feminism in horror movies

Not only are we huge fans of horror at Tubi TV, a few of us are also ladies (gasp!), and we’re excited by the new spaces being opened up for women in the genre.  These days it’s a well-worn cliché to say that horror movies have often done a horrible job of giving us women characters who are truly interesting and relatable. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely classic horror icons from the 1970s that you could name-check: Laurie Strode from Halloween (1978) or Ellen Ripley from Alien (1979). For years afterward, though, these characters were the exceptions that proved the rule. Their badassery only made it even more obvious that you were normally more likely to see a woman being a helpless victim or a one-note stereotype in a horror movie than being a hero.

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But with the release of the movie Scream (1995), the horror genre was turned on its head (and decapitated, and disemboweled…) because we were introduced to Sidney Prescott. Created by Kevin Williamson and played by Neve Campbell, Sidney is a young woman in a quiet suburb who finds herself being targeted by a killer in a ghost mask and black cloak. While evading the killer’s attacks and unraveling the mystery behind them, Sidney proves herself to be sharp and resourceful. We get to watch her grow as a character over the course of the Scream movies as she goes from terrified teenage victim to grown woman and hero by the end of the franchise. Sidney was certainly not the first horror heroine to kick ass and outsmart a killer foe, nor is she the most hardcore, but as a character, she helped turn a rarity into a bonafide trend.

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Since then, we’re getting more chances than ever to see women on screen who don’t run from danger— they run at it, head-on. With a buzz saw in one hand. Women in horror movies have continued to evolve as the genre has, and while there have been some serious duds (I’m looking at you, Jennifer’s Body (2009). And I’m judging.) the last 10 years have given us some of the most dynamic characters in the genre, regardless of gender.

 

What makes modern horror such a rich space for empowering portraits of active women? In horror, women fight back against the seemingly unstoppable terrors of the world where they’re normally helpless victims, and we root for them while they do it. A romantic comedy protagonist might only get her happy ending by finding a man to complete her. A happy ending for a woman in the latest superhero movies usually means she gets to stand behind a couple of caped guys with higher billing while they stand triumphantly on a pile of rubble. But there’s only one way for a woman to get to the end of a horror movie, and that’s with pure grit and survival skills. The terrific and terrifying film It Follows (2014) completely subverts the cliche of misogynist horror films with its take on a “communicable curse.” We can also look at Sarah Carter in The Descent (2005) for a perfect example of a woman stepping up to danger. When Sarah and her friends go on a cave exploring trip in North Carolina, they are attacked by creatures who crave human flesh and must fight to make it out alive. Sarah could have flipped a [insert salty word here] and lost the ability to function when she woke up in a mass of human remains in a cannibal ridden tunnel system. Instead she keeps it together and focuses on getting herself and her friends out of there alive. The film is also one of the few of its kind to feature an all-women cast, with each character having a range of styles and personalities. Screw Juno, though.

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Supernatural horror isn’t the only place where women characters embody heroes and survivors, turning the tables on predators in a hostile world that would make them victims. In the home invasion thriller You’re Next (2013), we meet Erin. She’s small but savage, using split-second cunning and raw determination to battle a group of masked killers that are hunting her and her family down like animals. And in I Spit on Your Grave 2 (2013), a remake of the original cult hit film from 1978, a young woman survives a brutal attack. Not only does she claw her way back from the brink of death, she goes on to exact justice against her attackers. P2 (2007)  gives us another woman who refuses to be made a victim: the seemingly helpless young Angela is being stalked by a psychopath in the floor of an underground parking garage, but she turns the tables on him in an explosive twist that proves she won’t go down without a fight. And as we cheer her on, we know that we don’t have to either.

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So who did we miss? Who are the horror heroines that bring out your inner badass? Find us on Facebook or give us a shout on Twitter and let us know. And for more great horror coverage, check out our friends at Dread Central. Meanwhile, we’ve got I Spit on Your Grave 2, P2, and other great horror flicks streaming free day and night on Tubi TV.

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