When it comes to horror movies, fans eventually figure out which type of films they gravitate towards, whether it be a specific sub-genre (I’m a sucker for good found footage and/or exorcism films) or theme that you relate to. In the case of the latter, I’m fascinated by the exploration of fame in horror. It would make sense for somebody as humble as me, a guy who calls himself Deezus, to be intrigued by fame and success. To get even more meta, I’m writing this piece to try and cash in on the fall being prime time for horror articles and I’m hoping this is interesting enough to stick. However, as much as I’m interested in gaining clicks and more followers, I love all three of the films I’m about to discuss which all happen to have one recurring theme between them: Fame. The fun part is that’s about the only thing that connects these films, as they couldn’t be more different in terms of tone, story, and style.
The Neon Demon, Always Shine, and Starry Eyes are three independent, totally NOT connected horror films that tackle one area of fame, that I believe if viewed as a trilogy, chronicle the trials and tribulations that come along with fame and what you’re willing to do to get it. How it makes you see yourself, how it makes you see your friends, and eventually, how it makes you question who you are. Taking a page out of Max Landis’ book, I will highlight 3 themes that combine into the over-arcing theme of fame: vanity, envy, & sacrifice. It’s a mad world on the internet as people are willing to fight tooth and nail to get likes or the role of their dreams, but these films ask if you’re willing to do so literally. I think I’m also pulled in by the humanity of these films, each character’s struggle with morality. Films like this are intriguing and terrifying, because what’s scarier than humans? Without further ado, let’s get into this. I present to you The Tragic Trilogy of Fame, view in this specific order for maximum effectiveness.
1. The Neon Demon (2016): Nicolas Winding Refn
“I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I can’t write… no real talent. But I’m pretty, and I can make money off pretty.”
The NWR directed arthouse-thriller stars Elle Fanning as Jesse, a newcomer to the world of modeling in LA who moved away from her small town to pursue fame and fortune. This is the beginning of the trilogy that explores vanity as the film does serve as a coming-of-age story in a way. The film follows Jesse as she begins to discover the power of her beauty, which at first comes off as unthreatening. Jesse is also the most innocent of the protagonists I’ll talk about. But once Jesse begins to realize how beautiful she is and what she can use it for, fading veteran models who we thought were her mentors are not ready to step out of the spotlight. The Neon Demon extensively digs into the theme of vanity and how beauty is a tool to help achieve fame. The film uses very blunt dialogue siting beauty as “the highest currency we have” and how “Beauty isn’t everything. It’s the only thing”. Winding-Refn uses this film to highlight how society puts beauty on a pedestal and to remind you that when it comes to fame; being in a position of power can be just as dangerous. (Currently available on Amazon Prime)
2. Always Shine (2016): Sophia Takal
“Yes, cry, Beth. Fake fucking crocodile tears. You fake fucking Hollywood cunt.”
As seen by the quote above, Always Shine is the definition of envy. I apologize for the language (not really, minus the c-word it’s a fairly normal sentence for me), but I think the quote loses a little power if you can’t fully see or hear it. Some is also lost without the context of knowing that this is a line spoken from one best friend to another. The film focuses on two best friends that are both aspiring actresses, with varying degrees of success, which has built tension between them. Beth is having success in horror films, but isn’t happy about the quality of work she’s doing and usually having to take her clothes off. Anna is very talented, but is beat down by lack of opportunities. The tension between these two boils when they take a getaway trip, where their insecurities surface. Beth is jealous of Anna’s talent and Anna is envious of Beth’s success. The film is a commentary on the perceived roles of women in Hollywood and serves as the perfect second entry to this trilogy, showing what happens when you let envy consume you. (Currently available on Shudder)
3. Starry Eyes (2014)
“I will do whatever it takes for this role.”
To finish off the Fame trilogy is my favorite film of the bunch, the unsettling and violent Starry Eyes. I was turned onto this film from a recommendation shortly after seeing The Neon Demon, which in result birthed this theory. I resonated with this film as ambition is my fatal flaw, which was the case for Sarah in this film as well. Except in the movie, this ends up being quite literal as she is asked what she’s willing to sacrifice in order to achieve her dreams of becoming a beautiful actress. Sarah is plagued with not being committed enough, awful friends, and blending in with the other aspiring actresses in LA. But when opportunity comes from a mysterious film company (which turns out to be a cult) promising that if she physically submits to them, she will be made into a star. Sarah is eventually pushed to the point of sacrifice, literally and figuratively as she loses everything: her job, her friends, her body, and her morality (all in quite gruesome ways). The film very much satirizes LA, from friends who only talk about what they’re working on to casting calls lined with the same faces. This detail makes you relate to Sarah, and almost justifies her doing these horrific things to get what she wants. From the score to the practical effects to Sarah’s violent descent, I love this movie and it’s easily in my top 5 horror movies of all time. This film closes the trilogy with a grim message about fame: you have to do what’s necessary to get what you want. (Currently available on Netflix)
And there you have it folks, the Deezus proclaimed Tragic Trilogy of Fame. I love all three of these films for various reasons, but above all I love the over-arcing theme of the dangers of fame. How fame can pull out your darkest traits and desires. As I’ve mentioned before, ambition is my fatal flaw and these films serve as a reminder not to let it get the best of me along my quest for success and internet fame. The horror genre is often used to shed light on the dark horrors of reality. The fame monster may be a terrifying beast, but nothing is scarier than someone determined to get what they want.
Check all these films out and let me know what you think on Twitter! @Deezus12