"I bind you, Hollywood, from doing harm"
October 29, 2014 12:06 AM   Subscribe

Halloween is almost here which to me means one thing: overanalyzing horror flicks for any feminist undertones! ... [N]o season has better metaphors for misogynistic fears and powerful female sexuality than the scary movies that permeate almost every channel and film festival throughout October.
At Autostraddle, Nina suggests nine horror films she likes in the "Blossoming-Teenage-Girl-Becoming-A-Woman" sub-genre. She is far from alone in her search for interesting feminist themes in horror cinema and literature.
Here, we discuss 50 horror films directed by women that feature a range of tropes and ideas. In our current cinematic climate, where only five percent of studio releases have a woman behind the camera, we hope you’ll support more women making movies that scare the hell out of you.
At Flavorwire, Alison Nastasi lists 50 Must-See Horror Films Directed by Women (all on one page).

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When you combine horror with the feminist short story, you enter a whole new realm that’s even more terrifying than any Pinhead from Hellraiser or Damien from the Omen. The horror delves into reality, where much can be hidden beneath the facade of such vanities as a life of wealth, the perfect marriage, or an idyllic community.
At Exploring Feminisms, Jillian McKeown puts a Spotlight on Five Feminist-Minded Short Stories with Elements of Horror.

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Recently I published an article in honor of Black History Month and Women in Horror Month called "20 Black Women in Horror Fiction." While the first list consisted almost entirely of women whose works have published solo book length collections such as novels, and single author short story and poetry anthologies ... this list consists primarily of women whose works of horror were published in multiple-author black writer horror showcases
At Persephone Magazine, Sumiko Saulson offers "21 More Black Women in Horror Writing."

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That horror is often perceived as a boys' club, most fans of the genre would never deny ... Not unduly long ago the gendering was not so subtle; Flannery O’Connor’s tales of "mystery and misery and horror" in the South were disparaged by critics as "highly unladylike," O’Connor herself for "[slamming] down direct sentence after direct sentence of growing outrage ..." As much to say: a woman shouldn’t.
At Electric Literature, Adrian Van Young pairs suggestions of five horror films directed by women with five horror books/collections written by women. (Note: their distubing content is sometimes discussed more vividly than in other links.)

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Intended as a supernatural suspense thriller rather than a horror film, The Entity received middling reviews on release, and seemed destined to be nothing more than another 1980s genre film. However, Austrian avant-gardist Peter Tscherkassky saw something else.
In "Attacked by Nothing," an article from cléo: a journal of film and feminism, Tara Judah argues that two short avant-garde horror films in Peter Tscherkassky's "CinemaScope Trilogy" constitute an anti-patriarchal point of view on movies themselves: Outer Space (1999; 10:01) and Dreamwork (NSFW; 2002; 10:40). (Note: as discussed in the article, Dreamwork presents a notably disturbing scene from an older film in an obscured but still legible form; Outer Space is based on the same film but is more Gothic in tone.)

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And at The Lobster Dance: Japan, Gender, Media, Culture, Odorunara has written a delightful and engaging series of posts on "Feminist Halloween," including ... She also highlights or credits numerous pieces of interest elsewhere:
posted by Monsieur Caution (42 comments total) 110 users marked this as a favorite
 
Jennifer’s Body (2009)

A seriously underrated movie about a demon possessed cheerleader (played by Megan Fox) who eats boys


Yesss, I approve of your list.
posted by Justinian at 12:29 AM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


(Well, okay, she also includes Byzantium and Gingersnaps both of which I really like but lots of people like those.)
posted by Justinian at 12:30 AM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


There are lots of lists here, but Beautiful Creatures with Kate Winslet should be on one of them.
posted by oneironaut at 12:42 AM on October 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


The Craft, oh my. When I was a teenager someone very close to me was obsessed with that movie and as a result I've seen it more times than I have digits to wiggle. I may have to watch it again, actually; it's been a while.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 12:47 AM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


Teeth is such a great and fun movie. I approve of any list that includes it, and doubly so if the list mentions that it obviously belongs on the list.
posted by dogwalker at 12:49 AM on October 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


Also needed on a list: Pitch Black, starring Radha Mitchell and Vin Diesel. Ignore most subsequent Riddickulous sequels, though.
posted by nicebookrack at 4:16 AM on October 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


There are lots of lists here, but Beautiful Creatures with Kate Winslet should be on one of them.

