Slasher films: How can we add a feminist perspective?
Post by: Jessica
Currently listening to: Demons & Wizards - Crimson King
A few weeks ago I was at my first black metal show, Dark Funeral and Belphegor (it was epic!) and I ran into an old classmate of mine. We were both surprised to see each other. We caught up on each other’s lives and current projects and so, of course, I told her that I was doing a horror podcast called the Spinsters of Horror. As I described what Kelly and I do and the general theme of our show which is to talk about horror movies with thoughtful analysis and passion which sometimes brings in a feminist perspective. She was enthusiastic and a bit perplexed by it. I remember her asking me, “How can you add a feminist perspective to a horror film? They are so misogynistic with all those half-naked women running around getting murdered”. Believe me, I took this golden opportunity to reiterated facts and arguments from our very first episode of I Spit on Your Podcast, Episode 1: Women Love Horror. We were not able to talk much more about it, as the show was starting again, but I walked away from that conversation with that comment on my mind.
It seems fitting that I want to talk about laying a feminist perspective over the supposed belief that the slasher genre or horror, in general, is misogynistic; while Kelly and I are talking about the Friday the 13th series in this month’s podcast. In my opinion, the Friday the 13th series is the epitome of the slasher genre. An unknown male killer uses a particular weapon while stalking and killing young men and mostly half-naked women for seemingly no real reason. Now I know that the series is not as simple as that but it is often the one that non-horror fans refer to the most and use as an example of how horror films are misogynistic. Yes, it is a series that interweaves a violent narrative around deviant behaviours (use of alcohol and drugs) and overt sexuality (either naked or half clothed women and sex scenes). When the women die it is almost always in vulnerable situations, such as after sex or undressing in the privacy of their cabin or rooms.
Slasher films are also often noted to be the genre of horror accused of heavily using the male gaze as the point of view shot to engage their audience, which is often a tool that eroticizes women and then punishes them for it. Andrew Welsh in his paper, Sex, and Violence in the Slasher Horror Film discuss the two main criticisms on slasher films found in film literature:
First, the slasher film has been labelled as a misogynistic subgenre
in which women are more frequently shown in states of terror and
are disproportionately depicted as victims of serious and graphic violence
as compared to men. Second, slasher films have been accused of containing
violent presentations in which graphic violence against women is frequently
juxtaposed with sex and nudity (Welsh, 3)
Friday the 13th, while having a large fandom, is often criticized for this among many other slasher films. While this may be true, that does not mean that these films don’t have any appeal to them for women. As well, they may not have overt feminist themes to them, there are various feminist elements to them that I want to talk about.
Horror fans know about the concept of the Final Girl and Carol Clover’s book which extensively analyzes it. Kelly and I have referenced her work quite frequently over the past year. As well, Kelly gave a brief overview of the Final Girl in her monthly pick. The Final Girl is an important element of the slasher genre and all my props go to Alice, Laurie, Nancy and so many others who have come over the past few decades. The Final Girl gives young women an inspirational role model to look up to in horror films, as they have the ability and strength to protect themselves in a dangerous situation. And while I am someone who appreciates what the Final Girl represents, I sometimes think about her friends who unfortunately didn't survive. These are the women who flaunted their sexuality, indulged themselves in drugs and alcohol and have brash personalities that differentiated them from the virginal survivor. These are the women are seen to be posing a threat to the “supposed’ societal morals. These women represent an element of feminism that women are working to reclaim; body and sex positivity, independence and having a strong and confident personality (what men seem to think is being a bitch).
In Friday the 13th Part III, all three of these aspects of feminism are represented in Debbie, Chili, and Vera - friends of the Final Girl, Chris. Debbie is believed to be pregnant by her boyfriend, Andy. Their relationship is very playful and physical. She engages in sexual activity with Andy later in the movie and we see her walking confidently in the nude and while showering. She then becomes Jason’s 16th victim. However, throughout the film, she is compassionate and sensitive to Chris’s past ordeal and she acts a bit motherly among the wild bunch of teenagers. She even follows her gut instinct when Andy wants to go into the barn after swimming and she decides against it, sensing that something was not right about it. Debbie represents that you can be a sensitive and intelligent young woman while at the same time engage in sexual activities. While she may be pregnant, she appears to be in a loving relationship and her pregnancy is not due to her being promiscuous. Even if she was, that has nothing to do with what kind of person she is. Chili, an older woman of the group, is one of the “stoners”. She states clearly her life’s belief that there is nothing better to do than explore drugs. She doesn’t care how the rest of the group sees her. She is brash and talks openly about sex. She becomes Jason’s 19th victim as she discovers the dead bodies of her friends.
Then we have Vera (my personal favourite). She is a spunky character who has a bit of a standoffish “resting bitch face look”. She was invited to the cabin as a blind date for Shelly(the single male of the group) and when she does not feel the chemistry with him, she is not afraid to tell him so. She sticks with this, even after Shelly puts on a bit of a guilt trip about it. When she faces off against Jason she noticed right away that even in the hockey mask, he is not Shelly and demands to know what he is going to do with the spear gun. However, she sadly becomes Jason’s 14th victim. She is strong, honest and confident and she doesn’t let someone guilt her into sleeping with them. But sadly, these are the type of women that seem to find their death at the hands of a killer because they do not follow the male standard of the ideal woman and need to be punished.
While I am not a huge fan of the slasher genre, I do find value in it and this is all thanks to a film called The Slumber Party Massacre. When I first saw the cover of this film, I thought it was sexist and initially completely dismissed it. That was until I discovered that it was written and directed by a woman making a commentary about the state of women in slasher films and takes all those tropes we see in these films and spin them in another direction. You can revisit my discussion about it in my very first monthly pick. This series changed my perception of horror films and the claim that they are misogynistic. And yes, while there are horror films out there that are not the kindest to women or can’t have a feminist lens fixed upon them, things are changing. To claim all horror films are misogynistic is not simply true anymore. While some of these films have those elements, when you really sit with them and learn more about the slasher genre, you can see that there are feminist elements to them and it is not always just about the Final Girl.