Since when is there Feminist Horror? (From Ladyween)
[Retroject the Final Girl into HPL?]
A very long thread from a personal blog .. much to parse:
Never In my critical life have I thought about horror movies being feminist or misogynist … I am very excited to see a genre film get this much press, but why I don’t understand is why suddenly a strong female role in a horror film is getting so much attention simply for existing?
[Early vs. Recent Horror : Exotic Other vs. Underside of Familiar]
Horror, since its inception was about scaring and shocking the masses. In the beginning it took an almost mythological stance by bringing Nosferatu, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and The Wolfman to the forefront. It was about giving the audience a scare of shock from a far off land that because of its ambiguity, was entirely plausible in the minds of a naive filmgoer. Flash forward to the revolutionary 70s and the shock came at the viewer from a different angle. It was about scaring the viewer by means of discovering the darker side of life to the point of exaggeration. This is when the concept and staple of “The Final Girl” was invented and perfected.
[The Final Girl Anatomized]
Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Vernon
… “The Final Girl” is exactly what you think it is. Like Halloween (78) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (84), it was the last surviving member of the horrifying ordeal who happened to be a girl. In many ways, she varied from her peers in the film due to her cunning and of course, her preoccupation with anything else besides just getting laid. Although she doesn’t appear like it from the beginning, she is often the strongest character AND the one that is quick to adapt and overcome this week’s bad ass. A lot of the time when speaking about the final girl, the talk about phallic and yonic come into play (as in Behind the Mask: The Rise of Vernon) where as the Final Girl must “arm” herself with something phallic to match wits with this week’s bad ass.
Examples of the Final Girl
Ripley in Alien, Nancy from Elm Street, Sara Connor in Terminator
There are plenty of strong female characters in horror from Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street to Ripley in the Alien Saga. * It had always felt to me that after the 1960’s, horror was about breaking taboos, re-writing expectations, and absolutely demolishing social boundaries*__. Usually done for low budgets at secondary film studios, the films could get away with subject matter that no major studio would dare touch because it was too taboo. The rise of steroid injected freakishly large action heroes were counteracted in the horror genre with teenage girls who could survive in extremely harsh circumstances. Eventually the major studios did include Ripley (Aliens) and Sarah Conner (Terminator, T2) but this was long after the change was made and pretty much only to show the boys that anyone can play this game.
No one is excited and enthralled by a strong female main character who takes back their power from a male perspective to ultimately take revenge on them because it’s been done before.
[A Defence of Irresponsibility]
I believe that when you have made the choice to see a horror film, you know pretty well what you’re getting yourself into. Maybe subconsciously you want to see some inherent misogyny and complete exploitation of women by some big bad evil guy hacking their nubile bodies into bits and if so, they hey man go for it. That seems to pretty much be the most understated definition of horror anyway. You want to see an alien burst out of someone’s stomach? Well hell, then go for it. You want to see a woman reenact her revenge on a group of men who raped her in the most horrible way imaginable? We got that too! You want to see a completely tasteless film that plays to the lowest common denominator? Go nuts. The fact is the films are there if you want to see them and no one is forcing you to.
Movies post by Lindsay BaltusAfter scouring the internets and various video stores, I’ve managed to come up with a list of horror films with solid feminist themes. Take that, you unkillable misogynist slashers
Ginger Snaps (2000)
Ginger and Brigitte are sisters who are into faking their own deaths and avoiding high school homogeneity. When Ginger gets her period for the first time, she and Brigitte are a little worried that puberty might transform them into the normy girls they love to hate (Ginger: “If I start simpering around tampon dispensers, moaning about PMS, shoot me, okay?”). Turns out Ginger has no reason to worry about becoming “average,” because just as she starts bleeding for the first time, she gets chomped by a werewolf. Lycanthropy as a metaphor for puberty (in this film a dreaded transformation) is what makes Ginger Snaps awesome, along with its discussion of the complexities of relationships between girls. … The best campy feminist horror film you can see.
May is about May, who has a lazy eye as a child and wears an eye patch. Her mother tells her that if she wants to make friends, she’d better cover the patch with her hair, but May has a hard time keeping her hair in her face and thus makes no friends. As an adult, she still has no friends, except a super creepy doll in a glass box which she can NEVER TAKE OUT, OR ELSE. May thinks that people have “beautiful parts, but no beautiful wholes,” she’s really good at sewing, and she thinks it’s no big deal when the limbs of animals are chopped off, sooo I’ll let you guess where this is going. What’s feminist about this? Well, like Ginger Snaps, May is about a woman struggling to exist outside of socially acceptable boundaries, although unfortunately for May, that existence is extremely difficult and ultimately impossible. It’s also interesting that May’s feeling of rejection isn’t gender-specific: she wants the love of both men and women. If you can’t get behind those as feminist themes, perhaps you’ll take your enjoyment in May as a lady character who isn’t squeamish about chopping people up.
