November 17, 2018

Why Women Are Marginalized in Horror

“He’s coming. Hide. No, not there. Oh god. No. No! *Fade to black* “What’s happening? WHAT’S HAPPENING?! IS SHE DEAD? DID HE KILL HER?” I hear my boyfriend sigh. This is how I watch horror movies, with my hands mostly over my eyes. I watch through my fingers, obscuring all the scary parts. It’s like being a prisoner, nose to the bars of my cell. I miss a lot, or sometimes nothing at all. Sometimes I’m not fast enough. Like with Hereditary, that moment provoking a collective gasp from the entire theatre, or, more recently, with “The Haunting of Hill House,” where ghosts drop into the scene with the phantom grace of house spiders. I jump and scream and laugh, but as sure as this is the sense of injustice — I know that at night I will have to keep my light on, check under my bed, shut the doors until they click. I know that every shadow, every sound, every movement will terrorize me. But even though I know this, I will do it again and again and again. This torture, I will welcome it.

There is no genre I enjoy more than horror even though, as a woman, it seems that I shouldn’t. There’s Don’t Breathe, in which an old blind man who started out as the victim actually ends up trying to artificially inseminate the young woman who burgled him; It Follows, in which a young woman is haunted by the sentient STD her boyfriend gave her; The Innkeepers, in which a young woman is trapped in a cellar with the ghost of an ancient bride who was jilted by her groom; Drag Me to Hell, in which a young woman who refuses an old woman a loan ends up cursed, her face gnawed by a toothless demon. These are the horror movies in the past 10 years that I have been unable to get out of my mind, that I have loved — despite the nightmares — four movies about young women who are tormented, none of them written or directed by women. What does that say about me? What does that say about horror?

* * *

In 1992, the year Tony Todd’s Candyman stalked Virginia Madsen’s grad student, the seminal book on women in horror shed some blood of its own. Carol J. Clover’s Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film had been written after a sudden rush of low-budget horror movies, starting in the mid-70s, which newly revolved around young women; specifically, young women whose perspective became that of the audience. Cinemagoers of both genders thus became female prey fleeing male predators. “Taken together, these films offer variant imaginings of what it is, or might be, like to be a woman,” Clover wrote, “to menstruate and be pregnant, to be vulnerable and endure male violence, to be sexually violated.””

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