Slasher Movies: Female Victims or Survivors?
“[Scary movies are] all the same. Some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can’t act who’s always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door. It’s insulting,” claims the character Sidney, in the movie Scream (1996).
This stereotype is what many movie fans and critics believe when the topic of slasher films arise. Slasher films normally include a psychotic killer (either real or supernatural), a number of victims (often female), and usually the only person alive at the end of the movie is a female. Yet, one has to question these stereotypes. Are slasher films really that degrading towards women? Feminist critics tend to focus on females being mutilated in these films, despite the fact that just as many men die in most horror movies as women. Is it fair to claim horror movies are sexist when men and women both die in horror movies, and it is often a woman who is able to outsmart the killer and survive the entire movie? Are women is slasher films really victims or are they strong survivors?
The first misconception about slasher films is the idea that women are the main victims in these movies. According to Vera Dika:
Although it may at first seem that the violence in these films is directed overwhelmingly against women, a closer look reveals a curious fact…. There seems to be a pronounced tendency across these films to be evenhanded. In Halloween, for example, the majority of victims are female. But in Friday the 13th and Graduation Day the victims are as often male as female; in Happy Birthday to Me all but one of the killer’s victims are male. (90)
In movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), there are more male victims than female. In all of the above examples, the last people to survive the killing sprees are women. The female is often able to outwit the killer and this is how she survives. Sometimes, such as in the movie Halloween (1978), the female must rely on the luck of a stranger trying to help her. However, in sequels of the movie, the main character is able to defend herself and conquers her killer. Many strong female heroines are shown in slasher films.
The theory of the “final girl” is a fascinating concept in horror movies. Carol J. Clover created the term “final girl” in the book, “Men, Women, and Chainsaws.” Clover points out that the “[final girl] often show[s] more courage and levelheadedness than their cringing male counterparts” (36). Clover argues from a feminist perspective that the females in these movies survive only because they are acting as male protagonists would (Wells 18). From a psychoanalytic standpoint, she feels that women “must be eliminated in horror text because they lack a phallus” (Wells 19). However, Paul Wells feels this theory is questionable and challenges it:
The monster sometimes has an indeterminate gender, or is, indeed, a woman. ...