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reality TV finale

"TEMPTATION ISLAND" EPISIDE 11 -- THE TEMPTATION ISLAND MASSACRE

"TEMPTATION ISLAND" EPISIDE 11 -- THE TEMPTATION ISLAND MASSACRE

Don’t be jealous, but I’m sort of a scholar when it comes to slasher movies. I have read every single academic text written about the hemoglobin-spattered dirty subgenre of horror – there are far more than you’d think! – so I am quite well versed in the narrative and stylistic iconography particular to a collection of movies that all seem to end with a body count.  I know slashers are set in isolated locations and that those locations are populated by a gaggle of nubile young adults who are ready and willing to sit on some faces.  I know the viewer is meant to feel exactly nothing when most of the characters suddenly disappear because we haven’t invested in any of them in the slightest.  I know there is usually one survivor – our resilient Final Girl – and we are meant to root for her because she seems decent and kind and because she’s the person about whom we’ve learned the most. And I know with the certainty of a person who has watched hundreds of these movies through a shield of shaking fingers covering my eyes that anything that transpires beside a fucking bonfire in the middle of the woods will only lead to terror. 

"TEMPTATION ISLAND" EPISODE 10 -- UNNECESSARY EVILS

"TEMPTATION ISLAND" EPISODE 10 -- UNNECESSARY EVILS

We’re going back to basics, people. Temptation Island has just experienced its own mini version of The Purge and now only a few people remain:  the original couples; the well-meaning host who guides the group through their bouts of scorching pain and then giggles as he collects his paycheck; and enough of a skeleton crew left behind to mic and film the participants so that every tear sliding down a cheek and every uneven heartbeat will be recorded for posterity.  The Tempters were sent packing.  My guess is Morgan is home trying on wedding dresses and swearing to her family that the guy she’s fully committed to is for real and not just dealing with either Rebound Syndrome or a psychotic break and he is so excited to come meet them – you know, after he officially ends his commitment to that other girl he was with for five years and once planned to marry.  I figure Brittany is sitting in a lotus pose inside a yurt somewhere staring at Karl’s Instagram page without blinking and Katheryn is at a toy store buying a dolphin stuffed animal that she will name John and Val is pretending to be King of the World in front of his bathroom mirror while he shaves and Johnny is waiting for the official call from Kady telling him that she gave John the boot so Johnny can chivalrously rush to her side like a Real Man would.  And I assume the producers are currently dancing a fucking jig beside a production van because all this has worked out even better than they even expected.

"ARE YOU THE ONE?" REUNION -- THEIR SOULS COME CHEAP

"ARE YOU THE ONE?" REUNION -- THEIR SOULS COME CHEAP

Remember how shocking it was when twenty-two utter fools actually managed to pair up correctly at the very last minute of the seventh season of Are You the One?  Remember the fleeting look of accomplishment smeared across their faces as they sauntered off that island with approximately $40,000 and some very probable invitations to appear on even more reality shows in the way-too-near-future for my comfort?  Remember when this cast acted like they were entirely capable of forgetting all the fighting and the furniture smashing and the sociopathic bullshit they’d inflicted on one another all summer long?  Remember how they instead clung to one another super tightly and swore they’d be like family until the very last second of time?  Well, it seems time is relative and this little televised family is even more dysfunctional than the Manson Family after a particularly potent acid trip.  The sweet goodbye that blasted across our airwaves occurred months ago and the sweetness between these people faded – much like genital warts eventually do. Now it’s Reunion time, most of these people officially hate one another, and if you’re surprised that the majority of these relationships didn’t work out in the long run, you too are an idiot and such a thing means you should immediately apply to be on this show because you’d be a motherfucking natural.

