Feminist horror movies are few and far between – in fact there are very limited horror movies I would dub as being feminist at all. All of this goes back to the golden age of Hollywood where straight white males were in control and used their influence to direct the feminist narrative that we have today. The patriarchy ran this shit, and while that’s been changing in increasing years since the feminist movement, even with the more feminist focus on equality the most feminist example of a horror movie I can give was only created in 2019 and 2020.
Horror follows a very specific patriarchal view and stereotype, down to the horror story basics of the Final Girl and the Slut. The Final Girl, who may eventually become badass and strong, is in no way a strong female character. She exudes submission and a virginal Madonna-like complex due to being the reflection of the second wave of feminism in the 80s. She doesn’t take her clothes off, she doesn’t have sex, so she doesn’t die, putting a focus on the “clean” style of women that the patriarchy have held on a pedestal for years.
The depiction of the slut however is the patriarchy’s view of how well-behaved women shouldn’t behave, while also clearly stroking their dicks over them. This creates the troubling image of women who simply enjoy their sexuality and in their own pleasure (don’t even get me started on the patriarchy’s recent views of the EPIC feminist rap WAP by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion) as being whores, unclean, and ‘deserving’ of the deaths they get in horror movies. Hey, if you didn’t want to be raped you shouldn’t have worn that short skirt right? Well in horror movies, if she didn’t want to die topless with her enhanced breasts bouncing then she shouldn’t have sex and, god forbid, enjoy it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the narrative in horror movies when it comes to the depiction of women recently, as I have been toying with the idea of writing a new novel that turns the genre on it’s head. I’ve been thinking about making the Final Girl a “slutty” character, the killer a woman, and the stoner a happy-go-lucky female who simply likes getting high. I want to change the narrative of horror, so I thought I would look into other examples of what feminist horror movies are out there.
There isn’t much, and like I said, they’ve mostly been created in the last two years.
The first example of modern feminist horror is the 2019 remake of Black Christmas, directed by Sophie Takal and starring Imogen Poots. This remake is a different story to the 2012 version (with all star cast of Michelle Tratchenberg, Katie Cassidy and Lacey Chabert) and the original, and the only thing they really keep is the name and the fact that it’s a horror massacre based in a sorority around Christmas time. But revered feminist Takal was determined to make the movie about strong females and she pretty much succeeded, starting with her depiction of the sorority girls.
Now usually in horror movies – and basically any other movie that involves a sorority, such as Sorority Row – the sorority girls are like mini Playboy Bunnies. They are all drop dead gorgeous mean girls with long blonde hair, fake tits and a penchant for make up and beauty tips. They are all deemed as slutty and must die, except of course for the Final Girl who is usually a legacy and only in the sorority because her mother is dead and she went there originally, making the Final Girl generally above the other ‘sorority sluts’. In Takal’s Black Christmas though, the main stars are all extremely normal girls, with a great sharing of diversity and nationalities – something which in itself is often not depicted in horror movies unless the African American and Asian characters are the ‘brains’ or the weed-toking ‘comedians’. The characters are all feminists fighting for rights at their university and this translates well to them not willing to become hapless victims to their stalkers.
In the movie, Imogen Poots character Riley is a rape survivor from a frat brother in the opposing frat house, who has been sidelined from her story because the school board simply “couldn’t believe that an outstanding student and frat brother could do such a thing”. Depicting this in a movie mirrors real campus life that is not usually shown in Hollywood movies, and takes influence from the 2015 Brock Turner case, in which a frat brother and prized athlete named Brock Turner at Stanford University raped a woman who was unconscious. Turner only served three months in jail because the judge declared that the prized athlete was already paying a “steep price…for 20 minutes of action”, and this sub-plot in Black Christmas sets a powerful message on the trauma of these experiences. In fact, Riley’s portrayal as “fading away” after her rape is not seen in horror movies, or movies in general at all. This depiction should be greatly applauded and widely publicised.
