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.
Dog Soldiers is feminist.
Hear me out.
In his 2002 horror film, writer-director Neil Marshall (who is currently helming the Hellboy reboot) has men dealing with their identities in the most masculine of realms, the primitive woods. Over the course of the movie’s 105-minute runtime, a ho-hum military exercise turns into a balls-to-the-wall fight wherein multiple elements of male identity are exposed to the moonlight. In that exposure, some of those gendered elements become monstrous on-screen and ruminate on what it means to be a man.
BRIGITTE. Ging, what’s going on? Something’s wrong, like more than you being just female. Can you say something please?
GINGER. I can’t have a hairy chest, B, that’s fucked.
BRIGITTE. Bitten on a full moon, now you’re hairy.
GINGER. Well, thank you for taking my total fucking nightmare so seriously. Oh shit, what if I’m dying or something?
— Ginger Snaps (John Fawcett, 2000)
“Since the 1970s, many horror films have focused on the body as the site of violent transformation. Comments on such films as Night of the Living Dead (George Romero, 1968), Last House on the Left (Wes Craven, 1972), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the entire subgenre of the slasher movie make clear the connections between violent invasions of the body and the role of the body in society.”
— Ernest Mathijs, “AIDS References in the Critical Reception of David Cronenberg,” 29
By (re)-articulating and modifying horror conventions, Ginger Snaps depicts the experiences of young women coming to terms with their sexuality. In many respects Ginger Snaps contributes to dominant discourses of reproduction, however the film also demands feminist scrutiny. Ginger Snaps merits a reading through psychoanalytic theories – specifically through Barbara Creed’s analysis of transgressive femininity in the horror genre. Creed’s The Monstrous Feminine considers how representations of body horror are connected to Kristeva’s theory of abjection. Kristeva’s psychoanalytic account of feminine sexuality in turn lends force to a reading of Ginger Snaps that incorporates feminist critiques of reproduction narratives. Emily Martin, for instance, contends that scientific accounts of reproduction reinscribe normative femininities by associating passivity with menstruation and activity with spermatogenesis. Ginger Snaps incorporates both the discursive frameworks of menstruation in medical texts and the pervasive ideologies of normative “femininity” that are in operation in contemporary society.
Ginger Snaps also centres its story on a kind of feminist solidarity experienced by two teenaged girls and, contrastingly, the rivalry that exists in sisterly bonds. As Ginger Snaps progresses, the close relationship between the sisters, Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald (Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins), is increasingly characterized by conflict and jealousy. At the start of the film, neither of the sisters has begun menstruating. Perhaps due to the late arrival of what they call their “curses,” Ginger and Brigitte are considered outsiders at their suburban high school. However, when the elder of the sisters, Ginger, begins menstruating, she attracts the attention of her male classmates. The interest that Ginger arouses in her male classmates disgusts her younger sister Brigitte because it represents her entry into a sexualized world that they had vowed to avoid in a pact to never be “average.”
Once Ginger begins menstruating a parallel process is triggered in her body, a process that transforms her into a werewolf. This “event” is a revision of early hormonal teen-horrors – such as I Was a Teenage Werewolf (Gene Fowler, 1957) – which depict teenagers’ sexual experiences as resembling a metamorphosis into a monster. Ginger Snaps asserts itself as a twenty-first century interpretation of the “body” sub-genre in its references to other canonical horror texts, such as Cat People (Jacques Tourneur, 1942), Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968), The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973) and The Fly (David Cronenberg, 1986). Mark Jancovich associates “body horror” with a “supposedly postmodern collapse of distinctions and boundaries” (6). In “body horror” films “the monstrous threat is not simply external but erupts from within the human body, and so challenges the distinction between self and other, inside and outside” (Jancovich 6).
Although nowhere nearly as extensively mythologized as werewolves, werecats have been a major part of folklore across the globe. Many are familiar with the Egyptian deities Bast and Sekhmet, sun protector gods that over time transformed from one being to two, with Sekhmet’s followers emphasizing the warrior and Bast’s focusing on healing and protective capabilities. Both female and both bipeds, these were early examples of what could be generally referred to as a werecat, although of course their status as religious symbols differentiates them slightly from the werecats of fiction.
In the modern era, werewolves lend themselves to comprehensive genre studies. The threat of a person losing control of themselves and becoming animalistic, thereby monstrous, has haunted many a folktale, comic, film, and urban legend. The specific terror inspired by a monstrous dog-like creature that is still somehow disturbingly human has been commented on extensively, and how they are used in fiction has had time to evolve and change and become a meta-commentary upon itself in such movies as the Howling sequels, An American Werewolf in Paris, and Ginger Snaps.
In legend, cat people are not generally gender-specific, but in genre, they are consistently female. Indeed, the perceptions of dogs as being masculine and cats being feminine appears to mostly be a construct of the Western world. Modernized takes on cat people almost always portray them as feminine and highly over-sexualized, which implies commentary about how our culture views expressions of female sexuality.
What is it about werewolves that makes them so damn seductive? Maybe it’s the tortured soul angle. Maybe it’s the sense that they’re one full moon (or not, depending on the lore) from ripping you apart — but like, in a spicy, fun way. Actually, you know what? It’s probably a combination of the uncontrollable animal appetite and all the rampant nudity. “Oh no, I transformed, completely out of nowhere on this, the night of the full moon, and now all my clothes are ripped and torn and I’m all exposed,” cries the wolf-person. “Yay!” cries the viewer.
In honor of the unabashed display of naked bodies turning into horrible monsters and then back into sexy (human) beasts again, here’s a list of the very sexiest werewolves of TV.