The horror genre is an amazing place to explore the horrible stuff society does to the “other,” so, its ability to depict feminist storylines is rife with opportunity.
Now, not all horror is created equal. There are plenty of films that are not feminist friendly. The whole “have sex and get murdered” slasher shtick is hardly progressive (but sure is a lot of fun) and gory torture porn is nothing more than a boring, story-empty 90-minute waste. But there are many classic films in the genre that allow female characters to shine (even if some of these ladies are a bit deranged).
Of course, there are different ways that feminism can be displayed in horror. Some displays of feminism are brutal and gory, while others are just plain fun.
“I Spit on Your Grave” is one of the most empowering horror films ever made. Jennifer, a writer, is brutally attacked and sexually assaulted by a group of men. After the attacks, though, Jennifer seeks revenge. Sure, this is a rape-revenge film at its heart, but I’ll be darned if people call it exploitive and simple. This film is hard to watch because it is so real. But Jennifer is never exploited in the film – she is the every woman – she is every female who has ever been sexually assaulted. And while, sure, all sexual assault victims don’t get the chance to exact their revenge on their attackers, it is fine that Jennifer does – her attacks are meant to be cathartic. The fact that she doesn’t allow these brutal attacks to change her, or break her, is incredibly empowering.
On the lighter end of the strong feminist character in horror, we’ve got “Frankenhooker.” Now, at first glance (and by just looking at the film’s cover) you may say, “OK – that’s a nearly naked lady on the cover – how is this feminist?” It is! The film follows Jeffery, the depression stricken fiancé of Elizabeth, as he tries to rebuild his former love out of Manhattan sex workers (stick with me). Needless to say, the plan doesn’t go so well. As we watch Elizabeth “get to know” her new body, all the typical silly stuff occurs – she tries to remember who she is, ends up dabbling in sex work and wonders how the heck she got the body of a Playboy model. Once she puts all the pieces together, though, she is a force to be reckoned with. In the end, she gets the chance to rebuild her boyfriend and make him “better” and more “attractive” after he befalls a deadly attack. Needless to say, Elizabeth gives as good as she gets, and does so with authority, and in heels, no less.
“Phenomena” is a film that’s right in the middle of feminist horror. It’s not silly, but it’s not serious – it’s just right. The film follows Jennifer as she gets her footing at a new, Swiss boarding school. Just as she arrives, a string of gory murders starts to pick up. Jennifer, however, is armed with a special tool to help her ward off the killer – she can communicate with insects. Through her intelligence, quick thinking, and calmness, Jennifer is able unmask the murderer and survive her experience at the boarding school unscathed, and stronger than she was before she arrived.
If you’re still thirsty for some more great female-fronted horror films, here are a few more suggestions:
“Silence of the Lambs”
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Image: Hannes Engelbrecht