Tag Archives: Horror

The Horror Community and The Outside World

by Amy Davis, November 2016

This is Amy’s final post on her favorite the film genre. Since she has been working with me, I’ve certainly learned a lot about slasher films and the fans that love them.

My thanks to Amy for educating all of us.

Rich

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I am a woman who likes horror, but it hasn’t been an easy journey.

As far back as I can remember my interest in the macabre was actively discouraged. Pretty frustrating, I might add, because the interests of my male counterparts, regardless of how off-the-wall they were, were chalked up as “boys will be boys.”

Things haven’t changed much. Society still seems to view the female horror fan as an anomaly. I’ve heard everything from “why?” to “you’re too smart to watch that garbage.” The weird part is the horror community doesn’t bat an eye at me and that’s just the way I like it.

A Fellow Fan

1425663_10151759614861604_2061633023_nI’m a member at upcominghorrormovies.com and go to horror conventions around the Baltimore-Washington metro area where I live. While, yes, the community is mostly male, they don’t actively encourage or discourage female fans from being there. Because horror films project examples of strong women, the guys have no issue viewing us as equals. Most guys greet me as a fellow fan not a female fan.

My theory is that most females are discouraged from liking horror at a young age and never bother to go past that. And, yes, every now and again you will have a guy that is trying to “meta nerd” by drilling people with obscenely hard questions about crazy obscure things. These questions tend to get harder when a vagina is present in an attempt to weed out the posers.

Fortunately meta nerds constitute a miniscule percentage of the horror population. They want to prove they are bigger fans than anyone else, a sort of self-validation at the expense of others which makes everyone (male and female) uncomfortable.

I can only assume this gender bias stereotype harks back to the assumption that only psychopaths watch horror films and since ladies are less likely to kill anyone, they clearly can’t like the genre at all. The stereotype that horror fans are more likely to kill someone is insane and downright offensive.

Frankly I can’t tell you how many news reports I have read about would be killers where they felt the need to mention what horror films they watched. Each time I react with disgust that they would plan or do such a thing. But then I get furious with the news outlet for trying to imply that this would be killer’s taste in films had something to do with that behavior.

A Welcome

All of the films discussed here are in my personal collection and guess what, I haven’t gone postal nor do I know anyone who has or even considered it. I assume this is because we are smart enough to know that movies aren’t real.

Most horror fans shy away from real life gore. Not so with non-horror fans. Often they check out the news for blood and NASCAR for the crashes.

To those that hold these views I might suggest getting a day pass to a horror convention or going to a midnight showing of an older horror film.

The casual or non-horror fan is welcomed at these events. My husband confesses he wasn’t into horror before we met but took an interest based on my self-defined extreme tastes. Most “hardcore” horror fans we talk to react by asking what he likes and giving him film recommendations.

They do this to make him feel more included in the community which can be very tight knit. From the outside looking in it may be weird to think that people who watch fake violence for fun tend to enjoy helping others, but from my experience this is the case.

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There is even a horror-based charity called Scares That Care! It focuses mainly on raising money for sick children with another branch devoted to breast cancer. In fact, the CEO used to direct horror films. This charity shakes a tree that many wouldn’t think of as charitable and leverages a community to give back.

Equality

As a woman, the bottom line for me is this: I have never felt objectified by any man in the horror community. Honestly, I experience total gender equality when talking to fellow horror fans.

As mentioned above, they see so many strong women on film that they assume each female is their equal. Since we are all so different and horror is our common thread it stands to reason that our viewing habits nurture this attitude.

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The Revenge Killer

by Amy Davis, October, 2016

This is Amy’s fifth post on the female archetype found in horror/slasher films. Here she takes a look at what happens when the tables are turned.

Rich

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Themes of seduction and excessive violence are staples in exploitation horror films that present the female “revenge killer.” She’s on a mission not of her own doing and settles the score with people directly related to the incident she is avenging.

