actually isn't as gross as you think it will be. It's gross, and it's fucked up, but the worst of it happens off screen. If you were thinking of seeing this movie but afraid of explicit gore, it's not that bad?

Will - I have literally cut people off midsentence to keep them from explaining the premise of this movie to innocent bystanders who didn't know better.  Thus do I earn my place in the Elysian Fields.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Erika - I do not remember being introduced to the soundtrack of this movie. I just... always knew it. I have fond memories of my Father dancing around the kitchen in his underpants, making breakfast, singing "Sweet Transvestite" with all he's got (and my Dad is a very enthusiastic singer). The only copy of the soundtrack we had was on a tape, so after switching to CD there were a few years where I kind of forgot about it until my Discman died and I went digging through my old tapes. I was walking across the street when I realized what, exactly, most of these songs were about. I didn't get hit by a car, but not be as wide a margin as I would like to claim. The soundtrack alone is worth the watch if you've somehow not already seen this campy, sexy(?), parade of absurdity.

Will - The blogqueen tried to make me watch this a couple of years ago, but I was exhausted and she made me go home halfway through because sleeping through Rocky Horror is on her list of forbidden acts, along with wearing socks (Erika- Only to bed) and giving her husband ideas.  So when I did actually see it all the way through this summer, it was at a local theater with a shadowplay cast and a lot of call-and-response from the audience.  I'm not convinced that actually made it any harder to understand what was going on.  This is a weird movie and the terms 'transvestite' and 'transsexual' are both waaay out of fashion now, and while I'm all for more LGBT characters in cinema, there's a lot of coercion and dubious consent here.  I get why it's an iconic film (and apparently they're remaking it with Laverne Cox as Dr Frank-N-Furter) but I was not as enchanted as I hoped.

The Loved Ones
Erika - I don't even know where to start with this movie. I'm not squeamish but yikes. Gore, psychological horror, sexual horror, incest, I just--if you are looking for a movie that you will sit back and say "Wow, that was super fucked up in more ways than I have seen any one movie be fucked up in" then this is the deeply fucked up movie for you.

Garden State
Erika - What's more horrifying than a whiny entitled privileged white dude and his fantasies of a manic pixie dream girl who will fix all of his problems? Great aesthetic and soundtrack too.

Will - The most subtle psychological thriller of our generation.

All The Boys Love Mandy Lane
Erika - This should be called "Mandy Lane needs some better fucking friends" because every single one of them is awful. (Okay, the lone black guy (Bird) doesn't totally suck.) Also: unnecessary sexualized violence. I am not saying sexual violence, but the first girl is killed after giving a blow job by getting a shotgun rammed in her mouth as if she were giving a blow up before having her head smashed through. It's a slasher flick that fancies itself clever. I will give it credit that I didn't see the whole twist coming, and it makes some interesting visual choices.

Will - It's a very aware movie that becomes less cliche as it goes, both in narrative and cinematic styles.  Could have done with a little more character exposition, since the motivations driving the whole murder spree are never given very clearly, and unlike most slashers that actually matters.  There are enough hints given that you can piece something together, but a lot left up to interpretation, and I'm never sure if that's intentional or if the filmmakers just thought they were so clever that they didn't need to say more.

Shaun of the Dead
Erika - Since the saturation of the zombie market, Shaun of the Dead is an especially nice reprieve. It's clever and genre savvy without feeling "wink wink nudge nudge tee hee this is a zombie movie" with actually developed characters. Could stand to have more women and POC and fewer white dudes, but it's at least sort of a horror movie so I guess I can only hope for so much.

Will - Probably the best we're going to get in terms of 'ordinary people face the zombie apocalypse'.

Erika - A movie that started off so strong and then went so wrong. It starts off with some psychological horror and cat-and-mouse type stuff between a grown woman and her adopted 9 year old daughter, with the 9 year old being the villain. Because if horror movies have taught me anything it's that children are creepy as fuck (and people wonder why I don't want any). Like many disappointing horror movies, it starts off clever and then takes a sharp turn into standard slasher horror right at the end.

The Witches of Zugarramurdi (English title: Witching & Bitching)
Erika - This is a weird movie. Weird in a good way, but weird. A group of robbers are trying to get away after their first heist but they get grabbed by a coven of cannibal witches who are trying to bring about the apocalypse. The basic theme and morals of the story are that women are evil and unstable, while men are immature and useless, but mostly well-meaning.

Will - I'm generally not one for gross-out humour, 'battle of the sexes' plots, or MRA talking points.  Especially screw that one guy in the first seen who's like "the judges always favour women in custody cases" because that's not even slightly true.  On the other hand, this has canonically bisexual secondary characters who become a happy couple, which probably makes it more progressive overall than 90% of Supernatural episodes, or Steven Moffat's portfolio.

Erika - Almost all of the weird-ass movies on this list that I saw in theaters I saw at the same weird local theater and I hope everyone has one of those. This was a movie that I actually regretted seeing there though. Again, one that is best described as "weird" but I wouldn't say "good weird". If it had been a half hour long, I probably would have loved it but it was just so long. Still, if the premise of "A homicidal car tire with psionic powers goes on a rampage and also acts as its own framing device" catches your attention, it's probably worth checking out.  Just maybe be willing to skip through a bit.

Will - I actually like this movie.  Not even as 'I guess among horror movies it's bearable'; I legitimately enjoyed it, which was a huge shock the first time because I have always hated standard-issue slashers.  The thing is that this one came before most others and didn't use their bloody cliches.  The daylight scenes are at least as unsettling as anything that happens in the dark.  The horror has less to do with jump scares and more to do with an emotionless implacable force randomly deciding to kill all your friends.  It also pretty much codified the final girl who faces the monster and lives.  That said, when your villain is 'an escaped murderer from an insane asylum', it's not like we're going to get anything like a thoughtful film.  Pure id.

