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 in my life, 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 certainly didn’t hurt, either.
If I could condense all the reasons I love “Jennifer’s Body” into book form, it would probably look a lot like “Her Body and Other Parties” by Carmen Maria Machado. It’s transgressive and sexy and genre-defying, and it was clearly written by someone who loves both horror and women. When I learned that Machado would be releasing 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.
Machado’s essay, “Both Ways,” uses the film to explore common conceptions of bisexuality. Where does queerness end and begin? Is it really 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, obviously, and I was intrigued when you said you note “Jennifer’s Body” “among” your favorite horror movies. What are some of the others?
Just off the top of my head, “Alien” is definitely one of my favorites. I have a soft spot for the original “Nightmare on Elm Street.” “Midsommar” is another huge favorite of mine.
What started your fascination with horror movies?
When I was a kid, I would go into Blockbuster with my family and I would always 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 anxious adult — I was so drawn to it. It’s a complicated emotional state that’s kind of hard to articulate unless you’re a horror person.
I have a hypothesis that you’re either a horror movie person or a roller coaster person.
Oh I mean, I’m both.
I absolutely cannot do roller coasters.
See, but in some ways, they’re kind of variations on the same thing. It’s like a controlled horror, right? Roller coasters are incredibly safe. They are terrifying, but they’re very, very safe, technically speaking, and no one’s died from a horror movie yet, right? I think both of them 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 was making a lot of bad choices in 2009. I got swine flu in 2009; I was still dating men in 2009. I think I actually saw it in like, 2011, so I was in a different kind of bad place. But I remember being so taken with it, like, so surprised by it. I watched it on kind of a whim and was just 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 or not. I basically 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 really appreciated the ending of your essay, where 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 really aware that Megan Fox was bisexual.
This all kind of crystallized as I was working on the essay. I was just thinking about how we really don’t know ourselves sometimes. 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 was 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. It’s wild how you’re basically a work in progress and 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 a deliciousness in subtext and uncertainty.”
Totally. I think Gen Z in particular is so obsessed with avoiding that messiness, and your essay gets at that without being generationally specific. I see queer media held to such a high standard these days and I’m like, “I’m just happy to be here, guys!”
It’s so funny you say that, because actually an earlier 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 a deliciousness in subtext and uncertainty.
Subtext is really fun! I feel like a lot of 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 own energy that is different from text. And they can serve each other. One is not better than the other. But there’s something really delicious about the unknown, because it so closely mimics many people’s experiences. Like 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 must think about kissing her friend’s freckles all over her face.” That energy is very hard to describe, but I think it’s important to preserve.
OK, I’m gonna zoom in on the first time you ever watched “Jennifer’s Body.” So it’s 2011, you’re 25. Do you remember how you watched it, where you were, that sort of thing?
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. [Editor’s note: We have since seen a movie together. Can confirm.] I remember laughing really suddenly and really hard.
Thinking about the many, many times you’ve watched it since, are there any rewatches that stand out to you?
Over COVID, when I had actually 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 that point, 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 also 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 at this point. Do you have a favorite line?
Oh, God. I actually love the tampon exchange, because it’s so gross and so funny at the same time. What is it exactly? Jennifer’s like, “You got a tampon?” after she’s been stabbed, and then she says something else after it.
Needy just shakes her head because she’s, like, catatonic, and then Jennifer is like, “Thought I’d ask, you seem like you might be pluggin’.”
That’s what it is, yes! Fuck yes.
Do you have a favorite scene?
I like her in front of the fridge. I actually wrote this essay for A24 — they did this horror food book and I wrote an essay about refrigerators and horror movies, and I have a whole little piece about Jennifer in front of the refrigerator 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.
Yes! Oh God, so fun.
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 that she experiences for basically 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, sort of 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 expressed. You have bisexuals like me, who are functionally lesbians, and then there are bisexual women in relationships with men and all kinds of things in between. To me, Jennifer is like, the 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 playing out with them, it’s different. Jennifer’s way more comfortable with 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 problematic, but I get why it’s problematic. But it also feels self-aware. I don’t actually know if either Diablo Cody or Karyn Kusama are queer. And I’m of the school of thought that it actually doesn’t matter. But yeah, I think it’s sort of both. That scene feels staged in this odd, specific way, and it’s also very sexy. It can be both!
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 of mid-aughts rock.”
You disagree with me?
Did you have an emo phase?
No, I did not have an emo phase. I’m really sorry.
I just needed to 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 just 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 wrote back immediately and I was like, “What if I do ‘Jennifer’s Body’?” And the editor, Joe Vallese, 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. When I was working on this essay, I was Googling contemporaneous 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 — I don’t 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, shit. Uh, yes, I am.
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 felt like the way that we talked about “Jennifer’s Body.” It felt like everyone was sort of 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 my God. Sorry. Did you have any other questions?
I think something that’s so special about “Jennifer’s Body” is that it lands at this intersection between monstrousness and girlhood. Obviously, that’s something that you are fascinated with in your work. Why?
Everybody has a body, everybody gets older, everybody goes through puberty, all these things are universal. And when you add ostracization or alienation to that mix, you just end up with monsters. Even in “Hellraiser,” Pinhead and the other creatures or demons are sort of 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 kind of 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 own work — and about my creative work, especially.
OK, the final question: Would you vote for Jennifer Check for president?
I mean, I don’t know. Abolish the presidency? But let’s be real, yeah.
“A boy in every fridge,” that’s her platform.
A boy in every pot, a Boston Market in every fridge.