Why Do Women Like Horror Movies?

Illustration for article titled Why Do Women Like Horror Movies?

Sunday's New York Times took a look at the relationship between women and horror films, with Jennifer's Body about to hit theaters.

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Jennifer's Body is written by a woman (Diablo Cody), directed by a woman (Karyn Kusama, of Girlfight fame) and stars a woman: Megan Fox.

But women are often the victims in horror flicks: As Michelle Orange writes for the Times:

Long before the first big-screen vivisection of a female breast, the novelist H. P. Lovecraft wrote that horror was "supposed to be against the world, against life, against civilization." But the delight that the genre's filmmakers, especially those behind the Saw franchise and its torture porn kin, take in depicting a steady stream of starlets being strung up, nailed down or splayed open, makes it clear that modern horror is against some more than others.

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And the fact is: Research shows that women love horror movies. Debbie Liebling, the former president for production at Fox Atomic, a studio for low-budget, teen-oriented genre films like Turistas, doesn't get it: "I'm not sure what the attraction is, psychologically, for females," she says. "I would love to know why girls are going to see Saw, because I have no idea." Diablo Cody has an answer: "Some of us just like that stuff," she explains. "We like suspense, we like to be scared, we like to have visceral reaction in the theater. Maybe I'm starved for adrenaline, but for me watching a horror movie is very pleasurable. So making one was kind of a dream."

As a woman who digs a good horror flick, I'll agree it's about the thrill. You go for the same reason you ride a roller coaster: It's a rush, to jump in your seat, to be scared, to feel your heart pound. And if the flicks don't exploit women? Even better. Orange points out that Cody and Kusama attempt to keep everyone happy:

Jennifer's Body was designed with both feminists and 15-year-old boys in mind, a seemingly eccentric blueprint that, as Ms. Kusama points out, is in line with the best movies of the slasher tradition. "It may be one of the best ways for a young male audience to experience a female story without feeling like they have been limited by a female perspective," she said. […] Between Needy's cautious yearning and Jennifer's pure, trampling id, the film presents a portrait of female identity in flux.

It was an effort that often bedeviled Ms. Cody and Ms. Kusama, who tried to balance brute violence and lesbian kisses with the film's more substantial metaphors. "The tricky thing is if you're going to subvert those tropes, they have to be there," said Ms. Cody, whose script is a self-described "crazy, chaotic homage" to the horror films of her youth. "We were constantly bobbing and weaving. Karyn and I talk about the film as a kind of Trojan horse. We wanted to package our beliefs in a way that's appealing to a mainstream audience."

Women are a big part of the fan base, so it makes sense to make movies with strong female characters. Instead of screaming chicks a la Janet Leigh in Psycho: we need more of the "final girl," the one who makes it, or uses her strength and wits to survive. (Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween?)

As Diablo Cody expains about her love of horror: "When I watched movies like The Goonies and E.T., it was boys having adventures. When I watched Nightmare on Elm Street, it was Nancy beating" up Freddy. "It was that simple."

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DISCUSSION

tiredfairy
tiredfairy

(Apologies in advance, I seem to have a lot to say about horror)

I recommend anyone on the fence with this movie check out Cody's recent Bust interview. It talks about the film a lot and themes that I'm really interested in seeing used in this particular sub-genre of horror.

Just a few things that may not be clear for some folks:

1. Yes, it looks like a B movie. Cody cited Ghoulies, The Lost Boys, and Fright Night in a recent interview. It's supposed to be playing in that genre.

2. Megan Fox. I know, she has said some really dumb things. But this isn't a Megan Fox movie, it's a horror movie. And the casting there was actually pretty brilliant. Because Fox, like it or not, embodies precisely what this character is representing and subverting.

3. No, it's not a "new" concept. It's very much in line with plots like Gingersnaps, Teeth, and even Heathers. It's meant to be. It's playing with those tropes.

4. Yeah, there will be Cody-ish dialog. Which, to me, is on par with Heathers and Smith and Hughes, and everyone else who ever writes teens. Whether it works for you is up to you...but I'll stack her dialog and stories up against The Ugly Truth and its ilk any day.

That said, we each like different things. So I'm obviously not saying see it if you don't want to. I just like to point how sometimes our biases prevent us from seeing something for what it is (and maybe enjoying it).

On to Horror:

I think people often forget that "horror" isn't just one type of story. There's supernatural horror, suspense horror, comedy horror, slasher horror, gore, psychological, sci-fi horror...and even subgroups within those, like monster movies...Within horror you can get anything from The Exorcist to Slither. It's a much broader category than people realize.

I think people assume that all horror is not female friendly because it's easier to do that than actually look at the different types. Some horror movies are incredibly misogynistic, it's true. But there are plenty that aren't. And the truth is, horror is one of the few genre's that often has female heroes and protagonists.

Plus, it's a "safe" way of dealing with our darker feelings and fears. We're suspending our disbelief for awhile and allowing ourselves to be scared and horrified by things other than real life. I've always felt that our numbness to violence and horror in real life, which is mostly created by the way we're taught to ignore it...is what makes us seek it out in things like movies.