Erika - When a husband and wife duo of "too-cool-for-school" scientists are told to stop their research on genetically engineering creatures, they cross lines of ethics, morals, and pretty much everything that gets in their way when they continue in secret and start splicing in human DNA as well. This movie starts off well. It challenges boundaries and ethics and social expectations and largely tries to be high minded about it even when getting into deeply uncomfortable territory. Which is what made it so terribly disappointing when it turned into a monster flick in the last few scenes and gets rapey.

Erika - I have found the formula for good Lovecraft reading: read his shorter short stories. That's it. Otherwise he spends forever building up and up mundane circumstances to like, a paragraph of weirdness that overall is unsatisfying (I'm looking at you, Rats In The Walls).  But the shorter ones tend to get to the weird stuff sooner, and feel like a bigger payoff without as much puttering around. All that to say, I haven't actually read Re-Animator. The Husbeast has, and he tells me it's super racist, which isn't terribly shocking. The movie is not. It is however incredibly sexist. The treatment of the lone female character is awful, she's stripped of agency, objectified, and assaulted. It does a better job getting to the weirdness more quickly than Lovecraft's writings often do, but the whole movie was a bit of a let down for me. The aesthetics are kind of fun but beyond that I don't have much nice to say about it, and a lot of negative. This is the only one on the list I am straight up telling you to skip.

Will - This is simultaneous not a Vampire Movie and also the best vampire movie I've ever seen.  A couple of two-century-old women are permanently on the run for reasons the mother refuses to explain to her daughter.  There are decapitations and literal waterfalls of blood and a Dangerous Romance between a frail human and the immortal vampire who won't risk hurting an innocent.  There are positive depictions of sex workers and their work, and a sort of thematic crescendo that we should all be able to agree, whether living or undead, that the most important thing to do is defy and destroy the violent institutions of patriarchy.  (On balance, this is an ultra-white movie and there's a fair about of offscreen rape-as-backstory, so it's not all sunshine and murder-daisies.)  Basically the anti-Twilight.  I recommend this movie to anyone who doesn't find the subject matter unwatchably disturbing.


So that's our selection of judgments for this year--feel free to add your own in the comments if there's something else in this vein that you wish more people knew about.  Also, expect more judgments of creepy stuff in the weeks to come, as Will finally gets around to marshalling his thoughts on the undying saga that is the Supernatural series, and the X-Files revival in January 2016 spurs some talk on the amazing Dana Scully and how weird it is that no one seems to talk about how super racist this sci-fi classic really was.

Erika has written far enough ahead that her posts should run uninterrupted through the next month in spite of NaNoWriMo, so enjoy those.  Will insists that he has got his side covered as well but he is not a reliable source.  Happy Halloween, folks.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Erika vs The Nightmare Before Christmas

I am a huge slut for stop-motion animation/claymation. I used to mess around with it as a kid and it will never stop being magical and amazing to me. I've also talked before about how much I love musicals at length. As such, Nightmare Before Christmas holds an extra-special place in my heart, but we all need to consider something for a moment here. And that is Nightmare Before Christmas, despite having been an icon of counter-culture wannabe goth/emo teenagers in my youth (is it still? I'm too old to know and I don't have any cousins in the right age range) is basically the story of a jock, who is loved by all, doing something stupid and realizing his nerd childhood friend is the right girl for him all along, with a heavy dash of cultural appropriation.

Jack Skellington, Pumpkin King, even though he is a skeleton who lives in a graveyard and doesn't have any discernible ties to pumpkins at all, is adored and admired by all of Halloween town. He is a leader in his community, The Best at The Thing everyone loves. He also has an excellent dog. I mean, all dogs are excellent, but Zero's a good ghost dog. He knows to bring back the bones they play fetch with, none of this having to hunt it down yourself nonsense. He also has a jack-o-lantern nose.

 Pictured: Happy ghost dog with jack-o-lantern nose who just wants to be your friend, Zero

So what sort of popular hero would he be if his shiny perfect life didn't have a flaw? That flaw being HORRIBLE ENNUI! To which his solution is the equivalent of going to India to do a bunch of yoga and getting a culturally insensitive Om tattoo on his ankle. The whole number of What's This? is him wandering around and marveling at how quaint everything is. Life here is so simple and exotic! Jack is totally a white tourist on a trip to try and "find himself". He spends a whole song there and "wants it for his own". He comes home and is now the expert on this other culture and gushes to everyone about it. No one quite gets it, but they love and worship Jack so they roll with it. Only Sally thinks something is wrong with him latching onto this other culture, but her concerns are ignored.

Jack knows he doesn't quite understand Christmas since it isn't his culture, and when he can't "crack the code", he decides the solution is simple! He gave it too much credit and depth to start with! He rewrites the bits he doesn't understand with his own culture and preference. With the confidence of a white guy, he barges in starts trying to take over, ignoring the one person (Sally) who is trying to tell him "No, nothing about this is a good idea". He forces out people native to the culture he's stealing (Santa) and takes over, harming others in the process. Most of those toys attack and have teeth; people are getting hurt. Sally, being the smart one, goes to try and free Santa from Oogie Boogie because shit is hitting the fan. Because Jack is the hero and not Sally, this ends with both of them in danger.

When the military is called and are actively trying to stop Jack,  his first response is to assume people are celebrating him, and he's confused and wounded that they don't like his take on their culture. Jack doesn't even think "Wow, I hurt people". He thinks "Well, I messed that up, but I had fun and everyone got a cool story out of it!" Then, after he reaffirms who and what he is, he thinks of getting Santa back so he can fix what he messed up. Better late than never, I suppose? This is the closest Jack comes to learning a lesson, realizing he's not good at a thing and should leave it to the people who are. He does not realize that he can't be good at this thing because it is not his culture, and he never grew up with it,of course.  Just that he has his own that he's better at so might as well stick with that one!

