Category Archives: Horror Essays & Short Stories

A Violent Fear: How Audition Is Progressive for Horror Cinema

Graphic Sexual Horror was a documentary I watched a couple of years ago at the Hot Docs festival, and the film was a very intense experience to say the least.  The film documents the beginnings of the Insex website that started the live bondage feed, and was directed by Barbara Bell and Anna Lorentzon, two women who used to work for Insex.  The women all lived together in a house and were the stars of live feeds which featured extreme bondage and sadomasochistic situations.  In the beginning of the documentary I was actually fascinated by the bondage – they were like erotic pieces of art.  However, as the documentary progressed, the darker side of this world arose.  The women interviewed said that although they were all willing participants, because they were being filmed live, there was a certain standard to live up to.  If the women held up their “no” signal during a live feed, they were directly or indirectly shunned and most likely would not get called back.  So they were placed in a position where they felt that they shouldn’t resist or say no to anything. 

Obviously, as a woman, this is greatly disturbing to me.  I feel as though the moment that you link sex with violence and power, you’re contributing to the problem.  Despite participants or owners claiming that everyone is there voluntarily, you must accept a certain responsibility that you are participating in a culture that is difficult to control – especially in this circumstance; a live internet feed, where anyone could be watching.  You are feeding the need, and with this need comes powerful people who also crave that need and will do anything to fulfill it.  There is a reason why sex trafficking is the highest profiting underground trade over weapons and drugs, and the hardest to monitor and prosecute.  I’ve worked on sex trafficking documentaries, transcribing hours of horrific stories by sex trade victims.  My final thesis analyzed hard core pornography, slasher films and the effects on women.   Connecting the violence against women and sex was not difficult at all and a terrifying and a sickly fascinating topic that disturbs me to no end.   I would say that violence against women is probably my greatest fear.

So why then, one would ask, would I go see a documentary called “Graphic Sexual Horror”?  Why am I such a big fan of horror movies when they largely focus on linking sex and violence against woman?    The reason is that because this is my greatest fear, I have a need to face it.  To face my fear is to explore where it comes from in society and understand what one is up against.  The fascinating aspect about all genres of horror is the commentary they make on our culture.  The root theory that can be applied to all horror films is: whatever the “bourgeois” society represses – The Other, comes back as the monster.  Even the shittiest horror film can still have some resonance and contribute to the genre.  Sexuality, consumerism, family, religion – these are all common “Other” themes that when examined, reveal a certain cultural identity, especially when one considers the era in which they were produced.  This is why horror films really spark an interest for me; for they are a historical commentary on society.

The evolution of the the woman’s role in horror  is also another very interesting aspect to analyze within the genre.  Once the monster in a horror film is determined, the corresponding relationship is with the female and the way her gaze is portrayed, for this links the woman to the monster.  This is why “Psycho” broke down so many barriers.  Not only did it bring the monster into society’s home, but it also spurred the beginnings of the horror genre by breaking down the barrier between the screen and the audience with the female gaze.  By featuring a close up reaction shot of Janet Leigh screaming in the shower, the male viewer is allowed to be in the voyeuristic position of the monster.  She is positioned through the male gaze as an object to be surveyed and eroticized before being killed, linking sex and violence and projecting this connection through the screen onto the male voyeur.  Through her gaze, the monster experiences “castration anxiety” for he sees a mutilated version of his own body and ultimately punishes the woman for being sexual and for holding the power of the gaze.  When the female is being punished, the release of this tension within the male viewer gives him sadistic pleasure.

Over the years, females have slowly started to gain power in the horror genre as “the gaze” has evolved.  Though many slasher films seem to only be an excuse to kill off scantily clad women, they can also turn into a statement of empowerment.  The rape/revenge film “I Spit On Her Grave” being one of the first slasher films to reverse this power, for the female victim turned heroine literally castrates her attackers.  Asian cinema is one of the worst offenders for violence against women, the violence in their horror films almost an endless indulgence directed at the female sex.  But in recent years Asian cinema has released equally powerful role reversing films, transcending the violent subculture they became famous for.



One of the best examples of progressive Asian cinema is the film “Audition” by Takashi Miike – one of Japan’s most controversial “fucked up” directors – producing many mind bending masterpieces.  “Audition” starts off simple enough: a widowed rich businessman Shigeharu Aoyama, is convinced by his partner that a good scheme to meet a new wife would be to hold a fake audition for a movie, and call back any women who attract his attention.  He is immediately taken in by ex-ballerina Yamazaki Asami.  He calls her and they start dating but he slowly discovers that she is not who she seems and a dark, abused past begins to emerge.  Turns out for all her elegance and beauty she is equally as deadly.  In one of the best disturbing scenes, we see her waiting for Aoyama’s phone call, sitting in an empty room with a phone and a large burlap bag.  Suddenly the bag jolts and gurgles.  It’s a dismembered man, her pet now, dependent on her vomit to keep him alive.  While Aoyama investigates Asami, Asami also discovers that Aoyama had a wife and also has a son.  This is unacceptable to her because he will never be able to love only her.  She drugs him and slowly proceeds to torture him using some kind of messed up acupuncture.  He has betrayed her  and he must understand the feeling to need someone.  “Words cause lies, pain can be trusted” she sweetly tells him, and than hacks off his feet with a wire saw.  The movie ends with Aoyama’s son interrupting the torture session, kicking Asami down a flight of stairs and breaking her neck.  Both Aoyama and Asami lie on the floor facing each other as Asami mutters how she is excited to see him again.



Asami embodies all the qualities of the post-horror female victim turned heroine.  Though initially she seems to be a typical passive model of Japanese femininity, Asami is revealed to be a much stronger, dangerous force.


Asami – Audition

She is actually the one with all the power, wreaking vengeance on any one who seeks to objectify or exploit her.  Asami embodies the Other – as the monster, she also holds the power of the gaze, punishing the man for gazing upon her, but also retaining her femininity without sliding into a dominant masculine role.  She performs the torture sequence with elegance, in an apron, sticking the needles in a very dainty fashion and choosing to “castrate” her victim by sawing off his feet – instead of his penis – so that they can no longer “walk all over her”.  Previous victims have also lost their tongue, ear and fingers – the ability to speak, “hear” or touch.  Unlike the dominant male in a typical horror film who tortures for pleasure, her goal is more internal, an emotional need at her core, and is not sexual in any way.  She experiences a certain “castration anxiety” by sharing the gaze with Aoyama, and acknowledges his lack of dependency on her as a reason for punishment.  Asami is an incredibly powerful female character because of this completely separate need and the way she goes about achieving her goal, and she holds her gaze right up to her death.  She is the reason why “Audition” plays such an important role in horror film culture, the tables are completely turned and the roles are reversed yet without Asami sacrificing her femininity – she continues to play a female role until the end.  It is interesting to note that I don’t particularly find this film hard to watch, but that both notable horror directors John Landis and Rob Zombie found the film very difficult to watch.  Not that I necessarily enjoy male torture scenes, but I think this goes to show how effective the role reversal was in this film.   Usually in a typical slasher film,  when the “Final Girl” kills the monster at the end, she stabs or shoots them, and although she appears to be in a role of power she is still embodying male characteristics to do so, leaving the female viewer ultimately unsatisfied.


Asami – Audition

Asami is a refreshing example of a new kind of Final Girl, for she is beautiful but does not punish others for her sexual needs as her revenge is based on an emotional attack, not sexual.  She alone is in control of all her actions from the very start of the movie, and neither loses nor gains anyone around her.  Audition is a very good example of how my fear is being conquered in a progressive way, and a reflection of how the female role is changing within the horror genre, and hopefully continues to evolve in our society as well.

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Sex & Violence In Pornography vs Slasher Films

When A Woman Screams Part 2

“Generally, I don’t think pornography degrades women”

-Madonna “Sex” (1992)

“They’re all the same. It’s always some stupid killer stalking some

big breasted girl-who can’t act-who always runs up the stairs when

she should be going out the front door. They’re ridiculous.”

–       Sidney (Scream. Dir. Wes Craven. Dimension Films. 1996)

Violence and sex.  Sex and violence.  These two hot topics have provoked many bloody debates over the past couple of decades, and have continued to captivate society.  Whether it is in the media, the music, or in the movies, people have analyzed and disputed the use of violence and sex time and time again.  However, the truth is that our culture thrives on this discourse.  Sex sells.  The war on Iraq is broadcast on CNN twenty four hours a day.  Sexually violent content in the arts is as much of an influence on society as it is a reflection of our times.  The controversy it generates demands that we question whether sex and violence in the arts is harmful, or whether it is disturbing for people because it is representational of the reality that we live in.  Two of the more controversial types of films are slasher flicks and hard core pornography.  When The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was released in 1974, a new genre of films was born; the slasher film, and the genre was heavily criticized for it’s excessive use of gore and mindless violence, especially violence against women.  The franchise was as underground as it was mainstream, and its popularity continues to thrive in the present day, with sequels to Halloween and Friday the 13th being released just last year.  The “Golden Age” of pornography was also in the 1970’s.  Big budget hard core porn became more accessible to the public, and also became more explicit in its use of sex and violence, with movies such as Deep Throat sparking controversy over its blatant degradation of women.  By the 1980’s, slasher flicks had reached their peak in production, and with the rise of video games and music videos, the concern over the effects of violence increased.  In the meantime, the billion dollar porn industry was undergoing a backlash as women began to speak out about their experiences in the porn film.  The dispute over pornography increased; not only were people concerned with what went on in front of the camera, but were also becoming more aware of what women went through off screen as well.  Both slasher films and hard core pornography have undergone much criticism over the years for it’s use of sex and violence against women and the impact this could have on society.  Both genres function in similar ways and share many characteristics, particularly in the way women are viewed.  Though they share many common aspects, they also differ in regards to the overall influence they have on the individual.  By comparing and contrasting the use of sex and violence against women in slasher films and hard core pornography, we will attempt to decide whether these films are harmful and whether they deserve to be criticized and persecuted.

The slasher film has come to be defined by a number of basic characteristics.  A group of adolescents are terrorized by a masked or deformed male psychotic killer and are killed off one by one in various gruesome ways until only one survivor remains who defeats the killer, or at least until the sequel.  The Texas Chainsaw Massacre established this narrative, and has been the basis for slasher films throughout the eighties such as: Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday The 13th.  The genre continued it’s popularity throughout the nineties with films such as Scream, and I Know What You Did Last Summer.  The production value is very low, relying on cheap locations, a no name cast, low budget camera work and cheesy effects, basically guaranteeing a profit at the box office because of the low investment into the films.  The survivor at the end of the film is always a female, or who Carol Clover defines as the “final girl”[1].  She, alone, must defeat the killer at the end of the film after being chased, wounded and tortured while watching each of her friends die by her side.  She is considered to be a “good girl”, smart, responsible, vulnerable and is not as sexually active as her peers.  Stylistically, the slasher flick is filmed in a way that objectifies the final girl.  The most infamous shot is the point of view shot from the killer.  For instance the opening sequence of Halloween is shot entirely from the killer’s point of view.  We watch through his eyes as he mounts the stairs, knife in hand, sees his half naked sister brushing her hair, and then kills her.  By placing the audience in the position of the killer we are allowed in a privileged, intimate killing situation and the female is at a more vulnerable disadvantage.  This voyeuristic camera work creates the misogyny found in slasher films, for the male viewing audience is allowed to be in a sadistic position.  Pinedo quotes another feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey when discussing this particular system of viewing in slasher films, how “the victims are positioned through the male gaze as objects of sexual investigation: surveyed and eroticized before they are killed”[2].  The way in which a woman looks and how she is viewed creates the link between sex and violence in the slasher film.  The film Scream was incredibly influential in the way it addressed the stereotypes of slasher films and transcended the so-called “rules” of the genre because the final girl Sydney survives in the end despite having sexual relations.  At one point a character in Scream states that: “There are certain rules that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie. For instance: 1. You can never have sex. The minute you get a little nookie–you’re as good as gone. Sex always equals death.”[3].  The final girl, the good girl, survives in the end of the film because she does not have sex, remaining a virgin throughout the course of the film.  For instance in Halloween, Laurie, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, is the single, responsible babysitter unlike her friends who are off having fun with their boyfriends.  Michael Myers, the stalking, psychotic, killer, gruesomely murders all of her friends, and in the end Laurie must fight him on her own.  Laurie remains sexually inactive throughout the film, compared to her friends who are killed off after they have sex.  The females, however, are always eroticized before they are killed, thus linking sex with violence against women in the slasher film.  Before the female is killed, the P.O.V shot is used to place the audience in the killer’s position.  The male audience experiences voyeuristic sadistic pleasure as the killer stalks his prey, spying on the female who is generally clad in skimpy clothes.  For example in Halloween, Laurie’s friend Annie spills oil all over her clothes.  We watch her over the shoulder of Michael Myers, as she strips off all her clothes and puts on a loose, button down shirt.  We continue to watch from his point of view as he stalks her around the house until he finally murders her in a car, still half naked.  His next victim is Laurie’s other friend, Linda.  After watching Linda and her boyfriend have sex, Michael Myers kills her boyfriend in the kitchen, and then goes back to the bedroom wearing a sheet like a ghost costume.  Linda, believing him to be her boyfriend, taunts him by exposing her breasts.  When she receives no reaction, she becomes bored and phones Laurie.  Michael Myers then comes behind her and proceeds to strangle her, half naked, with the telephone cord.  Laurie listens to her choke to death over the phone, but because the choking sounds like Linda is having sex, and Laurie assumes she is playing a trick on her.  The connection between sex and death is made very clear in these two examples from Halloween.  The male viewer is allowed in the voyeuristic position of the killer, and when he sees the naked female body the woman is punished for being sexual.  While the females are eroticized before they are punished, the final girl shares a slightly different relationship with the monster.  In Linda Williams’ essay “When The Woman Looks”, she examines the way the woman “looks” in horror films and what happens when she is granted the power of the gaze.  The look, or the “gaze” is the classic horror shot; a close up reaction shot of the female screaming.  When the “good girl” is granted the power of the gaze, she is punished, and it is this look that establishes her relationship between the monster and the audience, as it transforms the female into a “masochistic fantasy”[4].  When the monster looks at the female, he experiences what Laura Mulvey describes as “castration anxiety” [5].  When the monster gazes at the woman, he sees a mutilated version of his own body and believes that she acknowledges this distortion of her own image, and this drives the monster to punish her.  When the woman looks at the monster, she is horrified because she not only sees a monster, but she recognizes their similar threat to patriarchy, for their relationship is unique in such a way to threaten the male ego.  The look between a woman and the monster reveals the power of “nonphallic sexuality”[6].  The final girl is denied sexual pleasure throughout the film, and when she recognizes that they are both “freaks”, she must be punished for looking and posing a threat to male masculinity.  Since the male views the female through the eyes of the killer, he experiences both the feeling of castration anxiety and the threat to male potency that the female projects. When the female is being punished, the release of this tension within the male viewer gives him sadistic pleasure.

The female gaze is equally as important in the genre of hard core pornography and both genres share common aspects that focus the gaze of the film onto the female.  Similarly to slasher films, the production value of hard core porn is extremely low.  In the two films examined, The Dark Room and Torment, the mise-en-scene and camera work were extremely low budget.  In the first part of Torment, it appears as though it was shot hand held on video, like a home movie, while the second part of the film took place in the storage room of a film studio.  Straight porn films obviously do not need to concentrate on strong narratives, good camera work or expensive sets, for they will make a profit as long as they accomplish the one main goal of hard core pornography; sadistic voyeurism and the female gaze.

According to Berkeley Kaite, there are three corresponding looks of the female model in straight, hard core pornography: the look of pleasure, the look that is directed at the genitals, and the female’s involvement with the camera/viewer [7].  These three looks create the same relationship between the male viewer and the objectified female body as the gaze in slasher films.  The look of pleasure is similar to the gaze of the final girl when she reacts to seeing the monster, a close up shot that “simulates sexual ecstasy and is signified by closed eyes, open mouth, and head tilted back”[8].  A close up of a female screaming during an orgasm is very much like the close up of a female screaming in fear.  The face of the female is always well exposed to accentuate this look and is similarly highlighted in slasher films, by first revealing the close up of the horrified female to emphasize the gaze.  The audience’s fear is heightened not in view of the monster but because of the female’s reaction to the monster and the relationship it creates. The female face in hard core porn is never covered by a mask or hidden in shadow, for much of the pleasure of viewing is constructed by seeing her facial reaction: “the emphasis here is on the feminine look of pleasure produced, and passion consumed” [9]. For example, in the hard core porn film The Dark Room in the first segment, the film would cut between a close up of the face of the dominatrix and a close up of her “victim”; a female strapped in a circular contraption that pins back her limbs.  However, the male “victim” is more removed from the scene and stands in the shadows and we never see a close up of his face. His face is never “given diegetic dominance; when it is figured at all (and more often it is not), it bears either the look of amused or bored detachment or combinations of pain and ecstasy”[10].  In hard core pornography, the male’s face is shot in a very different way in contrast to the female in order to maximize voyeuristic male identification. In The Dark Room, the male viewer experiences the enjoyment of watching the dominatrix giving pleasure and the “victim” receiving pain, without the interference of the male model’s gaze. The dominatrix takes the role of the powerful male, and allows the male spectator to watch both women gaze at each other without experiencing any feelings of homoeroticism. If there are two men in the same scene as a woman, the men are portrayed through what Kaite describes as the “genital look”[11]; they are signified by their genitals.  Men and woman look at each other’s genitals and woman and woman can share the same look, however two men will never share a look with each other.  This would threaten the voyeuristic gaze, because it is “essentially autoerotic: its object is the subject’s own body”[12] and when a man’s genitals are shown, the male viewer experiences narcissistic pleasure.  He envisions a “fragmented vision/version of his own body, usually seen in conjunction with the female’s facial signifiers of pleasure”[13].  This can be compared with the sadistic voyeuristic position that a male viewer holds when he watches a slasher film, and how he is allowed to be part of the female gaze through the eyes of the killer.  This leads into the final “look” that Kaite defines as the “direct address” look, when only the female is permitted to directly look into the camera and address the viewer[14].  For instance in The Dark Room, the film begins with an extreme close up of the face of a dominatrix who looks directly into the camera and says: “They call me mistress, and they do what I please.  Come into my dark room and experience the pleasure of my world”.  By using this opening shot, the boundaries between subject and viewer are immediately broken.  By having the male “victim” watching in the shadows, it suggests a certain code of behaviour for the audience to follow.  This system of looks is constructed identically in the slasher film.  As discussed earlier, the male viewer is invited into a voyeuristic position where he can experience the gaze of the female.  The killer’s face is always masked or deformed in the slasher film, just as the male face is never objectified in the porn film.  Michael Myers wears a hockey mask, Freddy Krueger’s face is burned, the face of the fisherman killer in I Know What You Did Last Summer is hidden within the shadows of his hooded raincoat.  By removing the killer’s reaction completely, the male viewer is permitted sole viewing pleasure of the female.  In the second part of The Dark Room entitled “Taylor’s Exam”, the male stands in the dark while the dominatrix “examines” her female patient.  When the male enters the scene to penetrate the female, his whole face is covered with a leather mask.  This whole dynamic of the masked male penetrating the female is the same phallic motif used in the slasher film when the masked killer descends upon the female victim to penetrate her with his weapon.

The use of weapons in slasher films and the use of sex toys in hard core porn films are the more literal images that link sex and violence against women. Weapons are used as important symbols of patriarchal control in slasher films.  Clover notes that the preferred weapons of killers are not guns, but “pretechnological” weapons such as knives, hammers, and axes because they are “personal, extensions of the body that bring attacker and attacked into primitive, animalistic embrace”[15].  For example, in Halloween, Michael Myers attacks his victims with a huge butcher knife.  The fact that the ideal weapon is a knife and not a gun, suggests the need to have physical contact with the victim, to feel the knife penetrating through their body and to feel them squirm and hear them scream before they die.  The knife is very much a phallic symbol, and it represents the patriarchal need to dominate and exert power.  The sex toys in pornography are a strong connecting factor between sex and violence as well.  Similarly to how the woman is punished for being sexual in the slasher film, the female in hard core porn is punished for being sexual as well.  The women wear collars, which are a symbol of ownership or control, and are usually dominated by a “mistress” such as in The Dark Room, who takes on the role of the dominating male.  The females are also clad in leather, which “shares an affinity with objects that are used as weapons”[16], such as the whip.  Woman will use any number of “weapons” on each other or will order a male to do so, and this includes, whips, handcuffs and other forms of bondage, as well as dildos and butt plugs, which can be seen as extensions of the human body.  These “weapons” are used against the female similarly to how they are used to punish the women in slasher films for being sexual.  For instance, in Torment, while spanking her female “victim”, the mistress asks if she’s been a bad girl, and when she says yes, the mistress whips her behind and asks if she likes it.  This not only links sex and violence, but it associates the pleasure of sex and violence against the woman.  Another “weapon” used in hard core pornography is the shoe.  According to Kaite, the stiletto shoe is a fetish that is threatening because a woman wearing spike heels is a dangerous image[17].  Once again, it represents an extension of the body, it is hard and slender, yet the heel can also create castration anxiety within the male.  As in slasher films, the male experiences anxiety because the female is castrated, and the stiletto is a “continual seductive reminder of this”[18] for it has the power to cut, and to penetrate.  The shoe evokes a castration anxiety that is similar to that felt in the slasher film.  When the male looks at the fetish, he feels anxiety because he senses the possibility for the mutilation of his penis.  Although he is aroused, he is also threatened, thus driving him to penetrate the woman, and punish her.  The weapons used in both slasher and porn films are important because they literally link the use of sex and violence against woman.

By examining the film I Spit On Your Grave, we can see how it draws from both the slasher film and the hard core porn film in the way it uses sex, violence, and the female body.  The film is very low budget, with rough camera work, a simple location and no name actors. The final girl in the film is Jennifer, a young woman who decides to leave the city and finish writing her book at a remote cottage.  One day, while sunbathing in her canoe, a group of rednecks attack her.  They take turns raping and abusing her in the forest.  When she finally stumbles back home, they are waiting there to rape and abuse her again.  The second half of the movie is about Jennifer’s revenge.  She seduces each of the men who raped her and kills them. The film is disturbing “because of its perverse simplicity”[19].  The raw camera work creates the illusion of reality, which is very disturbing when there are scenes with graphic sex and violence; we see full nudity, blood and the full penetration of both penis and weapon.  The film is very vulnerable in the sense that it doesn’t attempt to hide anything.  The rapes and murders all occur in broad daylight, which is against the norm for slasher films.  The monster(s) in the film are the rednecks, and are “normal”, for “their brutality is not traced to dysfunctional upbringing”[20]. The film is shocking because of this realistic and familiar quality, yet this rape/revenge film also brings together many aspects of both slasher and hard core porn films.  For instance, Jennifer is the objectified final girl.  As she lies sun tanning in her canoe in a very skimpy bikini, we are thrusted into the point of view of the rednecks who are spying on her from the forest.  This is the sadistic voyeurism used in slasher films, as the “monsters” scope out the vulnerable, eroticized female site.  When they drag her into the forest, we are confronted by close ups of her terrified, anguished face.  She is being punished for looking and because of her sexuality. At one point Johnny, one of the rednecks, says; “you deserve it, you knew everyone could see you prancing around in that tiny bathing suit of yours”, therefore punishing her for arousing him.  The men experience castration anxiety when they see her body, and they must try to overcome this anxiety through force to prove their masculinity. When the men are raping Jennifer, the scene is shot in a very external way, it is mostly filmed in long shots with no close ups of the males.  As in hard core porn, the men never share the look with each other.  Although they are standing around Jennifer and watching each other rape her, it avoids any feelings of homoeroticism by displacing it onto the redneck name Matthew, the mentally challenged virgin of the group.  They cheer him on, and the gang rape scene resembles more of a male sport. The men commit the rape “more for each other’s edification than for physical pleasure”[21].  The dynamic of the male group invites masochistic male spectatorship, for the male viewer is allowed to participate in the group event and can gaze at the female site uninterrupted.  By portraying Matthew as the inexperienced male, the rest of the group is able to compare their masculinity through him.  By raping and beating Jennifer, they prove their heterosexual masculinity.  For the male spectator, he experiences the narcissistic pleasure found in hard core porn.  Since he is able to be in a voyeuristic position, he too compares himself through Matthew and can experience the pleasure of domination and control.

Although the first half of I Spit On Your Grave shares many characteristics with the hard core porn film in the way looks are constructed to maximize the voyeuristic enjoyment of sex and violence against the female, the second half of the film is strongly reminiscent of the slasher film.  After Jennifer recovers from her ordeal, she decides to seek revenge on the rednecks who violated her.  The connection between sex and violence is heightened in the way Jennifer kills the “monsters”.  First she seduces Matthew and hangs him from a tree.  The way in which she kills him is a direct reflection of the damage he inflicted on her.  He was unable to penetrate her, and his “limp hanging” is a symbolic reference to his inability to sustain an erection.  The second redneck she kills is Johnny, and at first she holds him at gunpoint and orders him to take off his pants.  However, she then decides to bring him back to her place where she seduces him in the bathtub.  As she gives him a hand job, he says “God bless your hands, that’s so sweet…that’s so sweet it’s painful” and at that moment she picks up a large knife and cuts off his penis, leaving him to bleed to death.  She literally castrates him using the phallic, masculine weapon.  By using a knife instead of a gun, it reflects the need to penetrate the victim, and how “a hands-on knifing answers a hands-on rape in a way that a shooting, even a shooting preceded by a humiliation, does not”[22].  She punished him in the same way he punished her, because of the sexual threat they invoked.  This film draws together the major elements of slasher and hard core porn films and illustrates the powerful connection between sex and violence against the female, and what she must do to empower and defend herself.

After examining I Spit On Your Grave, one can understand how a male spectator views slasher and porn films, through masochistic voyeurism.  This has created much controversy for it brings into question whether slasher and porn films influence men to be sexually aggressive towards woman.  I Spit On Your Grave draws upon the idea of the rape myth, scenarios that show women receiving sexual pleasure from rape, which is a common theme in hard core pornography.  It is important to note however, that Jennifer never displays any looks of pleasure while she is being raped, and “expresses nothing but protest, fear and pain”[23].  However, throughout the film, the rednecks say that she deserves to be raped for sun tanning in her bikini, and Johnny says that “she really liked it” and believes that she is coming back for more.  Scenes in films such as this can have an enormous impact on the attitudes males develop towards females and sex: “the more they see, the more likely they are to believe that woman really enjoy rape and prefer force in sex”[24]. Neil Malamuth conducted a study at UCLA, where he exposed male subjects to ten minutes of hard core pornography where women were being aggressed.  He found that they were much more willing to accept these rape myths, such as “woman who wear provocative clothing are putting themselves in a place to get raped”[25].  Not only were these subject more accepting of myths about why a woman should be raped, but they also believed that she found pleasure in being raped.  After being shown a sexually violent film in which a woman is turned on by being raped, the study showed that after five minutes of exposure, normal males believed that twenty five percent of the woman they knew would enjoy being raped[26].  With results such as these, allowing the male in the sadistic voyeuristic position can be a harmful influence.  The way the looks are constructed in hard core pornography are very powerful, and effectively focus on objectifying the female and creating a certain intimacy with the male spectator.  When a former rapist was asked why he raped women, he responded by saying: “….because I am basically as a male, a predator and all women look to men like prey.  I fantasize about the expression on a woman’s face when I “capture” her and she realizes she cannot escape.  It’s like I won, I own her”[27].  The look that this former rapist is alluding to is the exact close up shot of the female gaze that is emphasized in slasher and hard core porn.  If these films objectify the female gaze in this way, can it be harmful because of the pleasure it evokes?  Neil Malamuth conducted another study that examined sexual arousal.  He found that fifty to sixty percent of the male students who participated showed some degree of sexual arousal when watching a rape scene in which the victim showed enjoyment.  However, only ten percent of his subjects were sexually aroused by extreme, gory violence where there was very little sexual content[28].  Thus, if hard core pornography is more sexually arousing for men than a slasher film, there is a chance that watching pornography will have a stronger influence on their behaviour.  The fact that pornography is used as ejaculation material subconsciously conditions men to associate rape with arousing female images[29].  The sadistic voyeurism that pornography allows creates a connection that is more harmful than the voyeurism found in slasher films because of the ejaculation conditioning.  Men are more likely to use pornography as ejaculation material than a slasher flick, for hard core pornography is built on fantasy and desire, and glorifies the content.  Slasher films also release tension, but serve a different function.  They are not “built” on fantasy, but reflect society, for “realism is the key factor that differentiates slashers from their predecessors in horror”[30].  The Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho, (which was considered the first “true” slasher film), was based on a book by Robert Bloch about a real killer and a corpse thief named Ed Gein.  The film horrified audiences because it had brought the monster into their home, and revealed the ugliness of society and the monster it had created.  Robin Wood discusses this act of repression and the function of horror films in his article “An Introduction to the American Horror Film”.  His theory is that whatever bourgeois idealism cannot accept or threatens their “normality”, such as sexuality, homesexuality, drugs, feminism, race; is repressed[31].  He suggests that whatever society represses is projected onto the Other and will come back as the monster.  The monster therefore must be either destroyed or assimilated in order for normality to be restored, and society settles back into a state of repression[32].  By using the theory of the Other to examine the slasher film, the genre becomes more than a simple excuse to display violence and gore. The slasher film appeals to teenagers and their confusing feelings towards sexuality, friends, drugs and other adolescent experiences that are often repressed within society.  By allowing teenagers into the voyeuristic position of the killer, they are able to release their feelings of tension.  When the spectator releases tension while watching a slasher flick, they unleash desires that already exist and it is contained within the film, in comparison with hard core pornography where the tension is released externally and is built on uncensored fantasy.

The external factor of hard core pornography is harmful to women in other ways as well.  One of the concerns that arose concerning hard core pornography, was not only the amount of sex and violence inflicted on the women onscreen, but the harm that was occurring off screen as well.  The most famous scenerio is the Linda “Lovelace” Marchiano case.  She became famous after starring in Deep Throat, the most commercially successful porn film about a woman whose clitoris was in her throat.  Her testimony about the abuse she endured on the set of the film brought about a whole new awareness regarding violence against women.  She describes how she was “pimped, pushed around and forced to make Deep Throat[33].  Although the film does not portray rape or violence, Marchiano’s testimony reveals how “it is really a documentary of her rape from beginning to end”[34].  In addition to indirectly conditioning the male viewer to harm women, pornography is also directly harmful to women because they are literally being abused on set.  The issue of whether a female is actually being stabbed in a slasher film is not a concern.  When The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was first released, people questioned its validity, and a myth was created that it was a real documentary of the event.  However, the rumours were quickly discouraged for the film “is essentially harmless and remains an excellent example of how gullible people can be, how they adapt their reality to suit erroneous information offered to them as fact”[35].  There is still apprehension, however, with the objectification of the female in slasher films, and the violence used against them.  Despite the fact that the female is degraded throughout the course of the film, it is always the final girl who is left as the sole survivor.  She has watched in horror as her friends have been mutilated and tortured to death, and she is left alone to defeat the monster.  Thus the female is empowered such as in I Spit On Your Grave, for Jennifer successfully avenges herself against those who have harmed her.  Even though she must take on a patriarchal role to do so, she does not kill for any “deep psychological reasons, the punishment fits the crime and the law of retribution is fulfilled”[36].  She uses the hands that patriarchy has presented her with and applies them in the same way that they were used to violate her.  Another scenario is when a man at the end saves the final girl.  In Halloween, Michael Myers chases Laurie throughout the entire third act.  She fights and defends herself well, defeating him at first.   However he does not die, and rises once more to kill her.  At that moment, the psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis shoots Michael Myers and saves Laurie.  Although her power is taken away, it is still a positive reflection of patriarchy, for the woman is saved by the man who protects her from further harm.  In the most modern slasher film Scream, the female completely empowers herself by killing the monster without depending on the male to save her.  At the end, Sidney shoots the killer.  When he doesn’t die and rises from the ground, Gale Weathers (a news reporter) rescues Sidney and shoots him.  At that moment the police officer Dewey stumbles through the door; too late and is no longer needed for the women defended themselves on their own.  This positive female empowerment is never shown in hard core pornography.  The women abuse each other, or command men to be aggressive towards another woman.  In Torment, the dominatrix female orders the other woman to crawl around the floor while whipping her, and in The Dark Room the dominatrix orders the man to “fuck her hard” while spanking the victimized female.  The women in pornography never gain power unless it is through a patriarchal role for the sole purpose of enhancing male viewing pleasure.

At first glance, slasher films and hard core pornography have many common elements.  They both are very low budget, cheap forms of filmmaking whose main goal is to objectify the female.  The most important aspect that they share is the sadistic voyeurism created for the male spectator, and the way in which the system of looks is constructed to exemplify the woman.  The male is allowed to release feelings of castration anxiety and experience narcissistic pleasure by observing the female being punished for her sexuality.  By examining the film I Spit On Your Grave, we can see how all these elements come into play, and furthers the discussion of the impact these films have on men.  Is masochistic voyeurism a dangerous position?  According to studies, men are influenced more from the voyeurism permitted in porn versus the voyeurism in slasher films.  Not only does it influence the way they think, but it can also provoke and condition harmful behaviour.  Hard core pornography in the end serves a different function than the slasher film.  Pornography is built on fantasy, whereas slasher films are a reflection of the society we live in.  While both genres are a site to release tension, slasher films are contained while pornography is externalized, and this is more harmful for women.  Females in slasher films are empowered, whereas women in pornography are abused both on and off screen.  Although, both genres share many similarities, pornography is much more harmful to women because of the way the male spectator is manipulated, and therefore should be censored and persecuted for the effect of the sex and violence it uses against women.


Pornography and Sexual Violence. London. Everywoman Ltd: 1988

Clover, Carol. “Getting Even”. Sight and Sound. May 1992 p. 16, 17

Clover, Carol “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film”. The Dread Of Difference. University of Texas Press: 1996.

