If you find yourself in a horror film, the last thing you should do is disrobe in any manner whatsoever—but especially not with brazen sexiness. Yet Cinebago’s new series at the Northwest Film Forum, hosted by “Oprah of the Underworld” Isabella L. Price, braves the tropes to pair burlesque and scary movies.
Like Price’s radio show, this series, which kicks off Thursday with an “embalming fluid”-spiked screening of Don Cascarelli’s bizarre mortuary zombie flick Phantasm, is dubbed Nocturnal Emissions. “I want people to come, hang out, get grossed out and hopefully scared, and have a good time,” says Price. “This isn't the kind of show for people who just want to sit quietly in their seats and watch a serious movie.”
Thanks to critical hits in the past years like Hereditary and Get Out, contemporary horror movies are increasingly recognized as “legitimate” explorations of racial, societal, and familial trauma, which is thrilling for devotees of the genre. But I’m with Price: Part of the beauty of horror is its willingness to experiment with the outrageous, gambling that startling imagery will provoke shivers instead of giggles. Whether it succeeds or not, that rich vein of the canon should still be cherished.
Kitsch is clearly in Nocturnal Emissions’ toolbox: Each evening begins with Price’s spooky/lusty dances, then proceeds to screenings, with extras like free vampire teeth and gummy candy body parts. Campy as they are, these films stand apart from the average zombie/vampire/cannibal/slasher flick.
“I’m really into showing movies that aren't normally seen, like movies starring people of color [Ganja and Hess and The People Under the Stairs] or movies by women [Slumber Party Massacre II],” Price explains.
Ganja and Hess, Bill Gunn’s 1973 vampire thriller starring Night of the Living Dead’s Duane Jones, is the most critically appreciated of the series and the most interesting from the point of view of race. Per Price: “The main character is almost terrified of enjoying sex because that would give in to the stereotype of the hypersexual black man. Both characters are dealing with the perception of what white culture views black people to be, but the vampirism is a way for them to be free of that fear.” If horror reflects our terrors and traumas, it can also embody our best hopes—albeit sometimes in a negative cast.
This is equally true for women. For every victim bloodily punished for her sluttiness, there’s a powerful witch, a supernatural femme fatale, or a resourceful final girl. But Isabella Price, a woman of color, speaks of having to carve her own territory as a horror hostess. “It was Elvira doing the spider strip tease in Elvira: Mistress of the Dark that really made me want to be in burlesque. Since I had no idols to look up to (Morticia and Elvira don't look anything like me—I'm neither thin not pale) I'm trying to be my own idol.”
The canon is transforming on all levels, gaining not only in prestige but also in diversity. If Get Out represents an advance of black-directed genre cinema on the multiplexes, and Hereditary was carried by an older actress’s disturbing, bravura performance, Nocturnal Emissions should be a more intimate, lighthearted demolition of the white male horror complex. Isabella Price embraces camp, sex-positivity, and morbid cheerfulness at once: “Be the undead, grave-robbing, tassel-twirling succubus you want to see in the world!” Horror is generous enough to welcome us all; Nocturnal Emissions may just help you find your niche in the crypt.