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Heroines Locked in the Erotic Gothic Universe of David Lynch

11 Jun

by Chloe Robbins

The gothic and the erotic go hand-in-skeletal-hand. When people think of gothic romance, first thoughts often run to authors like Edgar Allan Poe and Victoria Holt, but the genre is much larger than these titans. In fact, one of today’s most famous gothics often isn’t discussed as a gothic at all. Musician, writer, film and television maker, David Lynch’s work is chock full of delicious gothic eroticism and romance. In Lynch’s stories, gorgeous heroines are constantly thrust into the romantic, moneyed darkness of someone else’s realm—a hotel, a spaceship, a movie set—forced to navigate literal secret passages even as they explore their own internal ones. “Gothic” as a style is characterized by the grim, the extravagant, the grotesque, the violent, the darkly romantic, the mysterious—a style that drenches Lynch’s work.

In Baltimore, the erotic twists and edges of this style are also celebrated in Lynch’s work through an annual David Lynch Fest. At this festival, a diverse line-up musicians and burlesque performers come together to strip, sing, and dance to various interpretations of Lynch’s creepiest, sexiest stories. As a Baltimorean—and a lover of all things gothic-erotic—I want to share some of this annual celebration with you by highlighting just a few of Lynch’s sexiest, most powerful, and most gothic heroines. (Disclaimer: some spoilers lie beyond.)

Twin Peaks

Who can forget Audrey Horn from Twin Peaks? Even the ultimate cinnamon roll hero, Special Agent Dale Cooper, couldn’t help but fall under her thrall for a time.

Twin Peaks is constantly indulging in and poking fun at the romance genre and especially its gothic tropes. From the idea of “tainted innocence” (read: young girls coming into their sexual identity under dangerous circumstances) to doppelgangers to murderous/lecherous family members to ghosts. Audrey Horn epitomizes so many of these gothic tropes, but perhaps most obviously that of the “tainted innocent”: a high schooler who feigns experience and jadedness yet yearns for fairy-tale love (e.g. her relationship with Agent Cooper); the ghostly pale skin; the dark hair; the blatant sexuality (e.g. her decision to break into Agent Cooper’s hotel room and wait for him, naked, in bed); and the shadowy fortress owned by her pervy father (aka The Great Northern Hotel), which is, of course, riddled with secret passages and peepholes. Audrey Horn is one of many romantic gothic heroines in Twin Peaks, coming into her sense of self as well as her sexuality in the wake of a classmate’s brutal murder, discovering the countless ghosts, trapdoors, and Black (and White) Lodges within her town and within herself.

 

Mullholland Drive

Mullholland Drive is a delicious example of Lynch’s unique brand of Hollywood Gothic, and the main characters—the lovers, Betty and Rita—are dripping with eroticism.

Mulholland Drive

In the very beginning, Betty’s “innocent” dream of becoming a Hollywood star is juxtaposed with Rita fleeing a mysterious car crash, as if fate had slammed them into each other—a pair of shooting stars, shot straight into each other’s hearts. Set in Hollywood, lush gothic threads run all throughout this film: the winding hallways of the mysterious Aunt Ruth’s house, the haunted theater where Betty and Rita hear the ghostly rendition of “Llorando,” the sexually-charged search for identity that both Betty and Rita tumble into together, the shadowy film sets where Betty discovers darker and darker tunnels within herself, on and on and on. This film is all about the haunted house of the mind built within the desirous, hungry package of the body.

 

Dune

I know most David Lynch fans would rather his film adaptation of Dune be left unmentioned, but there’s no denying the gothic-erotic influences running riot through this space opera, and just because it’s not a great film doesn’t mean there aren’t moments and characters that aren’t sexy as hell.

Dune

As Tor.com is quick to point out in their break-down of why the film doesn’t work, this movie is aesthetically dark. Every cathedral-esque spaceship, castle, and cavern is packed with shadows, all but begging for some Phantom of the Opera-style candelabras. And while this maybe isn’t the best way to build up a vast scifi universe, it’s a great way to make the entire film feel as though it took place inside Vincent Price’s sexy little grin. Filled with scheming royals and estranged family members, with grotesque villains and flashing daggers, it’s no wonder that even Lady Jessica, a side-character and the mother of our hero, is turned into an erotic figure in this setting. I say “even” Lady Jessica because, in some ways, it’s positively radical that Lynch would take a middle-aged mother character and give her so much sex appeal, her own journey through this tale being one of tortured love for her murdered husband as she carries their secret baby (another classic gothic trope) to term.

 

Wild at Heart

And speaking of tortured love… Lynch takes the idea of a road-trip movie to a whole new level with the lovers, Lula and Sailor, who flee a band of assassins that Lula’s mother Marietta has hired to kill Sailor. The film’s gothic elements may shine darkest in the grotesque violence of Marietta’s desire to strip her daughter of all sexual power and freedom, but they can also be seen in the shape of Marietta’s slow-emerging madness that only Lula and Sailor seem to fully understand: the literal Wicked Witch of the West.

Lula’s character is another example of the “tainted innocent”: she’s charged with sexuality and power, especially (and ironically) due to her mother’s violent desire to see these powers contained, even as she is also a bit childish and naïve. Haunted, a runaway, abused as a child (and as an adult), adrift in a sea of violence, Lula fights to take what she wants out of life and retains a fairly healthy sexual identity through it all. A classic gothic heroine.

 

Blue Velvet

I’ll never forget seeing a Blue Velvet-inspired burlesque performance wherein a dancer wearing gasmasks over her face and breasts slowly revealed more and more gasmasks that she’d managed to hide on (and in) her body. For many, Blue Velvet is nothing but disturbing. But as disturbing as certain elements are—the violence, the constant taunting shadows, the gasmasks—there’s no denying the eroticism of a young hero exploring a stranger’s house in search of clues only to duck into a closet and end up spying on her.

The secret passage is a beloved plot device in gothic tales because it so often finds a heroine in a dangerous situation and gives her fresh power, fresh control, while also acknowledging that she herself is riddled with secrets and hidden depths. In Blue Velvet, we see this dynamic inverted with our young hero finding momentary safety within the heroine’s closet, watching her undress and drape herself in blue velvet, only to be discovered and dragged into the light. Our heroine in this story doesn’t need to lurk in the dark to find her power…or to allude to her hidden depths. She grabs a knife and forces him out of the closet herself, demanding that now he will undress for her.

The truth is, the gothic is often disturbing. It is often dark and uncomfortable and taboo. This is also why it’s so undeniably sexy. The forbidden. The dangerous. The fantasy. What’s important is making sure that the fantasy is handled by an artist who understands the live wire they’ve just taken hold of, someone who understands how these tropes and devices have been used in the past to cause harm and knows how to circumvent, challenge, and subvert these harmful possibilities. For danger to be sexy, there must also be great trust—perhaps not between the characters, but between artist and audience.

Chloe Robbins is a writer and editor living in Baltimore with her delicious husband and various taxidermied creatures. She’s currently at work on her paranormal romance novel, A Stony Heart, and has short fiction forthcoming with Circlet Press’s Dressed in Black anthology, inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

The Science Behind Dark Gothic Feels

12 Mar

by Madeline Iva

Hello lovely people! How are you? I’m pretty obsessed these days with one thing and one thing only: dark, gothic feels.  I like all aspects of suspense–preferably set in intriguingly gloomy surroundings, and chock full of complex, morally ambiguous or hard to read characters.  I love how gothic reads make the heart race from a pinch of fear, a heaping amount of romantic tension, and a bit pit of secrets. But that obsession has branched off into more basic question: If you’re feeling a bodily reaction to someone — is the other person feeling it too? This is often an underlying question in gothic romance, where Things Must Not Be Said.  But how can we not question this in the times we’re living in?

I’ve had moments in the past where suddenly out of the blue, my radar begins pinging around someone.  I’ve later found out that the other person was *really* into me at the time.  Because of that, I’ve come to trust my inner radar–and my advice to friends is always: if you’re feeling it, it’s cause there’s something there.

