Being a woman who loves horror flicks is tough, especially in October. As Halloween approaches and studios push out their scary slate in earnest, we’re forced to grapple with a litany of films that turn violence against women into entertainment. From the bevy of nameless young women in the “Friday the 13th” series who meet the wrong end of a machete after a few minutes of passion; to Tina, in “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” who gets slashed to death post-coitus; the mutilation, rape, and punishment of women who are seen as sexually “loose” is a gross staple of the horror genre that came to prominence in the 1980s and never left. To be a sexual woman in horror is to welcome death with open arms, and the women who survive — the Nancys (“Nightmare on Elm Street”) and Laurie Strodes (“Halloween”) of the genre — are, more often than not, chaste, innocent, and virginal.
The depiction of witches in U.S. mainstream media has varied greatly over the years. Some witches are presented as haggard and conventionally unattractive women draped in black, stirring concoctions in ominous pots. Others fit into the classic childhood fantasy image of a witch with green skin, pointy hats, and flying broomsticks. And then there are the attractive, mysterious witches who blend perfectly into society while secretly wielding their dark powers against enemies. Though these images are all vastly different, there is one thread that tends to bind many of them together: a prominent focus on the White experience.
The movie The Conjuring has been called “scary as hell” and “the summer’s scariest movie”—it’s so frightening, in fact, that it earned an R rating despite an absence of any explicit violence, sex, gore, or foul language. According to star Patrick Wilson, the film gave the ratings board a case of the willies that was simply too intense for a mere PG-13. Part of what makes the The Conjuring so very disturbing is that, like The Amityville Horror before it, it’s “based on true events.” The Conjuring tells the story of the Perrons, a family of seven who moved into a rural Rhode Island farmhouse in 1971 to find it already occupied by a variety of spirits, and the real-life paranormal investigators whom they called in to mediate. Those real-life investigators, by the way, were Lorraine and Ed Warren, who would later become known the as couple who investigated that famous house in Amityville.
Like the plucky young heroes of The Monster Squad, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a gateway horror film with a protagonist obsessed with horror. From the moment the film introduces Stella, played by Zoe Margaret Colletti, we recognize her as one of our own. Save for a major arc involving her father, Stella’s entire persona and narrative is crafted around her being a horror fan. An aspiring writer with a boundless passion for genre, Stella was me as a young teen. For an entry point into genre, there’s nothing more powerful than seeing yourself represented on screen as a protagonist battling seriously spooky monsters.