The relationship between horror and women’s sexuality with specific reference to the 1970s
The horror films genre traces its roots from people’s earliest days in which they used their vivid imaginations to see ghosts in any forms, shapes and sizes, and to feel the presence of unknown creatures in shadowy locations and be connected to the unknown world. This is because horror spurs out the fear of elemental things that are improbable. It is firmly believed that horror films serve as an easy access to the unknown and scary world and an outlet wherein one can experience the very essence of fear without being in actual danger zones.
It is conceived that horror films done with less dependence on horrifying special effects can be considered as potent movie forms which taps into people’s dream states and the horrifying implications of the irrational and unknown elements. The case of Paranormal Activity is one of the examples of horror movies with less reliance on extreme horrifying effects. As the film is being considered to be the gem-of-the-independent films, the story of the movie centers around the propped up video camera in Katie and Micah’s bedroom that serves as their witness for any unusual phenomena happening in their house which is expected to be haunted.
The footages gathered through the camera installed beat out the gore effects and popular characters which sprouted from the classic horrors and audiences of the movie have become scared witless to its realistic and minimalist approach. Resembling like a documentary horror flick, the Paranormal Activity scared viewers with the scenes which the video camera captured which have given a patina of simple realism to the fanciful events that came to the directorial mind of Oren Peli.
It is reported that the campaign to bring then film is a already a movie-industry legend with viewers gasping with shock and terror with that realistic banging of the bedroom door a couple of inches and then moving back again.
The emergence of horror films is grounded on its basic aim to defeat the irrational and destructive forces of chaos and let the viewers return to the state of normalcy appearing victorious over the monstrous alliance. Out of necessity, the classic horror films appeared in the big screen using a gothic style.
The earliest horror flicks were mostly set in spooky old mansions, haunted mansions and frightening locales. The main characters at this era have included the unknown supernatural and grotesque creatures and figures ranging from monsters, vampires, demented madmen, ghosts, mad scientists and evil dualities.
It has been said that such horrifying characters are the products of people’s dream to access the unknown and to fulfill their fantasy of getting acquainted with what the eyes can see beyond the normalcy. Horror movies developed from imaginative sources including the witchcraft, fables, folktales, myths, ghost stories and other expressionistic documentation of the supernatural and horror.
Monsters in horror films are often associated to the demonstration and revelation of meaningful signs. Historically, it can be noted that the role of monstrosity may not have been significantly changed since the Renaissance period in which monsters served as a potent warning of danger. Monsters are seen as peculiar and accidental kind of normality which carry a message that is essential to the society and culture. If monsters describe something about culture and the society, then society can be read through the eyes of the monster at least to a degree. The revelatory capacity of monstrous characters might work to obscure characteristics that make a certain society what it is. The inscrutability of monsters may signify a certain blindness of the culture.
This is due to the fact that the monstrosity commonly resides at the edge of culture where various categories are blur and classificatory structures start to break down as a result of differing views between the good and the bad. The films of monster horror have a usual interpretation of being an orthodox Freudianism.1Grant 4.
As a proof, classic horrors are usually deemed to be expressive of the issues of sexual identity in ways that are uniquely suited to the psyches of troubled teens.2 Some critics are saying that because of the symbolism of horror genre, it can be said that the genre is a ritualistic form that aims to conduct the audience through passage from a adolescent onanism to mature reproductive sexuality.
I. Historical Overview of American Horror
Over the past decades, a plethora of literatures and publications have argued in the some dimensions of cinematic horror particularly the subject of women and horror. Many scholars have produced articles which generally taken the form of interpretative analysis and in-depth psychological explanation concerning symbolic as well as the mythic import of the horror film monsters.
Literatures have been rampant in the realm of cinematic arts and they have explored the horror effects and how it is being generated and the possible perverse pleasures which the audience obtain from being frightened through visible fictions.
The incorporation of sexual themes in fiction movies, particularly those belonging to the horror genre, involves the depiction of realistic sexual interaction using a fictional setting that includes monsters and even demonic characterization. Sexuality in horror films may be portrayed through the usage of characters with an alternative sexuality as the protagonists and and through the multidimensional exploration of the varied themes of sexual experience that deviate from the conventional.
As sexuality in horror films becomes a crucial area of study, it has been suggested that the structural positioning of horror movies as male-driven or male-centered genre entails the female audience to forcefully identify with the resourceful young female who survives the serial attacker and commonly ends the threat. Within this knowledge, it can be seen that while the narratively dominant serial killer’s subjective perspective may be male within the film’s story, the male viewer is stillwanting the female protagonist to overcome the killer.
This view on gender and films have operating archetypically in Halloween which starred Jamie Lee Curtis, Eyes of a Stranger, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street.4. Horror films are deemed to be grounded firmly on masochistic-voyeur but through the virtue of psychoanalysis, horror films tend to shift the male-centered identification process of sadism to the impulse of female-driven cinematic pleasure. From this view point, there is the swapping of the male-voyeuristic-sadistic impulse for a more feminine Pre-Oedipal masochistic impulse.3
The traditional slasher films, the spectators assume a submissive position whenever they identify with a female victim and female heroine.
This notion creates a clear picture of weakness and victimization which can be viewed as a form of disempowerment and becomes a pleasurable submission to the mothering body.
The Classic American Horror
The period from 1931-1960 saw the emergence of mainly vampire movies along with two secular films such as King Kong (1933) and its sequel, Son Of Kong (1934). The orthodox trend utilised by the vampire movie came to a head in 1931 by Dracula and its basic elements are
simpler than those used in the mad-scientist movies which had its share of popularity during the 1930s.
The film Dracula has its pattern in which the vampire terrorises the surrounding countryside, be it in Transylvania, Yorkshire, London or the United States. Also seen in the film were the innocent youngsters who were being held as potential victims, specifically the women; the appearance of the expert, classically Professor Van Helsing who is the only character capable of defeating the imposed threat; and the popular apparatus of the movie vampire-lore.
