‘Carrie’ is back in cinemas today. But horror is still being let down by films that hate women

Innovative horror is meant to push boundaries. Too much falls back on misogyny

Share
Related Topics

I love horror. I love the jumps, the winces, the rush of adrenaline that accompanies a satisfying scare. There are lots of laudable things about the genre that are often overlooked, such as its ability to explore social fears in a way that other types of film do not. What happens when the good guys don’t win or when the rule of law is subverted or made irrelevant? What happens when the familiar (the home, our children, our partners) becomes unfamiliar or invaded by outside forces (hauntings, home invasions, possessions, abductions, psychosis)? Good, innovative horror is meant to push boundaries and challenge audiences, to shake them out of cinematic torpor and force them to really think. A horror film can allow a build-up and release of extreme emotion that will be cathartically left behind when one exits the cinema.

As Kimberly Pierce’s remake of the Stephen King classic Carrie opens in the UK today, I find myself wondering why horror claims so few female directors and so few films with female villains. The ABCs of Death 2 launched a competition in August, searching for the 26th director to be included in their feature length collaboration. According to badassdigest.com only seven of the 78 entries to date have been from female filmmakers. The Carrie remake is both directed by a woman and populated largely by female characters with varied motivations and personalities, none of whom represent the standard Final Girl seen in male-directed, big budget slasher flicks.

However, there is a subcategory within horror that substantiates uncomfortable claims of misogyny within the genre.  This is a strand of horror that seems to really hate women. It revolves solely around the rape and torture of female characters, with little in the way of plot, script, or motive. Examples of this include The Bunny Game (2012, Adam Rehmeier) where a prostitute is tortured and sexually abused for a grim 76 minutes, Murder Set Pieces (2004, Nick Palumbo) that shows ‘The Photographer’ hacking his way through a collection of prostitutes, Scrapbook (2000, Eric Stanze) that involves the kidnap, repeated rape and torture of a young woman and August Underground (2001, Fred Vogel) that opens with a nude, bound women who has had her nipple cut off and proceeds to endure having her face smeared with human excrement before she is killed. I’m also going to add Lucifer Valentine’s Slaughtered Vomit Dolls (2006) to this list because, puking fetish awfulness aside, all the women are naked, all the women are prostitutes, and all but one of them (she is required to star in the equally repellent sequels) are murdered by a male character.

My point here is not that rape and torture have no place on celluloid or that their inclusion in a film cannot make a legitimate artistic or political statement. Rather, that the films detailed above and those like them, are not saying anything. They seem to merely represent a plotless, pointless mass of ugly misogyny that does nothing to challenge its own sheer unpleasantness. (I guess a plotline or some non-victimised female characters would be too much to ask for.)

The Bunny Game is banned from being legally distributed in the UK and the BBFC states that “the lack of explanation of the events depicted, and the stylistic treatment, may encourage some viewers to enjoy and share in the man's callousness”. It is this indolent lack of explanation and absence of motive that makes me certain that this subgenre of material presents sexual degradation and torture for its own sake.  The only questions I came away with post-viewing were regarding who the hell the target audience was supposed to be, and where I could find some strong soap to wash my eyes with. Far be it from me to use the phrase ‘artistically worthless’, but the boot certainly seems to fit.

More disturbingly, there are virtually no examples of gender reversal within this subgenre. Female killers are simply not as common as their male counterparts and when they do exist, they seem to at least have some kind of motive or backstory behind them, for example Misery’s Annie Wilkes. Even within the rape/revenge category, when the revenge bit occurs and the female protagonist regains agency by torturing and killing those who have wronged her, it is because of her victim status for the first 50/60 minutes of film. It is not random. Moreover, sexual violence in horror films is rarely perpetrated by female characters but no other genre seems to toss around scenes of violent rape enacted on female bodies so frequently.

Horror is being let down by these unpleasant fringe elements, by films that are at best sloppy, poorly written and unimaginative, and at worst, revel in violence against female bodies like pigs in shit. I’d like to see more female directors being successful in horror and for fans of indie horror to take a stand, through their choices of purchases and downloads, against films that lightly and lazily portray female degradation and powerlessness, in the wake of male violence. They are not welcome. They give the genre a bad name.

 

My favourite horror films, directed by women:

American Mary (Jen and Sylvia Soska, 2012) - A struggling medical student decides to eschew her course in favour of performing extreme body modifications and niche surgeries. Lashings of gross-out moments and asks some important questions about self-expression, femininity and the status of medical professionals.

Trouble Every Day (Claire Denis, 2001) - Cannibalism, desire and obsession. Part of the New French Extremity movement, which boasts some of the cleverest and bloodiest titles in modern horror.

In My Skin (Marina de Van, 2002) – After suffering a disfiguring accident, a woman becomes obsessed with mutilating her own body. Another New French Extremity film, exploring the disassociation women often feel towards their own physicality.

American Pyscho (Mary Harron, 2000) – If you haven’t already seen this adaptation of Brett Easton Ellis’ horrifying masterpiece, I suggest you do so, and fast! Shallowness, narcissism, pop-culture and murderous rampages all come together in this biting 21st century satire.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: A widow’s tale with an unexpected twist

John Rentoul
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing