“Torture the women!” Alfred Hitchcock once said with regards to creating effective horror movies. Thankfully, modern day horror directors have rubbished that incredibly misogynistic sentiment to make horror the most feminist genre today.
Since the days of the incredibly drawn-out bathroom murder scene in Psycho and the unfortunate real-life trauma endured by Shelley Duvall in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, the horror genre has moved past the women-as-victim trope to tell the many faceted stories of womanhood.
Horror still skews predominantly white and misses out on the marginalised voices of women of colour and alternative identities. But here’s how horror today is a great representation of the female experience.
Horror Celebrates Older Women
In the incredibly ageist Hollywood, it’s an open secret that good roles for actresses decline the older they get. Amy Schumer skewers this to perfection in her skit ‘Last F*ckable Day’ where she stumbles upon Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Patricia Arquette celebrating Julia’s special occasion.
But through horror films, older actresses from their 40s to 70s like Vera Farmiga, Jamie Lee Curtis and Lin Shaye have been able to craft iconic characters. It can be seen in their respective The Conjuring, Halloween and Insidious franchises.
The fact that they’re not relegated to playing token grandmothers but instead have meaty roles as a paranormal investigator, medium, and survivor is female empowerment across the ages. These women put the ‘queen’ in ‘scream queen’!
Horror Explores Motherhood
It is often touted that being a mother is one of the most fulfilling female experiences, but the truth is, bearing children and raising them is a horror minefield. A Quiet Place represents the stereotypical ideal of a mother, one who would put her children first above all else.
But how do you protect someone that scares you?
The Babadook and Hereditary explore what happens when a mother might be both simultaneously infatuated and repelled by her child. Demons and the boogeyman become a stand-in for the complicated nature of parenting, where great highs can be accompanied by depressive lows. The horror genre allows an honest exploration of this duality without tear-jerking dramatics.
Horror Showcases How Women Are Gaslighted In Real Life
If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “you’re just being crazy”, well, horror showcases how sometimes it’s really them, not you. From Rosemary’s Baby to The Invisible Man and Midsommar, there are multiple ways women are manipulated – mind, body, and soul – in this patriarchal system.
Females are often led to downplay their intuition, or to normalise worldviews that favour the majority men. This is despite science confirming that women are indeed better at reading the room. Watching horror films unpacks all the ways characters gaslight women. How the female heroine responds can make for a bumpy ride.
In the best case scenario, they learn how to shut that condescending bullcrap down. But all too often, they fall prey to the gaslighting and start doubting their own reality. And while that can be too much relatable real life horror, awareness is always the start in dismantling old ways.
Horror Highlights Women’s Multifaceted Strength
If it’s not enough that two of the most badass females in movie history are Ellen Ripley from Alien and Sarah Connor in Terminator, horror also celebrates the various strengths women possess.
In skewering the damsel-in-distress trope, look no further than the incredibly accomplished heroines of You’re Next, Hush (an underrated Netflix horror gem – possible to link to underrated Netflix horror article), and Happy Death Day. These women may be under attack and facing looming death, but by their wits, they will go down fighting.
At the same time, movies like The Descent and Saint Maud that allow women to be both aggressor and victim showcases how twisted female resilience can be. There’s no greater torture than watching women be their own worst enemy, whether physically or mentally.
It goes to show why horror truly is the most feminist genre. For why fear men when women can inflict equal, if not more, harm?