Of course, I always add, the knowledge may not do you any good whatsoever.  Most of us are not ruled by our heart or groin.  With most of us, our head is firmly in charge. There can be multiple reasons–exponential reasons even–why the guy or girl in question may decide not act or want to act on the vibe between you.  They may be committed elsewhere, they may think that despite chemistry you’re a dork, or crazy, or difficult, or for whatever reason you just don’t match (either inwardly or outwardly) what their head requires in a date, mate, or f*ckbuddy.  😦  And they may deny that there is any chemistry at all if you try to initiate something.  SEE BELOW.)  The last thing you want to do is start off a conversation asking for an admission that ‘there’s something going on between us.’  Trust me, more than half the time that conversation is not going to go well.

But am I even right that if you’re feeling it, then the other person is too?  Science has been bending the microscope towards this question as well, and so far the answers are hacking big chunks out of my theory.  For one thing — if you present a sense of danger and even mild stimulants, it will raise levels of sexual attraction in men. (Artificially?)

The Science of How Thrills Leading To Feels: the article below from Scientific American reveals how men are much more likely to risk engaging with an attractive woman out if they are near a high suspended bridge and have had a major shot of caffeine.

How We Misinterpret Emotional Arousal

In fact, both men and women are very susceptible to mixing signals of danger for emotional feels towards another person.  The TED talk below explores the dangers of SSRI’s like Prozac in our society — because they inhibit dopamine.  Without dopamine, we have a hard time feeling attraction, or falling in love.  But we also get a dopamine rush from a sense of thrilling adventure, or danger.

The Brain In Love

And finally, science is starting to reveal that as more men and women feel it’s acceptable to form mixed gender relationships, a very high proportion of men assume that at the core of the friendship is a mutual attraction for each other that is being deferred for some reason–like one of them is in a committed relationship.  Women however, do not report similar assumptions at anywhere near the same rate.  They see the guy friends more often than not as “just friends” and there is no attraction on their part.

Dubious Aspects of Cross-Gender Friendships

What can we understand from these limited studies?

The bad news: just having a vibe around someone all of a sudden is not definitive proof that they’re feeling something too–even just sexual chemistry.  One hopes that men all across the world will take this message to heart and that many of them who do assume this will immediately stop being creeps.

The good news: men are REALLY susceptible to having feels for women they’re around. If you *are* feeling something for a cis-man, and you’re a woman–the chances are pretty high he could be feeling it too. Again–he may not want to do anything about it–or even acknowledge it.

In the face of this scientific news–and compounded by the sexual harassment issues we’ve been facing lately as a society, I simply must revise my theory:

Here’s my new version: If you’re feeling vibes coming off someone, can you assume they’re feeling it too? No.  But they *might* be. And the best thing you can do in that situation is hug that knowledge to yourself.

Because there are a ton of reasons a person can be sending out the sparky feels.  The passion of what they’re engaged in–career, hobby, or creative endeavors–can explain so much of why you’re getting those tingles down low.  The truth is men benefit from women’s company and friendship in so many ways — from the feeling of being able to confide in someone, to basic career assists, to the care-taking that women often provide.  There are TONS of reasons why a man may be in a state of high anticipation around you that has nothing to do with actually being into you–either sexually or romantically.

Which brings me back to the glorious wonder of Dark Gothic Feels. What we can no longer assume in the real world we can heartily assert in the fantasy world of the gothic.  Is he a vampire? He’s totally into you.

Is he a reclusive member of the upper class, harboring dark secrets in his decayed castle mansion? Into you.

Crimson Peak

Secrets….LOTS of secrets…

Is he an elf lord amidst rotting splendor and magic, cursed with the power of bespelling women? Oh he wants you.

Is he a nice guy who happens to be ridiculously hot and because of some misunderstandings between you early on, sincerely wants to help you fight the vicious demon eating your soul? Yeah, he not only wants dirty sex with you–asap–he luuuuvs you.

Retreat with me to these fantasy fictional worlds where every twinge of a vibe means something hot, pure, and true.

I’ve got a free novella you can check out — about the hot guy and demon infected heroine.

I’ve got a brooding elf-wizard in his lonely tower — sample the first 100 pages of WICKED APPRENTICE.

