“An army of pissed-off man-hating feminist cannibals” DOGHOUSE (Jake West, 2009)

Doghouse is a British slapstick / splatter movie. The danger of mixing genres like that is that sometimes neither one will work, and this is a good example of just that. A bunch of young men head off for a weekend to cheer up one of their friends who has just been divorced. The film introduces them one by one with a placard showing their name (hoping vainly that we will thereafter remember them). They are all being verbally abused by their partners for leaving them, a condition sometimes known as being “in the doghouse”. They diagnose their situation as suffering from what they call “social gender anxiety” and plan to do male things like, you know, drink and smoke a piss on trees. They think they are recapturing their animal essences, whereas in fact they are just being dicks.

They head for a little town where, they have heard, the women outnumber the men four to one. Their minibus driver tells them that it is the middle of nowhere, and hey, there are worse things than divorce.

They are expecting

“an entire village of man-hungry women, waiting to jump the first band of desperadoes rolling up from London.”

Turns out that’s exactly what they get (yes, such subtle irony) because the women have all been infected with a virus in a biological warfare trial intended to turn one half of an enemy population against the other, and isn’t that a decent summary of human history? This virus turns them into what these guys call

“an army of pissed-off man-hating feminist cannibals”

Each woman is a caricature of her womanly role – a bride, a hairdresser, a grandma, etc.

While this is a remarkably silly film, it does illustrate quite nicely the themes of abjection and the monstrous feminine. Monsters are by definition outsiders, but more so when their appearance and violent activities are in a female form, because we are reminded of the archaic mother – the authority figure of early childhood who toilet trained us, dominated us, exemplified adult sexuality and offered us both nurturing and the threat of Oedipal competition with the father and ultimately castration or reabsorption. Just so, the women of the town represent female roles: the crone (one of the men’s gran), the bride (in virginal white), the hairdresser, the barmaid, the traffic warden. Freud might have enjoyed this film – the women carry castrating weapons – knives, scissors, axes, teeth, a dental drill. Even stilettos. One woman represents voracious appetite and therefore body dysmorphia (obesity) – she has an electric carving knife and kneels in front of her victim in a recreation of every fellatio-gone-wrong castration nightmare, cutting off his, well, his finger. But you know, symbolism.

In case the symbolism is still not clear, the local shop, with a mummified penis in the display case, is called

The men plan a violent exit, declaring “Today is not the day to stop objectifying women”. This gives the film an excuse to answer the women’s cannibalistic violence against the men with some very nasty misogynistic attacks by the surviving men, the ones who were the most obdurate male chauvinists, using ‘male’ weapons like fire and vehicles and sporting equipment, resulting in women being variously burnt, having their teeth knocked out, beheaded and beaten to death with golf clubs. At the climax, one of the surviving men growls “give me a wood” – yeah, you get the picture. There would be a certain section of the audience cheering those scenes, I suspect.

The movie managed to stumble to a surprising 48% on Rotten Tomatoes, with the Guardian reviewer summing it up as:

“misogyny and creative bankruptcy in Jake West’s Brit gender-wars comedy horror about a bunch of hen-pecked blokes stuck in a village of cannibalistic women”

If I still haven’t dissuaded you, the full movie can be watched (when I last checked) on YouTube.

Man-eating Mermaids: THE LURE (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Look, if you somehow managed to miss the Disney version of The Little Mermaid (1989) or the live action version in 2018, you were probably, as a defenceless child, read the 1837 Hans Christian Andersen story. A mermaid is an outsider – neither fish nor human. A sea creature, yet capable of living on the land as a two-legged person, and falling in love, and all those complications. She is often also mad, bad and dangerous to know.

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The Lure is a Polish version of this mermaid myth, in which the mermaids, Golden and Silver, get a job in an adult entertainment nightclub (mermaids have beautiful voices – remember the “sirens” in Homer’s Odyssey?) and for part of the time, when not performing, they lure men to their deaths, and eat them. Love is tricky, since they are, in human form, devoid of genitals, but hey, pour a glass of water on them, or throw them into the swimming pool, and problem solved.

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Is a mermaid eating a human really cannibalism? Well, they are half human, so I guess we could conclude that it’s half-cannibalism. As Hannibal Lecter said, “It’s only cannibalism if we’re equals”. They do seem to be mammals though.

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Maybe they are whalemaids? Anyhoo, there’s that very long fish tail, that was a bit of a problem, even in 1837, but can be overcome – they can change. Silver loves the hot bass player and has her tail cut off, and legs grafted on. The Polish doctors seem to be pretty damn good at what would have to be considered very serious surgery.

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What happens when you lose your tail – will you be accepted as “normal”? Well, ask any immigrant to anywhere – it’s not that easy. Silver loses not just her scales but her singing voice. The bassist digs her dedication to his love, but is disgusted when he tries to have sex with her and ends up covered in blood (definitely a risk if you have just had a WHOLE NEW LOWER BODY grafted onto your tummy).

The AV reviewer said the film “celebrates the animalistic, the feminine, and the intimate intersections between the two”. It does not resile from the blood or, indeed, their fishy smell, a popular misogynistic trope.

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The changing body is not restricted to young mermaids, but is common to those suffering puberty. As the director Agnieszka Smoczynska said of becoming young women, “they menstruate, they ovulate, their bodies start smelling and feeling different”. And another problem, in terms of social acceptance, is their teeth, with which they tear people to pieces. Teenager girls can be so mean.

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In the Disney version, Ariel becomes human and lives happily ever after (sorry, but not much of a spoiler – what do you expect from Disney?) This one is closer to the Andersen fairy tale, which means: much darker.

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The prince marries someone else, and the mermaid can only recover her fishiness by eating him; if she doesn’t, she’ll become sea-foam. In this dissonant, modern version, the kingdom is the Warsaw nightclub, the prince is a bass player, and people get eaten – why waste a good corpse? The sea-foam – that, of course, is the constant of every good (and not so good) movie.

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Anyway, this film is a hoot, and well worth seeking out (not so easy, but persevere). The Roger Ebert reviewer called it “sadly not as joyfully deranged as it could be”, but it has 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is pretty good!

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The Lure is a movie that (hopefully) will leave you thinking about its themes long afterwards. Why can Silver not exist if her prince/guitarist marries someone else? Why does he only want her when her natural pudenda (in her tail) are removed and replaced with someone else’s, between human legs? Eating flesh makes the girls strong, but love can turn them into sea-foam? Like all cannibal movies (maybe all movies?) it’s all about fear and appetite. The club staff and patrons go wild with desire when the mermaid sisters sing, but they also fear and hate them for being different, for being monsters, and they are shamelessly exploited and underpaid. Go read Barbara Creed on female monsters – men don’t fear them because they appear to have been castrated as Freud thought, rather they dread them as castrators, the bearer of the toothed vagina, and of the womb from which we all come, and into which we subconsciously fear being reabsorbed, eaten and digested, until we, not Silver, are just sea-foam once again.

At the end of every good cannibal movie, we should leave the cinema (or nowadays the couch) asking, “who, exactly, was the monster?”