You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Movies’ category.
I recently returned from a two-week trip to England with my mom. One of the highlights for me was getting to visit the park where they filmed the opening scene of my favorite movie ever (and inspiration for the entire Girls Underground idea), Labyrinth. This was not even my first attempt to find shooting locations for the film – I once dragged my father around Nyack, New York in search of the places in Sarah’s home town, but while the town itself seemed familiar (and indeed, was used in part for the scene where she’s running through the rain), the park I found was not right.
Then, a miracle occurred – while I was planning my trip to England, I stumbled upon this webpage, in which someone actually found the right location, as evidenced by their photo. It was in England, where the bulk of the movie was filmed on sets. Moreover, it was on an estate in a small town about an hour away from London called West Wycombe. A town which, despite its obscurity, I was already planning to visit, because the very same estate (belonging to an eccentric 18th century baron) was home to the Hellfire Caves, where notorious orgies were said to be celebrated in honor of Bacchus and Venus, and the entire property is covered in those pseudo-Greek temples to pagan gods so popular at that time amongst the nobles. (I’ve covered that aspect of my visit on my spiritual blog, here.) I just about fell out of my chair.
After a fascinating walk through the caves, my mother and I began to explore the Dashwood estate. It is quite beautiful – the lake, the buildings, the swans (just like you can see in the movie behind Sarah). Eventually we circled the lake and were just downhill from the grand house itself when I found the distinctive set of bridges I was looking for – I was in the right place. Here it is in the movie:
Thank you to the person who first found this! You made this possible. Glad to know there are other people just as obsessed with Labyrinth.
Often I have found that the least fantastical GU stories are the most grim. Such is the case in The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, a 1976 film starring an extraordinary Jodi Foster as Rynn, age 13. Rynn is desperately trying to hide the fact that she is living in her house alone, lying about the whereabouts of her absent father (and there is initially no word on where her mother is, either). At the very beginning she is approached by the adversary, on Halloween – a pedophile neighbor who is immediately creepy. He keeps returning periodically, proving his power over her (in one particularly gruesome scene, he kills her pet hamster with a lit cigarette), being generally lecherous. Meanwhile, her landlady is potentially threatening to the solitary existence Rynn is trying to protect, and a friendly policeman may help or could ruin everything.
Rynn’s only confidante is an older boy, Mario, who she quickly grows close to. She reveals the secret of her missing father, and several other secrets besides, and even though the truth paints a somewhat frightening picture of Rynn herself, Mario never wavers, and helps her. But in the final confrontation with the adversary, Mario is ill and Rynn must fend for herself. Fortunately, she is not afraid of getting her hands dirty.
As I’ve mentioned before, the movie Labyrinth was the inspiration for the whole Girls Underground concept. I have been obsessed with this movie since I first saw it at the age of eight. As I’m a collector of body art, I figured it was finally time to get a Labyrinth-themed tattoo. But not just a picture of Bowie or goblins, because all of my tattoos are deeply spiritual in nature and this needed to get at the heart of why I resonate so strongly with this film. In the end, I decided on a quote, one that to me sums up the power of Story (which is what GU is all about, really), and the magic of words.
When Sarah starts telling Toby the bedtime story (her own story, in fact), she is looking into the mirror when she relays the goblins’ mandate to “say your right words” – a crucially important lesson for any Girl Underground, or indeed anyone dabbling in the magic arts (or dealing with fairies, for that matter). I decided to get this phrase tattooed along my arm, but backwards, so that it would only appear readable in a mirror. Sort of a nod to Alice as well – a sentence that only makes sense through the looking glass (and I had it inked on May 4, the day Alice went down the rabbit hole). Here it is:
Awhile back I wrote a post called “If the story were about her,” profiling several works that would be Girls Underground examples if only the girl in question were the protagonist. I left out one of my favorites, however, and aim to remedy that now.
Neil Gaiman certainly is in touch with the GU archetype – his Coraline and Mirrormask are both excellent examples. But before either of those, there was Neverwhere – first as a BBC miniseries, then as a book (one of the few times the film version came before the book; each are special in their own way).