That's Heavenly Creatures -- but yes.
posted by eugenen at 4:17 AM on October 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


I think this is a strong list, but is arguably missing The Descent, which has strong female characters and also happens to be in my top five horror movies ever.
posted by staccato signals of constant information at 5:09 AM on October 29, 2014 [18 favorites]


I saw an article this week that suggested The Descent was not a great (horror) film.
I did not understand it.

I have been underground a lot.
The Descent was a film that convinced me I should never go spelunking.
(I didn't mind the sequel, either)
posted by Mezentian at 6:08 AM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Whoops, thanks, no more posting at 3:42AM for me!
posted by oneironaut at 6:09 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also needed on a list: Pitch Black, starring Radha Mitchell and Vin Diesel.

Now I love Pitch Black, don't get me wrong. But why?
posted by Naberius at 6:33 AM on October 29, 2014


From the list-of-50 link, Ravenous is firmly in my underrated gem category. I'm saddened the director apparently hasn't dipped her toe into horror-comedy since, because it's wonderful darkly comic fun.
posted by Drastic at 6:45 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


From the list-of-50 link, Ravenous is firmly in my underrated gem category. I'm saddened the director apparently hasn't dipped her toe into horror-comedy since, because it's wonderful darkly comic fun.

I believe she was one of three(?) directors to take on the film, and it was by many accounts a really difficult production, so maybe she isn't so excited to try to repeat that experience.
posted by xingcat at 7:01 AM on October 29, 2014


Came here to make sure Ginger Snaps was mentioned, can now walk away happy. Thanks for such a thorough and neat post!
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 7:10 AM on October 29, 2014


Jennifer’s Body (2009)

I too am pleased to see that here - Juno backlash meant it didn't really get the audience it deserved, I thought.
posted by Artw at 7:17 AM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


I came to complain that the Autostraddle article did not list John Carpenter's 1978 Halloween which features Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) as the first incarnation of the Final Girl.

I was impressed by the "more inside" (thank you).

The misogyny and murderous libido personified by "the Shape" terrorizes virgin and nurturer Laurie Strode forcing her to tactically develop into a canny female defender of herself and her loved ones.

It's a theme that is carried by the Alien quadrilogy (notably Aliens and advanced/evolved in Alien: Resurrection).

So, yeah, how can anyone mention Halloween films treating the feminine and underwritten by feminism without mentioning Carpenter's landmark Halloween?
posted by mistersquid at 8:11 AM on October 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


Unless the point is to identify films directed by women, in which case Carpenter's film is at least a significant footnote.
posted by mistersquid at 8:14 AM on October 29, 2014


I believe she was one of three(?) directors to take on the film, and it was by many accounts a really difficult production, so maybe she isn't so excited to try to repeat that experience.

Also RIP, Antonia Bird.
posted by Mothlight at 8:44 AM on October 29, 2014


Well, now I'm especially saddened.
posted by Drastic at 8:52 AM on October 29, 2014


mistersquid: “So, yeah, how can anyone mention Halloween films treating the feminine and underwritten by feminism without mentioning Carpenter's landmark Halloween?”

Halloween is a movie that I love – I happily watched it again a few weeks ago – but it's pretty much the standard horror archetype, as far as I can tell: girls who have sex are marked for death, only "pure" women have a chance at surviving. This is pretty much a commonplace of horror movie discussions; horror fans used to talk about it all the time. The thing that makes Halloween compelling is a fantastic performance by Jamie Lee Curtis, who manages to come off as smart and canny. However, the movie itself seems to have pretty much the same old attitudes toward women, sadly, as much as I enjoy it and love Michael Myers as an embodiment of fear.
posted by koeselitz at 9:05 AM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


Loved Ginger Snaps. Pretty sure I saw and liked the Craft back in the 90s. Carrie is a bona fide classic at this point. I don't think I've seen the other ones on the list, but I never would have thought Jennifer's Body was worth watching. We have enough people here vouching for it that I will check it out.
posted by Hoopo at 9:28 AM on October 29, 2014


This is a fantastic selection of articles. Can't wait until I have time to read more.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 9:28 AM on October 29, 2014


koeselitz, not to go too far off on a derail, the concept of the Final Girl was pioneered by Carol Clover in her book Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film., and draws the archetype from films such as Friday the 13th and Halloween.