"ARE YOU THE ONE?" FINALE -- RED, YELLOW CHRISTMAS

"ARE YOU THE ONE?" FINALE -- RED, YELLOW CHRISTMAS

My sweet readers, several zillion ultra-important questions have been swirling round and round inside of my head since Are You the One? aired a new episode.  It’s sort of been hard to sleep, what with my grave fears about what could happen (nothing) should Nutsa and Brett turn out not to be an MTV-approved soulmate match.  And that concern isn’t even slightly comparable to the wave of stomach-clenching terror I sometimes feel (it’s probably just cramps) when it dawns on me that this right here will be the very last time these people can try to pair up correctly. But the most ominous question weighing heavy inside of me (along with that fistful of Twix I consumed on Halloween night…and then the next night…and then the night after that) is the question about these contestants and their futures. Let’s just face it – the vast majority came on this show not to find temporary love, but to snag themselves very non-temporary careers as H-list reality stars on every show this network produces until the end of fucking time. I’m pretty sure what’s really been keeping me up nights is how very certain I feel that the very worst of these people are not going anywhere.

FIRE & FURY ON THE FLORIBAMA SHORE

FIRE & FURY ON THE FLORIBAMA SHORE

Since this is our last recap and I’m feeling sort of wistful, let’s hold hands so I can drag you towards a collection of very stable geniuses who are attempting to beat the shit out of one another in a house they don’t pay to live in because they all forgot the “Use your words!” lesson they were taught back when they were cranky toddlers.  And when the emphasis on language goes missing and is replaced by vast quantities of cheap draft beer, the result is that MTV is gifted with a slew of people willing to brawl over just about nothing on camera and we are left with questions about what will eventually happen to them since it’s not like they can all become President. 

HAPPY ENDINGS

HAPPY ENDINGS

For a long stretch of time, nothing brought the sting of anxiety to my life quite like the possibility of an ending. It almost didn’t matter what the ending encapsulated or if it was an ending that needed to come about in the first place; whether I had to bid adieu to a place or a person, I’d find myself all sorts of out of sorts.  In the aftermath of one of those endings, I’d often spend the pitch-black hours of night when the normal people were asleep staring at the tippy tops of the trees outside my bedroom window and I’d quietly pray that maybe one day someone would invent a contraption that would allow me to unzip my skin and shimmy it off so I could finally know what it meant to feel free and then I’d glance over at the clock and see it was already after four and I’d flip my pillow to the cool side and wonder if everyone sometimes has nights like these.

When you’re someone – and I’m guessing many of us sadly fit into this category – who has experienced a profound loss exactly when it was least expected, I think you unconsciously spend much of your life mentally strategizing how you can keep such a shocking stab of pain from ever puncturing your soul again.  From my own coping mechanism bag of tricks (it doubles nicely as a supple leather hobo), I’d often whip out the Think Ahead card. Of all the cards in my bag, it’s the most worn; the edges are so flimsy they’re practically translucent.  While it’s purely metaphorical, should that card ever turn into something tangible with a tarot-style illustration, the image on my Think Ahead card would likely be that of a woman with hair so sleek you just know she sleeps with her flatiron and she’d be wearing Tom Ford sunglasses to cover up the crusty goop from that time she gouged out her own eyeballs because one day she finally realized she’d spent way too much time trying desperately to gaze into the future and she’d forgotten to enjoy living in the moment and painful blindness seemed like the best option because therapy would probably bring up all kinds of other shit.

Now listen: under no circumstances am I alleging that being a grand-scheme-of-things kind of girl is the very worst thing you can be.  Thinking ahead and looking at the totality of a situation can be pragmatic – but can also be stunting.  Part of what I’ve finally realized is that one of the toughest aspects of endings for me is having to face that I didn’t revel in the seconds or the years I’d spent in a place or with a person because I was always too concerned with figuring out how it all might nestle into the big picture, the one I kept changing by coloring outside the proverbial lines.  And should there be anyone out there reading this and thinking I’m also like that! I want you to know that you are not alone, that there are legitimate reasons for your behavior – and then I want you to go outside and throw your head back and scream in the direction of the stars that you will stop living this way because doing so may temporarily make you feel safe, but in actuality there is no way to maintain a total control over a life you invite other people into and besides, what with all these recent threats from North Korea, maybe the only thing we should all be concentrating on is stockpiling canned goods.

