I never seem to line up with some people’s version of feminism, but even to me it’s pretty obvious that a great deal of horror is rather sexist. I can still recall Japanese audiences leaving Takashi Miike’s Audition in droves, even though Japanese culture is saturated with explicit violence towards. The moment the shoe was on the other foot, it wasn’t entertaining anymore.
In the US, I am quite sure there were two factors that influenced the majority of horror films.
In the fifties, there was a sort of rudely made film called a nudie cutie, as this was the only reasonably mainstream way to have topless or scantily clad women in a film. What producers found was that the censors would permit more salacious content if there was an actual plot. While horror movies weren’t the only kind of movies made, they were the majority, and so a formula was established, nude or near nude women being savaged by killers and monsters.
The second factor was John Carpenter’s Halloween. Halloween tapped into the EC Comics formula, where ghouls, madmen, and the like violently enforced the previous generation’s morality. If you lied, cheated or murdered, you could expect a terrible comeuppance. In Halloween, a young Michael Myers kills his sister as an extension of his unyielding moral code. As the film progresses, it becomes apparent that the moment that any of the women that Michaels Myers is stalking hook with their boyfriends, he marks them for death. The slasher movie formula was written in stone, sex = death. (Internationally, giallo films carried the same message, although it’s arguable how influential they were.)
The Woman is a great example that no one likes it when non-sexualized woman are antagonists. She is a horribly neglected character that I haven’t anyone even mentioning among horror’s greats.
This character was featured in multiple films, the first being Offspring, a more traditional horror film. You see the Woman is part of an unnamed cannibal clan that populates New England, (mostly Maine) isolating and preying on families. And while they look crude, they are not at all unintelligent, although they are incredibly sadistic. At the end of the film, despite giving great account of themselves, the Woman is horribly injured and her family killed. And if it had been left there, she would have been a forgettable figure.
It is then that Lucky McKee enters. The Woman is a fantastic movie, but difficult to watch. It concerns a wife-beating country lawyer that finds the woman bathing in a creek and captures her. It becomes obvious that in his mind, this is an attack on women in general, and the lawyer has some very specific gender roles for her to play and some fierce punishments if she doesn’t comply.
As the film progresses, the family dynamic becomes worse, the woman are subjected to further abuse and the pressure builds. At some point, the Woman is going to get loose.
The Woman is a monster, but becomes oddly sympathetic. She is a vicious cannibal, but she comes by it honestly, compared to the cultivated evil of her captors, she becomes a figure of raw femininity.
Who occasionally bites people’s face off.