If your pleasure poison is the reclusive guy with dark secrets and a mouldering castle follow me and you won’t miss out on the glorious gloom.Wicked Apprentice

 

 

 

I Vote October Sexiest Month of the Year

3 Oct

by Madeline Iva

I’m just orgasmic when it comes to October.  I wish it was three months long.  Seriously.  October is the perfect time to dive into a hot, paranormal romance or to enfold oneself in an elegant, gothic thrillfest.  It’s the home of fantastical fantasies–whether they take place on other worlds or with paranormal sexy beasts.

The season delights my senses. Between leaves crunching, the low angle of afternoon sunlight or the smell of apple cider on the stove, one is in an orgy of sensual delights.  Wool sweaters come out. Your thinking turns all crispy with the cold.  But more importantly, this is the time that we touch fingers with the otherworld.  This is the time to let sensual urges begin to bubble, toil, and cause you trouble.  The time to let primal passions ripen.  The time to welcome an unexpected knock on the door.  No one knows what you do in the dark; in October darkness begins to engulf daylight.  Witches, vampires, along with other things unseen and only grasped in the shadows tease and taunt you to come out and play.  Aren’t you already shivering with delight?

My Halloween pleasures come in a variety pack:

Creepy, Kookie, Mysterious & Spooky:

Over on Facebook, I’m part of a new, fun Halloween Romance FB group.  Yesterday we were talking about what kind of Halloween movies we adore: Beetlejuice, The Adams Family (I like the old TV shows best), and all that other cute fun Halloween-y stuff.  It’s all about the embrace of ‘the other’ isn’t it?

I have a feeling as the days roll by we’ll be shuffling through the leaves and into hotter, more forbidden Halloween topics. ; >  But for now, I love the innocent, goofy “if-you’re-weird-and-ya-know-it-clap-your-hands” kind of vibe as much as I love anything else about Halloween.

We’re having a THE CRAFT movie watching party  on facebook Wednesday night, October 4th.  Join us! It’s at 8:30pm CDT.

Fantastical & Romantic:

October is the perfect time of year for one’s over-the-top urges, whether it’s dressing up, or more fully exploring your pagan side.   For me there are many movies & TV shows that are so flawed, and yet…they feature the kind of fantastical costuming & majestic vibe I lurv so hard.  Here are a few:

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (directed by Francis Ford Coppola) — This movie is flawed, but this side story where poor Lucy is mesmerized, ravished, and then succumbs to Dracula–and how her relationship plays out with her bestie Mina–is to me the most evocative and best part of the movie.

#sowrongsoright —
Lucy having erotic-no-holds-barred sex w dracula inmonster form. On one hand: ew. On the other hand, she’s clearly getting off big time.

Have I got a tale to tell you. Hands down best part of Bram Stoker’s Dracula was the homoerotic/innocent scenes between Lucy n Mina. Thus a thousand fan fic stories were born….

Lucy gets the best and worst of it, clearly. But her costumes were definitely the best part.

Penny Dreadful — I’ll confess I couldn’t make it through this TV show.  Slow pacing and just unorganized weirdness.  But on the other hand, I slobberingly adore Eva Green–esp in her “we’re all doomed” kind of mind-set.

Crimson Peak — didn’t care for the bloody slithering spooky parts of this film that tried to add a dash of horror in what otherwise was a perfect gothic set piece.  The costumes and the set were to die.  I worship it in this Lady Smut blog post and again talking about women in Gothic romances & movies.

What are those things hanging down from the ceiling? I wants them.

Sleepy Hollow —  Just watched this the other night.  There’s a complicated backstory that’s hard to follow–and we just don’t care.  There’s a complicated mystery that Johnny Depp must piece together, but it’s hard to stay focussed with all the over-the-top mayhem and Christopher Walken magnificently chewing the scenery.  The story just gets lost, people.  BUT — Christina Ricci (though her role is dumb) is so angelic and yummy and delicate you just want to strangle her to death.

A+ costumes for Sleepy Hollow!

Underworld — the styling of the first movie is as good as any of the rest of it.  The vamps are cool as f*ck.  Just sayin’.

