Jennifer's Body is an underrated feminist and queer horror film. Ghouls are revisiting the cult classic to see what they missed the first time around. Gabe talks queer representation, toxic relationships, and eating boys to feel better. Kat teaches you the history of succubi and even how to summon a succubus.
Sources in this Episode:
The Monstrous Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis - Barbara Creed How “Jennifer's Body" Smashed Its Way Through The Male Gaze And Into Queer, Feminist Cult Status Mythology.net The Lilith Gallery
Media from this week's episode:
Jennifer’s Body (2009)
A newly possessed high school cheerleader turns into a succubus who specializes in killing her male classmates. Can her best friend put an end to the horror?
Directed by: Karyn Kusama
Written by: Diablo Cody
Jennifer's Body: Justice for Jennifer by Gabe Castro
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
The first two films in our Monstrous Femme series are underrated horror classics that deserve a critical-eye second viewing to appreciate. With Jennifer’s Body, I was guilty of not truly appreciating the film. I was wanting more from the film while not actually accepting what it had to offer. I know people love this film, so I wanted to give it a rewatch to see what I have been missing. And I think I’ve found it.
Plot question - When Jennifer goes to Needy’s house after her transformation she is monstrous and gross. It is implied that she learns later that she needs to eat boys to survive but in the end, Jennifer gives us a flashback of that fateful night. She ate the foreign exchange student and so she shouldn’t have looked so gross at that time…she should already be glowing and wonderful?
Hell is a teenage girl
Jennifer’s Body follows the story of two sandbox best friends. Jennifer, the hot, popular, boy-magnet played by Megan Fox and her unlikely regular girl bestie, Needy played by Amanda Seyfried. Needy and Jennifer have an unconventional friendship given that they seemingly operate in separate social circles. I say seemingly because they don’t spend a lot of time at school, this isn’t Mean Girls. Jennifer is a cheerleader and she drags, reluctantly, Needy along with her to social gatherings - including a world-changing concert taking place in their small town’s only bar. Many things happen on this fateful night - there’s lying about virginity, baby Chris Pratt being a douche (no surprise), Adrian Brody as hot as ever frontlining a terrible indie band named Low Shoulder, a fire that takes out the entire bar and most of the patrons, and the death of Jennifer.
You see, this super cool underground band that Jennifer is such a big fan of doesn’t want to be so underground anymore. So Low Shoulder has sought to make a pact with a demon, what is fame really worth? Surely, one lowly, small-town virgin is small change for indie band notoriety? After the abrupt fire, the boys usher Jennifer into a shady white van, which Needy allows her to get into and with, honestly, not much resistance at all. Shock is real but c’mon, that’s your best friend getting into that creepy pedo van! Once in the van, Jennifer picks up pretty quickly how dangerous this ride is, even asking them if they were going to rape her. She doubles down on the virgin theory in hopes that would turn them off.
While all that is happening, Needy is home calling her boyfriend and low grade freaking out about all the deaths that occured in front of her teenage eyes and the willing abduction of her supposed best friend. She quickly encounters the new Jennifer, at first she’s a mess and clearly something terrible has happened. But Jennifer snaps back rather quickly, arriving at school the next day even hotter than before (who knew that was possible). And on top of that, she’s evil now. As Needy says, not high school girl evil but like demon evil. The sacrifice backfired because Jennifer isn’t and hasn’t been a virgin since middle school, thus turning her into a boy-devouring succubus.
What happens next is typical teen slasher movie antics - Needy raiding the small occult section of the school library (did YOUR school have an occult section!?), gruesome gory deaths, teen sex, prom fatalities, and a lot of queer undertones!