What makes Neverwhere special in regard to the Girls Underground archetype is that it examines the situation from the companion’s point of view. The protagonist, Richard Mayhew, stops to help an injured woman on the street, and soon becomes entangled in her dangerous world of London Below, a world populated with assassins, mythical creatures, and even a real angel. She is trying to solve the murders of her family and simultaneously avoid the same fate. He just wants to get back home where everything makes sense. But by the end of the journey, like the Girl usually is, he finds himself irrevocably changed.
Door, the girl in question, already lives in the otherworld, so there isn’t that usual shift for her, but otherwise she follows the pattern: orphaned, accumulating companions, facing off against an adversary and his minions (although he is not revealed until the end), returning home briefly in the middle of the journey, navigating a labyrinthine path (in fact, there is an actual labyrinth, and a beast within it), betrayal by a companion…
However, we see this all from Richard’s perspective, and that POV adds depth to our understanding of the girl’s journey as well – the lives she changes, and sometimes even ruins, in pursuit of her goal.
As a side note, the TV version is really worth watching, especially because it was done on a low budget and has none of the usual slick Hollywood look to it. It feels more real than any similar stories I’ve seen filmed, using actual (often grimy) London locations for shooting, and bringing otherwise fantastical beings to life in a believable way. The vampire-like Lamia, for instance, looks like a girl you might meet at a goth club – until she sucks the life out of you.
I used to love the movie Supergirl as a child and recently re-watched it. Unfortunately, it does not stand up well over time. However, I did discover it is a Girls Underground story, of the reverse type where the girl comes from someplace magical and enters the mundane world. (Other examples include Kiki’s Delivery Service, Princess Nevermore, Except the Queen, and the backstory of Pan’s Labyrinth.)
Kara lives in a Kryptonian city isolated in trans-dimensional space. When the power source of the city is accidentally sent out into space, Kara impetuously follows it on its trajectory to Earth in order to locate and return it to her city. Somehow, she magically transforms into Supergirl once arriving on our planet. She assumes the secret identity of Linda Lee when walking amongst people, and befriends a human girl named Lucy.
The power source, however, is first found by the evil Selena and her minion Bianca. Selena uses it to perform magical spells and control people. She tries to enslave a man she desires, but the spell goes awry and he falls for Kara instead. After battling a bit more, Selena manages to send Kara into the Phantom Zone – a desolate land much like an oubliette. But with the help of her old friend Zaltar, she escapes and confronts the witch who has made herself a ruler of Earth. She defeats Selena, sadly leaves her love behind, and brings the power source back to her city.
The Caller, directed by Matthew Parkhill, is one of the most original and disturbing horror movies I have seen in a long time. It is also a decent example of a Girls Underground story.
Mary is going through an antagonistic divorce from her violent husband. She moves into a new apartment, and soon begins receiving phone calls from a mysterious woman. At first she assumes it’s just a wrong number. But she soon realizes that the woman is somehow calling from the past, and had lived in that same apartment many years ago (in fact, she killed herself there). While Mary’s ex may seem the more immediate threat (as he is still stalking her), it is actually the woman, Rose, who becomes a terrifying adversary. She is clearly unhinged, and when feeling ignored or rejected, quickly figures out horrifying ways to manipulate Mary, even separated by time.
Mary’s few companions are picked off one by one, and this is made even more terrible by the fact that to the rest of the world, they never even existed (since the only way Rose can effect things is in her own time, thereby changing the present for Mary). How do you stop an adversary you can’t even physically connect with? One that died before you ever met them?
When Rose threatens Mary by hurting her as a child in the past, Mary ends up in the common GU scenario of trying to rescue a child – but this time, it’s her own self. Her final confrontation involves both her past and present selves simultaneously, and is quite gripping.
Neil Jordan’s masterful thriller In Dreams takes the Girl Underground a step further than most. [Caution: SPOILERS. No way to discuss this one here without them.]
Claire, an adult woman with a husband and child, has always been a bit psychic. She starts being tormented by dreams that appear to show the fate of a young girl who has recently gone missing in her town. But in fact, they are predicting her own daughter’s kidnapping and murder by the same unknown killer. As the dreams intensify, Claire acts quite mad, but in fact she is seeing the truth. What she doesn’t know is that the killer dreams of her too – they are linked somehow, and he can even manipulate her dreams to lead her to him. When yet another girl disappears, Claire decides to surrender her mind to him, so that she may find and ultimately defeat him (following the normal pattern that an adult GU protagonist is usually fighting to save a child).