He rushes home, finds Sally and Santa being menaced by Oogie Boogie, saves the day, Santa goes off to save Christmas--and I want to note here that it is Santa, on his own, who saves Christmas. Jack doesn't get to help. Jack realizes, now that he is alone with Sally, "Oh, she's been helping me and being sensible and not just worshiping me this whole time. Maybe we should date." I have no idea how ragdoll/skeleton sex would work, but we know Sally is at least somewhat modular, so... I guess it would be kinky?

Let's talk about Sally for a moment. She and Jack are apparently good friends. We see her looking out for and taking care of Jack repeatedly, and yet he doesn't listen to her or notice her home life is incredibly abusive. She has to drug the Professor to ever get out of the house. This is played off as "haha typical teenagers" but the Professor scolds her for this. He wants her around to take care of him and gets emotionally abusive when she wants to have her own life. The thing is, she's happy to take care of him! She is, by her nature, a caring and nurturing person! She just wants to do her own thing too. Not content to let Sally do her own thing, and realizing it's not just a phase, he literally locks up Sally. Jack goes to see the Professor he doesn't think to try and say hi to Sally, which means he is ignorant to the fact she is literally locked up just down the hall. We see her rip off limbs to get away from the Professor, and eventually she runs away. Which leads to her living on the street as she tries to hide from the Professor. Again, Jack remains ignorant to, even while having her sew for him and hanging out in his home.

I don't know what about any of this is supposed to be counter-culture, or why so many kids latched onto it as such. Aesthetics, I guess? Which was certainly the depths of "counter-culture" for most of the people I knew who were latching onto it. I still love this movie, but let's be honest: Jack is a self-centered, self-absorbed dude whom everyone worships for reasons that aren't totally clear and faces no consequences for his actions because there is a whole system in place to continue worshiping him. All he has to do is be moderately friendly and score a touch down scare some children. Sounds awfully familiar.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Cabin In The Woods: Joss Whedon doesn't know what deconstruction means

What's this?  Not a Dresden post?  Yes, dear readers, because it is October and tumblr's love of Halloween is sufficiently infectious that I was all "Hey, we should do a bunch of posts on Halloween movies this month" and the blogqueen was all "I like that idea but let's not go overboard" and I was all "CAN'T HEAR YOU, TOO BUSY BEING THE PUMPKIN KING" and she was all "FUCK YOU I'M ALREADY WRITING A POST ON NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS" and she is the blogqueen, so her word is law.  But I get open the gates, with a little more than two weeks to go before Halloween, with my unrelenting judgment of Joss Whedon and all sexist nerds who think satire means 'the same old rubbish with a wink and a funny voice'.

Something Short & Snappy Hallowthon 2015 presents:
The Cabin In The Woods

This movie is three years old now, so I imagine most of the people who actually cared about seeing it unspoiled have already done so, but just in case you're not aware, the actual premise is a spoiler, so if for some reason you want to see Joss Whedon writing self-satisfied horror in the manner that he originally intended, read no further in this post.  There's not much meaningful to say about the film without talking details.

Now, as soon as I said 'Joss Whedon writing', most of us could probably guess (with or without seeing the film) that this movie is incredibly proud of how clever it is.  Horror movies come with a lot of tropes and cliches--back in the 1990s, Scream revitalised the genre by making a slasher flick full of people discussing slasher flicks, a harbinger of the super-meta media that has rocketed to popularity in the last couple of decades.  I don't actually like Scream (not least because that mask fucking terrified me as a child), but I can't deny that it was a clever idea to make a film in which people actually tell each other to do the things that the audience normally has to shout, like 'don't run upstairs, there's no escape there'.

But that's been done now (on through three sequels and a Netflix series), so how can someone brim with satisfaction at their own cleverness now?  The same way bad parodies work: force everything to fit to the cliches of the genre at their most extreme, presented utterly without commentary or analysis.  TCITW is a movie about a world (spoilers begin here) where humanity managed to seal away some eldritch horrors thousands of years ago and can only keep them sealed by performing a sacrificial ritual every year, which must fit the format of an ultra-typical horror movie.  So the movie opens on an underground complex where people are going about what seems like an ordinary semi-industrial office job, which we slowly discover is actually the central control room where they bait a group of young adults into a sealed environment (the titular cabin and woods) and let loose monsters to slaughter them.  Real people don't fit the requisite cardboard-cutout characters, of course (the jock, the nerd, the comic relief, the sexpot, and the virgin), so the action of the movie is two-sided: Our Heroes trying to escape monsters in clever ways, and the showrunners manipulating and pushing them back onto the rails like a bad tabletop gamemaster.

Thus, the ordinary is presented as clever because it gets labelled: on their way to the cabin, the kids stop and ask directions from a gruff hillbilly who tells them to turn back, and the scene gets intercut with shots of the showrunners talking about how important it is to the ritual that the kids be warned "by the Harbinger" but continue anyway.  All the protagonists start out as intelligent college kids, but (for example) the girl who's supposed to fit the 'slutty' archetype was convinced to dye her hair blonde and dosed with cognition-slowing drugs so she would drag her boyfriend out into the woods to have sex and die.  At one point the jock says 'stick together while we search the house', gets a dose of gas from the nearest air vent, turns around again and says 'actually, let's split up to cover more ground'.

They have a gas that makes people think it's a good idea to split the party.

I try to take stories in on their own terms: I'm not criticising TCITW for not being deep, or for not explaining how one invents a gas that makes people think it's a good idea to split the party.  The premise is "What if you had to orchestrate a real-life horror movie in order to save the world?" and something like that is just a throwaway joke that everyone's supposed to nod at and move past.  (I do greatly prefer the parts where things are actually orchestrated and people break the stereotypes--in keeping with exploitation horror of the past, voyeurism is a big part of the ritual, so they put the nerd in a room next to the final girl where he discovers he's got a one-way mirror to watch her undress.  Villainwise, that's a smart move to ratchet up the sexual tension, but the nerd is also not a total skeeze, so he overcomes temptation, warns her about it, and they switch rooms.  Naturally, the girl then watches the nerd, who is played by Jesse Williams and therefore hot like fire and hella jacked, take his shirt and belt off before she covers the mirror up again.)

No, if TCITW was just kind of smug about all its tropes and references, I wouldn't take much issue with it: the dialogue is often fun and funny, the cast is excellent, and it raises some interesting moral dilemmas when the heroes find out the truth and have to choose between actively murdering each other or passively ending the world.  (I disagree strongly with their conclusion, but more about that in a bit.)

My core problem with the movie is, as you readers have probably guessed, is that it involves Joss Whedon trying to be clever about gendered roles and that is a recipe for disaster.  Horror movies in general and slasher flicks in particular have a history of misogyny, sex-shaming, objectification and voyeurism, and sexualised violence against women that hardly needs to be expounded upon here.  The bright points are those rare occasions when the tradition of the 'final girl' gets turned into something like an icon of strength, resilience, and courage in women.  (Take perhaps the most famous 'final girl', Ellen Ripley of Alien--Sigourney Weaver, of course, shows up in TCITW specifically to explain the trope.)  It's sufficiently common that even this movie's 'ritual' incorporates it: as long as everyone else dies and the 'Virgin' suffers, the ritual is complete and she might be allowed to survive and win.

This is too obvious for Joss Whedon's cleverness to abide.  No, while the protagonist  Dana is a woman, the actual hero of TCITW is Marty, the comic relief.  He's resistant to the mind-warping drugs and hypnotic suggestions because he's stoned all the time, he carries a collapsible steel bong that he uses to do battle with the monsters (and successfully takes down the one that tries to kill him personally), and constantly fills the audience surrogate role of 'Hey, maybe we shouldn't do this obviously dangerous thing'.  He also locates the secret entrance to the villains' complex, hacks into their equipment, rescues Dana from her monster (after killing his with a trowel), and leads her down to the lower levels to confront the big bads.  He gives us the moral of the story as well--society is fundamentally broken and deserves to be wiped out--and the final question of the story is whether Dana will murder him (and save the world) or break the cycle (and let the ancient death gods rise up to slaughter us all).

Except: Dana doesn't even get that moment of agency, because as she's quivering, gun in hand, choosing whether to kill one person by action or billions by inaction, Marty keeps her from noticing the werewolf creeping up behind her and the clock runs down while they're fighting.  Afterwards, as they wait for their doom, Dana says she probably wouldn't have done it anyway, but actually letting her make that choice wasn't dramatic enough, apparently.

Raise your hand if you're shocked that Joss Whedon looked at a genre where strong female protagonists occasionally win (while hordes of other women are slaughtered, usually after flashing the audience) and said "No, this will not do, I need to bring something fresh to the table by having a sarcastic scruffy man save the helpless girl and drive the plot."  It's not the muscular dude, or the smart dude, or the hot chicks (either flavour, sexy or virginal) who save the day, it's the pseudophilosophical guy with funny lines and weed and no luck with women.  Yeah, that's definitely not Whedon's author avatar.

The phrase 'deconstruction' has gotten popular in the recent years, but the meaning has kinda shifted.  It's common enough now to use it as we do on this blog, to just mean 'unsympathetic critical analysis', but the word itself is older and more nuanced than that, to the point where I can't even begin to parse the original source material by Derrida.  (Neither can a lot of scholars, leading to a bunch of people trying to create secondary explanations that actually make sense.)  I'm not going to pretend I understand it either, but I can tell the difference between a meaningful commentary and shouting "Society thinks sex is dirty so the blond slut always dies first!"  Like: thanks, Joss.  We know.  We know that's how it always goes.  Are you in fact clever enough to come up with a twist on that, or are you just going to have a lot of people point out that the girl got killed five minutes after going topless and call it groundbreaking?  "But what if she was manipulated into doing it?"  SHE IS ALWAYS MANIPULATED INTO DOING IT BECAUSE THESE SCRIPTS ARE ALL ARTIFICE.  There are no actual choices going on.  The only difference this time is that the people in the script are scripted to acknowledging that they're following a script but under no circumstances question it.

Without getting too far into a very different kind of essay, I also want to vent my frustration against the ending and the idea that Our Heroes made the right choice by dooming everyone: in order for someone to say 'society is corrupt and we all deserve to burn' they have to be either the ultimate supervillain or have an incredibly narrow and specific concept of what 'the whole world' means.  We're talking about more than seven billion people in the world, all living radically different lives in different circumstances, different choices, different values, different traditions.  The typical stoner-philosopher appears to mean "Capitalism is messed up, our government is ineffective, and I can't get laid, so the whole thing might as well burn", which to my mind just shows a lack of interest or creativity.  If it's about the atrocities humans have committed in the past, well, we've got almost two billion people under the age of 15 and I'm inclined to give them a chance to do better than us.  If it's about the stories we tell supposedly illustrating our inherent corruption, well, show me an Anishinaabe slasher flick or something, because I'm not sure our traditions are as universal as you're claiming.

But I'm getting all Doylist about this instead of interrogating it from within the framework of the movie, where the logic appears to be "Humanity is under constant threat of annihilation by malevolent gods unless we make bloody sacrifices, therefore we deserve to be annihilated by malevolent gods", which... does not flow for me.

The ultimate problem with TCITW, I think, is the nature of the big bad gods behind it.  They are meant to stand for us, the audience: one girl has to get naked and die because the gods demand it, people must suffer because the gods demand it, it all has to happen over and over again because if the showrunners don't give the gods what they want, they--that is, we the audience--will rise up and end the world, and frankly that is blatant buck-passing.  The closest thing you can get to a 'message' out of TCITW is that these same horror movies keep getting made because that's supposedly what we want, but let's look at the facts: Twilight features blood and monsters and decapitation, but it also features girls who get to live forever with their infinitely-loyal sexbot husbands, and the Twilight movies made more money than you could fit in a cabin in the woods.  Google searching suggests to me that the highest-grossing slasher flick of all time, the original Scream, in total grossed about $189 million internationally (adjusted for inflation), whereas the first Twilight laughed that off at an easy $225 million and New Moon hit $326 million.

