About a week ago, while walking up the steps to my co-op, I noticed a new presence on our front door. Among the papers plastered across our door windows advertising various communal activities was a particularly loud poster: “Luther Halloween,” it read in electric green Goosebumps style. Beneath the text was a drawing of a ghoulish uninvited guest bursting through a door with a bloody chainsaw. To the left cowered a terrified and bodacious redhead, mascara streaming down her cheeks as she braced for the intruder. Of course she was only wearing a purple thong and a size XXS camisole. Of course she’s got the body of a Victoria’s Secret Angel. Of course her nipples are erect.
Something about the thong and the cami and the nipples — they’re just so … unnecessary. So done-before. And I know that’s part of the fun of the poster — it’s a parody of that classic horror trope. Of course the girl in the underwear is going to murdered by the chainsaw-wielding zombie / skeleton / vampire / madman / man in a raincoat / male figure in general. As Gretchen Weiner, from the movie “Mean Girls” would explain, it’s, like, the laws of horror movie anti-feminism. But why?
It’s no secret that horror films traditionally don’t like the ladies. There tends to be at least one woman who ends up anywhere from partially to completely naked and then sliced, hacked and otherwise butchered. Let me diverge for a second.
Recently, wanting to find a quality horror movie to watch, I went on IMDb and looked up a list of the top 100 classic horror movies. I noticed a trend within the movie descriptions. Antagonists include “a practical man,” “an obsessed (male) scientist,” “a (male) doctor,” “a young man,” “a brilliant (male) surgeon,” some more doctors and young men. Victims include “the virtuous young Mina,” a “beautiful woman,” “a (female) secretary,” a bride, “nice young women,” — just, you know, “women … ” many of whom are displayed on the front covers in skin-tight ensembles show off their conveniently sized DD boobs.
So, basically, what we have here is hot women being killed by men. Yes, occasionally females are the “bad guys” — wow, masculinity is even in the name. There’s Stephen King’s Carrie, the shy girl who you can’t help but sympathize with even though she kills everyone and her mother. There’s the possessed girl with the green puke in “The Exorcist.” There’s the girl with the hair in her face from “The Ring.” There’s the woman with the hair in her face from “The Grudge.” Those are a few examples that immediately come to mind, but I think it’s notable that the common factor with these female terrors is that they’re all somehow inhuman — essentially “crazy” or possessed by something else. These female antagonists aren’t completely in control of their actions, but rather have been corrupted by something bigger than themselves.
Granted, the films I cited earlier are classics, so these movies weren’t exactly created during the peak of feminism. But, really, not too much has changed since then. Women continue to be the victims — de-robed and sliced up on screens across the world. The thing is, I really like scary movies, but part of liking horror is having to willfully ignore blatantly misogynistic themes a lot of the time.
Now being yesterday. I watched “The Cabin in the Woods” for the first time. I know, I’m a little late in the game. I’d been told countless times to watch it by my friends. But, sitting at the dining room table a few days ago, a friend of mine suggested that I watch “The Cabin in the Woods.”
“It’s sort of feminist,” she said. “But they still show boobs. They just had to show boobs.”
Yeah, they do show boobs in “Cabin in the Woods.” Of course they’re the boobs of a blonde — “the whore”— and, of course, the boobs are exposed when she’s engaging in some form of sexual pleasure, right before being attacked by a zombie redneck torture family.
But that’s the whole point. While waiting for the quintessential blonde to show some tits, one of the technicians in the film even says, “OK, baby, let’s see some boobies … Gotta keep the customers satisfied.” He watches the boobs/zombie attack scene with close attention — partly, because he wants to see boobs, but also because that’s what people expect when they see a cute young woman in a horror movie.
“Cabin in the Woods” challenges the traditional role of females in horror movies in that it follows the traditional tropes to an almost absurd degree. The “whore” is pumped with pheromones until she’s a horny, ass-shaking vixen who makes out with a taxidermied wolf — it was a dare, but still, she appears to really enjoy it. The “virgin” is naïve and clueless, constantly in need of male guidance and consolation. Even the female killers in the movie are pretty useless — there’s the “Grudge”-like ghost girl who’s defeated by a classroom full of adorable Japanese schoolchildren, for instance, and then there’s the girl zombie, who’s overall pretty unintimidating and useless — except for when she actually helps the protagonists of the film.
I get that a lot of scary movies are meant to be fun — that not every portrayal of women is going to be realistic, just like Freddy Krueger and Count Dracula aren’t the most realistic men. But “Cabin in the Woods” does a damn good job at showing how hackneyed — and comical — these female characters are. If you’re looking for a solid horror film to cap off the Halloween season, perhaps consider “Cabin in the Woods.” But no matter what film you decide on, keep a critical eye on the women in the movie — and not just on their tits.
Katie Steen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.