Why Put the "Whore" in Horror?
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Why Put the "Whore" in Horror?

Female sexuality suffers in slasher films.

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Why Put the "Whore" in Horror?
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I love horror films. Forget comedy romps or romance sagas; I’ll take the occult, some demonic activity, and household hauntings filmed through a shaky camera lens over a “feel-good” flick any day. However, my affinity for the macabre movie genre ends at slasher films. I prefer Shyamalan twists and James Wan scream sequences to gory deaths and Jason Voorhees.

Besides the bloodiness of slasher movies, I take issue with the treatment of female sexuality that seems to be ingrained into every film’s plot. When people define classic elements of slasher films, they usually mention either the weapon choices (knife, chainsaw, axe, etc.) or the fact that the movie features a lot of scantily clad women. Think on this-when women die in these types of movies, what are they doing right before they are killed, or as they are being killed? Often times, the first murders of the movie occur as a young, sexually promiscuous woman is engaging in sexual activity and ends up dead because of her “deviant behavior.”

For the sake of a popular example-Lynda Van Der Klok, from Halloween. Lynda has sex with her boyfriend Bob and is immediately punished for her actions. She is lying in bed naked, filing her nails, when Michael appears in the bedroom doorway. The scene is drawn out so that Lynda can ask stupid questions and flirt with Michael, who is standing beneath a sheet and who she thinks is her boyfriend, and so that the audience can occasionally catch a glimpse of her bare breasts. When she’s had enough of Michael’s silence, Lynda gets up and throws a teeny-tiny shirt over her torso (doesn’t button it up so we can still see her chest) and Michael proceeds to strangle her with a telephone cord. Her death takes about 30 seconds, in which time she gasps sexily and arches her back like she’s experiencing sexual pleasure instead of being murdered. Michael is behind her, grunting, and overall the death scene seems more like a grisly porno than a terrifying murder.

But where are the men? As they say, it takes two to tango; what punishment do men receive for their sexual dalliances? In most cases, they end up dead, just as the women do, but it is the differences in their death scenes that promote the desire for purity of women. Bob, Lynda’s boyfriend, is stabbed quickly after sex and is left alone downstairs as Michael slowly makes his way to Lynda. The scene is quick and unfocused, and Bob is quickly forgotten.

The final trope of importance is the “final girl.” In Halloween, the final girl is Laurie Strode, the girl who survives and defeats the monster in the end. The final girl is usually androgynous in the sense that she has characteristics of both masculine and feminine gender stereotypes. Laurie outsmarts and overpowers Michael, both of which are masculine stereotypes, and still remains pretty and pure, which are feminine stereotypes. Another critical characteristic of the “final girls” is that she must be a virgin. The final girl must be untouched by “bad behavior” such as sex, drinking, and drugs; any character to engage in such activities almost always perishes before the movie ends. Remember when Lynda calls Laurie right before she is strangled to death? Laurie gets up off of the couch to answer the phone and throws her knitting onto the couch cushions. It’s Halloween night and Laurie is sitting alone in her living room, knitting.

So, what do these cinematic tropes convey to the audience? First off, the murder of “promiscuous women” sends a message that condemns women who are sexually liberated; if you have sex, you will die. Female sexuality has been limited, confined, and forcibly subdued over the past centuries, and the use of negative imagery alongside sexually active women in popular horror movies perpetrates the idea that female sexuality is something monstrous and must be destroyed. It also strengthens the power of rape culture when we watch and normalize the scene because many of these deaths that involve “the slut” are essentially rape scenes. As I previously mentioned, Lynda sounds like she’s being sexually pleasured rather than dying and her breasts are exposed as she is strangled. And if these women are not being strangled, they’re usually being slashed apart by knives, which are traditionally phallic images in film and literature. The women of slasher films have sex and are raped as punishment, but are remembered throughout popular culture as being part of a “sexy death scene.” Secondly, Bob’s quick demise in comparison to Lynda’s long, drawn out rape/murder scene suggests that male sexuality is not really that bad of a thing; Lynda’s death was obviously punishment for her behavior, but Bob’s was very fast and quickly forgotten, which represents literally all of history in relation to male sexuality. Men are not sexually oppressed like women are. And finally, the final girl. Carol J. Clover coined the term “final girl,” and although some have tried to turn this trope into a feminist icon, the final girl is far from liberating. The final girl caters to male desire in the sense that she is chaste, but embodies masculine traits to the extent that male viewers are able to not only sexualize her, but root for her as well. Halloween is not an isolated incident; Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, these tropes repeat through movies and across plot lines.

Sexuality isn’t the only characteristic of femininity that is attacked in slasher films, and unfortunately it isn’t just slasher films that promote misogynistic ideals. Women are oftentimes the host for evil, and while possessed are not in control of their bodies. They become damsels in distress, in need of rescuing by a priest who, by job description requirements, can only be a man. Other than the misogynistic “final girl,” women are never a source of power or goodness, but instead conduits for evil, shame, and death. Think of Rosemary’s Baby or The Rite or The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The women in these movies are possessed through a violation of the female body and turn the women into vessels of destruction. And when I say destruction, I don’t refer just to the violence that they bring to others. Remember in The Exorcist when Regan, in mid-possession, stabs her vagina with a crucifix which promotes the idea that the feminine body, and (shockingly) sexuality is monstrous. Regan also begs men to “fuck her” several times throughout her possession, suggesting that female sexuality is evil.

As I previously mentioned, powerful women are not commonplace characters in most horror movies. Instead, their power is punished by death or a manipulation of character into something evil. Carrie, for example, shows a powerful young woman with extremely unusual abilities who an opportunity to be good, but instead uses her power for mass destruction. The repetition of the fall of formidable heroines in horror films condemns strong women and seems to send a warning-the power of women is a monstrous thing.

It is easy to overlook subliminal messages in movies like horror films and slasher flicks, but the sexism that permeates the cinematic spooks is every bit as scary as the movie’s murderer. This may sound dramatic, but movies have the power to change the course of culture; we learn from movies, form attachments to characters and places, and these movies stay with us long after they’ve been made. It is absolutely okay to love these films and to continue to watch them, (anyone up for a scary movie marathon?) but it then becomes our responsibility to recognize the misogyny in these movies, how it affects our society, and us, and why it is wrong.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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