Black Christmas and Gender Roles in the 1970s
Slasher Film

Bob Clark was a well-established American-Canadian director most famous for his holiday film A Christmas Story (1983). However, he made many other classics, and began his film-making career in the horror genre. Clark’s works of terror include Dead of Night (1972), Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1973), and Black Christmas (1974), all of which can be categorized as politically charged horror. In Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, a group of friends on an island accidentally resurrect a body and are then terrorized by the same flesh-eating zombie. Dead of Night focuses on a soldier who dies in Vietnam, only to be brought back to America as a figure reminiscent of a zombie or vampire. Clark’s political agenda which is so present in these two films is also evident in his masterpiece Black Christmas.

 

Black Christmas is not only a reflection of sociopolitical attitudes towards gender in the 1970s, but it is also the first installment of the slasher film cycle of the 1970s and 1980s. John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) is often touted as revolutionary and is even described by Adam Rockoff in his study of slasher films Going to Pieces as the “most important slasher film.” While Carpenter’s film was certainly an important landmark in the slasher genre, Black Christmas was released four years earlier and employs many of the same formulaic traits that have become a trademark of the slasher film. Although many sources discount Black Christmas, for some it has “become the darling of slasher enthusiasts due to its preempting the stylistic techniques generally thought to have been pioneered by Halloween” (Rockoff 42). Black Christmas was also the first film to have a killer calling his victims from inside the victim’s house and to use the killer’s point of view (POV) camera shot for which Halloween is so celebrated. Another distinguishing feature of horror that Black Christmas began is the “Final Girl.” In her article “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film,” Carol J. Clover defines The Final Girl as the girl who survives the horror film because she possesses qualities that the others do not. While the most famous is Halloween’s Laurie Strode, Black Christmas has its own Final Girl named Jess. Many sources that promote Halloween as the first of its kind flat-out ignore the existence of Black Christmas or disregard it as unimportant. Although Halloween’s commercial success brought the slasher genre into the public spotlight, Halloween could not have existed without Black Christmas and its college-centered plot.  

 

Black Christmas centers around three girls living in a sorority house: Jess, Barb, and Phyl. Jess is the main character, a girl struggling with an unwanted pregnancy and her boyfriend’s desire for her to have the baby. Barb is a sexual and domineering personality, often forcing her opinion onto others. Phyl is the mildest of the girls, often acting as the peacekeeper in the sorority house. At the beginning of Christmas break, a serial killer named Billy sneaks into a their house and takes up residence in the attic. He kills one of the other residents, Claire, and keeps her body in the attic with him. Billy then begins to call the girls on their own phone, making obscene statements and noises. Most of the girls are frightened but write off the calls as a prank. When a young girl goes missing in a nearby park and the girls notice Claire is missing, they finally realize they are being stalked. They involve the police who post an officer outside the house, but he is easily dispatched by Billy. By the end of the film Billy murders both Barb and Phyl. Jess, believing her boyfriend to be the killer because he is so distraught over her desire to have an abortion, kills him and survives. The films end ambiguously, with both Jess and Billy still in the sorority house and the police none the wiser.

 

Through the serial killer Billy, Black Christmas critiques the 1970s college society, specifically the women who chose to attend college during this time. The audience is given no backstory for Billy, and his choice to take up residence in this particular sorority house seems unplanned. However, his victims are far from random, for all the main characters in Black Christmas embody “undesirable” traits that mark them as sinful and worthy of punishment. Barb is a heavy drinker and smoker and usurps male power in her role as alpha female. Phyl represents ambition and the willingness to cast aside men in favor of her sorority sisters. Mrs. Mac is the morally decrepit den mother, an alcoholic and poor role model for young women. Billy murders all of these women. Jess, the main character and eventual Final Girl, plans to have an abortion against the wishes of her boyfriend Peter. Although Jess lives, Billy punishes her for her “anti-family” ideals and her careerist attitude by murdering her friends and traumatizing her into killing her own boyfriend.

 

Black Christmas therefore represents 1970s society’s anxieties about women attending college and the disruption they were believed to be bringing to traditional roles for women. In the same way that Dead of Night reflected its Vietnam war culture, Black Christmas mirrors the civil rights era during which it was released. During the early 1970s, women’s attendance in college began to rival men’s. By the early 1980s, in fact, female college attendance had completely advanced beyond male attendance, and a growing resistance arose because of the implications that women attending college could hold for the nation: many Americans felt that once women began educating themselves they would gain too much power in the United States (Aliprantis et al). Black Christmas reflects these all of these social anxieties.  