I understand now that I’ve made certain endings far more tragic than they needed to be, especially when it turns out there was not really all that much to mourn in the first place. And with this fresh and optimistic mindset firmly in place, I feel more than ready to wave goodbye to this season of Vanderpump Rules.  I’ll miss certain things, of course.  Monday evenings just won’t be the same without my practice of checking the bracket that hangs on my refrigerator to see if this is the week I wagered Kristen would finally be dragged away to an asylum.  It will be strange for a Tuesday to arrive without knowing for sure who Stassi is currently plotting against or exactly when Schwartz plans to arrive at Sandoval’s apartment in the dead of night so he can implore his truest love to run far away with him to a place where his new wife (who smells vaguely of stale tequila whenever she exhales or tells him that he’s wrong) will never be able to locate him.  What I will not miss, however, is everything else and I think it’s because, much like Katie’s breath, this show is starting to feel stale.  I don’t care a bit if Jax marries Brittany – I just don’t want the wedding to be televised. And sweet though she clearly is, I also don’t much care that Brittany should know better than to marry a man who is such a proud moron.  I don’t care if James is faithful to a girl I know nothing about and I really don’t care if he ever becomes famous for something other than being a douchebag who was born with an inferiority complex so staggering that it somehow morphed into a superiority complex.  I don’t care if Lala ever reveals who her married boyfriend is – and I swear I’m not just saying that because I signed a NDA after frolicking with her in a bathtub – and even less of me cares about watching Stassi go on first dates or wondering exactly what must be clinically wrong with a man for him to consider marrying Kristen.  Who these people get along with is pretty much set by now and who they hate will probably never change and Jax will always be a sweaty liar and Schwartz will only stand up for himself if Sandoval cries enough tears and Ariana will never think Stassi is anything but a power-craving jerk and Stassi will never accept that the totality of her televised behavior over the years has caused some people to want to have very little to do with her and James will still be peddling his PUMP compilation CD while Kristen and Katie and Stassi shout in unison that they are not mean girls and if anyone has the audacity to claim otherwise, they will stalk that person’s social media until their collective enemy hightails it to Death Valley because living amongst the ruins of the Manson Family seems a far more appealing option than convincing this three-headed beast of anything that vaguely resembles logic. I suppose what I’m trying to say here is that I truly want to thank the powers that be for not making this a year-round series and I hope when it does return, a few new people are part of the cast because these storylines just aren’t all that compelling anymore.  That said, I’ve got some stipulations about these potential new cast members and I’m willing to offer to personally deep throat someone in a power position over at Bravo in an effort to guarantee that chick GG will never become a Vanderpump Rules regular because anyone willing to sleep with James Kennedy to get on TV is far better suited for Intervention – or a sanitarium.   

 

