So, I've been watching a lot of movies lately! I watch a lot of movies in general, and since I'm taking two film courses this semester, I'm watching more than usual. I've also been looking at horror movies, since Hallowen is approaching. And what I'm finding is . . . disturbing. I'm familiar with the way the media in general views women; you can't be a consumer of fiction and NOT be aware of it. What I wasn't aware of, at least not personally, is the way the horror genre treats women- specifically, how much it loves tearing them to pieces.
Let's look at a proto-example, The Exorcist. You probably know the story: a little girl gets posessed by a demon, and a priest struggling with his faith has to overcome his doubts in order to save her. What are two things you notice about that summary?
One: the person in peril is a little girl, specifically a twelve-year-old. Two: the focal point of the story, the character who has an arc and emotional journey, isn't the little girl at all. She spends most of the movie under control of a (gender-neutral) demonic force. It's the priest. The movie isn't about the person being put through hell and having control of their body taken away; it's the one who Feels Really Bad About It. And the man. The male role here is the important one. It's even the title of the movie: "The Exorcist," not "The Posessed." Regan, in the grand scheme of the film, doesn't matter. Moreover, the way the film uses her to make a point- I would argue- says a lot about what we value as viewers and what frightens us. Remember this scene?
Of course you do; it's one of the movie's big shocking moments, and certainly one of the most controversial. Regan, now fully under the demon's control, "masturbates" (I'd argue it looks more like stabbing, but the intent is there) with a crucifix while her head rotates 180 degrees, and when her mother enters, the demon drags Chris's head down in an attempt to make her fellate her own daughter. Disgusting, right? Of course it is- it's incest. But it's also playing on a lot of our fears about girls, especially preteen ones who are just beginning to be aware of their own sexuality. What's the scariest thing in the world? A young girl masturbating, apparently. And masturbating with a crufix- intentionally profaning one of the holiest symbols in Christianity. So young girls > female masturbation > blasphemy. Starting to see my argument?
You can argue the point; Regan's mother Chris is, after all, a character in her own right who influences the plot. She has feelings towards her daughter, and she isn't removed from control of her body like Regan is. But she still isn't the focal point of the movie itself- Karras is. We may sympathize with Regan and Chris, but Karras is the one we're meant to root for. He is the one who's here to slay the dragon and bring the princess home to her castle. I ask you, then: why isn't her mother given that chance? I know that within the logic of the film, Karras is needed because he's a priest and priests are the ones who perform exorcisms, but what he does in the end is simply invite the demon to enter his body and then kills the demon by killing himself. Did that really need a priest?
Okay, you argue, but The Exorcist is only one movie. There are plenty of horror movies- exorcism movies, even!- that don't involve the demeaning of a girl or woman for the benefit of a male character. Okay, then. Where are they?
How about The Exorcism of Emily Rose? Who's the protagonist of that one?
Well . . . okay, how about The Last Exorcism? Does that have a female lead?
Okaaaaaaaaaay . . . Stigmata! That's the movie I watched that spurred this whole ponderance on my part. That one's got to have a woman who gets to reflect and act on her situation- she's billed on the poster! Surely they won't take yet another story about a woman being tortured and robbed of her bodily autonomy and make it all about a male crisis of fai-
|Not so much, no.|
|Oh, for the love of God!|
Like I said, completely different genre. But if you take the tagline and flip it, you've got a pretty good description of the horror genre- at least, the subgenre I review in this post. Her suffering. His story.