Mom and Dad

39_33665_0_thelasthouseontheleftLast House on the Left (1972), directed by Wes Craven, starts off as a tale of teenaged girls kidnapped, tortured, and murdered. The twist comes when the killers unknowingly seek lodging with the parents of one of their victims. After piecing together what happened, mom and dad exact revenge.

With Dad’s assistance, the mother uses her feminine wiles to do in the killers. Under the guise of performing oral sex, she bites off the penis of one, robbing him of the power he had used to subjugate her daughter.

Mom played to his preconceived notions that women are weak, just mounds of flesh built for his pleasure and therefore easily seduced. Thus the rapist is “bitten” by his own hubris.

Rape and Mayhem

I Spit on Your Grave (1978) also uses fake seduction to avenge a particularly graphic gang rape. The victim, Jennifer, returns cruelty tit-for-tat. Confronted with the “you were asking for it” spiel from her four attackers, she convinces them that she was turned on by the rape, plays on their vulnerabilities and kills them off one-by-one.

Jennifer is an excellent example of the pure revenge killer and in doing so elevates the raped woman to an empowered avenger.

hardcandy2005-2008dvdHard Candy (2005) also explores the idea that young non-threatening females are vulnerable to rape and mayhem. Hayley, a girl in her early teens, meets up with Jeff, an older man she encountered online who turns out to be the predatory “big bad wolf.” Dressed in her red hoodie, Haley acts awkward and innocent.

When they go back to his place it’s assumed she will be attacked but Hayley drugs his drink. Turns out Jeff killed her best friend.

Hakey plays innocent to regain control and save other girls from befalling the same fate.

In all of these films women are assaulted as a means for them to shift their personality and exact revenge.  Rape is seen as a deplorable act across gender lines ensuring that both male and female audience members root for the heroine to kill those who harmed her.

Using her sexual agencies to seduce her attackers is a way to regain control and exhibit her own power. The heroine will not let this rape define her nor will she allow any other woman to suffer from sexual violence.

Just Us Girls

In the second half of Death Proof (2007) heroines Zoë, Abernathy, and Kim are test-driving a white 1970 Dodge Challenger when Stuntman Mike, who uses his car to murder young women, tries to run them off-road.

The girls emerge mostly unharmed but they are not “survivor girls” who simply walk away. Instead, they chase him down with their car and mercilessly crush him with brute force.

Moral of the story? death-proof-movie-poster-2007-1020403304Stuntman Mike believed a car full of women was of no threat to him.

In breaking with the theme of using rape as a cause for revenge, the women of Death Proof show strength because that is just who they are. In other words, they are more than girls being girls. For example, there are several discussions about typically “male” topics such as cars and weapons demonstrating that women can play a mans’ game, so to speak.

This is not an attempt to make women seem more masculine but instead shows that females can enjoy traditionally male activities while still retaining their femininity.

In summarizing the female revenge killer, she is about taking back her sex from the presumptive male as Death Proof demonstrates.

The young trio gains control by repaying the violence they experienced and doing away with their attacker. While “eye for an eye” justice may upset some viewers, these heroines show that inner strength can come from even the darkest of places

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The Female Killer

by Amy Davis, October, 2016

Next in our series on horror/slasher films is the girl who kills for her own thrills.

Rich

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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.

thebadseed1956Take 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.74a1609fe3d8ab749100fed012796721

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.

Siblings

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.

220px-thegingersnapsfilmposterIn 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.

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The Archetype

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.

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The Mother

by Amy Davis, October 2016

This is the third installment in Amy’s series on women in horror. Today, it’s the mother archetype.

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In horror films, the mother archetype is similar to a lioness protecting her cub. Her maternal instincts kick in when she must kill to protect her children (which usually means she acts alone) and she’s willing to sacrifice herself if necessary.

Though her actions are altruistic, she often has a shortcoming of her own she must assuage, usually an affair or past dalliance of some sort.

If she must die, she chooses her own end and, therefore, cannot be considered a victim in the horror genre.