NO REGRETS

NO REGRETS

During my early twenties, I went through what I now like to call my I-prefer-that-he-appear-homeless phase when it came to men.  It was purely an aesthetic thing.  After all, I wanted whatever guy I invited home to actually be gainfully employed and I definitely wanted him to have a home of his own to head back to once I was finished with him – I’m just a girl who likes herself some solitude.  But when it came to what turned my head in a dark Manhattan bar, it was always the same:  longish hair, sexy scruff, a tissue-thin cotton tee that I figured I’d end up sleeping in one night very soon, at least one tattoo that wasn’t some bullshit tribal vine wrapped around his bicep, and a hint of spicy cologne that smelled like mystery basted in swagger.  Only once did a man wearing a suit and tie cause me to stop and gape like someone who was tragically born without the ability to stop drooling, but that rather undignified moment did not occur at a bar.  No, that guy was a Secret Service Agent who used to show up at Yankee games when George Pataki was Governor.  This stunning male specimen would stand in the aisle behind home plate while Pataki and Giuliani chowed down on hotdogs. (This was back during those days when New Yorkers cheered Giuliani’s presence instead of wondering about which year it must’ve been that the man lost his entire mind and started ranting and raving on Sunday morning talk shows.) I sat right near them – I was blessed with a stepfather who has really good seats for Yankee games – and whenever that Secret Service guy was around, I could not take my eyes off him.  I have literally no idea what happened during the games he attended because I never so much as glanced at the field.  In fact, I easily could have been knocked out cold by a fly ball on any one of those crisp autumn nights because I paid attention to nobody and nothing except for him, though I did once consider that if such an accident were to transpire, perhaps he’d rush over and give me mouth-to-mouth like he was taught in Secret Service School.  (That’s a thing, right?)  I even started praying for out of control foul balls to pummel me right in the temple since it started to seem that being struck unconscious might be my only hope of this man ever sliding his lips on top of mine.   

Then came one particularly memorable evening when I looked over at my pretend boyfriend who was wearing an expensive suit that nicely concealed his loaded weapon and he smiled right at me and sort of raised his eyebrows and nodded in a greeting.  I flashed my dimples back at him, but in the next instant I felt all possibility drain away. Since he could hardly walk away from the public figure he was hired to protect and nobody was allowed to get anywhere near them without the right sort of clearance, I realized that unless I attempted to assassinate his boss, I’d never get to actually meet this guy. As one of the many differences that will always exist between Squeaky Fromme and myself is that I will never be the assassination type – and I don’t have red hair or worship a crazed guru – I realized with a tragic thud that this was a relationship that could never even begin.  When his term was over, Pataki wasn’t the Governor anymore and he didn’t show up at Yankee games and I never saw the gorgeous guy ever again.  Quick question though:  is there maybe a summer camp for former Secret Service Agents where they show off their knot-tying skills and spend afternoons crafting one another friendship bracelets made out of lanyards and wile away the evenings making s’mores beside a roaring campfire as they trade gossip about who was the biggest pain in the ass to protect?  Because, if so, I’d like to be Head Counselor.

I do apologize for that little memory-induced digression, but I haven’t thought about that guy in a long while and now I feel positively fuzzy inside.  My point, however, is that I typically only went for guys back then who looked dirty.  My vetting process stayed consistent for a very long time, until a bunch of years later when an extremely pretty man caused me to do an emotional double-take.  But back in the days when filth ruled, one guy I was briefly smitten with seemed like he might be a real contender.  He had long hair (blonde – not usually my thing) and his face looked like it would be scratchy to kiss.  He always wore jeans and a tee, loved good music, spoke Sarcasm as fluidly as he did English, worked as an editor, smoked like a chimney, enjoyed stroking my hair whenever we were next to one another in a bar or in an alley, and had a tattoo that read “No Regrets” brandished across his chest in huge black letters.  And it was that tattoo that sort of moved me beyond that type of man.  It was that exact tattoo that made me wonder if I could maybe train my brain to begin to feel attracted to something else.  It was that very tattoo that caused me to call my friend Nicole late one night when it was very dark and I could see no hint of the stars and whisper to her, “I just don’t think I am supposed to live a life where ‘No Regrets’ wanders through my kitchen first thing in the morning to get some coffee.”  I knew: it was time to make some different choices.

I bring all of this up because I’ve thought a lot recently about people who proudly proclaim that they have no regrets coloring their lives or taunting them in their dreams.  It’s a hard thing for me to believe is possible. I have several huge regrets and most of them involve hurting someone I love or allowing myself to be hurt by someone I shouldn’t have loved.  While none of these regrets haunt me constantly, in my lowest and dreariest moments, I do wonder about their impact on both my mind and my soul. I am able to realize that it’s hardships that trigger growth and I can say with certainty that making some of those questionable decisions shoved me onto a journey where I learned some gut-wrenching but important lessons about life and men and the resilience of the human spirit, but it wasn’t like any of those lessons were fun to learn.  It wasn’t as though admitting that I had a regret (or twelve) brought me any sort of immediate comfort, but I’d never even consider not admitting that my regrets exist.    

