Sunday, March 9, 2014

Insidious Chapter 2: Sexual Deviancy as a Threat

It's unusual to see a horror film like Insidious Chapter 2 these days. In it a man turns serial killer because his mother forcibly raised him as a girl. Sexual confusion, deviance, and transvestism are presented either as sources of evil or creepy things to be feared.

One could argue that it was denying the man his true (heterosexual) orientation -- not his transvestism -- that compelled him to kill, but that requires some thought. On the story's surface -- which is all that most viewers will consider -- a man in a woman's dress is presented as creepy and dangerous.

When I saw this surprise revelation onscreen, I suddenly realized how rarely sexual deviancy is depicted as threatening in modern horror films, as compared to 30-50 years ago. Sexual deviants (is that term still used today?) were a common threat in horror and crime films of the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, with examples too numerous to list in their entirety. But consider a few examples...

A serial killer with an incestuous love for his mother (Psycho). A murderous lesbian couple doing the work of Satan (The Sentinel). A lesbian punished for her sexual sin (Class Reunion Massacre). A brother who rapes his sister (The Unseen). A transvestite serial killer (Terror Train). A gay transvestite serial killer (Hide and Go Shriek). A male transvestite in love with his sister (Stripped to Kill). A mother who castrates her son (Castle Freak).

A film that mirrors Insidious Chapter 2 especially closely is Sleepaway Camp, wherein a young boy is forcibly raised as a girl. After a sex change, s/he continues serial killing in the sequels.

Today there are parents who are openly raising boys as girls (or visa versa) and insisting that, though their child has a penis, the world recognize him as a girl. What was once considered a source of horror, something to be hidden from the world, is now proudly proclaimed.

Critics debate whether horror is an inherently progressive or conservative genre. In Monsters from the Id, E. Michael Jones argues that horror is mostly about deviance from traditional sexuality. Nevertheless, modern horror films have mostly followed society's changing attitudes toward sexuality, making Insidious Chapter 2's retro-sexuality a curiosity.


For more about interpreting themes in horror films, see Horror Film Aesthetics: Creating the Visual Language of Fear. This blog represents a continuing discussion of my views on horror, picking up from where the book left off.

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