This basic model in doing vampire movies is roughly followed by Dracula’s Daughter in 1936 and the Mark of the Vampire in 1935 except that it closes its narrative through the improbable expedient of exposing the supernatural as a cunningly established plot refined to solve a crime. The 1935 film Condemned to Live differs in such a way that it is being centered on the basically sympathetic character who is not aware of his own vampirism. It is deemed uncommon for a certain vampire horror movie to include a character that finally commits suicide in company with his faithful servant.
In the classic horror cinema, it can be viewed that there were four assumptions rendered to the subject of women’s sexuality and the horror films. These four assumptions were sadistic males as the ideal spectator; the primary audience as male while the female audience always terrified; textual patterns and structures based on the sadistic male gaze; and the horror’s focus on heterosexual and monstrous desire.
Classic films have explored various ways that female performances of terror deflect focus from male anxiety, exposing a profound effect on gender roles. The depictions in horror flicks during this definite period are deeply rooted from the extreme gender traits that work both to destroy and to establish status quo.
In observing the horror films in this period, it can be said that they all exhibit sexual
overtones so common in vampire movies sidetracked with a hint of lesbianism occurring in
particular at Dracula’s Daughter.4 Lesbianism is evident as the female vampire in the said
film has her own preference for young women. Lesbianism in the movie is being combined with
the conventionally sexualised image of sucking and biting female vampires.5
The vampire in horror movies has always been associated with elements of sexuality and morality. This kind of association between vampirism and sexuality is somehow related to violation of societal taboos and allows the identification of the other which is being repressed. The subject of erotic and sexual characteristics is being equated with vampirism which is for the female character who is subject to repression, means that to embrace the vampire is to embrace sexuality.
For this logic, a forbidden action for the woman is being constrained by patriarchy to suppress her sexuality, she is punished, becomes the vampire and dies and commonly staked through the heart. The female character is also strongly and starkly contrasted with the heroine. The female victim in horror films remains coded as virginal, someone who is pure and can return to normality in the film’s climax aspect. However, the recent vivid cut dichotomy in the articles which explore the femininity in vampire cinema negates certain aspects of representations of femininity in the horror films.
Upon observing nineteenth century literatures, the whore and virgin duality normally connected to specific representations of femininity are a continuity and a bipolar scale. In the female vampire films, the duality of women which makes both the extreme femininity of the feminine masquerade and the portrayal of lesbian-feminism subversive, the whore-virgin tandem is being denied.
The vampire-victim connection in the film breaks down under the said scrutiny leaving the vampire to be desired by the possible victim and the victim to negate the monstrousness of the vampire by isolating it from the mono-sexual economy. The portrayal of feminine sexuality is reclaimed by identifying the potential for empowerment, rather the victimisation.
Given the observations, it can be noted that the fears instigated by the films in this
period are seated on the metaphorical representations of the deep concerns about sexuality and are more focused on the super-nature itself as an expression of vaguely understood desires and preferences which people mat experience in their daily lives as external forces that impact their being.
This notion is also evident in the non-vampire film, King Kong, in which the giant ape’s much celebrated passion for a woman named Fay Wray can be a described as purely sexually neutral. This is due to the fact that the issue on sexuality and horror films is not yet fore-grounded in the genre as it will be in the succeeding periods, and it will be over-exercising interpretative license to make sexuality more than a passing suggestion at this period.6 The horror films in this classic period show that the power of human sexuality plays a role similar to that of the lust or quest for knowledge as seen in the mad-scientist movies and the vampire films.
The 1970s Horror Films
The period of 1970s is a decade of evolution for the genre in which film-makers produced films that are more gruesome, more violent, and more confusing than ever before.7 In observing the entire history of the genre, it is stressed that women’s roles have changed greatly, from the women’s role as the primary victims to women’s liberation in the 70s in which there is a clear picture of woman as a warrior of survivor.
This female survivor appearing in the decade 70s onwards is often referred to as the “Final Girl”- a staple of slasher films which saw the emergence of stereotypical “good girls” and are usually the only characters that do away with the proverbial sex, drugs and rock and roll.
What then are the repressed thoughts and behavior which the horror films try to expose and set free? Wood notes, ‘First, sexual energy itself, together with its possible successful sublimation into non-sexual creativity-sexuality being the source of creative energy in general’.8 Jancovich says, ‘it is the horror film that responds in the most clear-cut and direct way, because central to it is the actual dramatization of the dual concept of the repressed or the Other, in the figure of the Monster.’9
Berenstein notes, ‘ horror’s threats to human identity, its propensity to play with gender roles and conventional mores, are linked directly to the monster.’10 In this sense, monsters are considered to be creatures or beings that have the characteristics of formlessness, incompleteness, and contradictoriness and other characters which constitute what is normally distinct and repressed.
This finding validates the idea that the genuine subject of the horror genre is the search for recognition of all that the society represses or oppresses. Jancovich adds, ‘its reemergence dramatised, as in our nightmares, as an object of horror, a matter for terror, and the happy ending typically signifying the restoration of repression’.11 The association of dreams and nightmares to the horror genre is commonly concerned with the experience of the viewers. As a viewer sits in darkness, and the sort of participation which an entertainment movie invites needs a definite shift from consciousness to dreamland, an action which necessitates losing oneself in fantasy.
Dreams are considered to be the embodiment of repressed desires, fears and tensions that consciousness rejects and the fulfillment of dreams is being made possible through the censor that guards the subconscious mid during sleep. For the makers of horror film, the complete awareness of the audience stops at the level of action, plot and character in which the most dangerous yet highly anticipated and subversive implications can disguise themselves and escape detection.12
The period of 1970s uncovers women’s repressed sexuality and gives them greater edge for gender exploration and exploitation. The horror films released during this period use the idea of the female body as the mysterious source of fear in a subversive way. It is in this period that film makers are beginning to get a glimpse of women’s sexuality in a subversive manner.