The Surrogate

Laurie Strode in Halloween (1978) and Jill from When a Stranger Calls (1979) are early examples of females who defend children not their own. In reality, they are teenaged babysitters who become mother surrogates by circumstance.

In Halloween, an escaped murderer stalks Laurie on that frightful night. She is watching the children, putting everyone in danger, and is forced to act urgently. She survives at the end, underlining once again one of horror’s favorite tropes; the final girl.

220px-whenastrangercallsoriginalWhen a Stranger Calls is the old urban legend spin-off of the babysitter who receives bizarre phone calls asking if she has  “checked the children lately?”  The twist here is that the calls are coming from inside the house. Like Laurie, she is mostly on her own in protecting the children.

Variation

Though the films mentioned so far illustrate the baseline for the mother formula, a clarification is needed. Not all mothers in horror films fall under the archetype label.

For instance, Mary in The Purge (2013), a fantasy film about a society that legalizes an annual crime spree of killing and theft, is not in this category. Through most of the story she has help from her husband and the unnamed bloody stranger in defending her home, a deviation from the traditional mother who acts alone.

Donna in Cujo (1983) spends most of the film in a broken down car protecting her son from the repeated attacks of a rabid dog. cujoOf course, her own safety is at stake because she also risks contracting the disease.

By the way, to keep the horror formula alive, Cujo is this film’s version of the stalker.

It can be argued that Donna’s struggles are also retribution for the affair she is having with another man, something that could potentially ruin her marriage and family. But it’s more than that.

While a mother in horror need not atone for her checkered past or ongoing dalliances, her actions do justify the ultimate sacrifice she’s willing to make. Remember, horror is often a morality play.

The Ultimate Sacrifice

The mother archetype is tinged with the ultimate sacrifice in a film like Candyman (1992). The protagonist Helen has no children and isn’t in a rush to change that. When her friend’s baby goes missing, she is blamed though she insists the mythical Candyman is the culprit.

candyman1In the end, Helen sacrifices her life to save the child’s, another example of a surrogate mother.

The same concept applies the Nancy Thompson from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. She makes a return in Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) this time as a mother and not a survivor girl. Now a therapist, she comes to a mental institution to help kids suffering from the same Freddy Kruger-induced sleep disorder she once dealt with.  Like Helen, she ends up losing her life.

As mentioned earlier, it is important that the sacrificing mother choose her own end. Nancy’s death allows Kristen, the dreaming patient upon whom the story is centered, to become the new survivor girl.

Three Mothers

À l’intérieur aka Inside (2007) is the most intense and straightforward depiction of the mother archetype and actually references three of them in the story line.

insideThe protagonist Sarah is not only pregnant but also a recent widow, having lost her husband in a car crash. Stalked by a deranged woman who wants her fetus, Sarah defends herself in a ruthless fashion even accidentally murdering her own mother in a moment of confusion.

We discover that Sarah’s attacker miscarried her own child as a result of the trauma she suffered as the driver of the other car that killed Sarah’s husband.

Though it’s a vital component of the horror genre, the mother archetype can be a confusing character at times because it doesn’t always follow a clearly outlined path. Nevertheless, the very nature of horror is death and rebirth existing in a setting that is often surreal (think Freddy Kruger), so encouraging the mother concept seems to be a natural.

 

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Survivor Girl

by Amy Davis, October 2016

With the next four posts, Amy takes a look at female archetypes in horror, specifically the modern slasher movie.

Not being a slasher fan, I must say I did learn quite a lot from reviewing her work and did a bit of investigating into the genre myself.

Rich

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The “survivor girl” (or “final girl”) kills to make it through her perils. She is also the one most willing to save others. When her efforts fail, she grieves her loss, which often exacts an emotional toll on her.

If the survivor girl is in a group of that outlasts the killer she will return throughout the franchise (the follow-up films). Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) is an early popular example of this formula. Sally is the only one to escape Leatherface (he is masked) by flagging down a trucker. Leatherface flings his chainsaw around in frustration implying she is the first to escape him. Sally sets the tone for Leatherface’s defeats at the hands of women in the rest of the series.

the_texas_chain_saw_massacre_1974_theatrical_posterIt’s also worth mentioning that Chainsaw establishes another horror archetype, the psychological killer.

