In my last post I discussed half a dozen horror films that make it onto most lists of classic Halloween movies, beginning with Psycho (1960) and ending with Friday the 13th (1980). This brings me to the mid-80s as I am working down my list chronologically.
Number 7: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). It was written and directed by a man and is the story of two 15-year-old girls (Heather Langenkamp and Amanda Wyss) who are terrorized by a serial killer (Robert Englund) in California. Despite the lead females’ young age this movie contains sexualized violence—like all the horror classics I commented on in my last post. Amanda Wyss can be heard orgasming when she has sex with a young man (off-screen) and while Heather Langenkamp lies in a bath a man’s hand emerges from the water between her thighs. I could go on about the sexualization of these teenagers, but instead I am going to talk about some of the violence perpetrated against them because violence against women and girls (VAWG) is my main focus today. Both girls are chased and hunted by a man. Girls are: grabbed; attacked; pulled through a window; pulled under water in a bath by an invisible force; thrown against a wall, pulled up a wall and across a ceiling by an invisible force before being dropped from the ceiling head first; and dragged across a floor in a transparent plastic bag. Also noteworthy is the fact that the man who terrorizes and hunts these girls goes unpunished. This is one of Wes Craven’s early films. If we lived in a world where people actually cared about women this would have been the end of his career. But we live in misogynist societies, so instead this movie kicked off a franchise.
Number 8: Ghostbusters (1984), a comedy but still a Halloween classic. It was written and directed by men and is the story of three friends (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis) who study the paranormal and catch ghosts in New York City. Remember the man’s hand that emerges from Heather Langenkamp’s bathtub between her thighs in A Nightmare on Elm Street? Well, here a beast’s hand emerges from Sigourney Weaver’s armchair, between her legs, and grabs her. I am almost tempted to check with other movies that came out in 1984 to see if this was something that was trending at the time. Violence against women (VAW) is less of a problem in Ghostbusters than it is in other Halloween favourites. My guess is that the screenwriters, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, were more interested in having sex with women than punishing them. At any rate, there are only two attacks on women here and just one female is killed—a low number of incidents by horror film standards. Sexualization is a bigger issue. Women are sexualized throughout and based on the lead males’ interactions with women it is clear that the writers only consider women as potential sex partners, nothing more. These guys seem incapable of having a real friendship with a woman. We get a female ghost attending to Dan Aykroyd’s crotch, Annie Potts doing her office job in a black leather miniskirt, Sigourney Weaver undressing and coming on strong to Bill Murray, straddling him in bed, etc., and Slavitza Jovan appearing practically naked in high heels. And yet, this is likely the least objectionable of the Halloween favourites I am commenting on this month. Still, I would rather watch the Ghostbusters released in 2016; it has so much more to offer female viewers.
Number 9: Scream (1996). It was written and directed by men and is the story of an American teenager (Neve Campbell) who is terrorized by a serial killer, whom she suspects is her boyfriend (Skeet Ulrich), a year after her mother’s brutal murder. Here again teenage girls appear in states of undress and are hunted by psychotic males. Girls are chased, struck, stabbed, choked, knocked to the ground, punched, kicked and tackled, not to mention disembowelled and hung from a tree. A teenage boy bangs a girl’s head against the floor. In a garage a girl’s boyfriend traps her, cuts her arm, chases her then raises the garage door when she tries to escape through a cat door, thus breaking her neck. It merits repeating: her assailant is her boyfriend. This love fest for females was directed by Wes Craven. The fact that financing was secured for this film project is telling about Hollywood and the societies we live in. Think of all the women filmmakers who cannot get their film projects financed. There is only so much money to go around, and these are the projects that get financed. Some food for thought.
Number 10: Sleepy Hollow (1999). It was written and directed by men and is the story of a New York police constable (Johnny Depp) who falls in love with the daughter of a wealthy businessman while investigating gruesome murders committed by a headless horseman in a Dutch hamlet at the end of the 18th century. The young woman is played by Christina Ricci. Three women are beheaded. A fourth woman is nearly beheaded, but the attempt is thwarted. Another woman is placed in a metal box with a small hole at eye-level by her husband to die. Personally, I prefer the 1949 animated short Disney released as The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I am far from the biggest Disney fan but at least in this short no women are beheaded or placed in metal boxes by their husband.
Number 11: It (2017). It was written and directed by men and is the story of an evil force that manifests itself as a clown (Bill Skarsgard) that goes around killing a town’s children. It is based on a novel by Stephen King, like The Shining (1980) and Carrie (1976), which I discussed in my last post. As in A Nightmare on Elm Street we get a teenage girl in a bath. She also undresses in front of a group of teenage boys and sunbathes in front of them in just a bra and panties while they sit around watching her. Sexualizing a teenage girl is a strike against it but, the violence perpetrated against her is especially disturbing. She is grabbed by the neck by a man (twice). She is abducted, assaulted and an attempt is made on her life (in at least two scenes) and an evil force pulls her head into her bathroom sink before projecting a stream of blood in her face. I wish I could say that Stephen King is unique in dreaming up these assaults on women and girls but in fact there are dozens of men just like him who can and have. The horror genre is full of misogyny.
Number 12: Halloween (2018). It was written and directed by men and is the story of an American (Jamie Lee Curtis), her daughter (Judy Greer) and granddaughter (Andi Matichak), who are stalked by an escaped serial killer who had previously been convicted and institutionalized. In film when a man is punished (e.g. incarcerated) for murdering women and girls the thing to do is have him escape. So the psychopath escapes to terrorize and murder more women—something we’ve never seen before in the genre (sarcasm)—and we get another one and three quarter hours of a man trying to kill women. Also, females are sexualized throughout, which is telling. Teenage girls appear in: nothing more than panties; a “sexy nurse” costume; cheerleader costumes; in a bra-like top, etc. We get a teenage girl being stabbed to death in her bedroom by her little brother; a woman is choked by a man who lifts her off the floor and breaks her neck; a second woman is bludgeoned to death by a man armed with a hammer; a man grabs a third woman by her hair and sticks a knife through her neck; and a man drags a girl across a floor by her leg before stabbing her to death. Males grab females, spy on them, break into their homes, grab them by the throat, push them out of second storey windows, throw them against walls, strike them with a poker and stab them to death. And one male character does all this killing. He is played by a boy and two men (James Jude Courtney and Nick Castle shared the role of the adult psychopath). This is the 11th instalment of the Halloween franchise. Take a moment to let that sink in: the 11th instalment!
It is worth noting that in all these movies an attempt is made to murder the lead female. Also noteworthy is the fact that females are sexualized in all these movies, that many of them contain sexualized violence against females and they are very popular with male audiences. More food for thought.
My upcoming film guide for women contains 500 feature film reviews. I look forward to sharing my findings about mainstream movies of the 20th and 21st centuries and what they have to offer female viewers.
Copyright © 2020 Alline Cormier