Everyone loves a good zombie movie for the torrents of blood, the guilt-free murder sprees, and the long periods of tension where ordinary people are provided the opportunity to prove their worth in a battle to the nihilistic finish. In a zombie apocalypse, we can fulfill our true potential, as the muted and suppressed office drones give way to the ass-kicking gun-totin freedom fighter within us all. Or we would become obsessive rapists. There is that dark side of the coin, where in a world freed from immediate responsibility beyond survival, we would do some truly fucked up things to serve our desire for power or pleasure. So instead of taking up some creative weaponry to kill at will, perhaps we would capture a zombified version of that bitch who dumped us in high school and plow that shit like a payloader. In Deadgirl, this response to a zombie encounter is explored in a question regarding the human character, or perhaps the entire film is a rape fantasy. I have yet to decide which one it is, though the fact that for 90 minutes of its running time, an undead girl is strapped nude to a table… well it is difficult to argue against the latter.
High school dimwits Rickie and JT skip school to hang out in an abandoned mental hospital that has been decorated by Pyramid Head. Rickie is a soft-headed douche who still believes in true love and has a thing for some ginger girl in his class who really would not piss on the best part of him. JT is a sociopath trapped in a society that is big on rules irrelevant to his needs. The two break into the boiler room and find a litmus test for whether there is such a thing as human morality: a nude girl strapped to a table. As it happens, they both fail this test in different ways. JT refuses to report the still-breathing girl to the police in favor of the old in-out, while Rickie actually pussies out and leaves JT to it and tells nobody. Sounds ridiculous to a grown man who is gainfully employed, but to the average high school embryo, this is a difficult choice to make. The ‘right thing’ is a moving target at best, and one must fear the potential alienation from the few people who can stand you. It takes two decades at least to form some sort of value system, and when it comes to rape, many men still have to grapple with it. JT has his way for hours, but discovers that when he attempts to kill the witness, she simply will not shuffle off the buffalo. He has discovered the perfect victim, a zombie. Well, perfect as long as you keep her tied down. No food or water necessary, and she can take all the spunk you can leave in her carcass. Just don’t try the mouth, since that is kind of how zombies multiply.
As additional men populate this sordid exercise, more questions pop up. How difficult is it to convince a man to become a rapist if he can be assured he will never be caught? Two meatheads end up double-teaming our heroine, except that they end up paying dearly for taking advantage of her. When she bites down and starts an infection that culminates in the quarterback voiding his intestinal tract, one can hear the geeks in the audience cheer quietly. The sociopath manipulates these assholes in a situation they can not understand, and one of them becomes a zombie. Once JT figures out how to make more of them, you can see the rape factory wheels spinning in his mind. As always, Rickie is impotent to do much to alter the course of events because he is a passive vagina. And why is he unable to do or say anything to stop JT? He does not debate the moral principles very well, nor does he act forcefully until it is too late. Perhaps he quietly envies JT’s ability to see the world in a way that allows him to take advantage of opportunities, shady though they may be. After all, he ‘loves’ that girl in class, but JT has a plan that will result in making a fuck toy out of her. And JT is correct in that she would never lay a hand on Rickie unless she were forced. The whole film is like this, a series of moral conundrums that can be asked only in the context of a non-human victim.
After all, if she is truly dead or undead, is it really a crime? If she is no longer human, is it still rape? Well, yes, since sex with animals is technically illegal since they cannot consent. Legality aside, it is not the same act, and is free of the ethical considerations. So the rape fantasy takes flight as the men in this story are free to become who they truly are. The film telegraphs this agenda well enough in one of JT’s monologues about why Rickie should be enthusiastic about building a little zombie farm starting with the chick who has little use for him in human life. If consent and free will are things you value, then this film will gain no traction in your busy viewing schedule. If rape fascinates you in the least, then you will watch with sickening allure. After all, Deadgirl is the ideal woman for many men. She doesn’t speak, wants nothing, has no use for marriage or mortgage, and will not die no matter how violently you ravage her innards. This could very well be the only film ever made to regard rape objectively.
There may be more to this than the rape fantasy, however. In one scene, JT and his friend attempt to recruit a whore to their farm. She is lured to their car, and one of them clubs her in the head with a golf club. She responds by beating the plasma out of both of them and going back to work. Deadgirl finally breaks free and mauls every man in sight, with the exception of Rickie, before fleeing the hospital. Did the film mutate into a feminist screed while I was out having a slash? Perhaps the director can have it both ways – Catherine Breillat would hardly disagree. She noted once that men are repelled by liberated women, “Does it mean they can only desire a slave?” The term rape can be applied to any situation where there is an imbalance of power, if you want to be didactic about it. When shackled in place, Deadgirl gives her silent consent, but wrecks shit the moment she has a hand free. Perhaps a comment on how women of power have little use for sex, or that there is more pleasure in inflicting pain. In the end, she seemed to be watching the little boys play their games, all the while keeping in sight the bigger picture of the zombie apocalypse.
Though Deadgirl is not entertaining in a conventional way, and lacks the insight of Breillat’s films, it does attempt to tackle the roots of sexuality and desire by focusing on a woman who is technically not a woman, removing her from the equation entirely. What do men desire – conversation and human connection, or a willing recipient? The answer is not black and white, rather somewhere in between. This is why some happily married couples feel a need to trade spouses or utilize bondage gear whilst roleplaying. Behind closed doors, more of us than are willing to admit like to have it both ways.