Tag Archives: Wes Craven

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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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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