Posted on January 11, 2016

Short Cuts: Cherry Darling in Planet Terror

Elizabeth Erwin

Note: Short Cuts is our new feature in which we consider an image in horror and examine its broader cultural implications. It is not intended to offer definitive analysis but to start a conversation about broader cultural topics related to the genre. We hope that by throwing out a few ideas related to an image that we will start a community wide discussion.

It is impossible to look at the above image and not think of Laura Mulvey’s groundbreaking theory of the male gaze. In her influential essay “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Mulvey posits that women are used in media for visual pleasure and that they become sexualized objects through voyeurism. Certainly, this image—of Cherry Darling in Planet Terror (2007)—contains all of the markers traditionally associated with the male gaze, from the spectacle created through clothing to the clear observational viewpoint of the camera. And yet, this reading dismisses the highly charged narrative operating beneath the surface of the image.

As the Final Girl turned monster, Cherry Darling occupies a unique space within the horror canon. Her characterization ruptures the traditional view of how femininity and masculinity function within American horror and offers us a glimpse at the potential for a new breed of heroine monster hybrid. Her disability, which is used both as a means of eliciting audience repulsion and as a vehicle for highlighting Cherry’s overt sexuality, creates a monstrosity that is wholly unique.

Positioned in an overtly powerful stance, Cherry is no shrinking violet as evidenced by her demeanor in the face of chaos. Yes, she is shown as static (as opposed to men’s often being shown in movement), but she appears poised to fend off any possible threat. The traditionally masculine form of power exhibited in her stance contradicts directly, moreover, with her overtly feminine style of dress. Wearing a mini skirt, cropped top, and heeled boots, Cherry certainly looks like the stripper she is. She also embodies what heterosexual men are culturally supposed to find sexually arousing. Consequently, this framing of Cherry at the same time reflects and challenges the male gaze.

The extent to which the film fetishizes Cherry’s disability is worthy of discussion. When Cherry loses her leg, she is despondent until El Wray forces a table leg into the open wound. Suddenly, Cherry is given mobility but it comes without her expressed consent and through the actions of a man. Her ensuing sexual relationship with El Wray is then responsible for sexualizing her prosthetic as the camera lingers on her peg leg as the two have intercourse. Interestingly, El Wray eventually replaces the wooden leg with a M4 carbine/M203 grenade launcher prosthetic. On the surface, this appears to be a move toward a more masculine form of autonomy for Cherry since culturally guns equate to testosterone. Yet, the film fetishizes her new prosthetic by ensuring that each action shot of Cherry laying waste to her enemies is complemented with a shot of her panties. This blending of arousal (from witnessing a sexualized shot) with the heightened adrenalin (from watching a violent action sequence) creates a specific type of spectatorship that doesn’t quite allow Cherry agency.

And yet, Cherry is the last person standing at the end of the film. She saves herself in countless situations and does so by employing traditional forms of both masculine (guns) and feminine (seduction) power.

Do you think Cherry is a victim of the male gaze? Please leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts!

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