I'm not saying Twilight is good--what kind of monster do you take me for--but I am saying that in the case of Auteur Joss Whedon vs. We The Demanding And Disgusting Public, the evidence speaks soundly in favour of these things not being how you pander to the plebes.  There are no all-powerful market gods demanding that these same exploitation-film cliches get repeated over and over again: these movies get made because filmmakers like to make them.  That's the twist TCITW needed: in the end, when they've forced Dana to kill Marty to save everyone else, and everyone agrees that the rituals must go on because that's just how the world works, we find out that the Director is actually just a power-hungry misanthrope who dangles the (false) threat of ancient gods over everyone else because they just really like watching young people die naked.

Guess that was a step of realism too far?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Erika vs The Phantom of the Opera (the character, not the play--COME AT ME ERIK)

The Phantom of the Opera is one of those stories everyone seems to know, even if they've never seen it. It's iconic. Long before I saw the 2004 movie, I could have given you a rough outline of the plot. Until last summer, the movie was the only "real" version I had seen. When the Husbeast and I were on our honeymoon in New York we saw it on Broadway. This happened shortly after they had cast a black man in the role of the Phantom (whose name is actually Erik*) for the first time. He was good, very good, but he was the only black actor on that stage, which made the whole thing a touch uncomfortable. Besides the sudden racist over- and undertones the play had suddenly gained, I noticed something else: the Phantom is kind of a Nice Guy. He's blatantly the villain. Christine spends most of the play actively terrified of him. This isn't romantic pining cursed love, this is a man stalking a woman and threatening her and others (and blaming it on her when he hurts them) into doing what he wants her to do. The movie downplays how terrified Christine is and how villainous Erik is, but below is a list of super creepy things that jumped out at me when re-watching the movie.

An non-chronological tally of Erik being a creep:

  • Christine was about 8 when he first came to her as "her angel of music" and started grooming her.
  • Depending on what we go by, the age gap between the two of them is 12-30 years. The movie slants it more as 12 since that's the age gap between the actors, but he's supposed to have been a full grown man when he first met her. His draw to her is supposed to be fatherly and sexual. THOSE ARE NOT THINGS THAT SHOULD GO TOGETHER EVER.
  • He can see through her mirror. He has 100% watched her change and sleep.
  • When, after grooming her as The Angel of Music, he finally does appear in the flesh before her he leads her down to his sex dungeon. In that number he encourages her to turn away from everything she knows. In "Music of the Night" he is trying to isolate her both physically and emotionally by bringing her down to his dungeon and encouraging her to cut ties with everyone else.
  • Erik literally has an altar dedicated to Christine. With a wax statue of her IN A WEDDING DRESS.
  • She faints upon seeing it and he carries her to bed where he watches her sleep.
  • When she takes off his mask (not a sudden or sneaky move) the Phantom shoves her to the ground and starts screaming at her before twisting it to evoke her pity. Once she is a mass of emotions from his outburst he insists she leave now without giving her any opportunity to say or do anything.
  • He threatens to murder people if he doesn't get  his way (which includes Christine on stage as the lead, piles of money, and for the Viscount to never see her again).
  • He strangles a man and drops his body down onto the stage during a performance even after they scramble to get Christine on stage after he sabotages the Diva.
  • The phantom sees Christine being scared, comforted, and romanced by Raul as a personal betrayal and has a whole number about how she totally friendzoned him.
  • Verbatim line: "You will curse the day you did not do all the Phantom asked of you"
  • He emotes with his cape. A lot.
  • He crashes a great party just to yell at people, publicly point out that he's been the one teaching Christine, and to tell her to come back. He also rips Christine's engagement ring off of her and yells that he owns her.
  • We do get his TRAGIC BACK STORY which is that he was abused as a kid and displayed as a side show freak, but...

Pictured: Jake from Brooklyn 99 saying "Cool motive. Still murder."

  • Erik stalks Christine to her Father's grave, where she is going to try and sift through her fear and confusion and loneliness so he can try to lure her back when she's vulnerable. He sings about how the "soul obeys". NO, THAT'S ALL THE GROOMING ERIK.
  • When Raul bursts in to save her, he and the Phantom fight. Phantom was straight up gonna murder Raul but fails. Raul was in position to murder the phantom but Christine tells him not to, so, no questions asked, HE DOESN'T. Just puts his sword away and gets them both onto the horse. Erik declares "war on you both" for this. For... not.. killing him?
  • Did I mention the cape emoting yet?
  • The entire number of "Past The Point Of No Return" is basically a self-insert sex fantasy fanfic that he is forcing Christine to act in. It seriously plays almost like a sex scene, but there's a lot of conflating song and sex.
  • He uses the song Raul and Christine sing together, and forces her to sing it to him during previously-mentioned almost sex scene.
  • When Christine yanks the mask off him, he literally tries to murder a room full of people via chandelier and kidnaps her.
  • He literally makes her wear a wedding dress
  • He insists the reason Christine dislikes him is because he's ugly and says it "poisons their love". You know. Not the murder.
  • 'Give up everything you know and love me or walk away and I kill your lover. Your call.'
  • She picks him, he has a change of heart and angrily tells them to run away but still refers to himself as "the angel in hell" as he weeps over how much he loves her.
  • Somehow outlives her and leaves the wedding ring he tried to force on her by her grave.

ZOMG ALL SO ROMANTIC! And by "romantic" I mean "goddamn terrifying", but it's a story that ties itself off. In the play, she and Raul go off to get married and live their lives, Phantom-free, while Erik remains a huge creep and obsesses over her for literally the rest of his life.