 

Billy Fathered Michael, Freddy, and Jason: Gender Roles and Motherhood in 1970s Slasher Films

Horror films often reflect the society in which they are released; in her essay “Bringing It All Back Home,” Vivian Sobchack points out that “the horror film deals with moral chaos, the disruption of natural order (assumed to be God’s order), and the threat to the harmony of hearth and home” (144). More specifically to the gender issues in Black Christmas, Vera Dika in her essay “The Stalker Film, 1978-81” states that “the stalker film . . . presents an ongoing cultural conflict” and that it “dramatizes a struggle of interior forces, of opposing attitudes in a single society” (99). The killer’s actions throughout Black Christmas represent cultural anxieties about women attending college through the lens of the sorority. Sororities were the “new” family for college attending women, and this unsettled many Americans; women now had sisters, not daughters, and their loyalties were now to academic ties rather than blood family. After the passing of Roe v. Wade, many Americans further worried that the legalization of abortion would lead to a drastic and negative change in the American concept of family. Black Christmas represents these 1970s anxieties and fears that Americans experienced at the dawning of a new sexual revolution. Many were fearful that women would take advantage of their legal rights and use abortion to dodge familial responsibilities and further their own careers, a worry that plays out in Black Christmas through Jess and her decision to get an abortion. In his essay “Returning the Look: Eyes of a Stranger,” Robin Wood states that “violence-against-women movies have generally been explained as a hysterical response to 1960s and 1970s feminism” (81). Black Christmas is direct evidence of Wood’s claim.

 

Black Christmas indicates repeatedly that college holds sinful dangers for women. Sexual temptation and alcohol abuse are rampant in the film, and all of the women who drink or have sex are killed for their “evil” actions. In Campus Life in the Movies, John E. Conklin notes that fraternity and sorority member lives’ “are usually portrayed as uninterested in academic work but intent on partying, drinking, and pursuing sex” (122) in films, suggesting that in popular media Greek life is seen as immoral. This is certainly the case in Black Christmas, but it is the women in particular who are the objects of concern. The opening scene of the film, for example,  shows a party at the sorority house. There are men in attendance and an abundance of alcohol. However, even relatively “innocent” women are killed throughout Black Christmas—Claire, the most sober and prohibitive of the women, is the first to die. Within the sorority society, she is actually harassed for not being sexual enough. Barb, the alpha female, teases her and then remarks, “I know a professional virgin when I see one.” When the other women tell her to be gentler, Barb states very clearly, “This is a sorority house, not a convent.” Barb in particular is an extremely sexual character and notably is unperturbed by his

sexual innuendos during his calls and instead tells him off. In addition, Barb informs the policeman investigating Claire’s disappearance that the new exchange number for the sorority is “fellatio” and also discusses zoo animals having sex.  Barb is also intoxicated in the beginning of the film and then in almost every subsequent scene. She is drunk at the frat-sorority Christmas event, she gets a small child drunk, she is drunk and ranting in front of another sorority girl’s father, and finally she goes to bed and is murdered while drunk. Jess and Phyl, while not as blatantly “sinful” as Barb, also  partake  in  “immoral”

Barb gets a child drunk

actions while at college. All the sorority women drink or have sex, and their deaths are retribution for their “evil” actions. By setting the film at a university, Black Christmas lends credence to the belief that college women are sinful.

In Black Christmas, anxiety is also caused by the fact that masculinity is threatened by feminine take-over. Barb, the most abrasive, vulgar, and sexual character in the film, is immediately associated with employment in the beginning of the movie. In her establishing shot, she wears a man’s work shirt, smokes a cigarette, drinks whiskey, and asks the other sorority girls why she was the only one working the day of the party, implying that she is a breadwinner. Barb also usurps Phyl’s boyfriend’s importance to Phyl when she persuades Phyl to ditch her boyfriend for skiing with Barb. The boyfriend is subdued, does not challenge Barb or assert his claim to Phyl, but simply broods. The decline of masculine power in this scene is apparent: Barb, as the alpha female, has more power than a beta male. Barb also contributes to male anxiety when she is talking about sex and remarks “I’m lucky if I get three minutes!” Directly stating that men do not satisfy her, Barb refers here to the shoddiness of male sexual performance. She is the epitome of a liberalized woman, free in speech, sex, and alcohol, and she is eventually punished in the most sexual and direct way in the film.

 

Peter, Jess’s boyfriend, is another male whose traditional role is challenged. Peter finds out that Jess is pregnant and wants to keep the baby and start a family with her. Peter’s traditional male power is rejected and gender roles reversed when he asks Jess to marry him and she adamantly refuses. Peter even says he will quit his job so they can get married. Peter is willing to give up his ambitions for Jess, but she is not willing to do the same for him, a very emasculating situation. Wood states that the slasher genre often dramatizes the “anxiety of the heterosexual male confronted by the possibility of an autonomous female sexuality he cannot control and organize” (82). Certainly neither Phyl’s boyfriend nor Jess’s feel they can control the women around them. Both Barb and Jess go against traditional female roles by asserting their independence, and both suffer greatly throughout the film.

 

Clover argues that typically in horror, “male death is swifter, more distanced, and more likely to occur off-screen or to be obscured, whereas female death is extended, occurs at close range, and in graphic detail” (35). This is true in Black Christmas. Out of eight total deaths in the movie, only two are male Nearly all of the female deaths are graphic, drawn-out and tied to sex, while both male deaths occur off-screen. In contrast to the deaths and suffering of the women in Black Christmas, the male characters are never even harmed on-screen. A comparison of male death and female death screen times reveals a significant disparity. A total of 29 seconds of film time are devoted to male corpses, and 50 seconds to female corpses. 138 seconds are spent in anticipation of a female death (where the audience knows a death is coming), as opposed to 0 seconds for male death anticipation. As for actual on-screen murder, females receive 36 seconds, while males have 0 seconds. In sum, nearly a minute of screen-time solely is devoted to corpses, over two minutes to the build up to a woman’s death, and thirty-six seconds to the onscreen murder of women. By contrast, male corpses are given only thirty seconds of onscreen corpses, and the murders of male victims get no build-up onscreen time at all. The focus on female suffering and death suggests deep-seated misogyny.

 

Furthermore, Black Christmas consistently associates the murders of women with sexual imagery, further suggesting that female deviance deserves punishment. To a certain degree, all “slasher film[s] regard female sexuality with a marked degree of fear and loathing” (Piñedo 75). However, Black Christmas is especially apparent in its anger against sexual women. For example, the fact that Claire has a boyfriend and sexual posters on her walls seems to warrant her murder. The killer lures Claire to her closet and then brutally suffocates her with a condom-like piece of plastic. Billy lures Mrs.

Mac, a raging alcoholic and wayward house mother, up into the attic. He waits for her as she peers into the dim room, holding a hook suspended from the ceiling. It is clear from his panting and strained noises that it is extremely difficult to do so. When he releases the hook, he grunts heavily and the hook penetrates Mrs. Mac. Mrs. Mac’s murder is a clear representation of male penetration and climax. Billy also murders Barb, the most independent of the women, with an extremely phallic unicorn ornament. He straddles her in bed and thrusts the unicorn’s horn into her stomach over and over. The resulting shot is very reminiscent of sex. Phyl’s death occurs off-screen but is still tied to sex, for Billy places her dead body in bed with Barb’s. Jess does not die, but Billy continually exerts a sexual male power over her through his obscene phone calls. In one scene, Jess is forced to stay on the line with him so that police can trace the call. She has to listen to his verbal and sexual abuse and is forced by circumstance to let him abuse her. These sexual innuendos suggest a desire for male power over “uppity” females.  