American horror films in the 1970s posit the grim mode of the 1970s era. Hallmarks of the 70s horror motion pictures include a faceless, demented killer; the appearance of the demonic; and the nubile young elemental things drenched in patches of blood. These are the
major characteristics of the era’s horror movies which upped their level critically and
It has been said that the history of horror films have depicted helpless women fleeing in terror and fear from masked villains and rampaging killers, fainting helpless into the monstrous arms of the men who save them. But scholars are quick to point out that at a certain point in the history of horror movies, elemental things have changed and, commonly one woman survived in each flick. This notion connotes the fact that women empowerment is getting a heavier and bigger dose of attention beginning from the exploration of the unlimited boundaries of women’s sexuality.
The 70s horror movies are said to be the products of the gradual departure from the traditional gothic horror monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein that Universal Pictures had begun in the 1930s. departure from the It is in the 1970s that the society goes bad and horror movies get good along with the continuous movements in sexual and cultural revolution.
After the optimism which the horror movies reflected in 1960s, the horror films in the 1970s mark the return of the big budget, respectable motion pictures that deal with modern and contemporary societal issues, acknowledging genuine psychological fears.
A particular genuine fear evident in the horror films of during the decade is the fear of the children and the fear of the painful, messy, and commonly fatal procedure of childbirth. The 1970s is also the era of when the first so called film brats came to ahead. They were the brats who started to leave film school and chose to let loose on their own motion pictures. These so called brats include Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Josh Lucas, and Brian de Palma.
Those were the first generation to grow up with the popularity of television and the level of visual literacy that the said medium brings. These film brats comprised the new breed of creatives who were well versed in the various kinds of genre paradigms and who were steeped in genre history. These group of individuals intimately brought to life and into the screen how a horror movie should look and how a monster should act. These people showed how a skilled director might start mobilizing variations on the well worn themes into the big screen.
American Horror as a Subversive Genre
Though the horror genre has been a popular theme of the Hollywood industry since the earliest decades of film-making, it is suggested that a large number of commercial horror movies in the cinematic arts has undergone some revealing and strong narrative transformations mainly due to man’s pursuit of refining the definition between good and evil. The longstanding and widely-debated conflict between the good and the bad has always served as a fundamental and artistic plot type in horror motion pictures.
Such conflict has provided a remunerative opportunity for film-makers to exploit all the ethical dimensions of horror films. In this kind of undertaking, movie-makers are able to diminish or even abolish the moral foundation behind the conflict between the good and evil. This kind of negligence to moral foundation is what stirs up the conception of horror films as a subversive genre.
As a replacement for the abolishment of the moral grounds between the good and evil lies the secular and modern representation and interpretation on the refined delimitation of good and the bad. This modern presentation of the boundary between evil and good is based upon the aim of the people to satisfy their wants and needs even though it entails the violation of religious taboos and ethical limitations.13
Hedonism becomes the theme of horror films as evident in the usage of children and the imagining of the pre-adult population in horror films in general. It is said that hedonism or a person’s pursuit for pleasure and self-gratification as a matter of ethical principle has become the most relevant and defining theme in horror movies.
The subject of hedonism comes with the basic resistance to social norms and the expression of the repressed thoughts and acts on sexuality and crime. As the society tends to get overly adventurous and experimental when it comes to taboos, customs and traditions, horror films are becoming an exact replica of what is being repressed and have become avenues for artistic presentation of violence and unlawful actions.
The case of the film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) was a clear manifestation of American horror’s subversive genre set in a minimalist mode to scare the audience. The horror film is a quintessential and one of the most influential movies produced in the 1970s that establishes the turning point in the horror genre. It ultimately redefined what horror cinema is capable of doing minus the grotesque characters sourced out from the classic horror cinema.
The film by Tobe Hooper is a distinction of the radicalism of the 1970s wherein film-makers are starting to go beyond the limitations between the good and the bad and to enter a new phase of the modernistic approach to horror movies. The film has accurately identified the social relationship between horror and the audience cognitive knowledge of the modern definition of morality or even the lack of morality.14 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre heralded a new dimension in Hollywood films, not only for the film’s graphic presentation of youths being brutally killed by unknown and mysterious forces, but its ability to render an industrial antidote to the blockbuster movies appearing in the 1970s.15
As a proof of horror movies subversive approach, Hooper’s film was banned in the United Kingdom and Australia due to intense violence that is implied rather than exposed and displayed. In a scene wherein a woman is horribly hung on a meat-hook, is reflective of the director’s minimalist approach towards subversion and violence. In that particular scene, there is no penetration of the human skin and there is no blood. In this case, subversion is perceived in the mind of the audience supported by the concept of genuine occurrence.
On a critical note, horror movies have long been perceived to be subversive. Scrutiny over the horror’s violent and subversive nature saw critics attacking the exploitation factor of the horror movie or its utilisation of subversion to elicit a cheap thrill in its viewers. At some point, there are scholars who attack the subversive nature of the American horror, arguing that the motivating factor behind its emergence is essentially antisocial, violent, sadistic and deviant.
Not only the socio-psychological content of horror films is being investigated by critics, their artistic presentation is under pressure too. Some critics are at one in saying that horror does not aim to enhance or even to illuminate human condition, that it does not solicit traces of philosophical reflection and contemplation regarding human lives. The notion conjures with the statement that the horror film is not an art mainly because it does contain the basic characteristics of art. Art has a message; communicates fundamental social concerns; and contains a universal and eternal value.16
In recent decades, it can be said that the American horror films have taken over the western cinematic arts scene as a genre commonly written by cynics and critics. Several literatures note that the horror genre is supposedly marginal and subversive form of popular culture. In current articles, American horror as a subversive genre has become an object of considerable aesthetic and artistic criticisms, frequently the center of moral panics and censorship.
