Misogyny In The UK: Lesbian Vampire Killers (2009) and Doghouse (2009)
Centuries ago an evil witch laid a curse upon Britain: that it would produce very, very funny comedians who would in turn produce very, very funny television programmes but, in return, it would be condemned to produce motion picture comedies of unrelenting shitness. The hopelessly juvenile Lesbian Vampire Killers (2009) is a prime example, a sexy horror comedy that completely misses all three of those targets.
The film starts with three short scenes which serve to establish a) its plot, b) its two main characters and c) its fear and hatred of women. The first introduces us to Carmilla, a vampire queen with “an evil fuelled by a hatred of men and a love of woman” who for some reason has set up shop in a small village in Norfolk. A baron returns from the crusades to find she has turned (in both senses of the word) his wife and promptly forges a magic sword and chops her head off. Before he can do so though, she curses all the women of the village to become lesbian vampires. The narrator lingers with relish over those two words. Flash forward a couple of hundred years and Jimmy (Matthew Horne) is being dumped his heartless, vindictive girlfriend. Elsewhere Fletch (James Corden) is being fired by his heartless, vindictive boss (who is dressed in stereotypical Sexy Ice Queen get up). The camera lingers with relish over both women. Cue title screen.
Corden and Horne are well-known in the UK for starring in the award-winning sitcom Gavin & Stacey which Corden also co-wrote. They burnt a lot of the good will this engendered by making an ill-received sketch show, the imaginatively titles Horne & Corden. I’ve seen neither so this was my first exposure to the pair’s work. It wasn’t pretty.
The film proper opens with them drowning their sorrows down the pub before hatching an ill-conceived plan to take their minds off their troubles by going on a hiking holiday to East Anglia. It was while this scene was unfolding that a light bulb pinged on above my head. Hmm, a fat, jovial, street-wise slacker in the pub with his best mate, an up-tight, semi-responsible Everyman, where have I seen that before? Yes, the film sets up a rather unfortunate comparison to Nick Frost and Simon Pegg in Shaun Of The Dead. Unfortunate because Shaun Of The Dead is a rare exception to the rule; Pegg, Frost and director Edgar Wright have some sort a magical amulet that means they have the escaped the curse. As soon as you clock the (superficial) comparison you are unable to help but see the yawning chasm of quality between the two.
Obviously, the pair end up going on holiday to the cursed village. On arrival they discover a camper van full of Swedish students is also staying there. Female students, obviously. Each actress has been cast to appeal to a different fetish which is showcased in a slow-motion individual introduction as each climbs over a stile. The extent to which the male gaze dominates is really quite extraordinary. (Also quite extraordinary are the appalling accents the British actresses adopt, I didn’t know where the hell they were meant to be from until they actually said.)
As they leave the village pub one local remarks on their attractiveness but another replies that they are “sirens, cold bewitching demons, every one of them.” This is very much the position on women the film has established from the outset. Jimmy and Fletch are inclined to be more lenient this time though. After all they might get to have sex with some of them and you should only hate a woman after you’ve had sex her. Fletch goes so far as to describe on them as his perfect woman: “Massive tits, never speaks.” This is indeed Ashley Mulheron’s role in the film. Actually does have one line – “Yah” – but she fluffs it every time. Alas for Fletch she turns into a vampire and he has to kill her. By ripping her tits off. Seriously.
Is it funny? As you’ve probably guessed from the above, no. Consider the first conversation the pair have in the pub:
“I’ve come up with a ten point plan for getting her back.”
“What? Like revenge?”
“No, getting her back. Not getting her back, getting her back.”
I wish I could tell you there was some awesome comic timing and inflection. The film does have one or two moments though. At this point in time you can’t really do anything new in a vampire film and it does play with this fact. When Fletch first kills a vampire his response is “Is that it?” Conditioned by cinema and television he was expecting something a bit more spectacular. Conversely he is not at all impressed when the vampire hunting vicar (poor, poor Paul McGann) shares some insider knowledge about killing them; “Everyone knows that”, there have been plenty of films after all. This might help sustain a half an hour programme on BBC2 but it is weak tea for a feature film.