Knowing him the way I did back then, my longhaired former crush probably earned the right to emblazon those words across his skin in indelible black ink. In the time we spent together, he was brutally honest – with himself and with others – and he also gave really good massages, which I know shouldn’t really figure into this in any real manner, but they were just that impressive.  Still, though I was able to believe that his tattooed motto was both reflective of his past and a warning about how we wanted to live his present and his future, we eventually drifted apart, a choice I’m certain has caused neither of us any regret.  He hasn’t passed through my thoughts in a lot of years, but I couldn’t help thinking about him during part two of The Real Housewives of Orange County Reunion because I think Kelly Dodd should leave that set where women who hate her sit on overstuffed couches and drive directly to a tattoo parlor and get “No Regrets” inked straight across her Botoxed forehead. This woman (who causes me to feel spiking levels of hatred whenever her grotesque smirk appears in high-definition on my television screen) spent her inaugural season insulting her coworkers viciously and constantly, yet she still idiotically maintains that she has zero regrets for any of her psychotic behavior.  She wouldn’t redo any of it!  She would happily inform Shannon that she’s ugly one more time!  She would love to call Heather “an interloper” yet again just so she can prove that she can pronounce words with more than three syllables!  She would definitely not walk back on the choice of appointing Vicki Gunvalson her Life Coach because who better to guide one fucking asshole than another fucking asshole? No, Kelly has absolutely no regrets for anything and if anybody so much as attempts to suggest that perhaps she should, she will just smear on some more lip gloss and take yet another shot of tequila and mumble that anyone saying such a thing is doing so out of pure envy because Kelly is a fucking idiot who sold her depleted sanity to Bravo and I have no doubt that she will be back next season because it’s the crazy ones who tend to get the raises. I will say this, though:  I hope that one day in the very near future Andy Cohen feels a pang of regret for thrusting another preening narcissist with no self-awareness upon us during an election season that has already felt like an exercise in abject fucking misery.

The Reunion finally concludes tonight and I feel the need to announce that if Vicki is hired back for next season, my recaps of this show will be concluding as well.  I just can’t expose myself to such a horrible person and her barely lucid sidekick anymore, not when I can better spend my time tracking down my Secret Service Agent who will surely enjoy spending his Monday nights feeding me ripe strawberries while inquiring as to which Real Housewife I’d like for him to destroy first.  As I enjoy being accommodating, I’ll give him a list with the names Vicki, Kelly, Kim, Brandi, and Luann on it and allow him to plot against them at his leisure.  But since it’s not currently strawberry season, let’s instead settle in and discuss how this shitshow finally ends, okay?

 

THE SOUL-SUCKING LURE OF INFAMY

THE SOUL-SUCKING LURE OF INFAMY

It’s here!  The season finale of The Real Housewives of Orange County is finally upon us!  And do you know what that means?  Actually, it doesn’t really mean a whole lot of anything. The truth of the matter is that this show is not anywhere near over, what with three weeks of a Reunion still to get through and then one of those “Secrets Uncovered” episodes, which we all know is filled with clips of the shit that didn’t make it through the first edit.  I will not recap the “Secrets Uncovered” episode – I won’t even watch it – because I get offended when any network seeks to pass off their sloppy seconds to me like it’s actual entertainment.  Besides, I’m pretty sure I can live forever and prosper without seeing some sequence in which Heather petitions a zoning board to allow her newest mansion to have its own zip code or watch Vicki continue to announce that she is never the cause of her own suffering. As I am quite certain that she is the cause of my suffering, I prefer not to expose myself to the horror when it’s not necessary.