Phallic Unicorn

 

While the women in Black Christmas are punished for their inversion of feminine roles, some are also punished for their dismissal of maternal ones. During the 1970s “the nuclear family [had] found itself in nuclear crisis” (Sobchak

One of Mrs. Mac's alcohol stash

146), meaning that many Americans were unsure about what family meant anymore. In Black Christmas, this anxiety issignaled by the fact that scenes about motherhood and babies all focus on how mother figures are not good parents. Barb’s mother, for example, abandons her over Christmas break to be with her boyfriend. However, it is Mrs. Mac, the appointed caretaker and stand-in parent figure for girls away from home, who is the most apparent failed mother figure. When the girls give her a nightgown for Christmas, she exclaims that she has “as much use for this as a chastity belt.” She constantly drinks from

whiskey bottles that she hides throughout the house and she insists that she can’t “be responsible for the morals of every girl in this house!” Mrs. Mac represents parental anxiety about sending daughters to college.Beyond the concern that the girls alone at college will lack maternal figures is a larger societal anxiety that once women attend college, they will reject motherhood altogether, especially in such a politically “new” time as the post-Roe v. Wade era. As a woman who has become pregnant out of wedlock and wants an abortion, Jess embodies these concerns. Peter tells Jess she

cannot make a decision like that on her own, whereupon she exclaims, “I wasn’t even going to tell you!” Jess further expands on this point by telling Peter there are things she wants to do in her life, things she can’t do if they get married. Peter insists she can still do those things, but Jess disagrees. Peter calls Jess a selfish bitch and tells her that she will be sorry if she gets an abortion. The term “selfish” is especially revealing because it suggests that Jess wants an abortion for personal gain and that she is disregarding everyone else in her decision. Jess represents     the    educated    woman    who    forgoes

Jess and Peter discuss marriage

marriage and family for her own ambitions. She represents the cultural anxiety in the 1970s that once abortions were legalized, women would get them all the time to avoid familial responsibility and to further themselves and their own careers.

 

These anxieties are represented not only through actions and words, but also by the killer’s. Billy is obsessed with

Billy's "Family"

babies and mothers. During his obscene phone calls to the sorority girls, he often yells about a baby that has been lost or killed, and he repeats the word “mommy” over and over. After Billy kills Claire, he positions her in a rocking chair in the attic with a baby-doll stuffed in the crook of her arm. He then rocks the corpse and the doll, creating a perverted image of a mother holding her child. Billy’s family is also juxtaposed with the “new” family within the sorority house. Both represent new and unsettling transformations of families that 1970s society would have considered “abnormal.” In his book Film,

Folklore, and Urban Legends, Mikel J. Koven argues that “[i]n Black Christmas, as in the sorority horror-based terror tales, it is when that familial bond breaks down that the killer can strike” (129), acknowledging that the “new” family structure is extremely important to the narrative behind the film. If Billy is representative of society’s mores and ideals, then the sorority family, one entirely made up of women, is not morally sound because he is able to infiltrate it.


In the Eye of the Beholder: Voyeurism and Institutional Disapproval

Vera Dika states that the “heroine, the killer, and the victims of the stalker films” are usually “members of a single young community,” whereas the older authority figures have “lost their power,” have “no power to alter the events of the film,” or “are oblivious to the threat against the young people...incompetent, negligent, or ineffectual” (91). In Black Christmas the sorority sisters are given the illusion of safety by having an on-campus police force, but the safety provided by the force is just that: an illusion. The campus policemen in the film are both ineffectual and deliberately negligent toward the younger community; they always assume that whenever they cannot find women or women are in danger, that there either is no danger or the women themselves have invited it. When Claire first goes missing, one officer remarks that she is probably shacked up with her boyfriend somewhere, and when Jess reports the obscene phone calls the same policeman states that it’s probably “one of your boyfriends playing a little joke.” This lackadaisical attitude from an institution that is supposed to keep women safe suggests a disapproval of the women on campus and a belief that they deserve what they get. While the higher ranking lieutenant passes no judgment on the sorority girls, he still is an ineffective protector: the one policeman he leaves to protect the girls is quickly killed off. Furthermore, even though the lieutenant knows there may still be danger, he remains separate from the younger community that Dika defines, and rendered ineffectual. Jess, fulfilling her role as the Final Girl, is the only woman left alive at the end of the film. In the final scene, she sleeps in her bed surrounded by policemen but, one by one, they all leave her alone. The camera then pans to the attic where Billy still lives and then recedes to an outside shot of the house. Only one lone policeman stands on the porch and so Jess’s safety is certainly not guaranteed. Claire and Mrs. Mac’s corpses are still undiscovered in the attic, and it is suggested that Billy will get away with these murders. The policeman’s general unconcern for both the missing bodies and the remaining survivor suggest an unsympathetic attitude toward female victims.  