And while we are offering up side notes, Anthony Peraino’s Bryanston Films produced and distributed Chainsaw.

The Perainos were the mobsters who also financed Deep Throat (1972), the movie that initiated the modern era of adult film, and used Bryanston as a legitimate cover to distribute that film.

They jolted American culture with off-the-wall violence in one production and hardcore sex in another, forever changing how we regard free speech in film and slamming the door for good on the puritanical Hayes Code that dominated Hollywood from the mid-1930s to the late 1960s.

The Slumber Party Massacre films (1982, 1987, 1990) pits scantily clad girls against The Driller Killer. the_slumber_party_massacre_film_posterWhile this doesn’t sound like an improvement for the empowered female, the film series, written and directed by women incidentally, is actually meant to be a slasher parody though it was received as straightforward horror.

In that same vein, Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) includes a survivor girl who faces her fears and destroys the evil disfigured Freddy Kruger.

The Virgin Question

In these early films, there was one unfaltering rule every horror filmmaker followed: the virgin lives. If she doesn’t have sex with anyone and tends to abstain from drinking and drugs, she becomes a model “survivor girl” ensuring that our culturally programmed moral ethos emerges victorious.

A shift in the survivor girl archetype begins with Scream (1996) when the character Randy so famously recites the rules for a horror film. “Number one, you can never have sex. BIG NO NO! BIG NO NO! Sex equals death, okay?” So our heroine, Sidney, remains virginal through most of the film before facing the mysterious killer known as Ghostface.  (He wears mask, of course. Freddy doesn’t need one, he’s burn victim.)

scream-1996In a twist in the tale, Ghostface turns out to be her boyfriend.

By the way, Sidney’s deceased mother is referred to as a whore and the sexual conquests of the other survivor girl, Gale Weathers, are suggested as the film progresses.

These references are intentional. By outlining the rules of horror and then smashing them, Director Wes Craven makes it clear that the virginal archetype needs to be called into question and does so when Sidney and Gale become familiar faces in the Scream franchise.

In the 2009 production Laid to Rest, the main character Princess, who has amnesia, sees a videotape of her former life as a prostitute. When the murderous Chromeskull (you guessed it, it’s a mask) abducts her, she defies the whore stereotype and makes it to the end.

In other words, a checkered sexual pass is not a deterrent to survival.

The Good Girl Revisited

Currently horror is taking a more subtle approach to the survivor girl as the stereotypical good girl.

In the Hatchet series (2006, 2010, 2013), Marybeth is called poor white trash, suggesting that she may not be virginal. However, her sexual status is irrelevant to the plot so it’s not addressed. She rebuffs any advances because they interfere with her vain attempts to eliminate the deformed swamp creature, Victor Crowley (back to disfigurement as a disguise). Protecting her virtue is given little thought. After all, she has a series of films ahead of her.poster-hatchet

As part of the slasher movie mystic, most survivor girls brush off unwanted advances due to lack of interest or wanting to stay a virgin. That’s fortunate because the narratives do stick to the old formula of anyone (male or female) being outwardly sexual dies.

But times are changing and perhaps the modern sexually active woman who sits in the audience is more accepting of the non-virgin heroine . . . and keep in mind that consumer dollars drive any industry.

The Purge (2013) deals with this in subtle fashion. The heroine Mary outlasts her tribulations. By the way, this film has a political message about the class system and how America treats its veterans. No one cares that Mary has had sex; they do care about her surviving Purge night because she has children to raise.

The survivor girl’s sexual history (or lack there of) is becoming more and more irrelevant. All we care about is her overcoming whatever obstacles are in her way.

Speaking of Mary, next we’ll look at another horror archetype, the “mother.”

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Gender Equality in Horror

by Amy Davis, October 2016

I’m taking a break for the next few days and handing over to my social media person the treat, if you will, of posting her thoughts on feminism in film.

