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Social Critique Versus Sadism In Horror Films

1702 words - 7 pages

The horror genre’s representation of women is often criticized and evaluated as being belittling and merciless. It is true that by perpetuating imagery of women in distress, horror films tend to provide no alternative to the subordination of these women and even take advantage of and capitalize on realistic concerns of women. Still, one might argue that, like the concepts present in many other genres, the prevailing themes of femininity in horror film are complex, contradictory, and fluctuating. In “Film Genre and the Genre Film,” Thomas Schatz describes film genre as “static” because it reexamines some basic cultural conflict and “dynamic” due to constant cultural changes. Robert F. Altman explains in his piece “Towards a Theory of Genre Film,” these films have a tendency to present themes that are both “cultural” and “countercultural” because genre films are expected to “simultaneously express desires and needs not provided for within the dominant ideology and reflect major tenants of that ideology.” For example, horror films such as The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby are reflective our society’s fascination with violence against women while also being critical of the existing patriarchy that allows such violence to occur. Furthermore, the variations in the presentation of these stories of female victims over time affect the efficiency and legitimacy of each film’s social agenda as well as the prominence of the genre’s sadistic appeal.
Although Rosemary’s Baby, released in 1968, features an archetypal weak, female victim of horror, the film’s metaphors of emotional and sexual abuse villainize perpetrators, consequently addressing the issue of domestic abuse in a way that does not normalize the behavior. A feminist’s initial reaction to Rosemary as a character might be very negative. She is the expected victim in a horror film, a young, blonde haired, submissive, heterosexual woman. As in many psychological horror films, she does not escape her fate. Although it may seem entirely negative, the simplification of her character, as well as the subtler, psychological aspects of horror used in the film, make Rose’s journey easier for both male and female viewers to identify with.
Every supernatural aspect in Rosemary’s Baby parallels one that is common to cases of domestic abuse. From the start of the film we see the patriarchal structure of Rose and Guy’s relationship. Rosemary is financially dependent on Guy and therefore, has a difficult time questioning his authority over her personal life. While Rosemary is impregnated by the devil and victimized by the Satanists living in her apartment building, this appears to be an allegory for the reality in which she is raped and emotionally abused by her husband. Guy attempts to make her feel guilty and isolates her from those who may help.
But these realistic terrors go beyond those of her husband. The entire conspiracy against her is representative of society’s conspiracy against young women in...

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