A few weeks ago, I was watching Rob Zombie’s 2007 “Halloween” remake on my computer. I can’t tell you what I thought of the film as a whole, though, because my laptop failed before the ending. And by failed I mean that I slammed my laptop closed in a fit of rage.
After counting three or four useless shots of exposed breasts, suffering through a revolting violent scene in which a female mental patient is raped and losing a good bit of peripheral hearing from being submitted to 20 minutes of the nonstop shrieking of various female victims, I had had enough.
I’m a huge fan of horror flicks and slasher movies, be they age-old classics, ’80s zombie movies like “Evil Dead” or even tacky contemporary scary movies (with the exception of “Saw V,” which is terrible even for my low standards). But it’s become apparent that, in too many horror films, the female characters are pigeonholed into this archaic damsel-in-distress role, wailing helplessly and running around frantically with as little thought as a cockroach scurrying in zigzags around a garage.
Consider director Alexandre Aja’s 2006 gory thriller, “The Hills Have Eyes.” The movie involves three primary female roles, and the director and the writers succeeded in undermining the competence of every potential heroine. Mom? Annihilated in the first few seconds of chaos. Older sister? Also killed quickly, with an altogether repulsive and unnecessary forced adult-breastfeeding scene. Finally, after a degrading, horrifying, but altogether unsurprising rape scene at this point in scary movie history, the younger sister goes on to bludgeon one of the mutants toward the end of the film — and about time, too.
Hollywood has developed a tendency to over-hype the sexuality and femininity of women in horror movies by forcing them into unnecessary, sexually exploitative scenes. In addition, the habit of projecting them as utterly senseless and physically incapacitated is not just sexist — it’s inaccurate.
Though white males have predominated in serial killer history, plenty of female villains have earned the notoriety and fear factor necessary to inspire a scary movie. If filmmakers have any grasp of sexual equality or even artistic innovation, they’ll consider casting more female culprits to diversify a dying genre that already relies too heavily on remakes, American versions of foreign horror movies and generally stupid ideas — I mean, “House of Wax” starring Paris Hilton? Come on.
Infamous serial killer Ed Gein, well-known for creating masks from the skin of his victims, has inspired more than a few handfuls of scary movies. Ed Gein’s fear-inspiring antics are the basis for “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” “Psycho,” “Silence of the Lambs” and several documentaries just to name a few examples.
But arguably the most infamous of female serial killers, Hungarian countess Elizabeth Bathory — who bathed in the blood of young girls in a misguided attempt to preserve her youth — only appears in one scary movie that I can think of off the top of my head. Being that this film is the pathetic failure of a horror film “Stay Alive,” centering on a video game that claims lives, this is no credit to Bathory’s name as a female villain legend.
This is not to glorify serial killers in the least — rather, my purpose is simply to point out a discrepancy in the roles of female characters in horror movies that is representative of a lingering sexism in Hollywood and a larger imbalance in society’s perception of gender roles.
User Yeldebarb68 sums up women’s confined roles on a Flixter.com discussion board thread about female villains by noting: “I know some friends who say that they could never find a female horror villain to be as scary as male ones.”
This is apparent, given the staggering disproportion of male horror villains in comparison to female ones. But the really sad part of this comment follows: “I have other friends who have said to me that female villains scare them more, because it is more ‘normal’ and ‘understandable’ to see a male psycho, whereas a female one must be really and truly messed up to be acting like that.”
I might have a twisted concept of equality, but I resent the apparently widespread sentiment that women are incapable of the same degree of wrongdoing as men are.
But this isn’t really important. I can live with the fact that the horror movie industry is not showing a fair number of female villains. What really bothers me is the diminishing proportion of female heroines.
In all time-defying classic horror movies, women have played a more respectable role. Though doe-like and reserved, Wendy from “The Shining” ultimately proves to be a strong character and Stephen King’s “Carrie” will never lose its cult status for the same reason. And foreign film “High Tension” is a truly disturbing mind-twister that features both a calculating female villain and an enduring female survivor.
Ultimately, scary movies with smart, capable female characters will survive in movie culture much longer than breasts-galore pop films like “Hostel,” simply because viewers can enjoy the flick for more than spoof value.
Despite being an undying horror film fanatic, I’m giving up on one genre — the prototypical slasher films that just involve half an hour of a scantily-clad female victim screaming and limping around helplessly. Because I know that if I were stranded in the middle of the desert with a bunch of flesh-eating, thieving inbred mutants after me, I could hold my own.
Asst. Editorials Editor Catherine Cai is a College freshman from Atlanta.