Many scholars have long used the procedure of psychoanalysis to give the study of on horror films a more serious tone. Psychoanalysis has been deemed as a tool to evaluate and investigate the fantastical nature of the American horror and to go beyond the characteristics of many horror plots commonly referred to as mere escapism, a decline to deal with reality and as inherently unserious.17
Through psychoanalysis, horror films are then viewed as having fantastical nature that goes beyond escapism and serves as an attempt to confront repressed materials and thoughts of humans. The subversive characteristic of horror movies has been given a new dimension as the visible representation of dreams and coded expression of the tension between social norms and unconscious desires.18
II. Women in Horror
It is said that the horror is one of the least expected genres of cinema mainly because it is a reflection of today’s culture and values. American horror has been one of the interesting area of studies for scholars focusing on film and feminism due to the fact that horror rarely features woman in a non-exploitative manner, even with modern films like the new Friday the 13th that is a real sexist motion picture.
One of the factors which gives horror movies a radical approach towards the culture and society is the aspect of paranoia. It is noted that through the internalisation of paranoia in horror, the film can please or displease and inserts itself into the space of disjunction, producing visual presentations that can excite displeasure.19 With paranoia and hallucinations, horror films can allow for reversed effects which in turn leads to the recognition of the repressed image-content in the real scenario.
Scary films reveal and expose what truly frightens society through symbolism, particularly in the portrayal of women and femininity. Horror films in general use images of the fear of physical and mental castration, sexual intercourse, and feminine strength as a number of ways to exploit women in a way that is entertaining.
However, there are still motion pictures which show positive female character and these films are highly respected by critics because they instill women power. Some of these films are The Descent and the A Nightmare of Elm Street in which females are seen defeating horrifying male villains and exhibiting strength and heroism. This positive view of women can be summarised into victim-turned-heroine conception.
It is widely known that horror films including its slasher subgenre have the distinction of portraying women as the hyper-sexual damsels in distress who are commonly murdered within the initial minutes of the movie as a form of punishment for their unwiseness and misdeed as seen in the films like Friday the 13th and Halloween. Also, women in horror is being presented as the antagonists, which can be perceived as a mirror of men’s pathological fear of women, their power and authority, and menstruation that render the possibility for castration anxiety.
The last few decades have seen a radical assessment on women’s roles in horror cinema which would be impossible to criticise without the aid feminist politics literatures.
The subject of women in horror genre has been shown in motion pictures in different manners through time. Female characters are starting to come into their own facet in the horror genre, implicating that women can be as strong as men and are not dumb sexual objects as what classic horror cinema previously suggested.
But there is an exemption in the realm of classic cinema, taking note of Raoul Walsh who made three films between 1956 and 1957. Walshian films are focused on the cultural, social and sexual definition of women.20 Walshian movies have displayed female characters as having a great sense of independence which sharply contrasts with the perceived weakness of the male protagonists.
There is a modern and more liberal approach to the subject of women and horror leading to the negation of female characters as mere objects of desire that is needs to be rescued and saved by a male character coming from the commonly sexually strong male villain.
Backlash Against the Feminine Movement
The backlash against the feminine movement generally refers to the perceived conservative or right wing reaction to social changes or progressive ideas.21 Some scholars deem the term backlash as the an anti-feminist counter movement in retaliation for the achievements and progress of feminism in the 1960s and the 1970s in areas like politics, media, employment, education, health, and in the environment.
At the close of the 20th century America, women’s liberation is said to be at its peak with barricades falling, equality rising, and great opportunities in various fields for women have already opened. Despite the so-called progressive status of women during this period, critics are remain true to their word that there is a price to pay for this equality. True enough, Susan Faludi asks, ‘ How can American women be in so much trouble at the same time that they are supposed to be blessed? If the status of women has never been higher, why is their emotional state so low? If women got what they asked for, what could possibly be the matter now?’22
Some scholars are at one in declaring that the backlash against the feminine movement may be greatly attributed to the feminism which has been destructive to the flourishing women’s liberation due to the fact that feminist movement has enabled women to exploit every opportunity and resource which have been offered to them. Given the radical movement of feminists towards equality, social changes have occurred sidetracked by the various modifications in the definitions of feminism, feminist, and feminist theory which are already not considered as monolithic terms.
Feminist movement has been given the multiple dimensions that encompass all the aspects of the American culture. As women try to level with men in terms of employment, education, and skills, it has been reported that women are starting to impose harm to themselves due to diversity and radicalism. Faludi notes that the prevailing wisdom that explains the backlash against the feminine movement is that, ‘ it must be all that equality that is causing all the pain.’23
The failure of feminism is evidenced by women’s reluctance to identify themselves as a feminist. Due the glitch which the feminist movement has encountered in past decades, there are women who have chosen to reject the labels and ideals of feminism because they firmly believe that the barriers confronted by their female forbearers have been destroyed. For other women, the reason why they have failed to identify with feminism is because of the retreat from participating in liberal social issues.
It is written that feminists are the ones who produce the rise in slasher film. The slasher movies in particular can arguably be interpreted as a backlash against the 1970s feminist movements. Also known as the psychological horror films and massacre movies, slasher movies make violence acceptable to the society and they are being made by the women’s rights activists to show graphic murders on screen.
The violence being exhibited by slasher movies reflects the social ills of the women which source out from feminism itself. The social ills facing women amid the backlash include the inadequate capacity to obtain personal savings, teenage suicides, eating disorders, growing number of female poverty and the progressive male fascination for slasher movies.24
Slasher films are considered to be the low-budget subgenre of horror that usually features a knife-wielding maniac murdering women and teenagers in various gruesome ways. Among the slew of famous slasher films include Halloween, Friday the Thirteenth, Dressed to Kill, and A Nightmare on Elm Street.25
In the mentioned films, both men and women are victims. Men are commonly killed offscreen or in shadows while women are murdered in full view, usually in extended sequences of torture and suspense.