All of this to say: there is a sequel to Phantom of the Opera, set ten years later on Coney Island! I feel the need to specify no, I'm not joking. Erik has come into possession of a freak show/circus. It is run by Madam Giry--you know, the woman who rescued the Phantom as a child and has been enabling his murderin' and creepin' all these years. It also employs her daughter, Christine's best friend from the first installment, Meg. How did Erik come to own this business? Considering he escaped a Freak Show as a kid, why on Earth does he choose that of all things? Where does he keep getting all this money from? When he vanished at the end of the play how did he get in touch with Madam Giry again? Why did she not only agree to go help him, but drag her daughter (a promising ballerina) with her into it? I know she respects his talent and pities him, but why does she keep helping him? If only his mask was ever found at the end of the play (a fact confirmed at the start of the sequel) where did he get a new one? Meg is the one to find it; does she just hold onto it for him, knowing she'll see him again? (But it's established in Phantom of the Opera that Meg doesn't know about Erik repeatedly) Why Coney Island of all places? I'd like to know the answer to all of these questions too! But there are no answers dear reader. Only more questions.

There is no true movie adaptation of this play. There likely will not be a movie adaptation of this play, either. There is however a very high-quality filmed version of it on Netflix, which is where I first found Love Never Dies. My immediate response upon reading the synopsis was "What. Why? How? Andrew Lloyd Webber actually did this? Was he strapped for cash orrr? Oh man, Coney Island, what even--this is going to be amazing" So sit down, this is gonna be fun.

Love Never Dies opens with the Phantom lamenting how for ten long years he has been wasting his time on "smoke and noise" and how he can't write real music since he "lost" Christine. He's too distracted by, uh, the carnival he owns and runs? He has a giant-ass painting of her (less creepy than a lifelike wax statue, but still creepy) and sings about missing her. The number goes on about her just coming by, or thinking she's with him in the dark and waking to realize: nope still alone. As if these were things that ever happened, not him stalking and kidnapping her when he felt like it. But listen, he knows what's going on (like all guys angsting over a woman they never actually dated ten years ago).  It'll all be fine if he can only hear her sing one more time. He just needs one more hit of her sweet sweet singing, yo.

We're then rapidly introduced to the--park? Circus? I'm going with amusement park--that he owns on Coney Island: typical spooky vaguely-gothic old-timey circus as designed in modern times. You know the look. We're then introduced to Meg as their Ooh-la-la girl and to her hopes that Erik is watching her. Basically, she wants to be the object of his obsession like Christine was, which raises some questions for me. Christine obviously didn't tell her what was going on, and in Phantom of the Opera she was clueless. Which means whatever exposure she has had to him has been after he murdered a bunch of people. As far as I can tell, Erik interacts with her little to not at all, so, where does her obsession with him come from? Christine was groomed, and he does the whole "mysterious/dangerous/sexy intensity" thing at her, but as far as I can tell Meg never got the same treatment. This leaves me with the only guess of her Mother, Madam Giry. Why she would want her own daughter to be his new muse is beyond me. Not like anyone died or a whole opera house burnt down or anything last time, Giry.

We're informed that Christine is coming to New York to sing at the opening of a new opera house (her first performance in years), which has Meg excited and Madam Giry pissed. She sees Christine running away from the murderer/stalker as a betrayal, and points out that they were the ones to get Erik set up again. They were the ones who bribed and "charmed" (slept with) politicians to get the permits and such for the park. Where was Christine? Chasing fame and fortune with her stupid viscount husband Raul! Yes. How dare she not be the one to obsessively dedicate her life to a murderer. Which makes me wonder: I mean, Giry has a daughter, but where's Meg's father? I don't think it's Erik, but I wonder if he didn't murder him.

Christine, Raul, and their son Gustav get off the boat to be swarmed by reporters with strange accents, and everyone talks over Christine. Considering we have two plays that freak out over how amazing her voice is, it's kind of interesting how often she's denied it. In Phantom of the Opera her voice isn't really her own property, it's Erik's, or it's Raul and the people using it to try and catch Erik. The only time she gets to sing that is for her is her big debut, "Think Of Me". That's over two plays. The reason she's singing this time is because Raul has lost all their money and gotten them in debt. There will be a plot point in Love Never Dies about how she has to choose who she sings (or doesn't) sing for, but never is she offered the option "herself".

There is another thing that strikes me here though. She hasn't sung in years. We don't know how many, exactly. We know she performed long enough to become famous, but she was also pretty infamous before the Opera Populair burnt down, thanks to everything happening around her. Did she stop singing because she became a mother, or because Erik traumatized her?

Settled in their hotel room Raul stomps around and rages a bit while Christine tries to sooth his ego and Gustav is all "I am cute and innocent, does the audience love me yet? Will their love make up for my own father's disinterest?" Raul will decide to go neglect his wife and child to meet with the guy who hired Christine in the bar, leaving her to explain to their child why his father doesn't love him that his father actually loves him. Christine tries to explain (through song) that love isn't something easily seen, and it's often not pretty and it's hard, so you know, ignore all the things your eyes and brain tell you above what love should or should not look like and just go with your heart. I know this is supposed to be setting the stage for the Phantom to come in and remind her what love really feels like but it comes off a lot like "Yes, he is abusive and awful, but I love him so it's okay: The Musical" and is sending my ears so far around my shoulders I'm getting a cramp.

Erik bursts into the room through the balcony in a dramatic mist with his personal orchestra playing on the ground below. Or at least I'm assuming that's where the music is coming from? Christine promptly faints, giving the Phantom an excuse to scoop her up like a lake monster about to carry her off to the watery depths of his sex pit, but he remembers there's a kid in the other room and instead gently places her in a nearby chair and hovers awkwardly, not sure what the pacing is for someone to regain consciousness after shock fainting. Fortunately, when you're the only two people on stage it's a quick recovery.

