Sunday, February 28

Women and Horror Movies

Through mere coincidence I stumbled over the site “Women in Horror Month” while browsing the blog at “The F-Word”, just as I usually do.

At first, I was quite surprised. Why would someone (officially or not) dedicate a whole month to the topic of women in horror? So I checked the site, read the manifest and soon realized they were actually right, for various reasons.

First of all, most horror stories (movies and otherwise) do not work completely without women. Horror is, to a certain degree at least, always about sex. (Just as it always is about death. According to Freud those two forces don’t exist without another – and at least for horror, this is true.) It’s about the monster (whatever the monster might be, take your pick) threatening the heroine and the hero coming in to rescue her (or not, horror movies don’t have to end happy). It threatens her with death, ultimately, but in the short run those threats usually have some sexual component as well. The vampire, of course, is seducer par excellence. He’s having sex with his (or her) victims without even opening the pants. He brings both, ecstasy and death. The werewolf has a more direct approach, not seducing, but simply taking (in other words: raping) the victims and then completing the act by tearing the flesh from their bones and devouring it. This might be the reason why female werewolves are so rare: our society can live with the female vampire as a seductress, but not with the female werewolf as a rapist (of men, possibly, as it would be far stronger than them). As Stephen King pointed out in “Danse Macabre”, most classical posters for horror movies feature a variety of a simple theme, presenting to us the monster holding an unconscious (and thus helpless) beauty in its arm. (Or threatening her in a way while she wears her time’s equivalent of the most revealing thing you can wear without being called a slut. Ripped dresses are always fashionable in such a situation, ripped night gowns are very popular, especially for vampire movies.)

The logical next step from this onwards is the fact that you only survive in a horror movie (especially as a women) if you are virtuous. That means no drugs, no alcohol and no sex – though Rock’n’Roll might just be allowed. (In slasher movies, which concentrate on teens, both as main characters and audience, the final girl usually is still a virgin.) Women in horror movies thus are portrayed as naive most of the time. They are innocent (whether they’re still helpless in the end, depends on the type of movie, the final girl in the slasher movies has to grow up and become self-dependent to survive), sweet and in need of a saviour. Women who are not virtuous, are either villains themselves (as Dracula’s brides) or get killed by the monster.

In addition, though, women and horror movies go together on another level. Most people (at least most people in the media) seem to think women are not interested in horror movies at all (except perhaps for “Twilight”, but I won’t go down this alley, not this time). I beg to differ, I was interested immensely in horror movies as a teenager and still like watching them every now and then today. I still read horror novels (and can’t even remember how often I’ve read “Dracula” by now). And from occasional talks to other people, I know I’m not the only one.

This idea (women don’t like horror movies) seems to be based on an old prejudice: women are helpless and fearful little things who would be scared to death by anything remotely like horror. Are we? No, certainly not.

Women do write, direct and act in horror movies. Without them, the industry would miss quite something. Women do write horror novels, too (and not just the “Twilight” variety). Yet, they are seldom reckoned as a force in the business, at least not by the media. And if they are, they are usually associated with ‘horror light’ or “Lifetime Horror” as they call it on the website mentioned above. Consider February as the “Women in Horror Month” from now onwards and remember that there’s no such thing as horror without them.


Women in Horror Month said...

Thank you so much for writing about Women in Horror Recognition Month!

I do want to say though that a great female warewolf movie is Ginger Snaps. Totally feminist & awesome <3

xox Hannah

Toff said...

The Curse (1999) is a good low budget companion to Ginger Snaps as well. Out of print, though.

Cay Reet said...

Thank you both for pointing out "Ginger Snaps" (though I know the movie and like it very much). Still, in the minds of most people the werewolf is always male - while female vampires happen at least every now and then.