The Girls Who Lived.

Laurie, Alice, Nancy, Sidney.

The Girls Who Lived, to steal a probably trademarked phrase.

I re-watched Friday the 13th recently. Still a good film.

On a scale of 1-10, Halloween is a 9, Nightmare on Elm Street a 7, and Friday the 13th is an 8. (Scream, which is my favorite, is not really the same thing. It couldn’t exist without the other films. It’s not particularly scary or jumpy, it’s more creepy and sly. I adore all three Scream movies, I love Wes Craven and I have a deep intellectual (*cough*) passion for Neve Campbell, but Scream is not entirely a horror movie and should never be judged solely on horror merits alone. T’would be a grave disservice to the film and to the whole concept of meta-filmmaking.)

Friday the 13th is pure, absolutely ruthless in what it is doing. It pulls no punches. The suspense scenes are suspenseful. The killing scenes are grisly. A word on that — the gore and blood of most films these days far surpasses the gore of Friday the 13th. But there is a dispassionate lingering over the death wounds in F13 that is chilling. When the blood splashes by in bucketloads it is hard to focus on, hard to accept, hard to take seriously. That much blood, we know on some level it is completely fake. And it goes by so fast, you don’t really get a look at what is happening to the people involved. Not so in the horror films of the 70s and early 80s. For whatever reason, and I believe budget is the primary cause, the death scenes in these films are intimate. In F13 it’s just a dying kid, the killer, and you. You sit for a few moments with nothing to see but a clear view of the blood pumping out of a dying body.

I can see why these movies were lambasted for promoting violence. I don’t think they do, exactly. But in the death scenes all the audience identification is with the killer. You are in Killer-Cam mode. You see through the killer’s eyes. You watch the victim die and move on, satisfied.

There is something in people that recoils at identifying with victims. We want very much to have some reason to believe that death will not come to us. Horror movies make this very easy — frequently the victims die through some stupid action on their part. Or they die for moral reasons — they have sex, use drugs, are disrespectful to authority. They run the wrong way, fall asleep when they shouldn’t, laugh at the warnings — we would of course never do such things. We would live. Everyone I know who watches horror movies knows The Rules. (Thank you again, Kevin Williamson.) We end up studying the movies for clues that lead to life.

Which brings me back to my girls. The ones who live.

Horror movies are pretty clear on this point. The first female character you see explaining that she doesn’t want to have sex will live. (Yes, yes, a few movies violate this just to be shocking. But this is the rule.) This is the moral source of her strength. Some have made much of this, saying that this is intrinsically anti-feminist, misogynist — that a woman’s power should not be connected to her sexuality. But, back in the real world, let’s be honest — in high school some people spend their energy chasing sex and some spend their energy on other things. In the law of the adolescent, men and women could each conceivably gain or lose power through sex. But it’s bloody damn complicated. It takes time and energy and effort to navigate. And in movies, teens who go into that realm end up doing little else with their time.

Lack of sex translates in horror films into power for our heroine. She gets the privilege of knowing things, of caring about herself, of knowing her strengths and resources. She is not spending her time and effort on relationship maintenence. The horror heroine is smarter than those around her. She is frequently shown to be handy or physically competent. She is interested in people and understands the world around her.

In short, these girls got sk177z.

In watching the big end chases of these four movies I always find myself saying “Yes!” as the heroines do smart things. They are still scared; terrified. They don’t always do the very best thing. (That would be preternatural, and break the rules.) But they make good choices, do smart things. Best of all they act. They proactively move to affect their world. They fight for their freedom, for their lives. They do not sit idly by.

I’ve read arguments about the inherent anti-feminism of horror films. And I think as a genre the horror film does have some feminist problems. But not the really good horror films. Not the great ones. There is a power to them. There is a power in these young women refusing to relinquish their power, clinging to their self-hood, fighting with all they have for all they are worth.

And they win, you know. (Oh sure, maybe not later in the franchises. Whatever. I’m not talking about that.) The heroines of horror films win.

2 Responses

  1. Have you read Men, Women and Chainsaws, by Carol Clover? It’s a feminist analysis of horror films that turns the inherent anti-feminism argument on its head. She argues, among other things, that the “final girl” provides a symbol of female power for male and female audience members alike. Great book.

  2. […] written about the girls who lived, and I’ve written about the crazy-or-possessed sub-genre of horror, but I don’t think […]

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