Claire doesn’t have many companions – her husband is only concerned for her sanity, but her psychiatrist does end up believing her, although he doesn’t help much. Her dog is sometimes by her side. Primarily, she is led through the labyrinth by the adversary himself, the mysterious killer who invades her mind.
Her “final showdown” with the adversary is an extended mind game, with the killer (brilliantly played by Robert Downey Jr.) trying to bring her over to his side, creating a little family with the kidnapped girl, and Claire playing along until she can get them both to safety. She does rescue the girl, but dies during the final confrontation on a bridge.
And that’s where it gets interesting. Because their mysterious mental link still exists, and now it is Claire’s turn, from beyond death, to torment the imprisoned killer with waking nightmares. In a case of Girl Becomes Adversary, she haunts him violently.
I’m noticing a new theme starting to emerge here – that when the Girl is an adult, her fate is often much worse than normal, either becoming something scary herself (as in this movie and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark), or at the very least being stuck in a horrible netherworld, such as in The Dark and Silent Hill).
One of the plot points of the Girls Underground archetype is:
She interacts with people or things that are somehow connected to her ‘normal’ life at home, or briefly returns home in the middle of the journey.
While this is found in many GU stories, it is exemplified best, perhaps, by the original inspiration for the whole idea: Labyrinth. Not only does Sarah return to her own bedroom again while still on her quest (via the Junk Lady’s deception), but many of the creatures and things she encounters during her stay in the labyrinth (including the labyrinth itself) are echoes of items she has in her room: dolls, stuffed animals, posters, books, games, toys. This is illustrated wonderfully by this amazing set of animated gifs, juxtaposing the childhood object with its manifestation in the otherworld (courtesy of the awesome blog FuckYeahLabyrinth):
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is Guillermo del Toro’s second appearance on Girls Underground (Pan’s Labyrinth), although this film is a less straightforward example of the archetype. At first it may seem that the child Sally is the obvious Girl going Underground, but it evolves into a familiar story of an older protagonist rescuing her child and succumbing in the process (much like The Dark and Silent Hill).
8-year-old Sally is a troubled child rejected by her distant mother, and sent to live with her distracted father and his girlfriend as they restore an old mansion in New England. The mansion, of course, has a dark past, and terrible secrets – hiding in the basement, underground. There are tiny, vicious creatures living in the darkness there, and Sally (after finding the hidden basement in the first place) frees them by opening the gate to the fireplace. They whisper to her at night, at first enticingly, but quickly becoming menacing.
Simultaneously, the father’s girlfriend Kim is beginning to suspect something strange is going on with Sally and with the house, especially after the groundskeeper is violently injured. He directs her to the journals of the mansion’s original owner, where she discovers more information about the creatures. She finally convinces Sally’s father to take them all away from there, but the creatures will not let them leave (this is definitely an example of one of those GU stories that takes place entirely within a house). In the end, to save the girl, Kim must sacrifice herself.
There aren’t really any companions here, and no singular adversary, but it’s still a pretty solid GU story, at least worthy of an honorable mention. I also enjoyed del Toro’s usual flair for interweaving real and invented folklore, and the visual style and creepy whisperings of the creatures.
Sometimes I wonder about the female adversaries that exist in some Girls Underground stories – the wicked stepmothers, nasty witches, evil queens… were they once themselves the girl on the quest, only to stay too long down there in the dark and become something for other girls to fear?
We can actually see this process happen in the continuation of one of the bloodier GU stories, Hellraiser. The Comics Alliance blog reports that a new graphic novel series based on the original story and movie has provided the ultimate twist:
Last year BOOM! Studios launched a new Hellraiser series by Clive Barker that marked the influential horror writer’s return to his most famous creation after decades away. Co-written with Christopher Monfette and drawn by Leonardo Manco, the book’s first arc was a hit with fans of the storied franchise, concluding with original Hellraiser heroine Kristy Cotton replacing the iconic Pinhead character as the demonic Cenobites’ head of human soul-harvesting.
This makes sense to me, after years and years of reading these stories, and living my own strange version. The otherworld is not always a gentle place, and the Girl is always changed by her time there, after all.