This is where things get weird. (Yes, here, not the bit where Erik has an amusement park on Coney Island.) After a moment of being startled, Christine promptly begins to rip into Erik. Not for turning up again, but for letting her think he was dead all this time. She yells at him for trying to turn up now and "claim her voice again". More mention of her voice not being her own.

Erik's response is simply "Do you know how much is sucked for me? 10 years since I was last able to creep on you babe" to which she points out "I WAS ONLY YOUR BABE FOR ONE NIGHT OF FREAKY SEX. ONE NIGHT" before they launch into a number about said night of freaky sex. It also plays some hardcore revisionist history. Christine talks about having loved him and implies she wasn't terrified of him.

I guess 10 years and thinking someone is dead makes it easier to see them in a kinder, less terrifying light. I mean, people get turned into saints when they die, so I guess Christine has been playing revisionist history with herself. As for the "one night": WHEN THE HELL DID THAT HAPPEN? I thought maybe the first time he kidnapped her, but he's there when she wakes up, and he slipped off into the night when they boned because he was scared and ashamed (she's still kinda pissed about that). So it wasn't then... I guess it was when they were preparing for the next opera, the one where he wanted Christine to be the duchess and she was cast as the page and then he killed a dude? So, before the murder, because she is currently singing about how she loved him and would have done whatever he asked. Which makes sense in that time frame and paired with whatever story she's been telling herself about all that murdering he did? I don't even know. This is just--HE KILLED SO MANY PEOPLE AND THREATENED TO KILL RAUL IF YOU DIDN'T LOVE HIM AND ALSO DO YOU REMEMBER THE CREEPY WEDDING DRESS BIT? BECAUSE IT SCARED YOU AT THE TIME AND I THINK IF YOU REALLY ADORED HIM AS MUCH AS YOU SAY YOU DID THEN MAYBE THOSE SCENES WOULD HAVE GONE DIFFERENTLY CHRISTINE. CHRISTINE. REMEMBER THE BIT ABOUT ALL THE STALKING?

The song ends with her telling him off all "No, no. We had great sex and passion but there is no now because you fucked up so bad, bruh. So bad. Didn't even leave a note or one of those weird single roses with a black ribbon you love leaving around so much."  But they both lament their lost chance. AGAIN, YOU HAD A SECOND CHANCE WHEN HE DID THE WHOLE KIDNAPPING AND THREATENING RAUL THING IF YOU REALLY MEANT ALL THIS. He then tries to convince her to sing for him and she promptly tells him "I don't owe you shit, no". They intertwine sex and song and submission with these two a lot, so honestly I don't even know right now.

They're interrupted by Gustav wandering out to be innocent and stuff. Christine is awkward and all "Hey Erik check out my spawn" and Erik is all "Yes hello little boy it is time to traumatize ur Mom" and heaves him up on the railing and asks Gustav what he wants to do. Gustav basically says "all the weird shit" before Christine manages to break them up and get Gustav back to bed, but not before Erik promises to take him adventuring later. Erik realizes he has an even better threat now, and compliments her on her perfect child and says: listen, help me with my depression. Help your mentor Christine. Do me this kindness. Please. Do it or your kid miiiiight go missing. You know. Maybe. He leaves her sobbing over the sheet music.


This play is trying to make him a viable romantic option and I'm still rooting for the absentee drunken husband. Well, no. I'm rooting for Christine and Meg to fuck off and start a show together somewhere far away from wherever  Erik and Raul are (and to take Gustav with them). More on that later.

Meg, Christine, Madam Giry and Raul all meet and realize what a clusterfuck things are about to become. Christine is singing tomorrow, Meg's distressed because she was supposed to be the leading lady, Madam Giry is distressed because she knows what this means, and Raul finds out who her secret employer is and is kind of freaking out. He did try to kill him like seven different times. During all this Gustav is misplaced (and by "misplaced" I mean lured by circus freaks to the Erik's lair). Whoops.

Erik, after hanging out with Gustav near a piano for like, twelve seconds, realizes there is a distinct possibility that he is his secret offspring. Spoilers: He is his secret offspring. He realizes this when Gustav is all "Oh cool look at all this creepy goth stuff" (the goth aesthetic is genetic) and I really enjoy the musical number "Beauty Underneath". It layers Gustav and the Phantom's voices wonderfully, and just has a great intensity to it.

The Phantom gets super excited because he thinks this kid is going to be okay with him just yanking his mask off with no warning or explanation. He isn't. He runs off screaming, which is what leads Christine and Meg to them. Meg is staring at Erik and I suspect rarely if ever has gotten to be face to face with him, there's a certain awe to how she looks at him and moves. He ignores her. Gustav goes off with Meg while the Phantom is all "CHRISTINE HE IS OBVIOUSLY MY SPAWN YOU DIDN'T MENTION THIS YESTERDAY WHEN I WAS THREATENING TO MURDER HIM WHY? Also never let him know I'm his real Dad because he's scared of me. Now please get out of here. UR FREE. AGAIN." However, this is only act one.

Christine takes pity on him and is moved by how moved he is by the discovery of a son and swears to stay and sing. This is the first time that she makes an active, willing choice to do anything in this play. Once she leaves the Phantom sings about how having a son who is so beautiful and perfect has given him a reason to live even if he hates him and he'll leave everything to this kid. Which pisses off Madam Giry (who was just lurking around) because seriously.  It's been ten years of her and Meg working their asses off to get Erik on his feet, come ON! We have a right to it, Erik! (Who knew that having a murderer and stalker for a boss might lead to unpredictable working climates.)

We get to see Raul angsting: he's dead inside and feels awful for how he's been treating Christine and Gustav, et cetera, why can't he be a better dude. The play has been trying to vilify him, so it's nice to see them take a step back to paint him more sympathetically. Meg wanders in for coffee, finds him at the bar, and urges him to take Christine and go very very far away very fast because once she sings for Erik, that's it, she'll do anything for him.