Cole, Susan G. Sex, Violence and Pornography. Toronto. Second Story Press:1995

Freeland, Cynthia A. The Naked and The Undead: Evil and the Appeal of Horror. Colorado. Westview:2000

Kaite, Berkeley. Pornography and Difference. Indiana University Press:1995

Kendrick, Walter. The Secret Museum: Pornography in Modern Culture. University of California Press:1996

McNair, Brian. Mediated Sex: Pornography and Postmodern Culture. New York. St Martin’s Press:1996

Paul, William. Laughing Screaming: Modern Hollywood Horror and Comedy. New York. Columbia University Press:1994

Pinedo, Isabel Cristina. Recreational Terror: Women and the Pleasure of Horror Film Viewing. State University of New York Press:1997

Rasmussen, Randy Loren. Children of the Night: The Six Archetypal Characters of Classic Horror Films. North Carolina. McFarland & Company Inc. Publishers:1998

Russell, Diana E.H. Dangerous Relationships: Pornography, Misogyny and Rape. California. Sage: 1998

Shortes, Connie. “Cleaning Up The Sewer: The Containment of S/M Pornography” The Journal of Popular Film And Television. Summer 1998. V 26. p. 72.

Stine, Scott Aaron. “The Snuff Film: The Making of an Urban Legend”. Skeptical Inquirer. May-June. 1999. v.23. p. 29-33

Williams, Linda . “When The Woman Looks”. The Dread Of Difference. University of Texas Press: 1996.

Wood, Robin. “An Introduction To The American Film”. Grant, Barry Keith Ed. Planks of Reason: Essays on the Horror Film. London. The Scarecrow Press Inc:1996


Halloween. dir. John Carpenter. Falcon. 1978

I Spit On Your Grave. dir. Meir Zarchi. Espion. 1981

Scream. dir. Wes Craven. Screenplay by Kevin Williamson.  Dimension. 1996

The Dark Room. dir. Edward Mann. Jade Productions. 1997

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. dir. Tobe Hooper. 1974

Torment. dir. Andy Warren. Jade Productions. 1995

[1] Clover, Carol “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film” p.82

[2] Pinedo, Isabel Cristina. Recreational Terror: Women and the Pleasure of Horror Film Viewing p.82

[3] Williamson, Kevin Scream

[4] Williams, Linda . “When The Woman Looks” p.17

[5] Williams, Linda . “When The Woman Looks” p.22

[6] Williams, Linda . “When The Woman Looks” p.24

[7] Kaite, Berkeley. Pornography and Difference p. 80

[8] Kaite, Berkeley. Pornography and Difference p.81

[9] Kaite, Berkeley. Pornography and Difference p.81

[10] Kaite, Berkeley. Pornography and Difference p.81

[11] Kaite, Berkeley. Pornography and Difference p.81

[12] Kaite, Berkeley. Pornography and Difference p.81

[13] Kaite, Berkeley. Pornography and Difference p.83

[14] Kaite, Berkeley. Pornography and Difference p.83

[15] Carol J. Clover “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film” p.79

[16] Kaite, Berkeley. Pornography and Difference p.124

[17] Kaite, Berkeley. Pornography and Difference p.96

[18] Kaite, Berkeley. Pornography and Difference p.105

[19] Clover, Carol. “Getting Even” p.16

[20] Clover, Carol. “Getting Even” p.16

[21] Clover, Carol. “Getting Even” p.16

[22] Clover, Carol “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film” p.79

[23] Clover, Carol. “Getting Even” p.16

[24] Cole, Susan G. Sex, Violence and Pornography p.219

[25] Pornography and Sexual Violence. Everywoman ltd. p.15

[26] Pornography and Sexual Violence. Everywoman ltd. p.16

[27] Russell, Diana E.H. Dangerous Relationships: Pornography, Misogyny and Rape p.115

[28] Russell, Diana E.H. Dangerous Relationships: Pornography, Misogyny and Rape p.117

[29] Russell, Diana E.H. Dangerous Relationships: Pornography, Misogyny and Rape p.122

[30] Freeland, Cynthia A. The Naked and The Undead: Evil and the Appeal of Horror p.162

[31] Wood, Robin. “An Introduction To The American Film” p.175

[32] Wood, Robin. “An Introduction To The American Film” p.176

[33] Pornography and Sexual Violence. Everywoman ltd. p.76

[34] Russell, Diana E.H. Dangerous Relationships: Pornography, Misogyny and Rape p.114

[35] Stine, Scott Aaron. “The Snuff Film: The Making of an Urban Legend”

[36] Clover, Carol. “Getting Even” p.16

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When A Woman Screams: Examining Gender in Horror

The genre of horror films has been part of film culture ever since the invention of the medium itself, from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to Psycho to The Silence of the Lambs, horror movies are an ever present representation of our society.  While many films are critically acclaimed, many fall into the underground cult status, maintaining their popularity and continually reviving the genre.  When John Carpenter’s Halloween was released in 1978, it created a new branch in the genre of horror most often referred to as “slasher” films.  Halloween became the bases for countless other slasher movies that flooded the theatres throughout the eighties and are continually made to this day (the eighth sequel to Halloween was released this year, aptly titled Halloween Resurrection).  Although slasher films (and especially sequels) have had the ill-fated luck of bombing at the box office and being slandered by critics, they still hold an important place within the genre.  They speak to the young, repressed generation who are looking for a site to release adolescent angst and confusion, those who feel as though they too, are the misunderstood underdogs of modern society.  Some of the harsher critics were feminist film theorists, who found that the slasher genre depended upon its outright exploitation of the victimized leading lady. Two such film theorists who examine woman in horror films are Linda Williams who wrote “When The Woman Looks” and Carol J. Clover with her article: “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film”. When the film Scream by Wes Craven was released in 1997, it was considered a breakthrough in the genre of slasher films because of the way Sydney, the female heroine “breaks the rules” of horror movies. By using these two articles to compare Sydney from Scream and Laurie from Halloween, one will be able to determine whether or not the female horror heroine has evolved since the birth of the slasher film genre, or if she is still unable to break free of her stereotypical role and is still punished for looking.

