Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Feminist Horror

Even if you aren't a horror movie fan, you probably know some of the basic horror movie conventions (virgins live, the Final Girl, killer is not really dead, power outages... etc.) that tend to rule the genre. Among these, women tend to have pretty lame roles. They are generally victims, the skank who gets knocked off mid-film, or the virgin Final Girl.

The Bitch Magazine blogs have been doing a series of posts this month about feminism and horror movies, since horror movies with a feminist edge are hard to find. I've been really enjoying these posts, and have been keeping a list of movies to see.

Here are some that I've watched recently:

Right? How had I not seen this? This isn't the most feminist-y movie out there, but what I like about Scream boils down to this:
1.) I love how it's a movie that's really conscious of the genre. Throughout the movie, the characters make comments about what's happening in comparison to horror movies, which really brings to light the ridiculousness of some horror movie conventions.
2.) The main character is female, and she's not dumb or blonde!
3.) And there are two strong female characters who end up more or less saving the day. Or you know... what could be salvaged.
I think Scream has some feminist worth, and in any case, it revitalized the slasher film, and is as funny as it is good.

Jennifer's Body (2009): I didn't see this when it came out in theaters, because it got a lot of positive hype before it came out, and once it did, bombed. So, unsure of whether I wanted to watch 2 hours of something potentially crappy, I put it off. I did end up liking the movie. I didn't love it, but I tend to agree with the positive reviews that say this movie has a feminist message. Negative reviews that complain about the movie being faux-feminsit I think are kind of shallow. To reiterate what the positive reviews say (sort of), Jennifer's Body does contain feminist messages because:
1.) Amanda Seyfried saves the day. She gets sent to jail because of it, but... it's understandable. She escapes to go kill the rock band that destroyed her best friend. So, in effect, she's going to the root of the problem. She had to kill Jennifer's body because Jennifer was a demon, the real Jennifer had already been killed by Adam Brody's satanic band.
2.) It's not a revenge movie. A lot has been written about the kinds of revenge-flicks like I Spit on Your Grave or the Last House on the Left as containing horrible messages about sexuality and women, but that's not what Jennifer's Body is about. Sure, Jennifer (Megan Fox) goes on a killing(/eating) spree of teenage boys, but it's not for revenge. Her dependency on human flesh isn't exclusively male either--which some people have complained that even the powerful demon is dependent on boys. Nope. She just needed human flesh, and found it easier to feed on boys, easier to get into compromising positions than girls.
3.) It passes the Bechdel test. Even though passing the Bechdel test is not an automatic pass into feminist-territory, it's certainly a step. Needy and Jennifer (Amanda Seyfried and Megan Fox) are friends, do not talk about boys constantly, and while both embody teenage girl stereotypes (whore/virgin), they both possess qualities that they envy in each other. Needy's character is much more admirable, and even though Jennifer is hot, Needy is her only friend. As the movie goes on, and Needy realizes the urgency of the situation, she gets more bold and strong. Two of the guys Jennifer goes after aren't just to eat, but are to terrorize Needy. This is girl-on-girl crime a-la Mean Girls... but the mean girls are one girl and she's a demon.
4.) In my opinion, the movie is pointing out some of the conventional exploitative elements of horror movies. Jennifer's body is put on display throughout the movie, but Needy doesn't follow the same pure-virgin conventions of her character type. Needy has sex, but that's not a death sentence for her as it is for most non-virgins in horror movies. And often the final girl ends up bloody, clothing ripped, and hair wet for a messy but still-sexy final scene. Needy gets bloody and messy, but it's not to be sexy. In her first fight scene with Jennifer, she's wearing a ridiculous poofy dress, a clear nod to the fact that girls in horror movies often end up fighting baddies in something inconvenient.
There are a lot of other things to talk about in the movie, but overall, I liked it and thought it was pretty thought-provoking.

This movie was on the Bitch list for feminist horror movies. It's an interesting re-make of the classic werewolf movie, with puberty/menstruation being directly related with transforming into a werewolf. The sequels look busted, so I'm not going to bother, but I appreciated Ginger Snaps for being a good alternative horror movie with some really strong feminist themes.

And if you're a fan of the oldies, but still want some feminist horror, try...

The Stepford Wives (1975)

Klute (1971)

(Side note: Klute remains the scariest movie I have ever seen... aside from having the creepiest soundtrack ever, it's also just terrifying. I watched it first in a film class and I screamed. In class. Other people did too.)

Carrie (1976)

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