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.
At a moment when so much seems beyond control — when even the politically disengaged have spoken of the Trump era as a scary, dystopian time — clever uses of horror can actually be therapeutic. They’re like tiny valves that allow steam to escape on screen while a variety of pressures simmer in the real world.
“Ready or Not,” Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett’s new horror-comedy, joins a growing bloc in that horror-with-political-messaging genre — specifically about greed and parasitic 1 percenters.
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.
Early physicians who did not understand female anatomy routinely used ‘female hysteria’ as a potent weapon against women to institutionalize them for illnesses they never had. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the American Psychiatric Association rescinded the usage of the term “hysteria” — from hystera, the Greek word for uterus — as a medical diagnosis. But, “crazy,” “neurotic,” “psychopathic” are still acceptable adjectives to describe women who don’t conform to social norms. These perceptions have wormed their way into mainstream media and inspired cinema, especially the horror genre.
Horror is a genre with a uniquely avid fandom. Sitting directly in the center of the intersection between art and commerce, horror is particularly well-suited to call out societal injustices, and it is through use of highly subversive creative techniques that many controversial stories have been told. It’s no wonder that many modern practitioners of DIY and low-budget filmmaking use the genre as a vehicle through which to deliver their message.
Here’s your motivation: You’re lost! You’re angry, wandering through a hellscape of slasher flicks and torture porn and random demons that show up for no reason. Everything seems derivative and repetitive. You’re on a circular path you can’t deviate from. Hungry for originality, hunted by fat, greedy studios who have manipulated you for eons, you stumble, at last, upon a place of refuge. Friends along the way told you about it (the fisherman, the old woman clutching her purse, the young mother and her crying baby) and you’ve finally found it. But inside, there is no warmth, no sustenance, no creature comforts. There are intimations of violence. There’s a whiff of decay. You breathe in the terror of over a hundred years of legends and lore, your mind whirling with questions, but in the end you come upon a blank wall. You’re left with only yourself, and your fear of what may be behind you.
Dog Soldiers is feminist.
Hear me out.
In his 2002 horror film, writer-director Neil Marshall (who is currently helming the Hellboy reboot) has men dealing with their identities in the most masculine of realms, the primitive woods. Over the course of the movie’s 105-minute runtime, a ho-hum military exercise turns into a balls-to-the-wall fight wherein multiple elements of male identity are exposed to the moonlight. In that exposure, some of those gendered elements become monstrous on-screen and ruminate on what it means to be a man.
The nature of motherhood presents fertile ground of fears for horror to explore. There are countless genre movies that explore the horrors of giving birth, of child-rearing, of maternal sacrifice, and simply how being a mother can affect one’s sanity. Which means that when it comes to celebrating Mother’s Day, there’s no shortage of horror movies to honor the blood, sweat, and tears it takes to be a mom. The most obvious selections focus on evil mothers, protective mothers, or benign moms struggling with their evil kid. But no franchise has managed to explore every corner of motherhood quite like the Alien franchise. From the philosophical to the traditional, from conception to the stresses of raising a child (or monster), to the very definition of what motherhood is, the entire catalog of Alien films has captured the complexities of motherhood in way that’s wholly unique. For this Mother’s Day, we’re paying respects to Ellen Ripley, the Queen Mother, and mothers everywhere by looking back at the maternal core of this series.
The Other transcending oceans and borders is a concept that is commonly explored in fiction, working particularly well when engendered by the monsters of the horror genre. Though The Other exists in so many places, the way the anxieties and perceptions of them are presented in film can vary drastically from region to region. Take Germany’s Nosferatu, for instance, and 1931’s Dracula from the United States. Both films are loose adaptations of the same novel, but the Count is presented as an alien-like deformity in one, and a handsome, mesmerizing character in the other. Because of this, I wanted to travel across the world to Sweden through this week’s film to determine the ways in which presentations of The Other in Let the Right One In differ from what I’m used to in American vampire fiction. The film reflects the general attitudes held by the society in which it was produced and, with so much of its content being undeniably queer, this is especially true in regard to issues of gender and sexuality.