Slumber Party Massacre (1982)
If it were 1982, you were like 14 years old, and you and some buddies decided to settle down to watch Slumber Party Massacre, you might think it a pretty standard slasher film. The plot is straightforward and easy to follow and the story has absolutely no twists. What happens is this: a bunch of pretty teenage girls played by actors in their mid-twenties get together for night of giggling in their jammies, and a not very scary older guy with a power tool comes and kills them all. What makes this film interesting from a feminist perspective is its subtle critique of the slasher genre. This isn’t quite parody: you have to pay attention to see the incongruities that act as clues. Director Amy Holden Jones knowingly leaves windows wide open and has her characters run into closets when they have plenty of room to run out of the house. She gives the killer absolutely no mystery: he’s just some guy with a big drill, no mask or anything. The phallic nature of his weapon is consciously highlighted: one shot from behind shows the drill between his legs as he gets ready to kill a victim. But as other critics have mentioned, SPM doesn’t leave its genre. For example, the boobs and butts and legs on gratuitous display are meant to please, just as they’re meant to comment on their own presence. Did I mention the script for this film was written by Rita Mae Brown?
The Company of Wolves (1984)
Based on the story by Angela Carter, who also co-wrote the screenplay. The Carter story, in turn, is based on Little Red Riding Hood, so what we’ve got here is a film that takes the latent sexual messages in the fairy tale, illustrates them clearly, and then subverts the shit out of them. Red Riding Hood, named Rosaleen in this film, carefully navigates the “forest” of puberty, having been warned by her grandmother to watch out for the sexy men-wolves. I watched this film with my roommates, who insisted that it’s actually fantasy, not horror, I guess because it isn’t scary enough. And it’s true that aside from a handful of weird and bloody lycanthropic scenes, the film is more a spooky meditation on the fear of the unknown than a graphic illustration of the things we’re afraid of. But what’s a horror movie about anyway, if not fear of the unknown? The Company of Wolves, with its labyrinthine story-within-a-story structure, considers that unknown (darkness, the animal world, and most importantly for its teenaged protagonist, sex) without yanking it out of its hiding spot. Lots of metaphor and loaded imagery here, which sometimes verges on the obvious: in a scene straight out of Are You Afraid of the Dark, a bunch of creepy dolls crash to the floor to signify loss of innocence. I’d expect nothing less from a film that Carter was involved with. Bonus: Angela Lansbury plays the grandmother!
High Tension is a really well-made horror movie, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it feminist, especially because of it’s SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER repressed lesbian killer.
Horror Film’s “Final Girls” as Feminists
Posted by Nic (not verified) on October 15, 2010 – 1:33pm
I love Ginger Snaps and it is definitely a feminist film for me. But I was surprised that the article didn’t consider Laurie Strode from the film, “Halloween.” She actually successfully fends off Jason using typical household items like a knitting needle and a clothes hanger. What is awesome about Laurie is that she uses these items that are aligned with domesticity as weapons that actually slow Jason down. Laurie is a way more effective a fighter than the Dr. Loomis who is ineffectual at stopping Jason. Even though she is crying and panicking while using these weapons, she doesn’t let these emotions paralyze her. It is awesome that she can express such emotion and still be an active agent that slows down and physically harms this monstrous figure which is much more than any of the male characters in the film do. So Halloween actually depicts a monstrous patriarchy that gets its ass kicked by a woman wielding the very domestic trappings that it uses to confine women.
*Death as Punishment
Yes, that is that Halloween. Michael’s first victim is his sister who he kills after she has sex. And then he kills another woman and puts his sister’s headstone at the head of the bed he lays her on for Jamie Lee’s character to find. That is one of the problematic ideological messages of the film that Jamie Lee’s character is successful at fighting back because she is sexually innocent or pure. Nevertheless the film depicts a woman who successfully fights back against a psycho that kills sexually active women. It’s not perfect but a lot of films, even feminist ones, are not. Sometimes it is hard when there are competing ideologies at work in a film that creates shades of grey and ambiguities which can actually be the most pleasurable and painful moments of a film.
Also I recommend Jacques Tourneur/Val Lewton’s Cat People. The original not the remake. It is about a woman from Serbia who believes that she is descended from a long line of cat people. At first, she refuses to marry her boyfriend out of fear that her sexual desire will devour him. Nevertheless, she marries him but refuses to be intimate with him. Frustrated by the lack of affection and sex, he sends her to a predatory psychologist who puts the moves on her rather than help her with her problems. Meanwhile, her husband looks to another woman to satisfy his sexual desires. Irena kills the psychologists, and then makes an attempt to eliminate the woman who is attempting to take her husband from her. Yet, Irena’s attack on the “other woman” isn’t successful, but rather she stalks the other woman which actually mirrors the sexual predatoriness of the psychologist. So the film suggest that Irena’s lack of affection toward her husband is her resistance to not only the confines of marriage and domesticity, but heterosexuality. Of course the ending of the film is problematic as is its depiction of female-female desire, but for me it is still a feminist horror film.
