People often dismiss horror without making any attempt to understand it. Several feminist thinkers have spilt a great deal of ink ripping into the genre as inherently misogynist. While it is true that the majority of slasher films depict little more than banal violence against women, the macabre also has a unique ability to explore the line between sickness and health, good and evil, life and death. This happens to be especially true of the seldom used subgenre known as body horror.
For those unfamiliar with the term, body horror typically involves the protagonist’s body mutating or twisting in a way both disturbing and unwelcome. The two most famous examples of the genre are probably Alien and David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly. Dan O’Bannon, the writer of Alien, described the film as “a movie about alien interspecies rape” in which a male human is forcibly infected with an intergalactic parasite that eventually explodes from his chest. In a way, it is a far more effective device to help men understand the horror of sexual assault than such Oscar bait as Precious or The Accused. The Fly uses a scientist’s grotesque metamorphosis into a human/insect hybrid as a metaphor for the stress of caring for a person with a terminal illness. Much like Alien, The Fly utilizes body horror to help the viewer feel the pain of the afflicted in a visceral rather than clinical way.
With InSexts, their new book for upstart company AfterShock, Marguerite Bennett and Ariela Kristantina attempt to bring body horror to the comics world with mixed results. Without giving too much away about the plot, InSexts is a story about love and revenge. The lovers in question are a Victorian lady of good standing and her maid. The revenge is taken against a wicked husband and society in general. In summation, it is a feminist fantasy with a healthy dollop of lesbian sex.
As a queer, horror-obsessed nerd who tries her best to support new publishers, I added this title to my pull list the moment I saw it in Previews. Although I hoped to love this book, something about it left me a bit cold. Upon reflection (and a second and third read) my chief gripe is that I never really got to know the characters before the horrific elements emerged. Perhaps this is a limitation of the medium, a twenty-odd page comic book would have a hard time pulling off the sort of slow burn achieved in the most successful horror films and books. Nothing particularly scary happens in either The Fly or Alien until nearly the one hour mark, InSexts has its first shocker on page five.
Even though a great deal of the art in this book is beautiful, fewer splash pages and more character development would help the reader understand these women’s motivations and the extreme actions they are willing to take in the name of true love. That being said, everybody else I know adored this title. Maybe reading the book with eyes that have never seen the works of David Cronenberg would be helpful in this case. At any rate, I plan to read the second installment of InSexts to see if it eventually finds its heart and soul. As is, it is merely well executed sex and splatter.
Disclaimer: The writer has no material connections to this book and is reviewing it of her own accord.