Being a woman who loves horror flicks is tough, especially in October. As Halloween approaches and studios push out their scary slate in earnest, we’re forced to grapple with a litany of films that turn violence against women into entertainment. From the bevy of nameless young women in the “Friday the 13th” series who meet the wrong end of a machete after a few minutes of passion; to Tina, in “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” who gets slashed to death post-coitus; the mutilation, rape, and punishment of women who are seen as sexually “loose” is a gross staple of the horror genre that came to prominence in the 1980s and never left. To be a sexual woman in horror is to welcome death with open arms, and the women who survive — the Nancys (“Nightmare on Elm Street”) and Laurie Strodes (“Halloween”) of the genre — are, more often than not, chaste, innocent, and virginal.
The depiction of witches in U.S. mainstream media has varied greatly over the years. Some witches are presented as haggard and conventionally unattractive women draped in black, stirring concoctions in ominous pots. Others fit into the classic childhood fantasy image of a witch with green skin, pointy hats, and flying broomsticks. And then there are the attractive, mysterious witches who blend perfectly into society while secretly wielding their dark powers against enemies. Though these images are all vastly different, there is one thread that tends to bind many of them together: a prominent focus on the White experience.
The movie The Conjuring has been called “scary as hell” and “the summer’s scariest movie”—it’s so frightening, in fact, that it earned an R rating despite an absence of any explicit violence, sex, gore, or foul language. According to star Patrick Wilson, the film gave the ratings board a case of the willies that was simply too intense for a mere PG-13. Part of what makes the The Conjuring so very disturbing is that, like The Amityville Horror before it, it’s “based on true events.” The Conjuring tells the story of the Perrons, a family of seven who moved into a rural Rhode Island farmhouse in 1971 to find it already occupied by a variety of spirits, and the real-life paranormal investigators whom they called in to mediate. Those real-life investigators, by the way, were Lorraine and Ed Warren, who would later become known the as couple who investigated that famous house in Amityville.
Like the plucky young heroes of The Monster Squad, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a gateway horror film with a protagonist obsessed with horror. From the moment the film introduces Stella, played by Zoe Margaret Colletti, we recognize her as one of our own. Save for a major arc involving her father, Stella’s entire persona and narrative is crafted around her being a horror fan. An aspiring writer with a boundless passion for genre, Stella was me as a young teen. For an entry point into genre, there’s nothing more powerful than seeing yourself represented on screen as a protagonist battling seriously spooky monsters.
From the late 1960s to the mid-70s, occult and witchcraft records became an unlikely phenomenon in the UK and USA. These spoken word LPs included narrations of rituals and spells by witches and covens, usually accompanied by bizarre, early electronic esoteric music. Some were relatively obscure private press releases – just look at The Art of Witchcraft by Babetta, AKA ‘Babetta the Sexy Witch’, and Ian Richardson and Barbara Holdridge’s Malleus Maleficarum, which were both released in 1974 and which today fetch hundreds of pounds online – but what’s odder is that major labels were often the ones putting these records out. It wasn’t unusual to find albums like Alex and Maxine Sanders’ A Witch is Born or Louise Huebner’s Seduction Through Witchcraft arriving through Capitol Records, A&M, or Warner Bros – but why did these occult oddities exist in the first place?
After releasing over 40 films and cementing themselves as the new home for horror, Blumhouse Productions is finally making a feature film with a female director. Sophia Takal (Green, Always Shine) will helm a reboot of Black Christmas. The 1974 Bob Clark slasher film follows a group of sorority girls over the holidays, where they are stalked by a mysterious killer.
Early physicians who did not understand female anatomy routinely used ‘female hysteria’ as a potent weapon against women to institutionalize them for illnesses they never had. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the American Psychiatric Association rescinded the usage of the term “hysteria” — from hystera, the Greek word for uterus — as a medical diagnosis. But, “crazy,” “neurotic,” “psychopathic” are still acceptable adjectives to describe women who don’t conform to social norms. These perceptions have wormed their way into mainstream media and inspired cinema, especially the horror genre.
Horror is a genre with a uniquely avid fandom. Sitting directly in the center of the intersection between art and commerce, horror is particularly well-suited to call out societal injustices, and it is through use of highly subversive creative techniques that many controversial stories have been told. It’s no wonder that many modern practitioners of DIY and low-budget filmmaking use the genre as a vehicle through which to deliver their message.