by Amy Davis, October, 2016
Next in our series on horror/slasher films is the girl who kills for her own thrills.
* * *
Sometimes the typical killer archetype found in horror is flipped. Normally it’s a male killer; but a female is not out of the question. True, a woman murderer is a cheap shock, but some films break the mold enough to surprise the audience.
Take The Bad Seed (1956), for example. The movie focuses on eight-year-old Rhoda who appears to be a sweet, well-mannered, young lady when in reality she has affections for snuffing out life.
The theory of nature over nurture or a “bad seed” explains Rhoda’s behavior. Even more startling, especially for the time period, her mother tries to off both herself and Rhoda to cover up her daughter’s crimes.
The Killer as Child
The female child as killer trend continues with Kill Baby, Kill (1966), The Exorcist (1973), Alice, Sweet Alice (1976), and The Reaping (2007). While girls don’t have quite as many entries into the malevolent youngster subgenre as boys, they retain a strong early presence and a complex one at that.
A young male exhibiting an interest in death is written off, as “boys will be boys.” On the other hand, females expressing similar fantasies are cause for alarm due to society’s expectations for female behavior.
This gender difference means young lasses fascinated with death must be much more careful and methodical with their crimes.
In Friday the 13th (1980) Mrs. Voorhees’ son Jason drowns as a result of negligence. The camp counselors choose to have sex instead of doing their job. Though she sets out on a self-appointed mission, mom is not an archetypal mother. Rather she generalizes her murderous rampage to any counselor that chooses to have sex, drink, or do drugs even when children are not present.
Incidentally, though Mrs. Voorhees dies in the end, Jason returns later in the franchise concealed by a hockey mask, revisiting of one of horror’s fondest tropes.
Ginger Snaps (2000) is an interesting example of young teenage sisters fascinated with death. Their actions are exclusively female and have no claim on gender neutrality though in some scenes puberty is addressed with phrases like “hair where there wasn’t hair before” that are relatable across genders.
In a film infused with a heavy fantasy element, Ginger is transformed into a mythical being, a werewolf, when she is bitten because the beast smells the menstrual blood from her first period.
By the way, this Canadian production is pegged as a dark comedy about puberty and ends with one sister stalking the other that brings the female killer full circle. Subsequent films in the franchise are more straightforward horror and look more like a typical werewolf flick.
In contrast to Ginger Snaps, a clear example of gender equality among predators is August Underground: Mordum (2003) and August Underground: Penance (2007). The films offer up two slayers, a male and a female.
While these films are far too graphic for many casual and even seasoned horror fans, they do highlight a balanced male/female on-screen dynamic, albeit in an obviously unhealthy relationship. The audience never senses that the girl is forced or manipulated in any way; she is an equal partner in crime.
Normally, a woman overcoming a male pursuer or torturer is the norm in horror. If she is a homicidal figure she sometimes exists with little to no explanation or what might be considered character development, though such a thing is often absent in horror across the board.
What’s more, the female killer archetype often challenges our assumption that a woman is unlikely to be a murderer and that she cannot overpower a man.
The idea of gender equality through violent films is a feminist concept and can leave a bad taste in the mouth of some viewers. Yet, there is little doubt that the horror movie is a cultural staple. Generations of teens and young adults have flocked to the theater for the newest slasher offering, indicative that horror is not going anywhere and will return soon to your neighborhood cinemaplex.