[Editor’s Note: Because these are all horror movies, issuing trigger warnings for each one in this post would be nearly impossible. However, we can provide a link to the new website movietriggers.com, an easily-searchable database being built to provide complete warnings for films.]
Happy Halloween, y’all! I hope this year’s All Hallow’s Eve finds you with some spare time to dress up, eat candy, and watch scary movies without having to encounter too much bullshit. (Seriously white people, quit it with the Indian Princess get ups and the black face. Stop it. Forever.)
I know we’ve touched on costumes in the past here at OK4RJ, so this year I decided to sift through horror movies and their deeper implications. While I’d like to focus on all the ways horror portrays and dissects race, gender, and orientation, I’m afraid I don’t have enough viewings under my belt just yet, and you probably didn’t expect to read a book on this! So, for this Halloween, I wanted to focus on horror films and their depictions, or lack thereof, of misogyny.
In recent years, there are have been a ton of films to come out that depict women as strong, resilient, and resourceful, certainly the equals if not superior, in strength and intellect of male counterparts. I wanted to recommend some great films that show women fighting the good fight, as well as warn you, dear readers, away from some utter garbage.
“Teeth” is a cult classic about a high school student with some, yep, vagina dentata. “Teeth” is a good example of how misogyny can blatantly be portrayed in such a way that the viewer comes away feeling that female lead will survive and conquer some hardcore stuff, rather than being left to suffer.
“Death Proof,” of the Grindhouse Tarantino/Ramirez collaboration, is another film where misogyny is loudly depicted and critiqued. Stuntman Mike, played perfectly by Kurt Russell, is one of the most terrifying movie villains in my opinion, with a very distinct hatred and obsession with women. Interestingly, a lot of viewers were unhappy with the film, complaining that there was too much dialogue. This critique is especially interesting, as the dialogue helps to reinforce that all of Stuntman Mike’s targets are human beings, with thoughts, plans, and inside jokes. Rather than focusing on gore, gore, gore, Tarantino made the character development front and center, so that for viewers like myself, no death was unimportant.
“Ginger Snaps“ has a place in my heart for being the best horror movie about puberty and the silly romanticizing society does about ‘womanhood’. “Jennifer’s Body,” another tongue in cheek film about high school girls, uses possession as a metaphor for the struggles of growing up and apart from friends, body image, and relationships. Not as scary as Ginger Snaps, but still a bloody, funny good time.
Films such as “Alien“ (Sigourney Weaver 4eva!) and “Absentia” are powerful not because they depict and focus on sexism, but because they depict strong characters battling otherworldly menaces without the old tropes of women being weaker than men, dying due to sexual impurity, falling for the bad guy, etc. Other genres could definitely take cues.
“The Shining,” “Antichrist,“ and “Rosemary’s Baby“ ultimately leave the viewer, or me anyway, with the message that marriage can be hell.. It’s interesting that many view “The Shining”‘s lead female as somehow being weak; to me, this reaction reflects the ongoing problem of victim-blaming in this country, albeit with a twist. ‘Gee lady, why didn’t you run out into the blizzard sooner and leave your husband-monster?? You’re such a bad mother.’ The fact that people loved and imitated Jack Nicholson’s character while reviling his innocent wife is rather telling about our society. Ahem. The scariest part of “Rosemary’s Baby” is the asshole husband. Screw that guy. “Antichrist,” on the other hand, makes all women basically weak and evil deep down. Not Lars Von Trier’s best film, for sure.
But definitely the best movie poster by David D’Andrea.
“American Mary“ is an interesting attempt at the tragic hero story but alas, the depictions of sexual assault are beyond graphic and difficult to watch (though by no means romanticized, thank goodness.) The film, written and directed by the Soska Sisters, aims to to show the struggles of an American med student sinking under the weight of debt, abuse, and difficult decisions. Alas, the lead character succumbs to rage and violence, and it’s hard to continue cheering her on when she kills innocents. “American Mary” had a lot of potential, but alas, leaves the viewer disappointed and frustrated. I commended the intentions, though.
On the other hand, we have two utterly terrible films based on Jack Ketchum novels. The first, “The Girl Next Door,” depicts a fictionalized version of the Sylvia Likens murder. The film invests little time developing the victim as a character, instead choosing to depict her demise in horrific detail. There is absolutely nothing to be gleaned from the film; this is exploitation, pure and simple.
Likewise, “The Lost“ does little to explore the characters; all of the women are abused and ultimately destroyed by the sociopath main character. The deaths are brutal and gory, but there’s nothing to take away. Like “The Girl Next Door,” “The Lost” seems to give the message that life is dangerous and brutal for girls and women, and there’s just no hope. Only dudes survive.
“Dead Girl“ had the potential to teach us a lesson about the way males dehumanize women for sexual sport, but ultimately, we are once again left with the message that it just always sucks to be a woman. Even a dead woman.
Now, I must admit, I have a soft spot for witch films, but there are some rather unfortunate implications in many. The original “Wicker Man“ is an amusing exception that focused more on tensions between pagans and Christians, but for some reason, the recent version with Nicholas Cage decided to depict the pagans as just a bunch of bitter, man-hating ladies. What the hell? Then again, I didn’t expect much from a horror film with Nicholas Cage.
Except “Vampire’s Kiss,” best horror movie of time.
“The Conjuring,” while damned scary and entertaining in a dark room, is problematic for two major reasons. First, it claims to be based on historical events, and yet it reiterates the legend of a woman who supposedly sacrificed a child to the Devil because, you know, witchcraft and stuff. The real woman in question was never tried and punished, but here’s the thing, thousands of people, mainly women, WERE, and none of them actually practiced the devil worshipping, fabricated witchcraft they were accused of. Furthermore, the evil spirit of the dead woman is pitted against the mother of the family residing in the house, who tells us that child bearing is, like, the greatest power women have. Um, vomit.
The “Paranormal Activity“ movies are shockingly creepy in their simplicity (if, like me, you dig found footage style films). However, they ultimately have been building around a story line of witches obsessed with offering up a male heir. Whatever.
As for films that have little, or nothing to do, with sexism (if you’ve just had your fill in real life) I can recommend “Nosferatu” (both versions), “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” “Dead Snow,” “Troll Hunter,” “Cabin in the Woods,” and the low budget but awesome “Resolution.”
Erin still has so, so many films on her To Watch list.