As for the upcoming Reunion, I’m already dreading it. Not a ton happened this season and there’s no legitimate way for Sir Andy Cohen to fill three hours of television by retreading the action, so what that means is the time will be clogged up with even more screaming – and, by this point, I’m not sure I have the strength to take it.  Very little of what these women are fighting about actually matters. I can certainly see why Shannon is apoplectic about Vicki spreading stories about David beating her because there are real stakes to such an allegation, but nobody really has to care that Kelly is a demonic moron who spouts profanity whenever she feels cornered and attacked – which is always.  These women can make the choice to never associate with Kelly again, or at least they could if they were willing to leave this show and the benefits that come with calling oneself a “Bravolebrity” without any irony whatsoever.

As for what they’ll eventually talk about during the Reunion, here’s what’s gone down so far this season.  I’ve divided the action up by Housewife – and if you’re noticing that there’s way more to cover in the Vicki and Kelly departments, it’s because they are insane people and I’m hoping my lengthy summations can eventually be used by the team of mental health clinicians who will one day surely study them so they can then write scholarly articles on the synergy that exists between psychosis and reality show participants. 

THE LOSING TEAM

THE LOSING TEAM

About a month ago – for the first time in more than a decade – I found myself totally obsessed with the NCAA tournament. It sort of started by accident. See, I like to leave the television on while I'm at work so my puppy doesn't feel so alone and I guess I'm willing to pretend that the people on TV make her feel like she's got company. Usually I put on CNN so she can stay informed, but one day I started to grow concerned that her fragile baby canine mind maybe shouldn't be exposed to the tragedies currently plaguing the world – you know, terrorism, people who don't believe global warming is real, Trump's views on women – so I decided to put on a different channel before I left the house. I think Married With Children was airing as I walked out the door at the ass-crack of dawn. I heard a loud roar of canned laughter and the unmistakable growl of Al Bundy and sure, I worried that Tallulah would watch the show and I'd come home and discover she'd shimmied herself into some Lycra and managed to procure a can of Aqua Net and she'd ask me if I knew that Traci Lords could act, but I decided to just deal with those issues if they popped up.

By the time late afternoon arrived and I walked back through my front door, sitcoms from the early-nineties had ended and basketball was on instead. I found myself playing fetch with the dog and getting my stuff ready for work in the morning and doing yoga, all with the TV still on.  The cheers of the crowd and the sound of the rhythmic dribbling offered me some unexpected solace. I didn't go all in – I never drew up a bracket or anything — but I legitimately began to care about the tournament and there were a few teams I started to root for. I wanted University of Michigan, Miami, or UNC to come out on top. Why? Well, there are very good reasons for all my choices!  My ex-boyfriend went to Michigan and I have fond memories of going to those games.  I even remember half of the school’s fight song, yet another little ditty I can’t sing on key. Most of my family roots for Miami so I threw that team into my mix because it's always nice when my family is happy. As for UNC, it's really very simple: the blue they wear is the prettiest shade of blue in all the land. 

I had to DVR the final game a couple of Mondays ago because my top priority was to throw all my concentration at the last part of the Vanderpump Rules reunion. (Yes, it takes a great deal of concentration to describe a collection of leaky douchebags who fancy themselves human.)  With my recap gloriously complete, I finally settled in to watch the game.  I was riveted. After writing about the morons on Bravo, it was inspiring to see people with actual talent appear on a screen in my home – and while I was upset that the team who wore the nice color didn't walk away victorious, it still felt like a lovely way to wile away the late evening hours. Besides, I've found guys line up for you when it's clear you not only don't mind sports, but you show up to watch a game wearing a hot lace bra under a thin tee while holding a bowl filled with the most amazing spinach and artichoke dip known to man.  (The trick is the red pepper flakes.) 