Amy’s been with me for awhile, initially as a research assistant and reader for my first book. She does some writing on her own and with the upcoming posts explores  female empowerment in the horror genre.

Yours truly added a bit of editing and will introduce each of the posts over the next few days.

So enjoy and learn something new!

Rich

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As Halloween approaches I’d like to talk about a film genre that is too often classified as misogynistic and anti-woman: horror.

At its core, the horror tradition holds puritanical values especially if the films have supernatural themes. For example, characters messing with black magic, Ouija boards, or other methods of contacting the dead will soon find themselves among them. Likewise, the mad scientists or magic makers reanimating corpses while ignoring local superstition will see the pitchfork crowd destroy their work.

And if that’s not enough, they often face death themselves as the film closes.

them-movie-poster-10202519211In other words, playing God does not work in horror because the message is clear: science is the downfall of those who use it. Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein is a prime example of this anti-science theme.

Not until the horror narrative blends with science fiction does the focus shift to science as savior, a trope that runs through much of horror cinema popularized in the 1940s and the atomic-age classics of the 1950s.

While these films use science for the horror element (aliens, giant bugs, etc.), the populace often runs to their local oddball scientist for help.

So science becomes good versus evil in an age of unthinkable annihilation. In other words, technology causes the crisis and can also solve it. The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944), Them! (1954), and The Blob (1958) are famous offerings in this nuclear age subgenre.

By the 1970s and 80s, horror is modernized but still reflects the folktale themes popular in the pre-World War II days when Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and werewolves were standard fare.

This new wave of films means that the typical ghost story or evil powers tale like The Omen, The Blair Witch Project, and Rosemary’s Baby competes with a new element, the urban legend and the demented weirdo of the slasher film.rosemarys-baby

In the posts of this series, the slasher product is our central focus with a preference for the horror feminist and the archetypes that emerge around her.

The Dichotomy

Here’s how the slasher genre works using a frequently repeated theme. Young people, usually teens or college students, escape supervision so they can drink, do drugs, and have sex. Unfortunately, all this “partying” becomes an automatic death sentence, much to the delight of the audience. In other words, the puritanical values reinforced in Hollywood film from the 1930s through the 1960s are still around and deviant behavior that violates society’s conservative norms must be punished.

While at their core these anti-social activities conflict with society’s predominant religious values, over the years modern audiences have become younger and more progressive. To get a broader range of people into the theaters, things had to change. The emergence of the strong female character was a major update.

tumblr_m2wow5ka9m1qzr8nao1_1280We normally don’t view the perversities in horror as conduits for pro-woman empowerment but that is the dichotomy of the genre. Though films like Blood Feast (1963), Bloodsucking Freaks (1976), and Snuff (1976) were condemned for their treatment of women, they became more enticing for moviegoers because of their perverse eroticism.

Some critics claimed women were there to die a violent death, which wasn’t completely untrue. To be fair it’s a horror film and most characters, male or female, die anyway.

Stereotype 

Most of the time when a horror film focuses on a group of young people it is evenly distributed between the sexes so that “hooking up” flavors the story line. The result is men are more likely to exit the scene early when the slaughtering wacko shows up. The boys will always go check out the strange noise alone, for example.

This plays into the stereotype of the male ego as a counterpoint to the frail female as can be seen in the old urban legend about the hook-handed killer. the-hook-01The girl would not leave the car or fornicate because she swore she heard something eventually causing her frustrated boyfriend to check it out. For her it’s safety first. In fact, most horror films have a female survivor that lasts until the closing credits.

As a result, the “survivor girl” emerges as a catchall for any woman who lives to the end. While she is a modern staple in horror, she is not alone.

Other females designed to fit the plot line are the mother, the revenge killer, and the female killer, with some of them taking on the characteristics of feminism.

We begin with the “survivor girl,” a shift that starts in the feminist-oriented 1970s when the female fighting to live becomes commonplace. However, despite being updated, the survivor girl remains an oversimplification in an often-oversimplified genre.

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