Raul grumbles as she flees and slumps back to the bar muttering about how Erik is just another circus freak. Just in time for the Phantom to pop out... of nowhere, really. Dunno where he came from. Was he just... hiding under the bar? Where did the other bartender go? He and Raul promptly make a bet over Christine. Who will she choose? Her husband, or the guy who knocked her up and let her think he was dead for ten years? If the Phantom wins and she sings, Raul vanishes in the night. If Raul wins and she doesn't, their debts are forgiven and they can go try to start fresh. Again, musically a good scene, but they are literally betting on Christine's fate without her consent or knowledge. Her choosing to sing isn't her picking Erik over Raul, it's her picking music. YOU TWO ARE NOT ONE AND THE SAME ERIK. It's also making her first willing choice to sing no longer about choosing to sing, but about who has ownership of her voice.

What can or would she do if Raul vanished? I can't imagine divorce was an option for her in that time and culture--would she be shamed? Cast from society? She's already followed by the paparazzi, how the hell will Erik deal with that if, in his perfect scenario, Raul leaves her and she decides to be with him? I just--ERIK YOU ARE A SELFISH DICKBAG. You spend a lot of time claiming to love and adore Christine but consistently act against her best interest, without her consent. No. Nope. Do not ship it.

Raul, after the Phantom leaves, realizes "wow I fucked up" and runs off yelling "My Christine"--WHY IS EVERYONE TALKING ABOUT HER IN POSSESSIVE TERMS?

Cut to Meg's big number and then her gushing excitedly to her Mother about how well she did and now surely the Phantom will see how SHE'S THE ONLY ONE HE NEEDS. Her Mother tells her everything they both did was a waste because of Christine and their son. Meg breaks down after her Mother deliberately devastates her, and Madam Giry then just wanders off. She remains more focused on Erik than her own daughter, to the point of psychologically traumatizing her to try and bend her to serve Erik as well. PARENTING.

Raul tries to get his shit together and begs Christine not to sing. She agrees-ish and asks to be alone and unbothered for ten minutes to get her shit together. Raul leaves and Erik locks the door after him. He pops out, convinces her to sing, because music yo, and puts a very fancy necklace on her that looks a biiiit like a collar. When alone she admits she actually wants to refuse the Phantom but doesn't think she can. Because reasons. Pants reasons.

Christine sings the titular song, which... is actually one of the weakest in the show. Raul realizes he has lost, and wanders off. Christine and Erik immediately mash faces with great force and gusto. She spots the note from Raul and realizes that Gustav is MIA. Turns out Meg, who was left a wreck, took him. Whoops. Somehow Erik knows she's at the boardwalk--which, really? How? We see that he pays her little mind, how does he know how she feels about the ocean? Madam Giry is right there, she should be the one to suggest it. Everyone rushes for the boardwalk where she's about to throw Gustav in. This is foreshadowed, but it's obvious they're not going to kill Gustav. There's no wire on him.

Meg sobs and yells at Erik because LOOK AT ME NOW FUCKER! Well, that's one way to get a man's attention. She lets go of Gustav to pull a gun on herself, which I guess is to reinforce that she probably wasn't planning to actually hurt Gustav? It's unclear, but I don't think Meg knows what she was about to do either, so... eh?

Erik, the least qualified person to try to talk her down, tries to talk her down: "Yes I know what it's like to feel ugly but I still see the beauty in you".  He then fucks up by trying to bring Christine into it. Meg starts to lose it, Erik tries to take the gun, and Christine gets shot. I will admit I expected/hoped Erik would get shot, but we don't always get the things we want in life.

Madam Giry and Meg run off, presumably to find a doctor? Christine breaks her promise to Erik and tells Gustav Erik is his real dad. Gustav is pretty sure that Raul should be in this scene, although being ten he'd struggle to explain why, and runs off to find him. Erik and Christine have their dramatic last moment, they hug and kiss and sing, she dies in his arms. Much angst. Very drama. Her husband and kid pop up and Erik awkwardly lets Raul hold his wife's body with his kid, realizing that this isn't actually his family. Oh sure, NOW you fucking realize that Erik? After you got her killed?  (And apparently raising the kid for ten years doesn't make Raul Gustav's 'real' dad?  Nope, only matters who mom boned.  Classy message, Webber.)

He staggers off stage right to sob a bit, so overcome with grief and Gustav wanders over to him, considering his Mother's last words of "look with your heart". He squints at Erik, who is a bit like a puppy here, hoping to be pet, takes the mask off, squints some more, and gives him some ear scritches. This is supposed to be leaving us with a note of hope that hey, sure, his mother is dead and he found out his dad isn't his biological dad and is probably not fit to be a parent, but look, Erik has someone look at his scarred disfigured face and not run screaming!

The whole thing reads like a fanfic written by someone who shipped Erik and Christine and thought he was actually a viable love interest and she picked wrong by going off with Raul. Instead of Andrew Lloyd Webber who wrote the first play (although not the book, which I have never read).

I hate the ending. I hate it so much. So I'm rewriting it. Fuck you, Webber.

They come up on the boardwalk where Meg is about to throw off Gustav, and Erik is promptly shoved to the back. Christine, worried about her son, begs Meg for mercy. Meg breaks down, sobbing, why does Christine have all these blessings? The Viscount chose her. Erik chose her. Even her own Mother chose her the day she suggested Christine take over in Phantom of the Opera, and she has this perfect son--and Christine cuts her off to tell her she's loved and worthy so listen, I've got passage for three to wherever Raul wanted us to flee to. Let's ditch all of these assholes and go. Together. And then they do, leaving Erik and Madam Giry both having lost the things they care about and learned that their selfish actions have consequences. Madam Giry realizes she can't live her whole life dedicated to Erik, and with the sack of money he gives her for all her work she goes off to find her own way in life.


The End.


*I'm using his first name because typing The Phantom every time felt a bit absurd but yes, his name being one letter off from mine does make me surly, thanks for asking.