As if Becoming a Vampire Isn’t Bad Enough


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Lindsay Burdge and Peter Vack in “Lace Crater,” written and directed by Harrison Atkins.

Credit
Forager Films and Invincible Pictures

In the new film “Lace Crater,” a young woman named Ruth has a one-night stand with a ghost named Michael. She catches something, and soon her body is covered in goo and she’s puking black ooze. We last see her pale and wrapped in a blanket, Michael by her side.

We’ll get to how one obtains a supernatural lover in minute. But first: lace crater?

Harrison Atkins, who wrote and directed the film, elaborated: “Lace is this word associated with traditional femininity that has to do with sexual shame,” he said. “Crater is this word that evokes an impact or an absence left after an impact. I think of the lace crater as this void that’s left in the world after Ruth disappears in it.”

A meet-cute comedy mixed with Brooklyn ghost story, “Lace Crater,” with an opening date of July 29, is the latest entry in the horror genre’s long fixation on sexually transmitted diseases. Intimacy, illness and stigma have been ingredients of “It Follows” (2015), about a sexually transmitted condition that draws bloodthirsty stalkers; “Contracted” (2013) and its sequel, “Contracted: Phase II” (2015), about a flesh-destroying S.T.D.; and “Teeth” (2007), about a man-hungry vagina dentata.

And, as in most horror films preoccupied with sex, a woman is the infected protagonist.

Brittney-Jade Colangelo, who has written about feminist interpretations of horror movies on her blog Day of the Woman, believes that “there’s something about women being vessels for human life that makes it easy, from a filmmaking standpoint, to make us vessels for something much more sinister.”

This new mini-moment of sex-obsessed horror films arrives at a strange time for carnality. Sex in every make and model is arguably more easily accessible — attainable is another thing — than ever before. But with no-strings hookups just an app swipe away, where does emotional intimacy fit in? And why is it so scary?

“I feel like the movie is somehow reverberative in this texture of sexual shame and mystery that reflects a changing world,” Mr. Atkins said of “Lace Crater.” “Sex is a huge part of everyone’s life, but it’s the elephant in the room. It’s a teeming terrain for horror movies because there is so much meaning in the way that people on an individual level, and culture more broadly, interface, or not, with sex. When that bubbles over, it makes for a really specific horror situation.”

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Clip: ‘Lace Crater’

Lindsay Burdge in a scene from Harrison Atkins’s film, about a woman and her relationship with a ghost.


By FORAGER FILMS on Publish Date July 28, 2016.


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Mr. Atkins, 26, shot the film in 2014 at locations in Brooklyn and in the Hamptons, with the actress Lindsay Burdge as Ruth. (The director Joe Swanberg, one of the film’s producers, has a small role as Ruth’s ex-boyfriend.) Mr. Atkins said that the idea had been kicking around after he watched “Begotten,” a 1991 experimental horror film with hard-to-decipher figures doing ritualistic and violent acts to a score of cricket sounds.

“I thought it would be fascinating to blend that with a movie that’s more cerebral and relationship-based, if Woody Allen made a movie like that,” he said.

Like the evil stalkers in “It Follows,” the diseased ghost in “Lace Crater” lives in the real world, not just the supernatural one. Keeping the ghost grounded as a “character who is a person and not,” as Mr. Atkins put it, was a concept that came from his interest in the spectral nature of social media.

“The alienation of the internet and the way that technology is forcing people to re-establish identities on these different terrains: There’s something that feels like gut-level horror about those ideas,” he said. “You can encounter a friend who has died but whose Facebook is still active, and that is the most perfect parallel to a ghost that has ever existed. There’s this version of an identity that is haunting this space after someone has died.”

Horror movies about sex and its accursed consequences have shape-shifted symbolically since Bela Lugosi’s teeth penetrated Helen Chandler’s neck in the 1931 “Dracula.” (Vampirism, with its themes of seduction and curse transmission, is the granddaddy of sex horror.) During the sexual revolutions of the 1960s and ’70s, sex spawned Satan (“Rosemary’s Baby”) and body terror (“Shivers”). The conservatism of the ’80s produced slasher films like “Friday the 13th” in which the horniest couples got the ax first, and the virgin was the final girl. (AIDS, a horror itself in the ’80s, has mostly remained a hands-off topic in the genre.) In post-9/11 America, horror dove into torture porn, with its punishing kink symbolism.

Sean Abley, who has written about horror for Fangoria and other publications, says that the S.T.D. horror film continues to thrive as the acceptance of once-marginalized sexuality becomes mainstream.

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From left, Daniel Zovatto, Maika Monroe and Lili Sepe in “It Follows.”

Credit
Radius TWC

“As we get more comfortable with sex in general, it becomes the place to go to make you more terrified,” he said.

But “Lace Crater” and “It Follows” each have a twist: Both films end with their infected female leads living in diseased, but life-affirming, relationships. Mr. Atkins likens it to the moment in “Rosemary’s Baby” where the lead character, played by Mia Farrow, looks into the cradle at her devil child and decides to love it.

“When faced with a new given, she has to make this decision about whether to sink or swim, about whether to give herself into this intimacy because she has nowhere else to turn,” Mr. Atkins said. “That in itself, while being at a dead end, is a horror concept.”

So is “Lace Crater” something new, an S.T.D. horror movie with a happy ending? Mr. Atkins calls it “uplifting.”

Ruth is “embracing death and she’s embracing an intimacy that’s transcendent, that is greater than or more meaningful than what she sees around her in real life or in her living world,” he said. “When she lets go of everything, she finds that she has access to this strange but also really profound intimacy. At the end she is connected with someone who really cares about her,” despite her disease.

While doing research for the film, Mr. Atkins said, he came across an online community of people who claim to have had sex with ghosts. If disease weren’t part of the deal, would he rule it out himself?

“I have never had sex with a ghost, but I am open to the experience,” he said with a laugh. “I hope I find a ghost who wants to have sex with me.”

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