Or, in my case: all brains, no boobs.
I’m only kidding.
Or am I?
While revising my response to Bloofer Lady’s post, Rant On Horror: On Being A Female Horror Fan, I realized it was way too long to add as a comment. So I decided to post it on my blog instead of bogarting all that space in her comments section. Below is an excerpt and this is pretty much the only section of her post with which I disagreed.
Lastly, I would like speak about how women are portrayed within horror films. I realise that as a woman I am not as physically powerful as a man, but that doesn’t mean that I am a screaming bobble-head without a brain. There have been a few horror movie heroins such as Ripley from the Alien franchise, but they seem to be far and in-between. These days the female lead characters in horror films are often screaming teen chicks with fake boobies and no brain between their ears. The Descent totally broke that mold a few years back and I wish that others would realise that you don’t need to show tits constantly to make a good horror film. I don’t mind boobies, hell I own a pair, but some of the movies being made these days, such as Hostel, border on being porn.
I’ve wanted to rant about the topic of female horror fans for a long time so kudos to you for putting your two cents out there. While I agree with many of the points in your post, I have to respectfully disagree about all women, with the rare exception, being portrayed in horror films as brainless bimbos on a regular basis. I’ve noticed a substantial increase in the amount of smart heroines in horror movies. FYI: I’ve only watched foreign horror films for about four years now so I’m basing my response on a lot of American films and only a little knowledge of foreign.
How about an example from my favorite, horror movie–Halloween (1978)? Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode doesn’t make a lot of stupid choices, no screaming whilst waiting passively as the killer finishes the job, and she’s not treated like a piece of eye candy.1
You’ve already mentioned Ellen Ripley from the Alien series, and the ladies from The Descent , who although dirty as you stated, were also all attractive women in tight-fitting clothes showing skin, but yes the sex factor was more subtle.
Ashley Laurence as Kirsty in Hellraiser (19872) is another tough chick who wasn’t sexified or dumbed down. She was maybe a little more weepy and hysterical than other heroines, but she escaped Pinhead, didn’t she? Plus, what’s better than a realistic heroine? A heroine who freaks the eff out when it’s appropriate but fights through the fear to outwit and survive. I appreciate a strong female character who doesn’t have to sacrifice her femininity to embrace that strength.
Camilla Belle’s character, Jill Johnson, in When a Stranger Calls (2006). Perhaps more thriller than horror, it still showed us a strong, teenage girl, who fought non-stop to survive, and did so in smart ways. I really liked Jill for those qualities.
Oh, what about Cassandra Magrath’s character, Liz, in Wolf Creek? She was so proactive and so strong, that I never doubted she’d get away. Yeah, mucho props to Greg McLean for that bit of trickery.
My favorite recent example is Lauren German’s character, Beth, in Hostel Part II. Not only did Eli Roth make her the sole survivor, but he allowed her to murder the villain’s manhood in front of everyone. [Side note: I know a lot of people are upset with Eli Roth over Hostel‘s first 30 or so minutes. Personally, I have no issue with nudity or sex (simulated or unsimulated) onscreen when it serves a purpose in the film. I will continue to stick by Hostel as a great horror movie. And I shun all use of the phrase “torture porn” . . . except for right now when I have to convey my dislike of such a silly label. If you’re going to call something “torture porn,” on top of the non-stop, in-your-face gorefest, I expect to see several male actors completely naked, unsimulated sex, and mind-numbingly awful acting. Then, and only then, I might concede to the existence of such a sub-genre.]
Heather Langenkamp as Nancy in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)3, Manuela Velasco as Angela in [REC] (2007), Neve Campbell as Sidney Prescott in the Scream trilogy, and I could probably come up with a few more if I dug deeper in the memory vault. My point is, I really think times have changed for women in horror movies.
Now, I’m not saying they’re not making a large amount of horror flicks with a bunch of tits and no brains. I’ve just noticed a wider selection of movies starring sexy, smart, and strong female characters. Psst! Briana Evigan is an actress I hope to see in more horror films because I really think she’s a good heroine.
So, in closing, let’s face it–movies have to make money. I think, as in any genre of film, women’s roles are at the mercy of the person writing the script and forking out the dough4. And horror movies, which are already difficult enough to make and distribute, are geared toward a very specific audience5 so we’re gonna have to deal with the “dumb, naked chick” factor for as long as sex sells and men like boobies.
1 Remember, film is steeped in current events, issues, culture, and so forth. Women weren’t always empowered. Women were viewed as the weaker, inferior sex; thus, the films made at the time portray woman as she was generalized and stereotyped by the masses. Take a look at Jamie’s mum 18 years earlier in Psycho (1960).
2 Isn’t it sad that we almost have to put the year in which a film as classic as Hellraiser was made because everything’s getting remade? Geesh.
3 Any Freddy fans out there? Well, I am. It was THE very first horror movie I ever saw and it scared the bejeebers outta me. I’ve been a dedicated Elm Street fan ever since. As such, I was extremely jealous of all you Jason fans when they made a special documentary all about the Friday the 13th series. But wait no longer. They’re currently working on Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, which should be out in 2010. More info.
4 Yes, this person tends to have a penis.
5 Yes, these people tend to have penises as well. See the trend?
So thank Baby Jesus for giving us those special men who know how to write strong female characters and who aren’t afraid of breaking the paint-by-numbers style of some movies in the horror genre. My dream come true would be an increased number of successful female filmmakers with a passion for making scary ass movies because certainly then we’d get a different perspective or at least a fresh one. If you think I’m missing out on a great horror movie by a woman, please share it with me! The movie’s title and director are all I need to get started.
I don’t care if it’s a man or a woman, but we need some new blood to shake things up in horror. I feel like all we see in the U.S. nowadays are remakes or reboots. I’ve turned to foreign cinema a lot more the past four years and it rarely disappoints me and it almost always surprises me with something new. I’ll stop there. I could rant on that topic for hours and it’s already 1:30 AM.