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Sex & Celluloid: “Antichrist” Gives Critics Castration Anxiety

Lars von Trier’s newest film “Antichrist” has been getting tons of buzz at Cannes this year, but not the kind you’d expect from the venerable director of “Dogville” and the Dogme 95 movement. Instead, “Antichrist” was greeted by boos and disgust. The film, which centers on Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg after the death of their child, includes a scene so incredibly gruesome that I won’t bother to describe them again — Amelia already made you lose your breakfast last week. Lets just say the buzzwords for the violent climax (so to speak) involve the removal of at least two important pieces of male hardware during the act of lovemaking. Oh, and the movie also has a talking fox.So what separates von Trier’s latest exploration into “torture porn” (the term for the recent trend of over-the-top gore) from those made by Eli Roth, Rob Zombie, and all the 800 directors involved in the “Saw” franchise? I think I have the answer: Unlike, say, “Pulp Fiction” or a Wes Craven film, it’s not Dafoe’s character doing the cutting. Instead, Gainsbourg’s character does the honors of the late-term bris, which may be the reason why so many male critics gave it to very limp thumbs down, while singing the praises of Cannes’ other ultraviolent piece of work, Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Bastards.” Women literally ball-busting on screen? That’s something most of America is not ready for, even as we watch heads roll and blond bimbos get chopped to pieces.

Consider the outrage when Eli Roth (ironically, given a character in “Bastards”) came out with “Hostel 2.” Since the first film focused so much on a group of guys getting disemboweled while on vacation, the sequel was all about the ladies (being hung on meat hooks). That film was deemed a disgusting, depraved portrayal of torture porn, even though it grossed (pun!) almost $34 million internationally. Maybe all those angry viewers stormed out of the film before the finale though, when the tables were turned and castration became the theme of the evening for one unlucky torture victim and the female lead came out two-ahead.

The three rules of horror films just don’t apply anymore, and that makes a lot of guys queasy, despite the fact that women have been slicin’ and dicin’ victims for as long as their scarier Michael Myers counterparts. Hockey masked-killer Jason in “Friday the 13th” turned out to be an old woman bent on destroying copulating teens. And for every Patrick Bateman in “American Psycho,” there is a Sharon Stone in “Basic Instinct.” Disagree with the gore of horror movies all you want, but at least we’re seeing a positive trend of gender equality in gruesome Hollywood killers these days.

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