The of the most well-known films from this

The representation of women within horror films is a
particularly controversial subject and has generally failed to evolve over the
years despite the open disapproval of the subject from the public as well as
within the media industry itself. Gender and its representation has often been
a crucial aspect of horror films, previously the only role women played in many
of the iconic horror films was running around in a sense of dismay, half naked
before screaming and being brutally murdered, emphasising the fact that they
were overly sexualised and objectified, playing no role of substance within the
film itself. I will be dissecting this one-dimensional representation which can
be separated into two distinct categories and has undoubtedly had a negative
effect on a huge number of people.

Women within horror films, specifically women that were
openly sexualised were often represented within mainstream horrors films during
this period particularly negatively. Also in the 1970s, final girls and victims
alike suffered from what Syracuse University professor Kendall Phillips calls
“sexualized terror,” where any woman who was sexually active was
killed off, normally in a particularly barbaric way. The promiscuity and sense
of liberation within primarily young female characters is clearly emphasised
and portrayed as negatively as possible. This is emphasised in one of the most
well-known films from this era, The Texas Chainsaw massacre. The 1974 American
horror film was directed by Tobe Hooper and written and co-produced by Hooper
and Kim Henkel. This is a prime example of how women were represented in horror
films, one of the main characters Pam is blatantly sexualised, she wears more
revealing clothing and throughout the film and contrasts one the characters who
she is portrayed alongside who is evidently more conservative.

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Even the poster from the original 1974 film features an image of Pam screaming
in terror behind the films antagonist ‘Leatherface’, reinforcing the idea that the
majority of women within horror films are portrayed as nothing more than “damsels
in distress” and are positioned simply for the male gaze. Theorist Ann Kaplan
reinforces this message saying, “Within the film itself, men gaze at women, who
become objects of the gaze; the spectator, in turn, is made to identify with
the male gaze, and to objectify the women on the screen”. This in emphasised in
the narrative of the film itself, the three male protagonists meet a swift yet
brutal death whilst the women in film are tortured and their deaths are prolonged
for a significant amount of time. Even during their unnecessarily prolonged
death scenes the women are presented for the female gaze. The cult classic

 

was even remade in 2003 much to the delight of the fan base
the fil had built over the decades, yet despite the time between the two films
and the huge strides made in feminism and equality there is still a clear and
purposeful representation of the overly sexualised young women in the film. Sexuality
is the biggest and most clear psychoanalytic desire targeted in this and other
horror films. From the occasional sex scene amongst the teens, to the almost
non-existent choices of costume for the female characters as they run from the
killers, it is obvious that the film is playing to those desires. Laura Mulvey
speaks about the subject in her article Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema as
she discusses women as images in film, “Traditionally, the woman displayed has
functioned on two levels: as erotic object for the characters within the screen
story, and as erotic object for the spectator within the auditorium”(Mulvey
751).  This is clearly the case in this
film in which Jessica Biel stars as the main girl.  The audience is supposed to lust over the
female victims and the killer also has sexual desires for these characters.

 

However, as society developed and alongside it so did
feminism, it appeared there was a turning point in mainstream horror films.
Neve Campbell in Scream the 1996
American slasher film directed by Wes Craven and written by Kevin Williamson, is
regarded as the first non-virgin, purposely sexualised character that survives
the seemingly inevitable death that women seemed to face prior to this in
horror films. Campbell, whose character Sidney Prescott is clearly sexualised
in the film, survives her attacker. Her mother however, who is clearly seen
committing adultery within the film, consolidating the idea that sexualised
characters are less likely to survive, evidently isn’t so lucky…     I believe “Scream” portrayed
many of the stereotypical aspects of a slasher horror film from this era, but
the main character (Sidney Prescott) subverted the stereotype that female
characters within the genre of horror had been attempting to escape for
decades. Sexuality and a sense bravery for women for a long time were mutually
exclusive and even now there is a distinct lack of overt, uninhibited women
within this genre enjoyed by a vast array of people, many of which are women.///
As mentioned above, the slasher films draw a comparison between sex and death,
something that Wes Craven commented on during his 1996 hit film Scream. In a
slasher film if you have sex then you die, the ultimate response to the
ultimate immoral act – sex before marriage or some form of sexual transgression
is a sure fire way of stepping into the killer’s line of sight. This became of
convention of horror films over the years and became almost expected. Scream,
while being a humorous commentary on the path the slasher film took, is also
recognition from within the genre of the very things that make the genre tick.
While not being an attempt to right the wrong it certainly is a knowing nod to
the audience that we know what’s going on, we know the rules.