Jennifer is an interesting character and I wish we spent more time with her than Needy. Her traumatic response to what happened to her isn’t to get revenge on the band boys who did this to her but rather to attack the ideology that got her into the mess in the first place. Jennifer has only ever been what other people saw her as, hot and available, easy even. It's easy to forget she’s a teenager until certain moments snap you back to reality like when they’re at the bar and she remarks that she can’t wait until they can drink. She is a child and she hasn’t figured out how the world works yet, all she knows is how the world has treated her. She does what she needs to to survive, and so far that has meant being available and exactly what they want from her. When she attacks the boys, it’s not about them but about the patriarchal society they are benefitting from, even unknowingly. I appreciate that in this story, none of the boys she attacks are painted as evil or bad. Cody didn’t make them gross or abusive. Where she could’ve easily made the jock a douche, she instead made him sensitive, crying over the loss of his best friend. In the emo boy, she brought clarity and respect - not the response you expect from a young boy in a horror movie that’s greeted by a seductive Megan Fox. Needy’s boyfriend is offered pepper spray, his mother noting that there’s a crazed killer out there targeting young boys. It’s an unfamiliar concept in horror, boys in peril.
The existence of a hot succubus that preys on young men and played by Megan Fox could have pivoted the story in an entirely different direction. From what we’ll see in Kat’s section, there’s already quite a lot of rhetoric around this stance of the empowered woman. When we first covered Jennifer’s Body, I spent a lot of time covering Barbara Creed’s The Monstrous Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis, where she explores the ways in which horror has been used to portray society’s fear of women, specifically empowered, powerful, and sexual women. It is terribly easy to villainize an oversexualized and strong female character like Jennifer. I mean the film is titled, Jennifer’s Body not “What happened to Jennifer?” or “Jennifer: Empowered Succubus” or “Lost Girl.” Jennifer’s body is an item, an object that this film revolves around. This film is far from subtle.
If I’m being honest, even though I enjoyed the film significantly more in this rewatch, I was still disappointed with the treatment of Jennifer. Jennifer is hurting and has been hurt. Yet, we never really get to spend time with that pain and we never give Jennifer the patience for redemption. Needy is, quite honestly, a terrible friend. She let her get in the van, first of all. But she jumped so quickly to “Jennifer is evil” before ever taking the time to meet her where she is to help. For all the overt queerness in this film, we are missing love. Jennifer is also not a great friend and I am by no means defending her abusive, manipulative, and controlling behavior. But I also don’t see this as really being the time for Needy to realize that and just say, “Well, she’s always been the worst, so fuck her.”
I think at the end of the day, I will always want more from this film but considering when it was made and the poor initial reception - I think it was an amazing start and a truly unique and important film to the horror genre. And sadly, it was underappreciated for far too long so I am happy to see it finally getting the recognition it deserves. The was a film marketed for a male audience, despite protests from Kusama. It reveled in the male gaze, the trailer and other marketing material focused heavily on Fox’s hotness, such as her naked swim in the lake or her hot kiss with Needy, to grab an audience that had no business being there. It was underappreciated because it wasn’t being seen by the people it was about. Which brings me to the second part of my analysis, Jennifer’s Body is hella queer.
I’m kicking myself for being an absolute idiot my first watch through and missing so much of the queer undertones and overtones. I still don’t love the kiss with Needy and Jennifer and do feel the existence of it in so much of the marketing materials only subtracts from its true intention.
But it’s honestly really hard not to see the connection and tension between these two when you’re looking for it. And Cody doesn’t hold back, she is incredibly on the nose about it! One of my favorite lines is when Needy says, “I thought you only murder boys?” to which Jennifer replies, “I go both ways.” Yay, bi representation! One girl even uses the phrase “Lesbi-gay” which is weird because there’s already a term for that and it’s lesbian. Needy and Jennifer remind me of Mitsuko & Keiko from Tag. Two friends who clearly have a stronger than usual bond that borders on sexual tension and repressed urges.
With this new, intentional viewing of the film, I picked up on that love and tension these two friends had. Needy aches to impress and satisfy Jennifer partly to keep her interested but because I think she truly loves Jennifer. Jennifer hasn’t figured out what authentic love and desire looks like and so her interpretation of it comes out all wrong for Needy, it becomes controlling and abusive. Just as we found a queer appreciation from viewers in Tag, when the intended audience discovered this film, they felt seen. In an article on Bust titled, How “Jennifer's Body" Smashed Its Way Through The Male Gaze And Into Queer, Feminist Cult Status by Holyn Thigpen, they say, “Megan Fox herself revealed to the New York Post that she’s had countless girls thank her for helping them explore their sexuality. Saying, “I can’t tell you how many girls, from 30 down into their teens — or, f–k that, my age, too — come up to me and are like, ‘I realized I was gay because of you,’ or ‘I felt comfortable coming out because of you,’ because of ‘Jennifer’s Body,’”
“If my purpose on Earth was to help one girl come out of the closet and feel OK about it, I had an amazing purpose here.”
There are moments where this connection is palpable. Again, I am reminded of Mitsuko and Keiko, who found those moments in secreted looks and soft, unassuming touches. As if those moments were just for them. So too are those for Needy and Jennifer. Whether it's Needy watching in awe from the bleachers as Jennifer lights up the entire gym. On the surface, it’s painted as a “Yup, that’s my friend, Jennifer. She’s hot and I’m not. What an unconventional friendship!” and in fact, the dialogue would lead you to such a conclusion. But for those of us really looking, that is a stolen moment. Later, in the bar Needy is watching Jennifer while Jennifer watches the band. In each of Jennifer’s teasing, snide remarks is a playful facade. This isn’t a one-sided love.
When they eventually get to that scene, the makeout, it's awkward and unsure. It comes after an incredibly vulnerable moment for Jennifer who is trying to get the one person she trusts and cares about to know what she’s going through. It’s interesting that for all the power and confidence Jennifer had in controlling those boys, she’s not entirely sure what to do with Needy. All she knows is she wants to keep her, and that this is how you do that. It could’ve easily been a hot makeout right away, like the Natalie Portman & Mila Kunis scene in Black Swan. This scene, instead, is borderline innocent until it's not. It evolves into a hot connection, the repressed tension let loose. And it’s not until Needy snaps out of it that we get the real fallout between the girls.
The ending features my favorite “girl fight” ever. The bitchy bickering that’s too personal and can only come from a life-long friendship. It’s sassy and charming, it brought out parts of the characters I wish had always been there. Including so many of my favorite lines. It’s comedy that I was missing the entire time!
Lilith & Succubi: 10 Easy Steps to Summon a Succubus by Kat Kushin
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
This episode was surprisingly interesting, albeit challenging to research for. The main reason being that in googling succubus you get a few links to mythology notes and a whole lot more incel adjacent writings of ranting angry men. I do not recommend reading them, while also do recommend reading them? Like for science? They’re terrifying but if you’re like me and kind of like can’t help but be fascinated in a very like “know your enemy” kind of way you read the entire website. It’s super scary that there are so many people who believe these things so intensely, and honestly I’m sure people may listen to our show and think similarly about us I guess. Either way it was a whole situation to read. I know way too much about their interpretation of women as energy succubi who like to steal their essence/energy/life force by “nagging” and through sex?, and like that their semen is their life energy that needs to be protected at all costs? It’s a whole time honestly, filled with contradictions and hypocrisy that is mind boggling.
The history of the succubus is complex, both as a means to demonize women, as well as those who defy gender and sexuality norms of the time. There are many claims of Succubi stealing the souls of men, or rather things “blamed” on Succubi who either probably didn’t exist, or were just people who didn’t fit oppressive gender standards being dubbed demons. *cough* Lilith *cough*. A fun line of thought that my benadryl fueled tiredness helped me come up with last night is that Succubi stem from the desire of men to not be held accountable by oppressive religious standards, and that in a time where sex was considered a grave sin, a Succubus was an easy scapegoat for men who didn’t follow the rules. This also could apply to women who owned their sexuality, and who acted unlike christianity’s Eve, and instead leaned heavier into the characteristics of Lilith. The construction of the fall from Eden as a literary piece, the introduction of Eve as the “good woman” and Lilith as the “bad woman” is an entire feminism discussion that is relevant here to consider. Ultimately the bible itself was written how it was, for a reason, to convey a message and moral standard that it wanted to resonate with people, and act as a means of justification to ostracize others. There is also a lot to be unpacked surrounding the ways in which these stories were altered over time, to act as a point of influence over populations, be it to fuel societal norms, war, or genocide.
So let's define a Succubus. According to Monster.fandom.com/wiki (similar definitions were found on many of the other sites I found) Succubus (Sucubi) are “powerful female Demons who use their sexuality to appear through the dreams of victims, usually young men. They then seduce and prey on these victims, slowly draining their souls with each encounter”. From a historiography standpoint I think the existence of succubus and incubus as a point of lore or fear inherently makes a lot of sense to me. While they seem to arise in many cultures across the globe in the specific mythology, the way in which they appear differs. There are instances in which Succubi are used as an explanation for wet dreams, and others where they explain sleep paralysis. There are instances where the explanation of Succubi and Incubi are seen as interchangeable, the threat being to the opposite sex of whichever victim they choose. Succubi and Incubi have been used as the explanation for birth defects, disabilities, and really anything LGBTQIA which has its own very upsetting and problematic motivations. As mentioned before, they are also used to demonize women, and fuel the rantings of angry men on internet forums. Ultimately, just as we see horror movie monsters coded as any and all oppressed groups within our society, the use of monsters in lore, mythology and history operate similarly.
The story of the Succubus that I was able to find on Mythology.net provides some background to the mentions of Lilith. Lilith is known as the mother of all Succubi. Lilith has been written into Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Judaic and Christian mythology. Lilith’s origin started in Sumerian culture, as a goddess of fertility and witchcraft. In later iterations she was associated with demons within Assyrian and Babylonian culture. Within Greek mythology, Lilith was a beautiful woman, who was transformed into a monster by Hera because Zeus expressed interest in her. In this iteration, Lilith seduced men and ate babies. Judeo-Christian mythology Lilith was Adam’s first wife, who, unlike Eve, refused to call Adam her leader. Instead of staying with Adam, Lilith went to the Red Sea where hordes of demons lived, and is claimed to prefer demons to man, mating with them and birthing “lilim”. These Lilim were classified as Succubi, demons in their own right that went forth to corrupt men. According to Jewish folklore, the 'lilin' are the daughters of Lilith and Adam, conceived while she was his wife. They are demons, with their function being that of a succubus. Men and also mothers feared the attack of the lilin, because they were also said to kidnap children, like Lilith.
The Lilith Gallery offers an interesting list of steps How to Summon a Succubus in 10 easy steps:
Step #1: Clearly mark the floor with a white chord (or white chalk) and make a protective circle or pentagram. A white marble inlaid in black marble floor would be best, but most people can't afford that. It is important that nothing disrupts the protective circle. Even a bit of dirt across the white line could ruin the spell.
Step #2: Take 3 black candles (or 5) and place them equal distances apart inside the circle.
Step #3: Outside the circle, make 3 or 5 (same number as the candles) protective talismans or sigils around you.
Step #4: If possible, create an outer circle made from crushed protective herbs mixed together.
Step #5: Calm yourself and relax. Centre yourself.
Step #6: Now, visualize the circle around you, protecting you and seperating you from the rest of your house. This is *essential*.
Step #7: Once you have done that, and the candles are lit, lay in the pentagram position (arms straight out, legs apart) and summon the succubus (or incubus).
Step #8: Feel her come into the circle and feel her power.
Step #9: Feel her coalese into a physical, or semi physical form and now you'll be able to interact with her.
Step #10: She should be easier to invoke and banish than an Incubus and I suggest a successful encounter with her followed by a successful banish of her before attempting the more aggressive Incubus. Always do these at the new moon.