Take Back the Knife: Revisiting “High Tension”

Later that night, after there have been introductions and the family has gone to bed, Marie goes outside for a smoke. Glancing up, she can see Alex in the bathroom, taking a shower. Aroused, Marie goes back inside, heads upstairs to the guest room, and masturbates — giving herself over to her physical desire for her friend. Marie has crossed a line and admitted her feelings, if only to herself.

At this moment, the mysterious man arrives at the house and almost immediately decapitates Alex’s father. He cuts Alex’s mother’s throat, then dispatches her little brother before absconding with Alex herself as a trophy. One interpretation, then, is that Marie has destroyed what she feels she can never share with the object of her affection: a family. Killer lesbian/homosexuality destroying the family: it’s the very notion that homophobes fear the most. Continuing with that line of thought, it would appear that Marie is also, most likely, a self-loathing lesbian. She sees her homosexual side — her "deviant" side (please, notice the quotes there and save the hate mail) — as repulsive. She sees herself as a vile, disgusting man, giving in to the basest desires in the most psychotic way possible (see: fellatio by severed head), and she spends the rest of the film quite literally battling her urges.

Is Aja bluntly equating homosexuality with baseness, with psychosis and homicidal tendencies? I honestly don’t think so. Believe it or not, not every gay person bursts out of the closet the first time he or she feels desire for a member of the same sex. People live in denial, people live in hiding. People can be confused, and while falling in love with your best friend doesn’t necessarily lead to homicidal tendencies, there are gay people who, sadly, hate themselves for being gay.

In real life, one hopes that people find counseling, find friends, find a path to self-acceptance … and in a sense, Marie does find some sort of acceptance for herself at the film’s end. Her "female" subconscious has defeated her "male" subconscious, and this means that Marie and Alex can finally be together. Marie no longer hides her feelings; she’s ready to spend her life with Alex, and "no one will keep them apart" any more.

In a sense, however, this true ending — which finds Marie vanquishing the horrible man and admitting her love for Alex — is undeniably pro-gay: the lesbian is the hero of the story. On High Tension‘s most basic level, we’re rooting for Marie the entire time as she displays remarkable bravery and resilience in her quest to save her friend. Thematically, she’s still the hero of the story even at the end: once Marie basically came out of the closet and admitted everything, the man was gone; it was the lying, the hiding and repression of her true nature and her true feelings that brought about all the violence and destruction. Simply put, coming out freed her from her mental anguish. That ain’t homophobia.

Mind you, Marie is also completely insane and this is simply entertainment, a gory, graphic horror film — okay, one featuring another crazy killer lesbian, sure. The best horror films, however, have some meat on their bones, so to speak, and give you plenty to chew on once the credits roll. If you can stomach it, High Tension is rife with thought-provoking symbolism and fodder for discussion … and blood-drenched women wielding power saws. Everyone I know would consider that a win-win!

In addition to writing and directing horror films, Stacie Ponder writes about them for Rue Morgue Magazine, AMC TV.com, and her own beloved site, Final Girl. In her spare time, Stacie enjoys a good laugh and looking at kittens.

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