MCN Columnists
Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Feminism and Horror: Beyond the Final Girl

I’m not what most horror buffs would consider a “horror buff,” but lately I’ve been warming up to the genre. While I don’t think I’ll ever enamored of ultra-gory fare like the Saw films, I’ve grown more open to experiencing the pleasures of watching horror films over the past few years.

I realized recently that starting roughly with Black Sheep and All the Boys Love Mandy Lane at Toronto in 2006, many of the major fests have programmed at least one horror flick that I’ve seen and enjoyed. There was Teeth at Sundance 2007, Dance of the Dead at SXSW 2008, Grace at Sundance 2009, and Make Out with Violence at the Oxford Film Festival … each had its flaws, but they were all ambitious in their own way, and I enjoyed them for different reasons. Are these horror films that different from the same-old, same-old? Or am I just ready to revisit the genre, even if nothing much has changed?

One thing I’ve noticed is that horror films I tend to enjoy these days tend to fall into two categories: the Smart/Tough Chick Horror Movie that strives to make women more than just bodies to slash or final girls, and oddly enough, well-done zombie films — the campier or creepier the better. I’ll occasionally enjoy a ghosty film (I’m particularly looking forward to the Poltergeist remake being helmed by Vadim Perelman), but I’m still not so keen on bloody slasher flicks of the type that Roger Ebert long ago referred to as “Dead Teenager Movies” (take one teen, slice-n-dice, stack up the bodies and move on to the next).

What I like about films like TeethGrace and (to a lesser extent) Mandy Lane is that they aim to do more than just break away from Carol Clover’s “final girl” mold and make a female protagonist the killer; in all these films there are reasons the characters do what they do and make the choices they make, and those reasons are as interesting as any slashing-and-stashing going on in the plot. I would have liked Mandy Lane even better if I felt the filmmaker was looking more to shift the paradigm of objectification of women, which would have been interesting and somewhat empowering for a teen female audience, but instead it goes for the easier “teen-angst revenge”-type storyline.

Still, Mandy Lane is interesting for how it plays up how the formerly socially rejected Mandy becomes the popular object of sexual lust after she “blossoms” over a summer, and how this change in her perceived physical beauty shifts the entire underlying core of her relationships with the male characters. My issue with the film is that this aspect would be better served as the main psychological course for the dynamic of the film, not just a side dish.

And then there’s Teeth, which did turn the typical chasteness of the “final girl” on its ear with Dawn (Jess Weixler) who has pledged to remain a virgin but keeps getting tempted to stray from the path of purity. Dawn’s not a victim of being sexualized by males, though; she finds that her vagina — the very object that the horny boys and men around her (including her violent, loser stepbrother) desire to attain — becomes the tool of their castration (for that matter, it bites Dawn’s finger when she tries exploring her sexuality on her own).

I loved this movie when I saw it at Sundance; it’s original, it’s funny as hell, and it’s smart in the way in which it challenges ideas of female sexuality as psychologically castrating men. Weixler gives a hell of a performance as a teen girl whose vagina can defend itself from unwanted advances, thankyouverymuch. And I love the contrast the film sets up between Dawn’s stepbrother, who personifies the kind of guy who sees women as nothing more than sexual tools and Dawn, who’s afraid of her sexuality, tries to harness it with a purity ring, and then has to figure out the challenge of letting her inner sexual urges have a little free rein without castrating any potential playmates.

Grace is one of my favorite films of this year because it completely shifts the entire focus of a horror film away from the sexuality and objectification of women. There’s no lingering shots of T&A in the shower or anywhere else, no illicit sex — in fact, what there is of “boobage” in the film makes the audience cringe or think, “Oh no, they’re not gonna …. ewww!” rather than “Oh yeah, let me see more of that.” It’s a horror film in which the horror is about the nature of mother love and instinct and the sacrifices women will make for their young, and the men, for once, play a very minor role in the action.

I’d like to see more of these kinds of horror films, and less of the typical slash-fest. How much do we really need to see of a formula whose bread-and-butter is relegating girls and women to sexually objectified sheep for slaughter, with a premium on tits, ass, and sadistic gore? Clover’s final girl theory argues that the final girl puts the audience, male or female, in the masochistic point-of-view of the stalked victim rather than the sadistic perspective of the killer, but I’m not sure I completely buy this.

I think that a lot of guys are still watching these type of films from the perspective of predator, not prey; they’re getting off on watching the fear and vulnerability of the final girl as she tries to keep from becoming the next victim, as much as they’re living vicariously the thrill of the killer as he takes his victims down, preferably in creatively gory ways.

But I’d love to hear from you guys who are horror buffs about whether you identify masochistically with the final girl, or sadistically with the killer when you’re watching a slasher film. And while we’re at it, I’d also be interested in hearing any theories on how slasher-horror films are not objectifying in the way they treat women. If I get any particularly astute responses that go beyond “U R so stoopid, u just don’t get horror” I’ll share and discuss them in a future column. Oh, and if you have any particular recommendations for horror films that you think I should check out, drop me a line.

– by Kim Voynar

Be Sociable, Share!

Comments are closed.

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon