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How ‘Jennifer’s Body’ Bewitched 2 Queer Writers

10 Mins read

This is part of This Made Me, a HuffPost series paying tribute to the formative pop culture in our lives. Read more stories from the series here.

I’ve been a die-hard fan of many things, but nothing comes close to my love of “Jennifer’s Body.” I’ve seen the film countless times — both with and without the special DVD commentary tracks — and yammered on about it all over the internet. I even have a “Jennifer’s Body” tattoo. (The other day, a guy on my street asked me who was inked on the back of my leg. To keep things brief, I just said, “Megan Fox.”)

“Jennifer’s Body,” which I first watched at 16, follows the codependent friendship between Needy, a mousy sidekick played by Amanda Seyfried, and her seductive best friend, Jennifer, played by Megan Fox. At first, Jen is just a maneater in the metaphorical sense — then an indie band mistakenly uses her as a virgin sacrifice, and she comes back as a succubus who must eat humans to remain beautiful.

I fell in love with the film for its irreverent humor (thanks, Diablo Cody), whip-smart direction (thanks, Karyn Kusama), and exquisite blend of horror and femininity. As a teen, the notorious makeout scene between Jennifer and Needy didn’t hurt, either.

If I could condense all the reasons I love “Jennifer’s Body” into book form, it would probably look like “Her Body and Other Parties” by Carmen Maria Machado. It’s transgressive and sexy and genre-defying, and it was written by someone who loves both horror and women. When I learned that Machado would release an essay on “Jennifer’s Body” as part of the upcoming anthology “It Came from the Closet,” I had to get my hands on it.

Jennifer's Body

Machado’s essay, “Both Ways,” uses the film to explore common conceptions of bisexuality. Where does queerness end and begin? Is it queerbaiting if a character genuinely doesn’t know what she wants? Should we embrace bisexuality as a liminal space or forever lament its squishiness?

“Both Ways” tackles these questions and more. I was lucky enough to sit down with Machado to unpack some of them as we fangirled over our favorite Sapphic succubus — and stumbled into digressions about roller coasters, erotic freckles, and my TikTok account.

HuffPost: So, so stoked to talk about “Jennifer’s Body.”

Carmen Maria Machado: Absolutely, me too. I’m always excited to talk about it. And now, I’m excited that I’ve done this essay because everyone wants to ask me about it.

Yes! So I read your essay, and I was intrigued when you said you note “Jennifer’s Body” “among” your favorite horror movies. What are some of the others?

From the top of my head, “Alien” is one of my favorites. I have a soft spot for the original “Nightmare on Elm Street.” “Midsommar” is another huge favorite of mine.

Megan Fox stars in “Jennifer’s Body.’

What started your fascination with horror movies?

When I was a kid, I would go into Blockbuster with my family, and I would go to the horror section first, and I would stare down the “Hellraiser” box, which had Pinhead on the front. It was the most horrifying thing I had ever seen in my life. Horror was a genre that, even though I was a giant fraidy cat and a very anxious child — and remain a fraidy cat and a very nervous adult — I was so drawn to it. It’s a complicated emotional state that’s hard to articulate unless you’re a horrible person.

I have a hypothesis that you’re either a horror movie person or a roller coaster person.

I absolutely cannot do roller coasters.

See, but in some ways, they’re variations on the same thing. It’s like a controlled horror. Roller coasters are incredibly safe. They are terrifying, but they’re very safe, technically speaking, and no one’s died from a horror movie yet, right? I think both are very controlled ways of experiencing an adrenaline rush.

Do you have a favorite movie, monster?

Oh, great question. Probably Pinhead.

Can you walk me through what you were up to in 2009? If that is, in fact, the first time you saw “Jennifer’s Body”?

I did not see it in theaters. I made a lot of bad choices in 2009. I got swine flu in 2009 and still dating men in 2009. I think I saw it in 2011, so I was in a different kind of bad place. But I remember being so taken with it and surprised by it. I watched it on a whim and was blown away by how good it was.

Do you remember what you thought about Megan Fox before you saw the movie?

I was not a “Transformers” person; I don’t know if that’s obvious. I knew she was a very hot Hollywood actress.

So you weren’t even aware of her being bisexual and that being a whole thing?

No. Though it is, of course, so interesting.

I was about 15 when “Jennifer’s Body” came out in 2009, and I was very aware of Megan Fox, mainly because she was hot and bisexual. And I appreciated the ending of your essay, whereBut also, I was really aware that Megan Fox was bisexual.  you talk about how identity is inherently not static at all times. That was the era of my life where, as you wrote, if someone asked me if I was straight, I would say yes, and I wouldn’t be lying. But also, I was aware that Megan Fox was bisexuassay. I was thinking about how we really don’t know oursometimes. That’s true for so many people for so long.

Right. Imagine being interviewed about your sexuality in 2009, like Megan was.

Heaven forbid. The late aughts were just me being like, “What the fuck am I? Who am I? What do I like? What do I want?” I’ll be 36 next month, and I still don’t know a lot about myself. Itmuchld how you’re basically a work in pr then you die, you know?

“People want queer representation to be perfect, and it doesn’t have to be perfect — and also, people have different ideas about what makes something perfect. And there is deliciousness in subtext and uncertainty.”

Totally. I think Gen Z, is so obsessed with avoidings and I’m like, “I’m just happy ,to be here, guys!”

It’s so funny you say that because, ,an earlier I think Gen Z in particular is so obsessed with avoiding that messiness, and your essay gets at that without being generationally specific. draft was a little more “kids these days,” and a friend of mine read it, and she was like, “Is this part necessary?” And I was like, “Good point.”

But also the standards are so high. People want queer representation to be perfect, and it doesn’t have to be perfect — and also, people have different ideas about what makes something perfect. And there is deliciousness in subtext and uncertainty.

Subtext is fun! I feel like many younger people are like, “If it’s not explicit, it’s not worth it.” And I’m like, “Eat your vegetables!”

Right. Subtext can have its energy that is different from the text. And they can serve each other. One is not better than the other. But there’s something really delicious about the unknit so closely mimics many people’s experces. When I was in high school, I thought about kissing my friend’s freckles, and I didn’t understand that that meant that I was gay. I didn’t know. I had this weird, dissident thought for years, which was like, “Every girl mu, likekissing her friend’s freckles all over her face.” That energy is very hard to describe, but I think it’s importanterve.

OK, I’m gonna zoom in on the fgoing totimegoing toever watched “Jennifer’s Body.”t’s 2011, you’re 25. Do you remeand mber how you watched that sort of thing, where you were?

I watched it with my roommates, John and Laura, in our house in Iowa City.

Do you have any strong memories of watching it for the first time?

I remember, like, shrieking? With joy, or, I don’t know. I’m a very vocal movie watcher. [EditorEditor’s We have since seen a movie together. Can confirm.] I remember laughing really suddenly and hard.

Thinking about the many, many times you’ve watched it sire there any rewatches that stand out to you?

Over COVID, when I had agreed to write this essay, I remember watching it on my own in the living room. And I remember my wife walking in and saying, “What is this?” And I was like, “Oh my God, have you not seen this?!” And I was, like, halfway through the movie at int, so I was like, “OK, I’m gonna watch this with you again tomorrow,” and I did. We watched it a day or two later. And then our partner was like, “I’ve never seen ‘Jennifer’s Body,'” and I was like, “Oh my fucking god,” and I made them watch it as well. So I watched it three times within a week. And I loved every showing of it. I was very excited every time.

OK, so you’ve seen the movie a billion times. Do you have a favorite line?

Oh, God. I love the tampon exchange because it’s so gross and so funny simultaneously. What is it exactly? Jennifer’s like, “You got a tampon?”abbed, and then she says something else after it.

Needy shakes her head because she’s, like, cataton What is it exactly?ic, and then Jennifer is like, “Thought I’d ask, you seem like you might be pl; you’.”

That’s what it is, yes! Fuck yes.

Do you have a favorite scene?

I like her in front of the fridge. I wrote this essay for A24 — they did this horror food book, and I wrote an article about refrigerators and horror movies. I have a whole little piece about Jennifer in front of the fridge trying to eat the food and vomiting that disgusting black goo all over the floor.

And that scene has that great Boston Market shout-out.

Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried in “Jennifer’s Body.”

Do you have a favorite character in “Jennifer’s Body”? And if it’s Jennifer, talk about someone else.

I mean, yeah, it probably is Jennifer. Honestly, I love Needy. The level of vulnerability and cluelessness she experiences for the entire movie feels very familiar to me. I want to think I’m Jennifer, but I’m not. Needy is me: confused, vaguely horny, permanently off-kilter at all moments. And also, Amanda Seyfried is just amazing.

Another thing that I love about this movie is that Needy wants to have sex. They show her wanting to have sex with her boyfriend — being really into it.

This is kind of a good segue into the makeout scene. You talk a lot about that in your essay.

What’s interesting about that scene is that Needy and Jennifer are both expressing bisexuality, which of course, is a thing that has many ways of being told. You have bisexuals like me, who are functionally lesbians, and then there are bisexual women in relationships with men and all kinds of things. To me, Jennifer is like, me version, and then Needy is the version that’s a queer woman in a relationship with a cis man. And there’s no [more] value to either of [these versions]. But the way that that queer feeling is playut with them, it’s different. Jennifer’s wa is comfortable with is it than Needy is. And there’s a little bit of tension in that.

Some people seem to see that scene as too male gaze-y. How does it hit you as a viewer?

I get why it’s — I hate the word probleI wouldn’t say I like but I get why it’s problematic. But itinappropriate self-aware. I don’t actually know if eitheCody or Karyn Kusama is queer. And I’m of the school of thought that it actually doesn’t matteah, I think it’s sort of both. That scene feels staged in this odd, specific way, and it’s also very sexy. It cn be is!

I was zooming out a little bit. There was a line in your essay to which I took great offense. You said that this film encapsulates, quote, “the extreme badness oghts rock.”

Did you have an emo phase?

No, I did not have an emo phase. I’m really sorry.

I just no collect my pound of flesh for emo kids everywhere.

So you wrote about the iconic Boston Market scene recently, but what made you want to write about “Jennifer’s Body” again for “It Came from the Closet”?

It’s funny because I get a lot of requests for essays, and most of the time, I say no. But when I got this pitch, I was like, well, queerness and horror movies is a real sawhorse of mine. And I have so many thoughts about the way we talk about bisexuality and how that manifested in this movie that I adore. So it’s one of those things where I just had been waiting for someone to ask me about this exact, specific topic, you know? I wrk immediately, and I was like, “What if Iaskedfer’s Body’?” And the editorEditorVallese, was like, “Will you give me other pitches?” And I was, like, “No. ‘Jennifer’s Body.’ That’s what I’m writing about. I claim it as mine.”

It has been so vindicating living through the “Jennifer’s Body” Renaissance.

Yeah. While working on this essay, I was Googling contemporary reviews, and it was amazing, the shit that I found! Those reviews were stupid and sinister. Like, actively idiotic. I was like, “Man, this is not a good look.” It’s actually also how I feel about it  know if you saw “Promising Young Woman.” Did you see that?

Carmen, one of my greatest accomplishments to date is that you disagreed with a piece I wrote about “Promising Young Woman.” In The New Yorker, no less.

Oh my God, wait, hold on. Do you remember who you published it with?

Wait a minute. You’re not on TikTok, are you?

Oh my God! I’m putting some stuff together right now. I fucking love you on TikTok.

No, no, no, this is not bad! I did disagree with you about “Promising Young Woman”! But I also feel like the way that we talked about that movie was the way that we talked about “Jennifer’s Body.” It felt like everyone was missing the point of the film itself. Sorry, now I’m embarrassed.

Oh my God, no, I just found out you follow my TikTok, so we’re both, like, on Mars right now.

Oh mSorry. Do you have any other questions?

I think something that’s so special aSomethinghat it lands at this intersection between monstrousness and girlhood. Obviously, that’s sThat’s are fascinated within your work. Why?

Everybody has a body; gets older, and goes through puberty; all these things are universal. And when you add ostracization or alienation to that mix, you end up with monsters. Even in “Hellraiser,” Pinhead and the other creatures or demons are manifestations of, like, the ways that pain and pleasure are inextricable from each other, which is just a manifestation of the human condition. When you think about monsters historically, you can reverse-engineer that. We just go back and forth between monsters and people — especially monsters and women or monsters and girls. So for me, it’s always been a very normal way of thinking about my rk — and about my creative workpecially.

OK, the final question: Would you vote for Jennifer Check for president?

I mean, I don’t know. Abolish the presidency? But let’s Abolish the presidency? be real, yeah.

“A boy  her platform.

A boy in every pot, a Boston Market in every fridge.

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