This notion reflects the backlash in which women have been finitely tied up to heavier suffering and agony. The murder weapons used in these films such as knives, spear guns, chainsaws, jack-hammers and electric drills are an obvious phallic symbol commonly used to represent male sexuality and aggression.26
The slasher film Halloween (1978) is a genuinely crafted horror classic from John Carpenter. The film is exploitive in nature and its features have invented several of the slasher film cliches. Even though Halloween is a low-budget film, it never fails to scare the audience with its manipulative and suspenseful killings and stalkings seen from the subjective vantage point of the murderer’s eyes.
The low-budget horror film mobilises the psycho-pathological and puritanical principle which states that an individual’s survival was directly proportional to one’s sexual experience. Also, the movie exposes to the audience the allegorical idea that sexual awakening can be translated as the death of innocence of one’s self.
The movie’s female character, the virginal Laurie, is able to escape from the murderer mostly unscathed but the others who are viewed to be promiscuous and sexually-active are the unfortunate ones who suffer deadly and morbid consequences as victims. In this flick, the killings often occur after sexual encounters when the potential victims are off-guard and distracted.
Halloween is one of the perfect examples of the backlash against feminism because it generally portrays gender roles, one-dimensional characters and the subjugation, sexual objectification, and the brutality against females. The said factors are all evident during the backlash which is a period of women’s social and economic turmoil.
The theory behind this film says that the female, which represents the individual or the gender as a whole, is blamed for the murderer’s rage , as well as becoming the victim of the said rage. This idea gave the conception that women are the victims of their own rage or their fight for equality in which there is a great deal of radicalism and liberation happening. Faludi says, ‘ women are enslaved by their own liberation.’27
Carol Clover’s The Final Girl Theory
In past decades, American horror has positioned female characters both as the survivors and the victims. In this conception, the last person alive in certain horror movie is typically female, what film critic Carol Clover referred to as the Final Girl. The image of the distressed woman who will most likely to linger in the memory of viewers is the image of the one who did not die or the Final Girl.28
Clover has coined the phrase Final Girl as an answer to the question, if most of the audiences of horror films are men, why is it that the survivor or the hero in the end is commonly a woman? Clover has also answered the question regarding the nature of the enjoyment that men obtain out of the horror movies that include the Final Girl and the question if the phenomenon of the Final Girl theory means that the male audience is psychically crossing gender lines and boundaries to identify with the Final Girl.
It is said that the Final Girl theory is a major contribution of Clover in the subject of gender and films and in defining the standard tropes of horror movies. The theory divulges that the Final Girl is commonly the smarter, more morally pure, and more conscientious than her cohorts who are usually sloppy, stupid, and horny. The Final Girl is the character who does not intend to have sex, use drugs, and is usually the first one in the group to sense danger and recognize a morally failing which the group has incurred.
In Clover’s theory, the Final Girl is the one who encounters the mutilated bodies of of her colleagues and witnesses the full extent of the preceding horror and of her own agony; she is the one being chased, cornered, wounded and whom viewers see screaming and staggering. The Final Girl is an abject terror personified, one who looks at death in the face and the one who finds strength either to stay the killer long enough to be rescued.
The Final Girl has revolutionised the landscape of feminist horror theory with its notion that horor is not the epitome of misogyny as what previous literatures thought. Clover has explicated in her theory the reasons why violence is being depicted in horror films by whom, against whom and to whom does it establish sympathy for.
Arguments of Clover, as included in her Final Girl theory, explain the topic of audience identification. clover has created queries on who the audience particularly identifies with. In previous film studies, it had been suggested that the largely male author identified with the male killer. In Clover’s study, the audience identifies with the Final Girl basically because she is the survivor in the story which instigates the fighting spirit of the audience and stimulates the capacity of women to appear victorious in every obstacle constructed by real-life antagonists.
Clover’s perspective says that a certain female audience member is viewed to be more fluid in her identification due to the fact that the Final Girl has established her own connection with the villain and is able to transform from being a victim to being a hero. Gender fluidity in this case is deeply rooted from Clover’s theory that the gender of the Final Girl is compromised from the outset through her masculine interests, evident isolation from other girls, inevitable sexaul reluctance, and sometimes her name.29
In general, the audience identifies with the dread of being attacked, as opposed to the satisfaction or gratification which the murderer obtains when he attacks.
Using the level of cinematic apparatus, the unfemininity of the Final Girl is commonly signaled vividly through her exercise of the active investigating gaze which is normally reserved for males and punished in females when they assume it themselves; at first and then aggressively, Clover’s Final Girl search for the murderer, even tracking him and bringing him into the audience’s vision as well.30
The term gender fluidity and or the repressed sexuality of the murderer strongly links the murderer with the Final Girl and prohibits the male audience from identifying with the character. This notion validates Clover’s cross-gender fluidity. In the film Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Freddy Krueger was the result of a brutal rape. With this comes his disruptive personality in which he takes children down to the basement and molested.
Over the course of the movie, it is apparent that the men in life of Nancy, the Final Girl in the film, are as ineffective as they could possibly be. Nancy’s boyfriend, whom she begs for protection in particular occasions, falls asleep most of the time therefore, unable to protect her from harm. Nancy’s father is usually absent, and when the Final Girl tells her father to come home to protect her, he is not able to show up. In this particular set of scenarios, Nancy becomes more and more active and strong on her own behalf.
As an evidence to the build-up of her strength, Nancy is able to construct a number of booby traps aiming to lure and deceive the killer when he comes to attack her. Eventually, the murderer is vanquished and sent back to hell. According to Clover, Nightmare on Elm Street tries to expose that the main reason why the hero is a female is that the viewers will be able to feel more fear for a female character in peril that they will for a male character in agonising situation.
Upon observing the Final Girl theory, it can be said that Clover is more interested in going deep into a man’s mind as he watches the said particular scenes. Clover may be wondering if the male viewers are expecting that women would be terrorised and murdered in those particular scenes; if it is satisfying enough for them to watch a female character appearing victorious at the end; and the reason behind why women invariably triumphs at the end.