I couldn't help but think about those games and the team rivalries tonight as I watched the season finale of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Sure, on the surface these two forms of entertainment have almost nothing in common, but dig a little deeper. Both the teams and these women have complicated, public histories. Both have fans cheering them on. Both experience the harsh hatred of the public, some of it very much warranted. And I'm imagining that some basketball players harbor vivid fantasies about ripping fellow athletes limb from limb like you know our Housewives dream about on an hourly basis.

As we're at the end (almost – I’m betting there will be a twelve-part reunion where these women can once again discuss arguments that will still not make a bit of sense) of a season that has seemed fucking endless, let's review the blistering battles that have gone down. Since no fight on this show actually gets resolved, the ripples of dissension are still being felt and analyzed. In no particular order of importance – because none of these arguments actually matter – here's a recount of who has hated someone or who currently hates someone:

ENGAGEMENT PARTY MASSACRE

ENGAGEMENT PARTY MASSACRE

Let's talk about slashers, shall we? Yes, I’m referring to that illustrious group of grisly movies where nightmares happen all around Elm Street and severed limbs are doled out along with Milky Ways on Halloween.  Judge away, but I love those movies. Give me an omnipotent killer who never says a word as he preys upon suburban teenage archetypes in dark and isolated settings to the tune of a revving chainsaw as it slices into some nubile flesh, and I'll be a pretty happy girl.  

It wasn’t always this way.  I used to be normal.  In fact, I was the one who considered climbing out the window at slumber parties when The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was slid into the VCR after we’d grown tired of freezing the underwear of the poor girl who’d made the grave mistake of falling asleep first.  For me, the visual carnage of torture that always seemed to be shot in extreme close-up was enough to give me waking nightmares for weeks.  Friday the 13th was even tougher for me to take. I went to sleepaway camp, for fuck’s sake!  I did not need the mental association of a wandering masked psychopath attacking counselors reverberating around my brain when I’d soon have to spend eight weeks in a remote setting with nothing to use as a weapon besides a lanyard.  I mean, it was bad enough when they showed us Jaws on a rainy afternoon and then insisted that we jump into the lake for swimming lessons the next morning!  I really couldn’t afford to be terrified of hockey masks as well.

The thing is, despite my very real wariness of all things horror, I was oddly drawn to those movies.  I’d wander the aisles of Blockbuster with some Rob Lowe movie gripped in my hand, but I couldn’t help but check out the box covers in the Thriller section.  I must have picked up I Spit On Your Grave a zillion times to check out the hatchet the woman was holding as well as the tagline that indicated that she had every right to have viciously slaughtered four people.  Is that blood or dried small intestine on the tip of that hatchet? I’d wonder. I never rented I Spit On Your Grave while I was still in high school – I’d always chicken out – but I did eventually start enjoying the act of consuming cinematic fear.  I can still recall that freezing chill that spread inside of me as I watched The Silence of the Lambs and I realized that there was something very powerful and almost hypnotic about the coupling of atmosphere and certain shots – of mixing explicit fears with an implied brutal subtext – and I would marvel at the way a great filmmaker is able to invade the psyche of someone he’s never even met.

Then came senior year of college and a high-level Film Theory course that was one of the last requirements for my major.  For a class steeped in dense theoretical analysis, the professor elected to use all horror films as his visual texts.  I perused the syllabus the first day with a heady mix of anticipation and palpable dread – and my heart almost stopped dead when I saw that one of the movies I’d be required to watch was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  I’d still never seen it, not a single frame, but it had morphed into something legendary in my mind, my very own blood-spattered white whale.

In somewhat of a daze, I went to the bookstore after class to pick up what was required and it was then that I first saw the book that would become one of my all-time favorites.  The cover – a mix of black background and red text the color of plasma – was emblazoned with a shot of Leatherface glaring beneath the title:  Men, Women, and Chainsaws.  I took the book home with me, crawled on top of my bed in my sorority house, and opened it with more trepidation than I probably would if I were invading someone’s diary.