A Sense of Wit & Humor:

If Halloween were a hero, he’d be the one quietly laughing at himself.  I love humor in all Halloween movies & TV shows. Have you seen all of these?

  • Crazy Head (British, TV)
  • Santa Clarita Diet (Netflix)
  • iZombie (TV)
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer (TV)
  • Warm Bodies (Movie, Romance)
  • Shawn of the Dead (Movie, Zombies, Satire)
  • Scream (Horror Movie)
  • Ghostbusters (Movie, Humor)
  • An American Werewolf in London (Old 80’s Horror Movie)

Gothic, Perverse, & Grotesque:

Something about fall gives me an almost manic sense of possibility.  A go-to-hell attitude that spurs my imagination, allowing me to uphold my true love for all things a wee bit twisted.  In fact, my Pinterest board Halloween Smexy is a document of my favorite Halloween cultural delights.

Today I’m fixated (again) on AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN.  There’s such a dark-girl-power theme, I can’t f***ing get enough. Shivers.

Speaking of dark-girl-power! I’m going to be at this Barnes & Nobel event in Charlottesville, VA on Saturday October 28th, from 12 to 3pm. (singing) It’s gonna be freaking awesome…We’re talking about the world of genre fic — specifically the world of SFF–and ‘what it feels like for a girl‘ in this genre, whether we’re attending cons or being someone with a vagina amongst all the writer-men.
Queens of Damned postcard, Barnes & Nobel event

In summation, because of the ebullient change of seasons, the dark embrace of Halloween, and all it’s fantastical, twisted, grotesque excellence–I vote October sexiest month of the year.

But Wait! There’s More!!!!

Here are two other events I’ll be attending this season:

This Sunday, Oct 8th, 2017, I’ll be at the HEARTS TO YOU, WRW Luncheon for bloggers and readers.  You want to sign up? It’s not too late.  Click the link for the registration form.

Click on this photo to go to the registration page…

The other event on Nov 4th is at the LOUDEN COUNTY Library. I’ll be talking plot and how character is king! Click on the link:

BASICS OF THE ROMANCE FICTION GENRE

And if that’s not enough of me, you know you can always subscribe to my newsletter or find me on fb.

Witchy kisses & hugs to you! XOXO, Mads

 

You Talk Too Much, Mother: Skip Hemlock Grove

22 Jun

F*ck it! At least I was good in the show.

by Madeline Iva

“You talk too much, Mother.” This is the big culminating moment of the first season for Hemlock grove. Roman kills his mother by ripping out her tongue.  Oh, you want a spoiler alert? Here’s my spoiler alert: Hemlock Grove is misogynistic as f*ck.

Skip Hemlock Grove–here’s a few good reasons why:

1) TELLING WOMEN THEY TALK TOO MUCH

Man, that culminating moment did not sit well with me.  Don’t get me wrong: Roman’s mother is evil.  But she’s 3-D evil, and has a lot of interesting stuff going on with her.  But you see, Roman is evil too.  We’re ultimately rooting more for him, because we’ve seen more of his humanity, but we’ve seen a bit of her humanity as well.  Given the fact that they practically cancel each other out, can we really triumph in someone telling his mother to shut up, then killing her? Hmmmmmm.

It’s just the whole way it was done–like we were supposed to rejoice that she’s being ‘put in her place’.  No.  Having pretty much gulped the first season in three swallows, I was left to assess the damage of my cough ridden days spent binging on the sofa.

2) I sat through, like, FOUR WOMEN BEING CHEWED UP BY A WEREWOLF–VAGINA FIRST. 

3) I sat through Roman RAPING A GIRL AND THEN TELLING HER TO FORGET IT HAPPENED. (He has that power.)

4) THE DEAD GIRL BODY COUNT: 12 named female characters on the show.  Seven high school girls and five women.

SO! Who’s left at the end to be in season two? It’s a blood bath people. By the end one is left in town. (The one who was raped.) One has left town.  Ten are dead. (We think.)

There are 11 named male characters on the show.  All of the authority figures are male.  Who’s left at the end? Well, one moves away by the end of Season one.  One has his face scratched–but it will heal.  And one is dead.  The homeless guy.(Suicide.)