Clover argues that the male audience will likely identify across gender with Final Girl because the excitement of the male audience will be embedded on the killer in the first part of the film, but will switch to the side of the Final Girl at the end. This perception can also be translated to the shift of the movie’s point of view from killer to heroine.
Clover also adds that male viewers enjoy a trace of pleasurable masochistic experience as they watch the murderer by the Final Girl. Male viewers tend to view themselves as the Final Girl in the last part of the movie and cheer on the heroine as they would the male survivor of a certain film. Clover is strongly impressed with gender fluidity with which the male can do this.
The gender fluidity of the Final Girl enables her to be identified with by the audience which is usually dominated by male. She is the only one in the group who has a masculine side which resembles that of an adolescent boy. The theory explicates that female survivor can become a congenial double for the adolescent male.
Clover explicates, ‘she is feminine enough to act out in a gratifying way, a way unapproved for adult males, the terrors and masochistic pleasures of the underlying fantasy, but not so feminine as to disturb the structures of female competence and sexuality.’31 The Final Girl stays pure and virginal and her name is commonly androgynous or at least a not so traditional feminine one. Most importantly, the Final Girl is the one to make it at the end of the movie due to her non-sexual traits.
In contrast to the traits of the Final Girl, it can be seen that her cohorts relfect the homogeneity in horror films. It is common horror films that the friends of the Final Girl who possess characteristics which are opposite to her and who dare to stray outside the limits of conservatism are the first ones to be killed.
The slutty, drunken, drug addict, and sexually active characters mirror horror’s somewhat high regard to good girls who have the potential to survive at the end. American horror can be perceived as conservative genre in which the murderer is eliminating those who act outside the socially acceptable parameters. In opposition to classic horror cinema, a period in which horror seems to have no place for the dashing heroine, Clover explains that 70s horror can be a replica of women’s radical struggle for a fulfilling victory and survival amid the backlash against feminism.
The Final Girl as an empowered woman or a damsel in distress is perceived by Clover as not having to conjure with being feminist. Clover argues that the representations of women in horror movies are not meant to declare them as victims of patriarchy. Clover claims, ‘her will to survive is astonishing.’32
The film Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part II (1986) ends with Stretch chasing Leatherface in a mountain and slashing him open using his own chainsaw. After the horrible scene, Final Girl Stretch stands up, framed by enlightening sunshine, waving the chainsaw overhead victoriously.
Friday the 13th Part II also portrays the will to survive of women. In the movie, the Final Girl utilises her knowledge of child psychology to be able to convince Jason that she is her mother. The Final Girl wears the sweater from the killer’s shrine to his mother’s decapitated head, and says to Jason “Listen to Mother.” When the murderer is already submissive, the Final Girl is able to escape from the attack.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part I features Sally as the Final Girl who does very little effort to actually fight back the killer. Given that she does very little, the Final Girl is able to escape death and mutilation. Sally screams, runs, and sustains injuries and escapes her attacker for thirty minutes before reaching the highway where she is saved.
In Halloween (1978), Laurie is the first girl to fight back. The Final Girl stabs the murderer with a knitting needle. Knowing that the attacker is dead, she winds down and relaxes. When the killer rises again, she hides in the closet and slams the doors closed. Whilst the attacker destroys the door, Laurie transforms a coathanger into a defense weapon. She stabs her attacker again and sends the children for rescue. Nancy in Nightmare on Elm Street shows her will to survive when she sets up an elaborate trap all by herself to lure and deceive her killer so that she can escape.
In the movie Slumber Party Massacre (1982), the role is played by a butch woman, the girl’s basketball coach. The survival will of Final Girl in the film is seen as she comes to the slumber party’s rescue only to become a victim of the drill herself. Clover says,’the last moment of the Final Girl sequence is finally a footnote to what went before-to the quality of the Final Girl’s fight, and more generally to the qualities of character that enable her, of all the characters, to survive what has come to seem unsurvivable.’33 The Final Girl in the film is Valerie, the female character who used a machete-like weapon to the murderer, stabbing him off the bit from his drill, injuring his hand and finally impaling him.
III. The Reactionary Rise of Horror in the 1980s
The 1980s horror films appears ate a glorious watershed in which sci-fi and visual effects finally met with the gory imaginations of the viewers and film-makers. The 1980s is the period wherein technical advances in the realm of animatronics, and the existence of liquid and foam latex meant that the human face can be distorted and reconfigured to and fresh and new dimension onscreen.
This advancement is in line with the materialistic attitude of the people wherein having it all was relevant, but to be seen by the society as having it all was paramount. The 1980s films reflect the tangible tokens of material progress and the people’s pursuit for shinier, larger, and faster dimension as a verification of their societal value. Also, horror films during this period problematise gender representations, ranging from the fearful portrayals of male monsters, male fears and anxieties and strong and independent women in horror films.
The 1980s horror films mirror the backlash against women replicating the anti-feminism movement. It has become evident that there seems to be an exception when it comes to the subject of stereotyped female. This notion relates women who tend to fight adversity and to save their own self and families against any forms of violence and inequalities.
The portrayal of strong women in the Red Dawn, The Terminator and the Gremlins all conjure with exceptions to the aspect of the stereotyped and emotional women. The female warriors presented in the horror films validate Clover’s perception of females as not becoming victims of patriarchal society. The women warriors or fighters assume largely patriarchal responsibilities and roles, while some women are recuperated and continue to assume the traditional domestic positions of the ideal and responsible mother and wife.
The 1980s is the period in which several independent films present oppositional social movements which lead to the rise of the reactionary films. The horror in the 1980s features exploitation, gory violence, shock, graphic horror and the youth in peril. The films talk about tales of vengeful killer motivated by various misdeed or sexual perversity.
