‘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

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

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

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page


Political satire is funny, but it also causes cynicism and apathy

Yasmin Alibhai Brown
The super-rich now live in their own Elysium - they breathe better air, and eat better food, when they're not making beans on toast for their kids

The super-rich now live in their own Elysium

They breathe better air, eat better food, take better medicine
A generation of dropouts failed by colleges

Dropout generation failed by colleges

£800m a year wasted on students who quit courses before they graduate
Entering civilian life 'can be like going into the jungle' for returning soldiers

Homeless Veterans appeal

Entering civilian life can be like going into the jungle
Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Fifty Shades of Grey director on bringing the hit to the screen
Shazam! Story of the $1bn 'what's that song?' app

Shazam: Story of the $1bn 'what's that song?' app

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch