By Madalyn Watson | Editor-in-Chief
Horror movies are a great way to get in the spirit for Halloween. However, too many films in genre toss aside female characters as clueless, squealing victims or love-struck teenyboppers.
Even though feminist horror is a growing sub-genre, many of the films are still kept secret and buried due to misunderstandings and misogyny. Many of my favorite films fall into this category, so I thought I’d share two of my favorite freaky, feminist flicks to help others get into the mood for fall.
“Jennifer’s Body” is the perfect example of a film that hit the theaters too soon. Directed by Karyn Kusama and written by Diablo Cody, who previously worked on indie hit “Juno,” the feminist horror film failed in the box office when the campy film was first released in 2009.
Critics as well as general audiences were unimpressed — especially with the leading actress, Megan Fox. This was just two years after Fox made a name for herself in the 2007 film “Transformers” opposite Shia LaBeouf.
Even before she becoming a sex symbol, Fox was sexualized on screen. At fifteen, Fox danced in a bikini under a waterfall as one of the extras in “Bad Boys II.”
Fox’s reputation as a sex symbol followed her to the set of “Jennifer’s Body” and tarnished the film’s marketing strategies.
Based on the film’s sexist marketing ploy, “Jennifer’s Body” seemed like a smutty teen scream targeting a teenage boy audience. In the movie poster, Fox’s toned body clad in a plaid skirt and draped over a school desk mixed with the overtly suggestive title attracted a limited audience.
So, these teenage boys were heading to the theaters to see what they expected to be an R-rated version of Fox’s slow-mo strut in “Transformers” and sadly, they were disappointed.
Playing the title role, Fox is a possessed high school cheerleader who turns into a succubus and dines on her male classmates. Although the majority of the gore is off-screen, the male audience probably didn’t expect Fox to tear open potential suitors and vomit black blood.
The film focuses on the relationship between Fox’s character and her nerdy best friend nicknamed Needy (Amanda Seyfried) as Jennifer starts to experience changes.
Even dressed up in sexy outfits, the protagonists of “Jennifer’s Body” were not intended for the male gaze. The actual movie — and not the oversexualized trailer — was created for a young female audience.
The movie uses the camp and gore of the horror genre to subtly comment on a variety of subjects relevant to women today. From the blurred lines between best friends and lovers to the impossible, over-sexualized beauty standards women must meet to be considered beautiful as well as the horrific, lasting effect sexual assault can have on its survivors, the film delves into many relatable themes.
More than ten years later, “Jennifer’s Body” is receiving the hype it deserves now that it has become a cult classic to young women and queer adults alike. With snarky dialogue from both Fox and Seyfried, a fun plot and empowering undertones, this horror-comedy is now a feminist classic.
With a sharp feminist twist and strong leading ladies, the 2000 film “Ginger Snaps” is more than your average monster movie. As a horror-comedy mixed with a small town coming-of-age tale, the Candadian film explores the terrors of being a teenage girl on the precipice of womanhood.
Created by John Fawcett and Karen Walton, the movie entered a desolate landscape for the horror genre. Although films like “Scream” would enter the scene a few years later and revive the rotting corpse of the forgotten genre, “Ginger Snaps” is another great movie that came out at the wrong time. Even with positive reviews, the feminist horror film was getting dangerously close to being left behind.
The film focuses on a pair of death-obsessed sisters who grow apart after one of them gets “the curse.” Ostracized by their classmates, Brigitte (Emily Perkins) and her older sister, Ginger (Katharine Isabelle), make a pact that they would die together. The angsty sisters’ preoccupation with death leads them to film fake suicide scenes for their class and eventually turn on the mean, popular girl with a prank.
But after the night of Ginger’s first period, Brigitte notices her and her sister starting to grow apart as Ginger acts increasingly strange. The pact forgotten, Ginger stops hanging out with her sister, focuses more on the attention of boys and becomes ravenous. All these are things that could just be normal for a young woman going through puberty if Ginger hadn’t been attacked by a wild animal.
Like many movies before it, “Ginger Snaps” uses the werewolf as a metaphor for puberty. While Rod Daniel’s 1985 movie “Teen Wolf” watches Micheal J. Fox’s character turns into a basketball dunking beast, “Ginger Snaps” takes a more feminine approach. Unlike “Teen Wolf” and 1947’s “I Was a Teenage Werewolf,” the beast inside is a metaphor for womanhood and female sexuality.
Even with somewhat cheesy special effects and copious amounts of blood, guts and gore, this feminist horror film is entertaining even once you strip away the meaning behind it. Yet, the hidden meaning and the feminist ideals are part of what makes the movie so special.
Similar to “Jennifer’s Body,” the female body is politicized and transformed into something violent and horrific in “Ginger Snaps.” The gory and gruesome scenes in both films dehumanize the leading ladies. Representing the need to hide female sexuality, both films mix violence with sex appeal in order to illustrate the idea that female desire is deemed horrific on screen. While these films could be seen as demonizing the female body and sexual desires, the real meaning is hiding beneath the superficial looks of both Ginger and Jennifer.
Any woman who watches either of these films may jump here and there, but I must warn you: the true horror does not lie in the supernatural aspects of these films. The true horror is what these films are trying to correct.
I’d like to end with my favorite exchange from “Jennifer’s Body.”
“You’re killing people?” Needy said.
“No, I’m killing boys,” Jennifer said.