Have you ever accidentally hurt your lover while during a passionate moment of intimacy? An elbow to the eyeball…a nose to the headboard…you get the picture. Well, that’s sort of what happens to Suzy (Aubrey Joyce Tunnell) in the first of three episodes of Neal Fischer and Del Harvey’s 2014 horror anthology Dead Girls. Except this accidental abuse can’t be brushed away with some mood-breaking laughter. In the angry and passionate moments following a relationship-breaking fight, Suzy’s boyfriend Travis (Nick Cardiff) pushes her up against the wall kissing her, and in the process hit Suzy’s head against the wall. It is only after a few seconds that Travis realizes that Suzy’s brains are splattered all over the wall behind her. Not exactly the foreplay he probably had in mind.
Frantic and scared, Travis employs the help of his friend played by Matty Robinson in disposing of the body by locking Suzy’s corpse in a refrigerator and dumping it under a highway bridge. But Suzy will not be stored at the back of the refrigerator like those leftovers that you didn’t really want to take home but did anyway because you didn’t want to seem like wasteful, bourgeois scum to your waiter. No…she will rise again and seek her revenge upon Travis! Female power!
I wish that this was the zombie feminist revenge film mixed that I hoped it would be. The “abused girl seeks revenge” film has a long tradition from the critically acclaimed like Ingmar Bergman’s Virgin Spring (1960) (which also inspired Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left (1972)), to the critically notorious I Spit on Your Grave (1978) and Lipstick (1976), and to the low-budget exploitation films like Active Vengeance (1974), The Lady Squad (1986), Ms. 45 (1981), and Thriller: A Cruel Picture (1973).
The genre is well-established, diverse in terms of narrative, and abundantly rich in style and aesthetics. But what is most important to all of these films is a respect for the humanity of the abused female character and a deep understanding of the revenge which she seeks to take. What worries me about Dead Girls is not so much the faulty craftsmanship like the frustratingly dim lighting and the distracting sound effects. Nor is it the inconsistent acting performances (I would like to note Ali Hadley’s refreshing charisma as Courtney in the horror-comedy segment “Theta Phi’s Never Die” which is in the vein of Ryan Murphy’s television series Scream Queens).
What worries me about Dead Girls is the lack of respect for the “abused woman revenge” tradition which Fischer and Harvey place the film into. Only the third segment Vengeance is Mine comes close to intimate character development. But overall, there is little attempt to flesh out the stories of these women or the vengeful psyche. There is little attempt to probe the psyche of abusers or cultures of female abuse. I’m not saying that every revenge film has to be a psychoanalytic study. But if a writer is going to introduce a storyline that is centered on the story of abused women, then they better have a pretty good justification as to why these women are abused and what the film is supposed to portray. Instead, the narrative of the abused woman seems more like a ploy to feature violence, voodoo, and naked sorority girls.
Review: Alex Schultz