By the time I finished chapter one, I was all fucking in.  The author delved into the violent terrain of slasher films in an effort to examine theories of representation and identification in cinema and every single movie she referred to became one I needed to see immediately.  My friends were good sports about my newfound obsession.  They were mostly Business or Education majors who were drawn to romantic comedies, but they’d sit beside me as I watched Sorority House Massacre in our living room. They would understand when I’d press pause and join them when they took a break to get a snack or follow them into the bathroom as they peed because they realized I was too scared to be left alone on the couch.  But while the movies still frightened me, I wasn’t really looking at them in the same way anymore.  I started to focus instead on the visual and thematic iconography of this gritty little subgenre known as “the slasher.”  I read my textbook carefully and recognized the signs of a killer ruled by psychosexual fury and began to see how his violent lashing out was, for him, a release that felt almost sexual.  I started to nod seriously and take notes while watching a shitty movie like Splatter University.  My friends would either be cowering behind throw pillows in fear or laughing at the horrible acting and the absurdity of a killer priest hiding a weapon inside of a crucifix while I couldn’t help but mutter to myself, “Girls always get killed onscreen and their deaths are shot at close range.”  I began to note how men often kicked the bloody bucket in rooms so dark that it was almost impossible to see the penetration of the killer’s weapon or that their deaths took place entirely off-screen.  I saw with clarity that female characters are mentally toyed with before the axe comes down and that there clearly is only one character a viewer is able to root for in the slightest.

The “Final Girl” – as coined by the author of Men, Women, and Chainsaws – is the survivor of the slasher.  She’s the only character we really know anything about and our knowledge of her likes and her dislikes and her fears are divvied out to us from the very start of the film.  She’s the one who is different from her friends:  she’s intelligent and thoughtful and she covers herself the hell up while the rest of the girls happily allow their clitorises to wave in the wind.  She’s the one who hears the strange noise and doesn’t think it’s just a storm, the one who never suggests that right now would be the perfect time to disrobe and take a shower.  She eventually stumbles over her friends’ body parts and she’s often got a unisex name and some stereotypically masculine energy because God forbid a universe of viewers form an identification with a classically feminine character.  She is not sexually active and she’s the one we will all root for until the bitter bloodstained end.

“Her name is Jessie!” I’d exclaim to the friend sitting beside me, the one I’d made watch yet another one of these movies. She’d be hiding her eyes behind her fingers while contemplating making new friends.  “Jessie is a unisex name!  She’s our Final Girl!”  

“You realize that you’re ruining the movie, right?” she would mumble.

“Don’t be ridiculous!” I’d respond with a serene smile.  “It’s not like you didn’t know that the blonde chick named Tiffany would kick it the second you saw her.  She laughed about forgetting her chemistry textbook at school and you can see her nipples right through her tank top!  That chick is going down in no time.  I think she’ll be impaled by something like a spear!  What do you think?”  

My friend would respond by staring at me blankly.

“I think that I can’t believe you are getting a degree in this bullshit,” she would respond seriously.

She had a point.

I think one of the reasons I eventually became so drawn to a genre I used to avoid like the flesh-eating plague was because of how satisfying it felt to apply the theory as I watched. Okay, I’d think to myself as the blades of a chainsaw ripped through a female character’s flesh.  This girl is dying because she’s trespassing unknowingly on the killer’s turf and because of the killer’s psychosexual fury.  She’s been coded as nothing but female and sexual since she first stepped onscreen and that’s why she’s a fucking goner.  There was a quiet simplicity to it all.  I liked that there could be zero discussion about which person to root for in one of these films.  The other entertainment I was typically drawn to was way more complex, populated by characters who were both benevolent and hideously flawed.  I didn’t love how conflicted I would feel when I’d start to care about a character who would lie or cheat or steal.  I had enough of a problem giving assholes passes in real life.

Speaking of assholes, I think one of the problems I have these days with a show like Vanderpump Rules is that I can find nobody with whom I want to fully identify.  If this series were a slasher, at this point I think I might have to cheer for the fucking chainsaw.