Dracula’s Daughter also very good. It is interesting what sexual politics are at work when it is a female vampire rather than a male vampire.
“Horror is, first and foremost, a feminist vehicle. We used it first to illustrate our struggle, and we use it still. We are, after all, the Other!”
I couldn’t agree more! I loved the Orphanage too btw. Thanks for the other recommendations, I’ll definately be filling up my Netflix queue with these immediately. I think horror films in our time are like the stories about witches, hauntings, and other unnatural occurances that people used to tell in history. These stories demonstrate something unnatural and unbalanced in society, that something needs to be corrected in order for the disorder to stop. Granted for some people, the solution was to burn the “witch” but to me it’s an indication that society’s perception of women needs to change.
This movie had a lot of potential… and I’m very disappointed. I’ll just list what I did and did not like about this movie. (Warning: spoilers)
What I liked:
1. This movie took the sexist vagina dentata myth and twisted it in a way that it gives the female character (Dawn) power.
2. It showed that, contrary to what some people believe, rape victims aren’t attacked for “dressing provocatively” or any such nonsense, and they’re often not attacked by some stranger in a dark alley—they’re often acquaintances, someone you know, or even someone you trust (which is also appropriate for a horror movie…scary truth).
3. Showed a little bit of the ridiculousness of abstinence only education.
4. Although she is a victim at first, later she has power—unlike a lot of horror movies that demean women.
5. Dawn attacked Ryan after he very rudely picked up his phone while they were having sex and talked crudely about her, like she’s just some piece of meat.
6. It’s kinda funny in some parts.
What I did NOT like:
1. The number of times Dawn is attacked and taken advantage of is excessive.
2. The idea that a man will rape because he’s “not getting any.”
3. That, even though she was drugged and just endured some very traumatizing events, Dawn “consented” to having sex with Ryan. And even called him her “hero.” It’s as if the director doesn’t think date rape is actually rape.
4. This goes along with number 1. The amount of terrible, despicable men is excessive. The only man that doesn’t seem to have any evil intentions is Dawn’s father.
5. Some of the messages and characters weren’t very consistent.
6. It can be very uncomfortable, and even excruciating, to watch.
I’m pretty sure that Ryan’s
Posted by bruisepristine (not verified) on October 19, 2010 – 10:30pm
I’m pretty sure that Ryan’s date-rape of Dawn was actually viewed as such—at least, it was clearly rape to me, since he got bitten along with the violent rapist, the gyno who assaulted her, and the incestuous brother who molested her as a kid. Dawn called him her hero because she (temporarily) bought into the anti-feminist ideology that her scary genitalia needed a “hero” to “conquer” it, and he was there and seemed to be taking care of her. When she realized that he was using her, she chomped. I’m not certain that the character had any way of knowing that she was being raped since she’s steeped in patriarchal culture, but the fact that it was rape was pretty clear to me, and Dawn herself didn’t seem too het up about biting his dick off.
I do agree, however, that it’s a hard movie to watch because you have to see Dawn get assaulted over and over and over again, and it kind of leaves one with the impression that all men are rapists. (Did she live in Rapesville, USA or something? No wonder she went on the move after the film.) The entire premise of the film requires that a) her vagina is her only power, and b) her power is only accessible when she’s already being raped. But, I do love that it’s a horror film specifically about patriarchal sexual mythology and female rebellion against it.
Somebody mentioned “The Haunting” already, but that’s definitely an incredible example of an atmospheric, suspenseful horror film with strong, nuanced female leads. One of the female protagonists, a psychic named Theo (no last name) is a chic lesbian whose relationship to the main character is by turns sisterly, flirtatious, and antagonistic. You never “see” anything, it’s all a slow build-up of psychological terror while unearthing the demons of the main character, Eleanor.
“The Innocents” 1961 based on The Turn of the Screw, is a poisonous little tale starring Deborah Kerr as a governess who’s convinced the children under her care are being haunted/possessed. Child molestation and sexual abuse are hinted at, but it’s a very ambiguous film based on a very ambiguous novel.
“The Seventh Victim” is an incredible Val Lewton film about a young woman’s search for her missing sister. There’s a lot of interesting play with gender roles, and a really amazing scene where Jackelyn, the missing sister, insists on her right to decide when and how she dies.
I also really love “Shadow of a Doubt,” a Hitchcock movie about a girl named Charlie who discovers her beloved uncle (also Charlie) is a serial killer when he comes for an extended visit. Uncle Charlie strangles rich women for their jewelry, and there’s a really chilling scene where he delivers a deeply misogynist speech directly to the camera before being interrupted by young Charlie. Once Uncle Charlie realizes young Charlie knows about him the movie becomes a cat-and-mouse game between them where he attempts to kill her (and make it look accidental) and she feels unable to expose him for fear of breaking her mother’s heart and shattering the family. (Interesting parallels to the pressure on victims of domestic/sexual abuse to keep quiet) A tense thriller with a heroic female lead= fabulous!