In the 2012 Sony Pictures Animation film Hotel Transylvania, Adam Sadler plays the voice of Count Dracula, who builds a magnificent monster hotel where various characters of the monster genre can rest peacefully in the absence of humans. As Count Dracula’s daughter goes through her teenage roller coaster years, she becomes more and more curious about the world outside of Hotel Transylvania. She eventually falls in love with a human boy named Jonathon who stumbles upon the hotel while traveling through the woods. As Jonathon realizes that the monsters of Hotel Transylvania are “real” and that he has not in fact stumbled upon a costume party, he grapples with curiosity and difference. In two distinct scenes, Jonathon interacts with a heterosexual skeleton couple in ways that are both troubling and unnecessary to the movie’s plot. Both scenes negotiate gender and issues around consent and rely on unchallenged narratives about female bodies and male entitlement.
In the first scene with the skeleton couple, Jonathon discovers that the female skeleton is “real” after walking up to her and sticking his hand through her rib cage.
Part of the irony/humor associated with the scene relies on the skeleton’s lack of flesh, sex organs, and other constructed markers of gender, and thus her presumed lack of ability to be sexually violated. Further, the skeleton’s identity is communicated purely through performance, body language, and gestures. In this sense the skeleton’s performance of gender indicates femininity which is followed by voyeurism and entitled touching, implying that experiencing sexual violence in unavoidable while being feminine. As Jonathon slips his hand into the skeleton’s rib cage, his facial expressions indicate pleasure and curiosity. The interaction is interrupted when the female skeleton screams, slaps Jonathon, and cowers while her husband aggressively confronts him. The “male” skeleton exclaims: “Keep your hands out of my wife” rather than the more colloquially used phrase “keep your hands off of my wife”, further emphasizing the irony that they are skeletons but also playing with sexual innuendo around being inside of someone in terms of sexual intimacy.
In the second scene involving the skeletons, Count Dracula and Jonathon accidentally intrude upon the female skeleton while she is showering. While Count Dracula apologizes profusely and looks away, Jonathon continues to watch her, again with an expression of curiosity and gratification. A key point regarding this scene is that the female skeleton is being watched while bathing in her hotel room, which falls within the definition of sexual assault because she has reasonable expectation for privacy. Further, Jonathon continues to look at her although she is clearly uncomfortable which implies that he is entitled to her body for his own sexual pleasure. Once again the skeleton shrinks away and her male partner intervenes expressing ownership over his wife’s body.
In a positive sense, these scenes could push us to think of sexual assault as not being about sex, but about power and invasiveness and how victims experience assaults differently. The scenes are problematic because they imply that sexual assault is an unavoidable part of a female-identified person’s life, and that female identified people are essentially helpless without protection from males. Further, the fact that the film is in animated form allows for these interactions to be viewed outside of their more real context. These scenes present sexual voyeurism and unconsensual touching as funny and acceptable unless they offend a male who is already entitled to the female being targeted. Finally, the irony around the skeletons is that they are not considered “real” people because they lack tissue and organs; although both scenes vividly depict a violation of the body/person present, even if they are in skeleton form.