The trope may seem well-worn to you because Carpenter's Halloween is the progenitor, so to speak, of the Final Girl.
posted by mistersquid at 9:53 AM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


>> Also needed on a list: Pitch Black, starring Radha Mitchell and Vin Diesel.
Now I love Pitch Black, don't get me wrong. But why?


Here's a rough version of "That Article I Really Need to Write Someday About How Pitch Black is a Feminist Movie":

THIS COMMENT CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR PITCH BLACK AND THE CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK

TL;DR summary of points: Pitch Black has a female protagonist and the main character arc is explicitly hers. The film subverts gender and horror tropes with major characters who are none of them what they seem to be. The characters who survive the movie are the first ones dead in a stereotypical horror flick: the black dude and the sexually available teenage girl. And the villain, who was saved by the Final Girl's self-sacrifice.

The movie setup is simple: good hero (Fry), bad villain (Riddick), innocents for the hero to protect (various survivors), and morally neutral nature threat (the monsters). But all of these are wrong: the hero is morally tainted, the villain is morally complex, the innocents have secrets, and the biggest threats to the survivors are the survivors themselves.

Fry is the badass action heroine-leader who nonetheless starts the movie by trying to kill everyone else to save herself. Her guilt over this drives the movie as she struggles to redeem herself. Johns the standard love interest / alpha white male hero cop is actually an arrogant, selfish drug addict who only cares about himself. The Imam survives the movie basically by being nice to everyone and by being Keith David. Jack is an outgoing teenager attracted to both hero Fry and villain Riddick. Jack is also using gender to conceal/protect herself but is betrayed by her own sexual availability: the smell of her menstrual blood. (This may also be the only film in which menstruation is used as a plot point that's not for comedy, pregnancy, magical, or shock/grossout purposes. This may be the only scifi film in which women menstruate at all!)

Riddick is the hardest character to analyze, especially depending on whether you're going by Pitch Black alone or including the kinda-retconned character traits from later movies. Suffice it to say that Riddick is more complicated than your standard slasher serial killer. He respects Fry as a Final Girl and fellow pragmatic survivor, and he's ultimately swayed by her decision to choose heroism/altruism over her own self-preservation.

Fry is a Final Girl, but she rejects her Final Girl survival guarantee to save other people and redeem herself. She dies, but she dies as a result of her own choices, and her agency makes her a hero.

I liked The Chronicles of Riddick for what it was, but it wasn't a horror or feminist film. It's a science fiction / space opera film with Riddick as the new film and series lead. No surprise, since Riddick was by far the most charismatic character in Pitch Black, but still: male film lead, little to no mention of the woman who got him there. Then the other two unexpected survivors, Jack/Kyra and the Imam, are ignobly stuffed in the fridge to give Riddick *~~manpain~~*.

I haven't seen the Riddick movie yet, so I can't comment much on the role of women in that film, though I've heard Katee Sackhoff is fun but not important.

HERE ENDETH THE SPOILERS
posted by nicebookrack at 10:08 AM on October 29, 2014 [11 favorites]


mistersquid: “The trope may seem well-worn to you because Carpenter's Halloween is the progenitor, so to speak, of the Final Girl.”

I was saying that the Final Girl trope doesn't seem very feminist to me. Clover seems to have agreed.
posted by koeselitz at 10:17 AM on October 29, 2014


IIRC the argument goes that the Final Girl can be a feminist trope in that the usually-male horror film audience is ultimately meant to identify with and sympathize with the female Final Girl, instead of the usually-male killer. When the Final Girl survives/defeats/kills the killer, the reaction should be triumph that she "won" rather than disappointment that he "lost."
posted by nicebookrack at 10:31 AM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


Fantastic post, thank you so much MC! And it's controversial I reckon, but as far as analysis in text form goes for my money House of Psychotic Women trumps Clover and just about anything else for that matter. It's not a whit academic though. But so great.
posted by ifjuly at 10:45 AM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


> Jack is an outgoing teenager attracted to both hero Fry and villain Riddick. Jack is also using gender to conceal/protect herself but is betrayed by her own sexual availability: the smell of her menstrual blood.

I read that character entirely differently. To me, Jack was clearly a trans boy using the crash as an opportunity to subvert his assigned gender and adopt his true gender. Jack is not sexually attracted or available to Riddick, he is attempting to emulate and impress him, as any boy would a too-cool badass.