Ten women dead by the end of season one and one homeless guy.

5) VIRGIN/WHORE TROPES — WITHOUT IRONY. Slut shaming is so 1980’s, people.

The show has a good mother and an evil mother. The good mother gets far less on-air time, and doesn’t actually DO anything. You have a somewhat clueless virgin and a lot of ‘popular girl’ werewolf bait. The sluttiness is played down a bit, and not really judged—but we know how this goes.  The cheerleader, the slut, the mean girls. They all wind up screaming and then the blood splatters…it’s just so old. SO OLD.

I was the interesting weird girl. I could have been a leading character. You could have done so much with me to redeem yourselves! And you didn’t! Agggggh!

I wrestle with the fact that I love gothic-suspense-y twisted and perverted stuff. And this is suspense.  This is twisted and perverted stuff. But wait.  Usually the point of all this gothic mayhem is that we see it from the point of view of a young female character.  What’s revealed to her is the unfair twisted horrors that she never suspected lay beneath the place that at first did not appear all that bad.

But wait! This is exactly the experience I had with this show!  Yet I don’t *think* that’s the experience the show creators wanted to convey.  The world is a sinister, creepy place where ten women die (and two get raped) for every one male death. Gah! I already knew this, but thought we’d seriously left this crap behind us.

6) WE WANT NEW SKOOL GOTH NOT OLD SKOOL MISOGYNY: There’s so many other twisted, perverted, and gothic stuff that can involve getting out of the old school male trenches. Gay people doing twisty stuff. Men getting raped instead of women. (but not the gay men, please.) Monsters (the physical kind) having love affairs. Gorgeous a-sexuals. Disabled heroes. Jewish heroines. (The place is near Pittsburgh, for god’s sake.)

On this show women are 99% grotesque, evil, or werewolf bait/victims while the very few who aren’t spend most of their time on the sidelines, are passive, unless, you know, they’re being supportive–of the men. What is this? 1955?

There’s one fairly important character on the show who is a person of color.  And that’s it.  She winds up flayed, and suffocated.  So she’s dead. (We think.) One person who is disabled.  Shot twice with a shotgun–dead. (We think.) Nobody included in the show at all who is over the age of 50–except–wait for it–a Hispanic maid.

At this point, I should just KNOW when I see some guys sucking on cigars that whatever it is, it isn’t for me. I’d be far more interested if they were sucking each other’s dicks.

7) WOMEN ARE THE ‘OTHER’ REALLY? REALLY?? I’m scratching my head thinking “Who wrote this?” Young Hollywood guys or old school white writer guys? Or some mix of both? Bleh. Because by the end I’m convinced that these writers/producers/directors don’t find women very interesting or multi-dimensional.  Okay, so maybe all these women aren’t *really* dead.  Like dead for good. But the way women are treated in general–I don’t even want to know what they have to go through in season two.

I give the old guys a pass assuming they grew up in the Mad Men era or took the 80’s to heart and haven’t evolved with the times. They’re dinosaurs. So be it. However, I have a hard time not making all sorts of disturbing assumptions about younger men writing this stuff. Like maybe they’re bro-culture rape-y types. I could see them saying “Hey! We included lots of women in the show.” Yeah, like you deserve a medal.  That’s not the point.  How can you be in your twenties, thirties, or forties in America and not have a clue about women? How can you still see women – who are all around you, no matter where you are – as the “other”. Still????? Something must be wrong with you.

So as hot as poor Roman is – that’s it for Hemlock Grove for me.  The show moves on–and one hopes, learns from its earlier mistakes.  But I’m not alone–obviously.  For more excellent Hemlock Grove hating check out Yo Heart Frijole’s astute blog post.

And follow us at Lady Smut.  Where we’re upbeat and positive–unless you’re being a total asshat and get us really angry.

Madeline Iva writes fantasy and paranormal romance.  Her fantasy romance, WICKED APPRENTICE, featuring a magic geek heroine, is available on AmazonBarnes & NobleKobo, and through iTunes.  Sign up for Madeline Iva news & give aways.

 

 

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