Despite the nods to Hammer films, Lesbian Vampire Killer’s is surprisingly slick; it looks expensive and director Phil Clayton throws in lots of stylistic tricks. There is a great (if overly repeated) computer-generated aerial shot of the small East Anglian wood the story takes place in that depicts it as a vast Fangorn-style forest which stretches to the horizon. It is a rare flash of wit. For the most part, the film simply substitutes vigorous use of the demotic (ie swears) for actual humour. The makers of the film are clearly very pleased with this – there is a DVD extra redux version of the film that consists of only the dialogue containing expletives – but saying “bell-end” will only get you so far.
Lesbian Vampire Killers is only sexy or funny if you are a schoolboy and it probably isn’t scary even then. The film ends with a shot of a gay werewolf howling at the moon. We know he is gay because he is limp wristed. That says it all really.
Doghouse (2009) initially appears to be covering almost identical territory. A bunch of blokes are going to a remote village for a monumental piss up to take one of their number’s mind off his recent divorce. Again we have a brief series of introductions that establish our heroes as decent guys oppressed by their women who are all harridans and shrews, This includes the male partner because, after Lesbian Vampire Killers, it is a relief that the film treats homosexuals as real people rather than mythical creatures (even if he is explicitly cast as the girl of the relationship). As the men leave, they are all called bastards; they are in the doghouse.
In terms of tone the two films are radically different though. The opening of Doghouse is reminscent of various Mockney gangster films whereas Lesbian Vampire Killers resembles nothing so much as an episode of teen soap opera Hollyoaks. Likewise if Lesbian Vampires Killers is a comedy film with some horror, Doghouse is very much a horror film with some comedy. This is a blessing since if the British are cursed when it comes to comedy, the horror community is much more successful when it comes to the big screen. Doghouse is also aimed at men rather than boys. This is not to say it shows any greater level of emotional maturity but at least it has some degree of self-awareness.
“Now is not the time to stop objectifying women, you can be a new man tomorrow, today we need you to be the misogynist Neandrethal that women now and love.”
That line is aimed at a character played by Danny Dyer. You may know Dyer for a recent advice column he wrote for Zoo magazine in which he offered the following suggested to a reader to help him get over his break up: “cut your ex’s face, and then no one will want her”. The outcry that followed was slightly surprising since Zoo is less a magazine than a masturbatory aid; objectification and degradation of women is its bread and butter and Dyer was just giving the punters what they wanted. Dyer is the main character, Neil, and when we first meet him he is calling a women he has just slept with a prostitute and a dog because he has forgotten her name. She is, of course, only wearing her bra and knickers at the time, even though she is stood on her front lawn.
Anyway, the lads pitch up at the village only to discover that the army have accidently turned the female population into what the credits refer to as “zombirds”. Yeah. They are later refered to as “an army if pissed off, man-hating feminist cannibals”. This is particular rich as the zombirds were women who have been subjected to non-consensual assault by the army (that is to say, men) and as a result lost all selfhood. Talk about blaming the victim (and I’m not sure what the tell-tale signs a zombie is a feminist are, I certainly didn’t spot any of them reading Dworkin). Once the literally evil women have been introduced, the plot then develops as you would imagine; they have to get the hell out of Dodge, even if that means they have to “bash the living shit out of anything in a dress”. To take the edge off this acknowledge that the whole film is predicated on violence against women, Neil pipes up this comment “isn’t very PC”. This in itself is a joke; Doghouse wields its self-awareness as a ‘get out of jail free’ card. Needless to say, it isn’t.
The film does have a couple of things going for it though. It is an order of magnitude funnier than Lesbian Vampire Killers, for starters. This humour is all in one register, that of bloke-y pub banter (swearing again features prominently), but it does mean some genuine laughter. Director Jake West actually cares about trifling things like realism, consistency and narrative tension whereas there is nothing in Clayton’s film than isn’t simultaneously predictable and implausible. As you would expect, there is an almost complete dearth of female roles but the only woman who does have a speaking part – their minibus driver – has more character then any of in Lesbian Vampire Killers, even if she is only in the film for five minutes. It is much too long though: long, crude and, if it is only half as offensive as it could have been, that still means it is pretty offensive (there is a horrendous motivational speech just before the climax which reminds us that yes, all women are harridans and shrews).
What we need is the return of Wright, Pegg and Frost. Paul, Scott Pilgrim Vs The World and The World’s End can’t come soon enough.