In her article “When The Woman Looks” Linda Williams discusses the meaning of the woman’s gaze in film and this can be applied in particular to the way a woman “looks” in slasher movies.  The major trait in slasher films is a lead female character, who is not only the victim but often the hero as well.  By analyzing the way Sydney and Laurie look we can understand their relations and reactions and why they can be seen as a threat.  Williams analyzes the relationship between gender through the look.   The female exists only to be gazed at by the dominant male.  She refuses to look for she will only be subject to brutality and horror proving her own weakness.[1] This leaves very little for woman to identify with on screen, as Sydney points out in Scream (when she is asked why she doesn’t watch scary movies): “Because they’re all the same. It’s always some stupid killer stalking some big breasted girl-who can’t act-who always runs up the stairs when she should be going out the front door. It’s insulting.”[2] This statement defines the very climax of Halloween.  Initially when Laurie goes over to her friend’s house to investigate, we congratulate her, for although she goes upstairs to the bedroom, she escapes Michael Myers by running out of the house.  Unfortunately, in the final scene, Laurie falls into the cliché when she runs back into her own house, and when Michael Myers comes after her, she fails to escape him again by running upstairs and hiding in the closet. Ironically, when Sydney is being chased by the Ghostfaced killer a couple of minutes after her statement, she runs up the stairs instead of going out the front door.  At first it seems as though Sydney allows identification by revealing the female slasher heroine stereotype, yet by reacting in the same way only a couple of minutes later, she immediately disowns any power she had previously gained.  By “failing to return the gaze of the male who desires her”, the woman suffers a sort of blindness, and it allows the man the “voyeur’s pleasure” for he is not threatened by her returning his gaze.[3] As a spectator watching Halloween we are thrusted into the point of view of Michael Myers and into this position of the male voyeur’s pleasure.  This “displaces what was once the subjective point of view of the female victim onto an audience that is now asked to view the body of the woman victim as the only visible monster in the film”[4].  By literally looking through his eyes and hearing only his breathing when he first kills his sister, to when he stalks Laurie, we are forced to stare at the helpless female. When Michael Myers is gazing at Laurie, we not only see her from his point of view, but we also observe her “looking” for him.  Many times she sees his distant figure in the background, only to do a double take after he vanishes.  Her friends call her “crazy” and that she is “losing her mind” in believing that she is being stalked.  The female spectator is denied the pleasure of viewing, while Laurie is accused of seeing things, or being “blind”.  Similarly in Scream, Sydney is also the victim of voyeuristic male pleasure when the killer torments her over the phone.  He can see her, yet she can’t see him.  Sydney is also the characteristic “blind” female.  She mistakenly identifies Cotton Weary as the person who killed her mother a year earlier.  At the end of the film she must live with the fact that she almost sent an innocent man to prison, as well as the fact that the real killer was her boyfriend, Billy.  The frustration of Laurie’s inability to see clearly as well as Sydney’s failure to see the truth are, according to Williams, indications of their sexual purity.[5] This “good girl” status is one adopted by both Laurie and Sydney.  Laurie’s friends imply that she never goes out and call her a “girl scout”.  She can’t smoke a cigarette properly, and during the course of the night she gets stuck babysitting the children while her friends take off with their boyfriends.  Sydney is also shown to be sexually inactive.  When Billy discusses having a more “rated R” relationship, we find out that ever since the death of her mother, she has not been emotionally ready to consummate their relationship, and Sydney says that he will have to settle for a “PG-13” rating.

Williams states that when the “good girl” is allowed the power of the gaze, her look is punished.  For when the woman looks at the monster, she recognizes that they both have something in common; they both pose a threat towards the male.[6] The monster is threatening for he is generally more sexually interesting than the male, and is an exaggerated reminder of what the male lacks.  Whereas the woman, according to Lurie, is the site of trauma for the male for she represents the mother who is not castrated; the weak male lacking a penis[7].  Both the monster and the woman have a similar power, that of sexual difference, for they are both looked upon as freakish objects of the male gaze.[8] Therefore when the woman and monster share a gaze, they’re connection is twice as threatening to the male and thus the woman must be punished and the monster destroyed.  When Laurie is finally allowed to gaze at Michael Myers near the end of Halloween, she is greatly punished.  After she investigates her friend’s home and discovers them to be dead, she is then attacked by Michael Myers and must start fighting for her life.  When Michael Myers gazes at Laurie, she becomes the site of trauma for both the male and the monster.  Myers originally killed his sister after witnessing her having sex with her boyfriend, therefore Myers is not only the monster, but the traumatized male.  Whenever he sees a girl that resembles his sister he is not only reminded of the image of his sister’s non-castrated body, but also with the image of the sexually active male, which is his lack.  This explains why both of Laurie’s friends are killed, for not only are they sexually active but their half-naked bodies all the more provoke Myers.  Thus, Laurie survives in the end because of her sexual inactivity, and because she has a “sympathetic identification”[9] with the monster.  She has the power to resist Michael Myers, for it is “directly proportional to her absence of sexual desire”[10].  Her sexual purity is treated as a symbol of her own freakishness, which is similar to that of the monster and in the sequels we discover that she is actually Michael Myers’ younger sister.  Halloween created the myth of the virgin surviving in the end, and is referenced in Scream (when a group of teenagers are watching Halloween): “That’s why she always lived. Only virgins can outsmart the killer in the big chase scene in the end. Don’t you know the rules? “[11] Once again in Scream, the film breaks the rules that it swears by.  While the teenagers are watching Halloween at this house party, Sydney decides to sleep with Billy, who is not only the dominant male but is revealed to be the killer.  Billy wants to kill Sydney because her mother slept with his father and destroyed his family. Billy sees Sydney as the non-castrated mother, or rather a reminder of his own “weak” father. When Sydney looks at the monster, she recognizes their similar status in that they both pose a threat to each other, and that by sleeping together their sexual difference is seen as monstrous.  Sydney survives in the end despite having sex with Billy because of their mutual sexual desire, which protects her because she doesn’t resist him.  Although Sydney breaks the rules of slasher films and lives to kill the monster at the end despite not being a virgin, she is still forever punished knowing that she slept with the killer; the son of the father that her mother was having an affair with.  Sydney didn’t want to have sex with Billy because she didn’t want a reputation like her mother, but in the end she gives up her power when she sleeps him.  Since Sydney “looked” incorrectly and accused the wrong man of murder, the killer was still free to come after her and her friends, and she is therefore punished.

Carol J. Clover further examines women in slasher movies in her article: “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film”.  She discusses several different elements of the slasher movie, such as the killer, weapons, victims and the Final Girl and how they reflect “cultural attitudes toward sex and gender”[12].  The first aspect that she analyzes is the killer.  The monster must kill any women who arouse him sexually, and this is linked with the trauma of the absent mother[13].  There is a lack of any mother figure in Halloween.  Michael Myers is an escapee from an asylum who is pursued by his male psychiatrist, and we only briefly see the father of Laurie and her friend Annie.  This absence of a mother figure in the film draws even more attention to the female victims, and controls the gaze of both spectator and male characters onto Laurie and her girlfriends without distraction.  Since Michael Myers has been without a mother figure to guide him, his own outlook of sexuality has been greatly disturbed because of his lack of understanding.  Whenever he sees a female who resembles his sister, it immediately triggers the memory of when he saw his sister and her boyfriend in bed, and this is a trauma for him because he sees her as an object of arousal and as a threat.  Therefore, he must kill any female who arouses or threatens him in the same manner to stop his confusion and release his sexual frustration.  Similarly in Scream there is no mother figure, which is the cause of much sexual angst and violence.  Sydney’s mother was murdered and raped a year before, and because of this she is experiencing sexual anxiety.  Billy is also lacking a mother figure because of the affair his father had with Sydney’s mother, therefore his motivation to kill stems from his desire and anger that he feels towards her.  It is also interesting to note that the other female victims were murdered because they also aroused the monster sexually.  At the end of the film, we learn that Billy as well as his friend Stu, are the killers.  In the beginning of the movie, someone mentions that Stu had dated the first victim, Casey, and later his girlfriend Tatem is murdered, thus showing that they were both killed because of their sexual relationship with the monster.

