Brian De Palmas adaptation of Stephen Kings tale of a bullied girl taking revenge was both empowering and troubling, with nearly all female main characters
Practically the first scene of Carrie, released 40 years ago today, shows a girls high school locker room, complete with not very blurred full frontal nudity. The scene, famously, concludes with Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) experiencing her first period in the shower. Carrie has been kept in ignorance by her repressive, mentally unstable mother Margaret White (Piper Laurie), and the sudden rush of blood reduces her to a quivering, terrified wreck as the other girls mock her.
The onset of adolescence also unleashes Carries telekinetic power, and a conflict with her mother and peers which leads her to turn prom night into an orgy of fire and death. Carries gym teacher, Miss Collins (Betty Buckley), tries to protect her from the other girls teasing, and her classmate Sue (Amy Irving), even sets her up with a lovely prom date, but these acts of kindness all turn to ash, as Carrie fulfills her bloody destiny. Like all the women in the film, she brings on her own destruction; she is punished for being a woman, writes Serafina Kent Bathrick. Critic Barbara Creed concludes that Carrie is a particularly interesting representation of woman as witch and menstrual monster.
Creed and Bathrick are hardly the only critics to accuse horror films of misogyny. Janet Maslin, in a 1982 New York Times article titled Bloodbaths Debase Movies and Audiences compared slasher films to hardcore sexual pornography and added: It goes without saying that these films exploit and brutalize women. Roger Ebert characterized the rape-revenge horror I Spit On Your Grave (1978) as A vile bag of garbage There is no reason to see this movie except to be entertained by the sight of sadism and suffering.
Anna Biller, the director of new horror/thriller comedy The Love Witchexpressed similar sentiments. In many horror films, she says, I would argue that the misogyny is not only obvious, but that its the main appeal of these films to fans When I watch a film like that, all I can think is, there are hundreds and thousands of people out there that think Im evil and wish I would die. They would laugh and cheer if I died, and they would dance on my grave.
Yet, despite the misogyny many see in the genre, horror films themselves have always had a substantial female fanbase. Shelley Stamp, a film professor at University of California, Santa Cruz, says that horror films were marketed to women as early as the 1930s and 1940s. I started going to horror films when I was a teenager in the 1970s, she added, and I was certainly never the only young woman in the audience. Today, women continue to be a major part of, and often the majority in, horror movie audiences. In 2013, the hit The Conjuring had an audience composed of 53% women; The Purge had an audience of 56% women. Mama was 61% women. Even the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake showed to an audience that was less than half men.
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