According to some scholars, horror films of the 1980s are reactionary, meaning, their monsters are representations of superego characters which avenge themselves on the much celebrated liberation of the female sexuality or the sexual freedom of the females. Wood notes, ‘the genre carries within itself the capability of reactionary inflection, and perhaps no horror film is entirely immune from its operations.’34
Wood adds that the horror films are a dramatisation of the Freudian dictum which suggests that the repression of sexual energy in general must return. The repression of sexual energy utilises various mechanisms of reaction formation and projection to be able to establish the idea of the Other which is being identified through the figure of the monster.35
It is viewed that the horror films in the 1980s are a backlash against the sexual period of the post-war era and not the resistance to the traditional family ethics, values and structure during a period of social change. A thin line exists between the progressive films and reactionary films. It is noted that Wood uses the struggle for the recognition of all that the civilization oppresses and represses as a model that can distinguish the difference among the social formations of the horror genre.
This model leads to the emergence of the reactionary and the progressive wings. Progressive films are meant to portray monsters and evil characters as the reflection of the oppressed and repressed thoughts and ideas while reactionary films are simply evil and inhuman.36 The model can render explanations behind some differences among the types of the horror films, and it can be used as a tool to explain why various audience segments might choose different types of horror movies and why the female audience might dislike the slasher movies.
There are certain factors which greatly contributed to horror’s reactionary characteristic. Among these factors is the designation of the monster as simply evil. This is in line with Wood’s assumption that the as horror movies become the typical manifestations of the repressed and gruesome thoughts of the culture, the dominant connotation for the monster is definitely to be evil. This translates to the conception that what is being repressed by the society must always return as a threat, deemed by the conscious mind as the ugly, terrible, and obscene.37
However, scholars agree that the as the longstanding discussion indicates, the model is being advantageous to psychological factors of causation. What the issue surely necessitates is a concrete model for tackling the subject of horror that is not constrained through primary reliance on the thoughts of repression or of the perspectives of an unconscious individual.
It is already expected that it is the reactionary horror film that dominates the entire horror genre due to the crisis in ideological confidence brought by Vietnam war, the Nixon administration and the Watergate scandal which the Carter administration had temporarily resolved.38 Reactionary films are the artistic portrayals echoing the national strife for relief, the ideological disintegration, social revolution, and evoking maximum chaos and panic in the society.
It is widely accepted that there is an ideological correspondence between modern alien invasion motion pictures and the reactionary horror movies, in as much as they render an opportunity to displace fears and anxieties about the society.39 This conception leads to the construction of an extraterrestrial threat, equipped with advanced technologies which are all particularly effective instruments wherein the contours of the dominating power can be described but can be aggressively reinforced.
The sense of the order which the reactionary horror strives for is not inherently repressive or conservative, in particular circumstances; it may be put to work against the status quo. This concept impacts the structural account of the generically reactionary nature of the horror genre that can convey various themes.40
Every genre has its own set of codes and conventions which have been constructed throughout the course of its lifespan. Despite the fact that horror is deemed to be fairly static when it comes to certain constituent elements, it can be determined that few genres have developed and changed in relation to wider contexts and the viewers’ tastes and preferences. The iconography of the horror genre is worth exploring due to various meanings and symbols that it conveys.
The changes over time in the horror literature genre make the audience more knowing than any other horror viewers ever have been. These are the audience who supped on the historical genre of the horror movies which explores both crime and horror text-the frameworks for a critical investigation of the ethical, political, social and economic facets of time.
The context wherein a text is created, that is the multitude of factors outside of the text which critically determine its symbolic meaning, has a relevant influence on the reception and representation of horror films.
To be able to be defined as a text from the horror genre, certain characteristics are commonly required, but due to the constantly changing values of society and culture throughout time, not to mention the divergent values of people, these characteristics are not relatively broad and mostly tied up with gender and sexuality issues.
In the 1980s up to the present, the horror has an audience that is so aware and conscious about the meanings and conventions almost backwards that it has began to become self-referential and postmodern in its approach. The film Scream by Wes Craven tells the audience that virgins are safe, only to find out that they are not. Buffy the Vampire Slayer fights werewolves, yet aware that the series of is more about the battle between the good and the bad.
One of the reasons behind the horror films being remade and refashioned is the subject of the changes in the backlash against feminism. Although it is firmly regarded that globalization through the revolution in communications and international law, brings the promise of progressive social changes, there is still the backlash against women’s increasing emancipation, a backlash that exists through making a mockery of women’s bid for equality. This backlash reflects the turning of the principles against some women who have troubled lives.
No matter what kind of symbolism the genre tries to convey, horror is strongly ambitious because of it shows the unique juncture of personal, mythic, and social structures and thoughts. Horror films signify, define, and clarify the relationship between humans and the monstrous elements, normal ones and the aberrant, insanity and madness, natural and the supernatural, consciousness and unconsciousness, dreams and nightmare, and the civilization and primitive culture. Through the reactionary character of the horror genre, people have an access to slippery categories and tenuous oppositions which are highly essential to the sense of life.
The Backlash in the Change in Horror Genre and Women’s Sexuality
Several feminist works have discussed the complexity of gender roles within the horror films and the sub-genre of slasher films. It is seen that there are arguments regarding the one dimensional anti-feminist backlash that the films are thought to represent. In this genre, the most common motivation for the crazy maniac and murderer comes from the negative relationship with a female, commonly the sister or the mother.
It is viewed that the psychopath violence is excused mainly because the killer was done wrong by women during his life. Not only is the female character blamed for the cause of his fury and rage but consequently, the woman then becomes the primary victim of this wrath. It is being noted that feminists have found horror film the particular enemy of women, and it is easy to why.
It is recorded that in the 1980s, there was a censorship in slasher films due to its portrayal of an anonymous male predator victimising females. Given the scenarios which happened in the late 1970s down to the 1980s, one can only wonder if it is coincidence that they came out during the period when the Women’s Liberation Movement was beginning to modify the way America viewed women’s rights, responsibilities and roles.