I took the menstruation subplot as a heartbreaking scene in which Jack is betrayed by his own body and thus ripped back into his assigned gender, away from his own. It caught me and my partner completely off guard. We actually paused the movie and looked at each other, "Did this movie just introduce a strong, trans character fighting for identity in addition to everything else in the final push? Wow!"
posted by gilrain at 11:32 AM on October 29, 2014 [10 favorites]


(I have not seen other Riddick movies, so my interpretation may not hold up in light of later canon.)
posted by gilrain at 11:36 AM on October 29, 2014


Future Riddick movies can be ignored on the basis that they both aren't very good.

This is why Ginger Snaps Back never happened either.
posted by squinty at 11:42 AM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yes, let's ignore later movies anyway (Jack/Kyra presents as female in Chronicles).

Jack as trans boy is a valid reading that still plays around with gender tropes. However, the explanation/excuse Jack gives in dialogue is one of protection: "I thought it'd be better if people took me as a guy. I thought they might leave me alone instead of always messing with me. I'm sorry. [...] You could've left me at the ship. That's why I didn't say something sooner." It's ambiguous whether Jack means "say something" about "really" being a girl or merely about the bleeding. Either way, Jack's body has betrayed Jack.
posted by nicebookrack at 11:49 AM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


ALSO, sorry, let me clarify: when I said "attracted" above, I meant Jack is drawn to / hero-worships / wants to befriend both Fry and Riddick. I don't think sex had much if anything to do with it.

(Bonus reason to ignore sequels: Jack/Kyra is Riddick's love interest in Chronicles, eww)
posted by nicebookrack at 11:54 AM on October 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


I can see both interpretations, sure. It's a testament to the film that either could have been so affecting.

To us, in that scene it dawns on you almost at the same time as the character that they are being ripped away from their true identity. As though for Jack, the horror movie begins right there, when previously it had been mitigated by the relief of presenting as his actual gender; a brilliant piece of direction and acting.

To be honest, I hadn't even considered that it might not be the standard interpretation. Interesting!
posted by gilrain at 11:55 AM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Teeth and Gingersnaps are the most unambiguous entries.

I'm probably forgetting some good examples, but Let the Right One In, Little Girl Down the Lane, and Night of the Comet might fit the list.
posted by dgaicun at 11:59 AM on October 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


Ooh, yes, Night of the Comet.
posted by gilrain at 12:01 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Let the Right One In is an amazing film on multiple levels. I only wish it were as openly queer as the book, in which Eli is explicitly a trans girl.

I've no interest in seeing the U.S. Let Me In remake, but I suspect the queerness is even more greatly reduced.
posted by nicebookrack at 12:18 PM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Also RIP, Antonia Bird.

But consider the professional qualifications that an undead Antonia Bird would bring to the genre!
posted by dhartung at 12:25 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


hm, i don't see picnic at hanging rock on here, but maybe i missed it. i think it's great, and like les diaboliques (and yeah, heavenly creatures), there are some excellent queer themes and notions of betrayal to suss out there, lots to be mined. let's scare jessica to death has a bit going on too re: paranoia and self-doubt brought on by being forced in a feminine role.
posted by ifjuly at 9:39 AM on October 30, 2014


Saw half of the Carrie remake before falling asleep last night - it's really not very good at all, is it?
posted by Artw at 10:44 AM on October 31, 2014


The Carrie remake was fine, I thought.
Just singularly unnecessary.
posted by Mezentian at 5:24 PM on October 31, 2014


And it's controversial I reckon, but as far as analysis in text form goes for my money House of Psychotic Women trumps Clover and just about anything else for that matter. It's not a whit academic though. But so great.

I eventually ordered this on the strength of your recommendation, and I'm just now dipping into it. I have no idea how I'll feel about the analysis, but this is an amazing document--certainly I love the fact that someone tried to do this.

I somehow overlooked the fact that it's described as having over 1000 film stills, 32 color pages of film posters (etc.), and an appendix summarizing so many odd and obscure films. I expected maybe a quirky little pop-culture-based autobiography, but it's visibly so much more than that. Thanks!
posted by Monsieur Caution at 5:30 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Aw, that makes me happy! Also feels like a cool trade because I got into Strange of Olondria thanks to you! :D

She, like many of my friends in town and far away, has the stomach for stuff waaaaay beyond me, and yeah she's less academic (to put it lightly). But she's also done more to make me open-minded about the Whys of that stuff, what people get out of it, than anything I've read in academia.
posted by ifjuly at 9:44 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


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