BDSM In Horror Movies

One of horrors greatest achievements as a sub-genre is the wealth of ways scares can be created. There are absolutely family friendly monsters, alongside those who blend scares with sex. As Halloween approaches, and with many of us set to celebrate the holiday at home, let’s explore some horror films that draw influence from the world of BDSM.

Horror isn’t short on the combination of sex and violence. Hundreds of slasher movies feature intimate couples interrupted by knife welding killers. But we want to look at the films that draw influence from the world of BDSM specifically – and how this is reflected in their characters, themes and aesthetics. Often controversial, these films draw on the imagery and ideals of BDSM to create tense scenes of terror. How do these influences impact the films, and can they create more memorable villains or scary experiences?

In Hellraiser, Clive Barker’s 1987 film, the BDSM themes are perhaps the most obvious. We are introduced to Frank and Julia in this movie, a forbidden love between two individuals in different dimensions, brought together by the infamous puzzle box.

The cenobites – the monsters of the Hellraiser Universe – are dressed in leather and feature extreme body modification, evoking the style of a dominatrix. The link between pleasure and pain is presented in Frank’s fate, having his flesh removed with hooks in an otherworldly place of domination. His seeking of endless pleasure is what prompts the cenobites to reduce him to the creature we see early in the film. Yet even this creature, in its gruesome suffering, is alluring to Julia.

This combination of domination and submission with gore and horror lead to controversy, and Barker was actually forced by censors to tone down the BDSM elements of his film.

Director Clive Barker explained; “Well, we did have a slight problem with the eroticism. I shot a much hotter flashback sequence than they would allow us to cut in…Mine was more explicit and less violent. They wanted to substitute one kind of undertow for another.”

Another controversial, yet celebrated horror film is Takashi Miike’s Audition from 1999. The Japanese movie featured incredibly choreographed torture sequences, which were clearly influenced by bondage practices. Despite shocking some viewers, the character Asami was praised as contradicting tropes of helpless female victims in horror. She also leads the most memorable scenes in Audition, with her dominance over her male victims creating much of the film’s tension and fear.

Her victims fates are gruesome, but Asami is clearly garnering pleasure in the complete control she weilds over their bodies. Audition lead the way for more extreme horror entering the mainstream in the 2000s, with the dominatrix-like Asami standing out among female characters of the genre.

Directors Jen and Sylvia Soska noted that Audition was a major influence when they came to directing their breakout film American Mary. In an interview, they explained; “This film leads you in one direction, skillfully hinting at a darker storyline for the otherwise meek and slight Asami until the final 15 minutes where we are introduced to a merciless monster.”

Like Audition’s central character, American Mary focuses on the extremes of pain and pleasure with a female perspective. Mary is a trainee surgeon who, through a series of bizarre events becomes an underground practitioner of extreme body modifications.

The scenes in which she performs surgery, dressed in a leather interpretation of surgical uniform are often accompanied by artful movement and a sense of alluring darkness. Although her patients are enthusiastic customers, there is a definite theme of domination when they are unconscious and on the operating table. With surgeries often involving secret desires, or repressed fantasies – Mary becomes a dominating figure in contrast to the characters who’s bodies she has such intimate control over. Here the parallels of subs and doms dominatrix and control are clear.

As horror continues to push the boundaries of cinema, it will be fascinating to see how BDSM is explored in the genre. There is certainly a wealth of material directors can draw influence from to craft memorable and exciting movies in the future.

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