Updated: Nov 11, 2020
After a month off from Taboo Terrors I am back in action, full of fervor for the weird and mysterious, the macabre and horrific! The female perspective in coming of age horror is a newly realized favorite subgenre for me as our bodies go through some strange (and sometimes gross) shit. I love that it coined the term “hell is a teenage girl” thanks to Jennifer’s Body! From werewolves to cannibals, young women have the ability to turn into the most wonderful monsters after their first menses. Sometimes these young women develop a fascination with the human body, blood, innards, and even surgery. The young woman in question is Pauline, the protagonist for this month’s film dissection, Excision (2012).
Excision has a wonderfully diverse cast of recognizable cult favorites: John Waters (Pink Flamingos), Ray Wise (Twin Peaks), Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange) and Traci Lords (Cry-Baby). They amp up the appeal of this movie, along with Annalynne McCord's (The Haunting of Molly Hartley, Scorned, Nip/Tuck) incredibly believable performance as Pauline. McCord is a very conventionally attractive woman, but she completely transformed into the "ugly duckling" character of Pauline, bringing a veneer of confidence to a vulnerable character. It’s a shame I haven’t watched anything else with her in it.
Pauline is a very strange girl with an unusual obsession with becoming a surgeon, and all the blood and gore that comes with it. Her sweet little sister, Grace, has Cystic Fibrosis and she plans on helping her some day with the incredible surgical skills she wants to develop at university. Pauline doesn’t get grossed out by bodily functions -- she understands the nature of it all. In Sex Ed class she asks the teacher “can you get an STD from a corpse?” as a legitimate question.
Pauline’s parents chide her for her demeanor -- she really is a weird young woman. Her peers think she is gross and masculine; she has acne, unkempt hair, and poor posture. Pauline is crass and direct when she speaks, which ostracises her even more. Despite this, Pauline is very comfortable with whom she is and is assured in her awkwardness.
Her mother is a deeply religious and conservative individual whereas her father seems generally accepting of Pauline’s peculiarities but is regularly emasculated and degraded by his wife. While they coddle her younger sister, Grace, Pauline regularly asks for professional help and all they do is send her to the local priest for guidance. She tells the priest about her “psychosexual fantasies' and -- thinking it is nothing but the delusion mind of a teenage girl -- he does nothing to help quell them. Perhaps if anyone would have taken Pauline seriously, her downfall (and certain deaths) could have been prevented.
A good portion of Pauline’s story centers around her virginity. She tells her sister that she wants to be on her period when she has sex for the first time. That day comes when she slips the Hot Guy in school her number stating that she wants him to be her first. Hot Guy picks her up in his fancy sports car and they drive off to a secluded motel for their very secret rendezvous since no one could ever possibly know of this occurrence due to the severe social consequences. Pauline is very in control of the situation and not nervous at all. In a moment of emasculation, she tells him that he is “too small” for the large condoms he brought with him, her frankness reminiscent of how her mother treats her father.
In the next scene, Pauline is on top, riding Hot Guy, and daydreaming of her menstrual blood pooling all around them as she climaxes. In reality things are very tame. Then, Pauline asks Hot Guy to go down on her. Now, my friend over at Bloody Disgusting wrote an article about the grossest sex scenes in film and this was one of them. Trace Thurman writes that:
“The scene in question is a sex scene between McCord and Sumpter, and while it starts out innocently and awkwardly enough, it quickly gets freaky and grotesque. After fantasizing about spraying blood all over him, she has him perform cunnilingus on her while she is on her period. The results are about what you would expect.”
The female body is the center of abjection during menstruation. We are expelling the unused tissue that was meant to help house a fetus. It’s a oozy mash up of blood, blood clots, uterine lining and mucus. Men and women alike can experience menophobia (the fear of menstruation). More often then naught, straight cis men are particularly disgusted by the sight or thought of period blood, preventing them from fully understanding the plight of the female experience. Men want to keep us in a state of bodily pollution -- something to avoid once a month. It’s a place they could never understand, nor do they try to.
What is frustrating (besides the quote from Trace furthering menophobia) to me during this scene is Hot Guy’s absolute lack of perception of his own sexual experience; he comments on her being so “wet” but doesn’t think anything of it, and apparently can’t see or smell any blood, especially when he goes down on her. Once the blood is smeared over his mouth, the rendezvous abruptly ends because Hot Guy is horrified, the event is never to be spoken of again. Naturally, Pauline is cool as a cucumber.
Most teenage girls are socially conditioned to hide their periods - we have to secretly sneak off to the bathroom to change our tampons and pads, but Pauline fully embraces this transition into womanhood. So much so that she is fascinated by her period blood and sniffs her used tampon before throwing it into the trash.
Pauline lives in -- as her parents call it -- a delusional state. She is constantly having fantasies and dreams of vivid scenes of perversion, gore and sex. These sequences really make an otherwise pretty tame film extraordinary. There are nine of them in total.
Excision opens with Pauline and her doppleganger sitting across from each other. One is covered in blood, writhing about on a chair, whereas the other one is clean from blood and debris and watching her. Pauline is watching herself, covered in blood and dying, all the while building to an orgasm. Once she does, her bloodied self spurts blood all over Pauline and she wakes up. In these dreams she is beautiful and powerful. Her confidence shines and her interests in the macabre aren’t put into question like they are in her day to day life. In these dreams, she is truly happy.
Pauline can be seen in some ways as an empowered icon because she is comfortable in her weirdness. Not once does she feel negatively about who she is or her ambitions. This can be observed in a scene with her sister when they are discussing plastic surgery.
Grace: “Boys don’t care about belly buttons, they care about these (points to breasts)”
Pauline: “My world doesn’t revolve around boys like yours does, I am doing this for myself.”
What struck me on this second watch of Excision is how terribly upsetting the climax of the film is. Pauline doesn’t know where she fits in - she doesn’t fit in with the girls at school, nor the religious folks at the church, with only her sister, Grace, accepting her. After some school kids vandalize their home, she seeks violent revenge. Upon discovering what she has done, her parents become very upset and her mother says to her father that “she’s disturbed, a menace, and you would have to be crazy to spend time with her.” Pauline overhears this and breaks down crying -- the first time we see a moment of genuine emotion. It then becomes clear to Pauline that she has to save her sister no matter what, as she is the only one that loves, cares, and accepts her for who she is.
The ending of Excision is startling yet oddly predictable, which I don’t think tarnishes the impact that it has on viewers. I think it ends exactly as it should. I remember not being overly affected by Excision when I first watched it years ago but this time my heartstrings pulled for Pauline. She is that weird kid in high school that is the sweetest person you will ever meet but no one pays them any mind because of how bizarre they are. They don’t dress in trendy clothes, nor like a lot of popular things, but they are good people who mean well. These kids might be going through some shit but no one pays any attention to them.
Excision is a black comedy; dark and bleak (which I am very much into!) but I find it ends up missing the mark with the humor. The compelling visuals in Pauline’s dreams and the tragic ending is really what makes this a great movie, but overall I find it falls flat. Even the appearances of the wonderful cult actors don't add an incredible amount of value to the film for me. I don’t love Excision but I do adore the underlying themes that it entails. And, there are taboos galore like abortion, necrophilia, enjoyment of sex and violence, and menstrual blood!
I would give Excision a ⅗ on the Nightmare scale for oven roasted fetuses, tampon sniffing and amateur surgery.