Horror films have never been all that friendly to women…


A Nightmare on Elm Street, New Line Cinema, 1984

From The Believer:

Horror franchises’ relationship to violence doesn’t always outwardly have something to teach us. Throw gender into the works—specifically, the female gender—and the results seem less than thought-provoking. Indeed, you might begin to question why you watch these films at all.

In Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning (1985), there’s a killer’s POV shot of a woman lying nude on a blanket while her lover skips stones across calm Crystal Lake. Just before Jason cuts off her head with a pair of garden scissors, she looks up at “the camera” and sees him/us. This scene has the measured effect of a snuff film, or certain kinds of porno where the male form is omitted; the man is a penis, a cognitive blank space, an angry pair of grappling hands.

From Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, Paramount Pictures, 1985

Horror films, of course, have never been friendly to women. Women, often attractive and oftener undressed, are subject to humiliations, tortures, and deaths unimaginable. They are skinned and ingested alive; stabbed through the chest lying naked in bed; rammed headfirst through TV screens; swung by the feet into trees unto death. Undeniably, there’s misogyny at work in a lot of these films, from Jason and Michael’s prey of choice—although plenty of men get it, too, in the end—to Freddy Krueger’s crass penchant for calling women “whores” and “bitches.” “Welcome to prime-time, bitch!” he says; “Bon appétit, bitch!” he says yet again; and, finally, “We’ll see, bitch. We’ll just see.”

Indeed, we will. But what, one wonders? In “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey writes of the insidiousness of the “male gaze,” how when “a woman performs within the narrative, the gaze of the spectator and that of the male characters in the film are neatly combined without breaking narrative verisimilitude,” or the degree to which the story resembles real life. As for Mulvey’s strategy for fighting the gaze, she hazards the theory that “analyzing pleasure, or beauty, destroys it.”

Yet whether they’re the victims, killers (as in the first Friday the 13th, when Jason Voorhees’s mother kills to avenge the death of her son, eventually handing him the vengeance reins), or heroes in these films, women can dish it as well as receive it.

“A Friday of the Living Dead Nightmare”, Adrian Van Young, The Believer