Presented by Lisa Frankenstein, 1989 Week is dialing the clock back to the crossroads year for the genre with a full week of features that dig six feet under into the year. Today, Jenn Adams puts a candy-colored lens over the hot pink horror sub-genre.
The color most associated with the horror genre is undoubtedly red. Not only the hue of blood and anger, it’s also the shade of the iconic devil – a masculine figure said to be the source of all evil. But in recent years a new color has emerged to evoke a different kind of rage. Hot pink has become the new tone of female-centered horror. An effeminate variation of blood red, this electric hue combines the strawberry tones of wholesome girlhood with the electric fires of female empowerment.
Zelda Williams uses this color to her advantage in her horror comedy Lisa Frankenstein. Quiet and reserved, Lisa (Kathryn Newton) is still trying to adjust to life at a new high school when a freak lightning storm resurrects the dreamy corpse who’s grave she’s been tending. Hiding the Creature (Cole Sprouse) in her bright pink bedroom, Lisa begins to restore his decaying body with a sewing kit and a hot pink tanning bed. Williams bathes the film in rosy hues, evoking the girly pop iconography of the late ’80s.
Lisa Frankenstein may perfect the use of hot pink horror, but Williams is not the first filmmaker to play in a magenta sandbox. Each of the following five films display this empowering color as a unique metaphor for feminine strength.
Fifteen years before Diablo Cody created Lisa and her Creature, she wrote the hot pink horror classic Jennifer’s Body. Directed by Karyn Kusama, Jennifer (Megan Fox) is a gorgeous cheerleader who morphs into a boy-eating monster after surviving ritual sacrifice at the hands of an evil boy band.
The film’s most enduring image is of Jennifer – full after gorging herself on a clueless football player – sauntering down a high school hall in petal pink earrings, and a hoodie covered with cherry red hearts. Everyone else fades into the background as Jennifer approaches, electrifying the world with her feminine glow. After a lifetime of designing her appearance to appeal to men, she has become the predator – the boys who once judged her are now her prey.
Kusama uses the color to evoke female power in the film’s climax as well. With the bodies beginning to stack up, Jennifer’s best friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried) decides that something must be done to stop this insatiable lady killer. She dons a magenta, ’80s-inspired dress and sets off to find Jennifer at prom before she can devour any more unsuspecting boys. Needy also strikes a devastating blow with a can of pink pepper spray, the physical manifestation of a woman’s protective rage.
The Loved Ones
Jennifer may be a powerful predator, but she’s nothing compared to the sadistic Lola (Robin McLeavy) in Sean Byrne’s 2009 shocker The Loved Ones. This awkward loner loves all things girly and spends her days drawing hearts in her yearbook around the face of her latest crush. With the school dance approaching, Lola takes a chance and asks out Brent (Xavier Samuel), a popular classmate with problems of his own. He politely declines, but Lola unleashes her hidden rage and sends her Daddy (John Brumpton) to punish Brent for this rejection. They kidnap the poor teen and force him to attend a private dance set in the living room of their remote house.
Dressed in a pink satin dress, Lola brutally tortures Brent and prepares to turn her “prince” into a zombified “frog.” We learn that Brent is merely the latest in a long line of suitors Lola has targeted with her malevolent love. Demanding to be treated like a princess, she uses her femininity as a vicious weapon and destroys any man who refuses to submit. The film’s iconic posters feature Lola in her pink dress and paper crown pointing an electric drill at the camera, a disturbing portrait of female fury.
The Neon Demon
Nicolas Winding Refn uses hot pink to symbolize a different kind of female aggression in The Neon Demon, a striking film about the cannibalistic world of L.A. modeling. Refn introduces us to a young ingénue named Jesse (Elle Fanning) lying motionless on a couch in an electric blue dress covered in bright red blood. Despite this gruesome styling, she wears flamingo pink makeup on her eyes and lips, subtly hinting at her desire to succeed in this shallow world. The disturbing tableau pans out to reveal pink neon lights surrounding the set, as if poised to consume the naive young model. At an industry party two older women verbally tear her down in a bathroom lit with magenta light and she’s signed by a duplicitous agent wearing a striking fuchsia pantsuit.
Jesse quickly learns that it’s every woman for herself in this cut-throat industry. The pastel pinks and soft muslin whites of her own wardrobe slowly morph into more striking and severe garments as she begins to unleash her inner strength. While preparing to close a high profile fashion show, she catches a glimpse of her sinister alter-ego in the geometrical mirrors and finds herself reborn on the runway’s scorching raspberry lights. Having fully embraced her power and potential, she later stands in a strawberry robe and covers her face with bright pink glitter. With her competitors waiting with baited breath, Jessie finds herself fully immersed in the cruel world of hot pink artifice – for better or worse.
Rape-revenge films have never been known for their subtlety. Though opinions vary wildly, many have accused older subgenre entries of exploiting sexual assault and capitolizing on a crime far too common in the real world. However, a new wave of filmmakers are attempting to reclaim the narrative by telling this horrific story through a female lens. Natalia Leite’s 2017 film M.F.A. tackles campus rape from an informed perspective with a moving script written by co-star Leah McKendrick. Noelle (Francesca Eastwood) is a college co-ed struggling to earn a graduate degree in visual art when she’s assaulted by a popular member of her studio. When her school’s administration cares more about sweeping this violent crime under the rug, Noelle takes matters into her own hands in an unplanned confrontation that leads to her attacker’s accidental death.
Stunned by a newfound feeling of power, Noelle embarks on a mission of revenge and seeks out other campus rapists who escaped prosecution. In a pivotal sequence, she dons a hot pink wig and crashes a fraternity party hell-bent on tracking down the perpetrators of a brutal gang rape. Noelle lures her target into her trap with this enticing mix of seduction and strength. Once she has him alone, she pounces and makes him pay a brutal price for the pain he has caused other women. Like a superhuman vigilante, Noelle uses this bright pink color as a powerful disguise allowing her to hide her own pain and demand the justice she’s been denied.
Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge is a more fantastical examination of the rape-revenge subgenre connected to M.F.A. with a hot pink thread. When Jen (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz), a gorgeous if naive socialite on a weekend getaway with her rich boyfriend Richard (Kevin Janssens), climbs out of a helicopter in the opening scene she embodies the bubblegum innocence of a young woman in love. Unfortunately, Richard’s two associates show up unannounced and one of these brutish men sexually assaults her while his boss’s back is turned. Loving boyfriend that he is, Richard decides to handle the matter by pushing Jen off a cliff.
Having survived this horrific attack, Jen crawls into a nearby cave and tends to her wounds. She emerges transformed and becomes a warrior determined to punish these despicable men. Now a fearsome predator dressed in black, Jen looks nothing like the carefree young woman who first arrived at the desert bungalow. But despite this dramatic transformation, she never removes her pink star earrings. Jen may pick up the weapons of the men who are hunting her, but she holds onto the essence of who she is. This signature accessory becomes a symbol of female strength and a powerful reminder of who she will be on the other side of revenge.
Fargeat’s film is no doubt a harrowing watch, but it perfectly encapsulates the power of hot pink horror. Women do not have to adopt a masculine persona to find our own strength and we don’t have to lose track of what makes us uniquely identify as female. It’s called hot pink for a reason. Not only does the color imply the unique traits of a girlish joy, it also burns with the electric fire of our feminine rage.
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