The common trait of the monster/killer is to represent the hyper masculine image.  Clover describes the traditional slasher killer as being an outsider or misfit from society, large and overweight, masked yet recognizably human and virtually indestructible[14].  Michael Myers represents the super dominant male in his overtly large figure, his white mask and his invincibility, which is shown at the end when he is shot and falls out of a window, yet he vanishes a moment later and lives on.  In comparison to the helpless, half dressed, stereotypical female victims, he is the image of the ever powerful, controlling patriarchy.  With Scream, the killers break this traditional description.  The killers, although masked when attacking their victims, are also unmasked throughout the course of the film.  Billy and Stu are even more threatening to Sydney because they are her friends.  They are not alienated outsiders, and at the end of the film they are not even in disguise when they try to kill her, and they prove to be destructible.  Though they are not the formulaic killer, they are still a threat to the feminist power because they mock and flaunt they’re control in front of her face.  The fact that they do not have to remain masked or be indestructible to torture Sydney is even more insulting to women.

Weapons are also important symbols of patriarchal control in slasher films.  Clover notes that the preferred weapons of killers are not guns, but “pretechnological” weapons such as knives, hammers, and axes because they are “personal, extensions of the body that bring attacker and attacked into primitive, animalistic embrace”[15].  Both Michael Myers and the Ghostface killer in Scream use knives, but it is also important to examine the weapons that the females use in both movies.  Knives can be seen as a phallic symbol, a way of entering the woman’s body as opposed to a gun, which presents less of a challenge.  Michael Myers knife is super phallisized when he stabs his female victims, for the woman are all half dressed with their breasts exposed or simply wearing a male shirt with just their underwear, and this contrasts his powerful masculinity with a weakened femininity. Even when he kills the boyfriend and leaves him hanging from the knife in the door, the outline of the body and protruding knife resembles an erect penis, the image of the ideal man, which further commemorates his power.   When Laurie tries to defend herself against Michael Myers, her weapons are very feminine.  She stabs his neck with a knitting needle, then pokes him in the eye with a hanger, and both times she is unable to kill him.  When she finally gets control of his knife, she fails to kill him again and this shows that she cannot handle the male weapon.  After failing to defy Michael Myers using weak “feminine” weapons and the phallic knife, she is saved by Dr. Loomis who shoots Michael with a gun.  In the end Laurie is but a helpless woman who cannot defend herself and must turn to a superior man to be saved.  Scream allows its victims to have more power, yet it still not a complete breakthrough.  Both Casey and Tatem are allowed to defend themselves with masculine weapons, a knife and beer bottles, however they are still unsuccessful and their deaths are more brutalized; Casey has her intestines ripped out and Tatem’s neck is broken in the garage door.  Sydney, however, does defy the rules of the slasher film.  At the ending, she becomes the Ghostface killer for a moment, disguising her voice, masking her face and dressing up in the robe.  In that instant, she is a female killer, which according to Clover, are rare in slasher films and have very different motives than male killers.  Their reasons are not psychosexual and their anger does not stem from childhood experiences, but “from specific moments in their adult lives in which they have been abandoned or cheated on by men”[16].  Only after Sydney’s boyfriend betrays her is she allowed any access to the male power.  However in the final scene, the only way she can save herself is by using a “technological” weapon.  There is a small rise in female power at the end when Gale Weathers (a reporter) saves Sydney by shooting Billy.  Sydney then shoots Billy a few more times and avoids failing like Laurie who assumed the killer to be dead.  Yet the gun is an easy access weapon, and is not as satisfying nor as challenging as the weapons used by the killer, therefore allowing the woman a certain distance from the male as opposed to the “hands on” experience enjoyed by the men.

Both Laurie and Sydney are defined as “Final Girls” according to Clover and are the epitome of what defines a slasher film[17]Halloween and Scream depend on the distressed female in order to be a successful slasher movie for she is the “abject terror personified”[18].  The Final Girl is the soul survivor in the end, who has witnessed the death of all her friends and has been chased, wounded and altogether victimized throughout the plot.  Although the Final Girl appears to be the strongest character in the movie and is under the illusion of female dominance, she is merely a subject for masochistic male pleasure.  The fact that there is a “final girl” and that the survivor is “inevitably female”[19] in every film of this genre reflects the patriarchal need to control, victimize, and create a site to unleash repressed sexual anxieties over and over again.  Laurie and Sydney represent the two different types of Final Girls.  Laurie is the Final Girl for ending A, who stays with the killer long enough to be rescued[20] and Sydney symbolizes the Final Girl for ending B, she kills the monster herself.  Sydney, however, is not the soul survivor in Scream, and she not only defies two killers, but she also saves her father and some of her friends (both male and female) without any help from a male counterpart.  This allows her to hold some male power for a moment, but does not necessarily mean that she has completely broken down any barriers for the female horror heroine.

Scream is a breakthrough in the slasher genre because it was the first film to recognize the rules and in doing so, the film abides by them.  Although Sydney tries to evolve the image of the Final Girl, she is only able to briefly step out of her stereotypical role; such as her use of weapons and defying the myth of virgins surviving, and she must suffer the consequences.  She is still the object of the male gaze and is punished for her blindness. The connection that she has with the monster is more deadly and threatening, and the killers have evolved to a point where they have greater control over their female victims. We can only identify with Sydney to a certain extent, for like her, we are under the illusion that the woman has regained some status, when in the end Scream is more of a success for patriarchal power.


Grant, Barry Keith. Dread of Difference. University of Texas Press: 1996
Clover, Carol J. “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film”. University of California Press: 1987
Williams, Linda. “When The Woman Looks”.  American Film Institute:1993


 John Carpenter. dir. Halloween. Falcon International Pictures: 1978. Screenplay by John Carpenter and Debra Hill.

Wes Craven. dir. Scream. Dimension Films: 1997.  Screenplay by Kevin Williamson.

[1] Linda Williams “When The Woman Looks” p. 15

[2] Kevin Williamson Scream

[3] Linda Williams “When The Woman Looks” p. 15

[4] Linda Williams “When The Woman Looks” p. 31

[5] Linda Williams “When The Woman Looks” p. 16

[6] Linda Williams “When The Woman Looks” p. 18

[7] Linda Williams “When The Woman Looks” p. 23

[8] Linda Williams “When The Woman Looks” p. 21

[9] Linda Williams “When The Woman Looks” p. 21

[10] Linda Williams “When The Woman Looks” p. 27

[11] Kevin Williamson  Scream

[12] Carol J. Clover “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film” p.67

[13] Carol J. Clover “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film” p.75

[14] Carol J. Clover “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film” p.77

[15] Carol J. Clover “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film” p.79

[16] Carol J. Clover “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film” p.77

[17] Carol J. Clover “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film” p.82

[18] Carol J. Clover “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film” p.82

[19] Carol J. Clover “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film” p.83

[20] Carol J. Clover “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film” p.83

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