You know, when it comes to teenage girls, puberty, and horror, the world of cinema just can’t get enough.
Carrie? Check. The Exorcism? Check. Jennifer’s Body? Check. Carrie again? Check, check, check. And look, as a one-time teenage girl and aspiring horror myself, I can get behind a lot of these stories – as I’ve written about before, I think there’s a power to the reclamation of these ideas which are so often put forward as disgusting, violent, scary and turning them on their heads in stories that embrace and even celebrate all of those things.
But there’s one film amongst this genre that I love above all others, and that I hardly see talked about by even the most avid horror lovers I follow. And that movie is Excision.
Directed by Richard Bates Junior, I first found this movie because of a burgeoning teenage crush on leading woman AnnaLynne McCord. Hunting through her back catalogue, I came across this, a well-reviewed splatter horror that was as roundly criticized for its overt gore obsession as it was applauded for its twisted take on the coming-of-age drama.
And, oh my goodness, can we just talk about this movie for a moment? It’s one of those films that I’ve come back to over and over again since I first saw it, and I’ve found something new in it every single time: the unexpectedly brilliant Traci Lords performance, the brutal and brilliant ending, the lavishly gorgeous dream sequences, the dark, dry, totally hilarious sense of humour, the John Waters cameo that I want to see in every film ever. That slow, nightmarish build of dread, the way it finally spills over, all of it. I love this film. It’s beautifully, carefully made, and, even if you’re not coming to it for the coming-of-age story, it’s still well worth seeing.
But it’s the coming-of-age tale that I’m here for, if I’m being honest. I’ve seen plenty of films that revel in plenty of gore, but none that have used it with the camp, adoring sensuality that Excision explores over the course of a tight and distinctly horrible eighty minutes. Following the story of Pauline (McCord), a girl in her late teens with an obsession with blood and surgical procedure, this is, more than anything, a tale about sex.
It’s not a sexy film – not by any stretch – but it is a sexual one, one that confronts us with Pauline’s erotic focus on gore, stripping the traditionally teen-queen actor of the usual glamour and flipping it, in horrible and totally compelling fashion, right on its head. I think I saw Excision for the first time when I was seventeen, and the way that the movie approached sex and sexuality – something curious, a little disgusting, totally intriguing, and visceral in its need – resonated with me in a way all the clean-cut depictions of making out in the back of cars just didn’t.
Excision has a special place in my heart for being one of the most unique, truly nasty, and totally beautiful tales of teenage girl puberty that I have ever seen in my life. Lots of films have tried to make this story work, but few have pulled it off with the panache and skill of Excision. Even if I still can’t figure out how to spell the damn title right on the first try.
By Louise MacGregor
(header image via The Wolfman Cometh)