There are certainly heaps of hit-backs at mainstream misogyny in Black Christmas, even down to the fact that the frat brothers bleed a black sludge to depict literal toxic masculinity and how it can turn men into monsters. There is mention and use of menstrual cups. Riley uses her keys wedged between her knuckles to fight off a killer in reference to how women resort to holding their keys in their hand as a weapon when walking home at night, which was a pretty epic way to hit back at the patriarchy. However, with all of the feminist references and nearly all female crew the film was labelled a box office disaster as horror movie fans highlighted that Takal spent more time focusing on her feminist agenda rather than the plot.
I’m not going to lie – as a horror movie the story line is pretty basic and boring. Killers at a frat house and a sorority is a well-used horror concept that without the feminist sub-theme would have been one of the most boring films I have ever watched – but at least it depicts feminism in a more appropriate way. The dialogue in Black Christmas is more important than the horror here, and it proved that it can be hard to get a good melding of the two while you are trying to break through glass ceilings.
The other modern feminist horror movie is the 2020 film The Invisible Man starring Elisabeth Moss. Now, you may remember I have recently done a post about The Invisible Man and how it fails as a reboot of the HG Wells classic and Universal Monsters depiction of a psychopathic man who turns invisible and can’t turn back. It’s not a bad movie – in fact, it’s actually a really good movie with an amazing feminist angle on it – but I’m a snob when it comes to horrors, HG Wells and the original. That’s on me for buying into black and white patriarchy and refusing to let that part go.
But where The Invisible Man fails as a rebooted classic horror movie, it succeeds as a depiction of #MeToo horror and feminism. Elisabeth Moss plays Celia, a survivor of an abusive and powerful man whose presence remains unseen but chillingly felt throughout the film as we watch Celia prepare her escape from this man in the middle of the night – something that many an abused woman has had to do. Celia’s explanation of her partner’s domineering attitude – the gaslighting, manipulation, isolation, rape – is chillingly real, and her ex’s methods whilst under his invisibility suit show just how real but ignored this abuse is. It’s all about control, and psychological pain of trauma that is often not depicted in a realistic way within horror films.
It’s been stated often that The Invisible Man is a dramatic tale of trauma and survival once you take the science-fiction part of a man turning invisible out of the plot. The HG Wells snob in me says that the film would have been better served as doing just that and taking the science fiction out. As we have seen in movies like I Spit On Your Grave and The Hills Have Eyes, sometimes the horrifying acts that are targeted to women is the real horror here, and adding a supernatural entity can dilute the horror to make it palpable for the mainstream masses, but misses the feminist mark it was trying to make.
I’m all for melding mainstream horror movies with feminist prose, and I definitely think that both Black Christmas and The Invisible Man are great representations of the horrors that women face in this patriarchal world and how important it is we reach equality. But I do think this needs to be done with new and unique horror stories and not leaning on the old horror movie tropes of yesteryear by becoming a deemed “reboot”. Look how slammed the female run Ghostbusters and Oceans 8 were despite the fact that they were themselves fucking fantastic movies!
I was told by a pop culture loving male that the recent Birds of Prey movie was “terrible” because it didn’t stick to the original casing of the comics. It wasn’t supposed to. It was supposed to take all the popularity of the male dick-stroking gaze of Suicide Squad and turn it into a feminist depiction of the Joker’s crazy mistress. It fucking worked. Do you know how many women praised the fight scene where Harley Quinn gives the Black Canery a hair tye? God damn, a hair tye changed the face of female sub-plots. Plus, all the clothes the ladies wore had pockets because all we want is a goddamn pocket in our clothes.
Reboots are hard to hit because you need to hit them where they were popular, and fans of the originals will struggle to let the original tropes go because of this. Feminist females need to be more represented in all genres – not just the horror ones – but its clear that we need to shine the light on new narratives. We need new horror movies, new stories, and new characters that depict these issues clearly and shine in their own way. After all, this equality and need for feminism is attempting to stamp out decades of oppression and white patriarchy.
We can’t do that while we are still carry the straight white males on our backs.