The reactionary rise of horror is associated to the third wave feminism that is the follow-up movement of the second wave feminism that had historically failed to incorporate and give recognition the voices of many women and women of color. The third wave feminists are struggling for the real definition of the their femaleness and womanhood in a society where the categorisation and naming of gender is often conducted by media and the pop culture. The third wave movement builds on the second wave feminism by centering on the relationship of texts to one another and to the society and culture.
Third wave feminists are return ing to pop culture and film genres the medium through which feminism garnered the popular imagination and the political clout that took place in the late 1960s and early 1970s. THe familial framing as seen in the horror genre constructs the feminism during the 1980sn as the the coming of age issue. Third ware movement is the reflection of the feminist rebellion as viewed in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This rebellion is repeating a pattern as old as the patriarchy in which rebellion against mothers is evident.
Today’s horror reflects the combination girl power and human weakness which are all in line with the women’s role in the third wave and in feminist movie and television criticism. Women in horror instigate impulse to fulfill their mission in ridding the world of evil and the bad and to continue the battle against the backlash. The images presented in the horror genre from the main character to her mother, the patriarchal roles, and the secondary characters are all indicative of the third wave feminist philosophy and activism.
Horror in the 1980 also acts as metaphors for the tensions between second and third wave feminists. The films present the third wave’s commitment to women power by turning the victim role typical of the action and horror genre. Third wave revolution of women can be defined as involving those females who wee reared in the wake of the women’s liberation movement that happened in the 1970s. These females were born after 1960 and came of age in the 1980s and 1990s.
These women are formed through the similar social conditions which mirror the struggle for complete equality in all aspects of life. These female hold a common interpretative framework shaped by their historical events and gender circumstances. Like the second wave before the revolution of women in the 1980s, third wave feminists are a political generation described by a common exposure to the pressure of same social and gender issues.
Women in the 1980s have been shaped by the events and circumstances which include the existence of AIDS, the erosion of reproductive rights, higher divorce rate, and the movement towards the multiculturalism. Also, such circumstances saw greater efforts for global awareness, the appearance of the lesbian and gay rights movement and the greater awareness for women’s sexuality.
Faludi says that horror films in the 1980s feature the ‘heroines that did not withdraw into themselves; they struggled toward active engagement in affairs beyond the domestic circle.’41 The slew of passive and weary female characters filling the screen in the 1980s is reflective of the Hollywood that has taken feminist movies and run the reels backward. Like the media, Hollywood films are not only reflecting women’s return to total motherhood they are also marketing it in a manner that uses figures and symbols that relay messages of gender equality and empowerment of women’s sexuality.
The connection of women’s sexuality to horror movies can be seen in the classic vampire movies. In these films, vampires are aroused by beautiful women but they only aim to drink their blood. A subgenre to this type of movie is the so-called lesbian vampire stories in which women’s sexuality is explored to the maximum level in which women exploit every opportunity for voyeurism. The 1980s mark the radical exploration of women’s sexuality via voyeurism that also aims to empower female character while appearing as desirable to men’s eyes. Sex and horror became almost an inseparable elements.
In the classic horror scenes in which a woman gets killed inside the shower room, or the female characters who get raped by monsters to be able to continue their own species, the horror genre features women who are very proud of their sexuality. Sexual domination in the horror genre serves as a threat to male’s sexuality.
Horror films possess the voyeuristic intentions and this feature can be perceived as a small step to pornography. Horror and sexuality are both taboo elements for the adults to talk to in front of the young ones. However, people have certain needs and erotic thoughts encompassing some dream about making love with a loved one on various places. Through, this could be the fulfillment of the fantasies of both men and women because the genre tends to view sexuality at its most explorative and enjoyable level.
Women’s sexuality is also used in some horror flicks in the portrayal of binding the heroes before the big confrontation or at the end of it, as a form of reward for surviving all the problems and traps in the film. Some other sex-related scenes are those wherein the heroine walks around naked through her house and the murderer is inside that female’s house, playing with her mind, whispering to her.
The relationship between the sexes in horror films is strongly suggested by the female character’s historical durability. It is common in the horror genre to that the killer is with limited exceptions recognizably human and distinctly male. The rage and fury of the murderer is unmistakably sexual in both roots and expression and his victims are mostly females who are sexually free and always young and pretty.
Other films convey sex through strip clubs. As the 1980s serves as the period of women’s radical movement, a female character’s sexuality is used to kill the bad guy. A heroine uses the trap of seduction in order to destroy the enemy. The teens who explore their sexuality and end up being confronted and punished by forces of nature for this such act, sexual repression, the strife for self-acceptance after being abused by psychos are all cinematic symbols found in horror movies. All the characters such as the vampires or slashers are using the same motivation. These motion pictures show the consequences and impacts that decadence could have. Women’s sexuality and horror are the two things that are embedded in people’s subconscious and only a small portion of the society talks openly about these taboos.
Benshoff says, ‘Despite the abundance of female nudity and women-to-woman vampire sex, the horror genre is steeped not in a lesbian sensibility, but rather the a heterosexual male one. Some of the lesbian vampire films were all written and directed by men and are in many ways much more indicative of a straight man’s fear of women’s sexuality than they are representative of any expression of lesbian desire.42
Lesbianism can be viewed as exploration not as the negation of female natural characteristics. In some horror films, the lesbian characters lack the lesbian verisimilitude that would enable such characters to pass as real lesbians. Some lesbian characters flirt with men and dress to appeal to the eyes of men. Even if they do not provide the same image of erotic fascination for women that they are intended to give for heterosexual men, neither do they possess the same threat for lesbian audience as they do for the male.
As much as any branch of contemporary arts, horror genre mirrors the ever-changing fashions, preferences and tastes of the society. The genre represents the shifting fears and aspirations of the society and the sense of what makes up the prime social, ethical, and moral dilemmas of an individual. Horror is able to run the gamut from the reactionary to the radical, so it can alternatively underscore, influence, challenge, and explain facts, styles and contradictions of American culture.
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