 

While the police are neutral or at least mostly benign in their attitude toward the sorority girls, the other older figures in Black Christmas are downright disapproving. This disapproval is represented most directly through Claire’s

father. Claire deliberately does not arrange to meet her father at her sorority house—she instead picks a location in the middle of the campus because Claire wants to keep him in the dark about the “true” nature of the sorority. Once Mr. Harrison finds the sorority house, his disappointment is blatant. After he sees sexual posters and a picture of Claire’s boyfriend in her room, Mr. Harrison tells Mrs. Mac that he “didn’t send [his] daughter here to be drinking and picking up boys.” Claire’s room is another display of the fear that parents had about sending  their  daughters  to  college.  Mrs.  Mac,  the

Claire's Father Inspects Her Room

replacement mother, scoffs at him in private, noting that she cannot possibly take care of all the girls and that she does her best. The parental fear that daughters will be unsupervised is realized in this scene.

 

Female deaths and images of motherhood within Black Christmas are not the only gender-focused themes within the movie. The film also examines the role of voyeurism and dangers for women within the film. Cinematic voyeurism, defined by Linda Williams in her essay “When the Woman Looks” as “the impression of looking in on a private world unaware of the spectator’s own existence” can be related to the observation of sexual acts or “sensational” acts (16). Voyeurism is an inherently invasive and violating act based on its victimization of the object of the voyeur. In his book Voyeur Nation: Media, Privacy, and Peering in Modern Culture, Clay Calvert states that “the voyeur holds power over the observed individual” (69). Calvert goes on to say that “voyeurism ultimately leads to the subordination of these individuals and places [the viewer] in a position of power above them” (70). The oblivious subject of the voyeur’s gaze cannot exercise any power when being observed because they have no knowledge of the perpetrator. Black Christmas subtly takes on Billy’s point of view to suggest that the audience should agree with the murders of the women because they give in to the temptations and dangers presented in a college atmosphere.

 

POV shots have often been used throughout horror to place the audience members into a particular character’s mind and perspective. In his essay “Through a Pumpkin’s Eye: The Reflexive Nature of Horror,” J. P. Tellotte notes that as early as 1960, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho “place[d] its audience in a voyeuristic position to begin that task of exploring and revealing their relationship to the events depicted” within the film (116). Telotte goes on to examine Halloween and its manipulation of first-person POV, arguing that Carpenter’s camera choice forces the audience to “look on as [the murderer’s] accomplices (emphasis added)” (120). The voyeurism used in Black Christmas through its killer-POV camera shots is similarly meant to align the audience’s sympathies with Billy.

 

Dika claims that slasher films allow the audience to identify with both the killer and the heroine of the film, thereby “dividing their support” between the two (89). Yet in Black Christmas, there seems to be a strong imbalance between

Billy's POV

the heroine and the killer, represented especially by the camera. The sheer number of POV shots from the killer force the audience to identify more often and more strongly with the killer. The camera takes on Billy’s point of view extremely early in the film. The opening shot of the sorority house, previously one of innocent Christmas cheer, immediately takes on a sinister tone once Billy takes over the POV. He stalks around the building, peers into windows, and then climbs up the side to gain entry into the attic. When Billy enters the house through the attic window, it is a predatory and sexual act, essentially a rape of privacy

and space. Soon after his entry, Billy watches Barb during a phone call. He remains unseen and then slips away. This voyeuristic shot gives the audience the scene from his perspective, transferring all power to him (and implicitly to the

audience). Similarly, Billy watches a totally unaware Claire from her closet. The bedroom is an intimate space where one should feel secure; the killer violates this safe space, and the audience is forced to be his accomplice. Furthermore, the camera does not linger on Claire but stays with Billy’s gaze. All told, Billy has at least twenty shots or instances of first-person POV, while Jess has a measly five in comparison.

Dika also states that slasher films work to include

the    audience    in    the    killer’s    look    while

Billy Watches Claire from Her Closet

simultaneously reserving its moral identification for the heroine (88-89), yet Jess’s morality is called into question throughout the film based on her desire for an abortion. Voyeurism and nearly pornographic violence further work in the film to “punish” sinners and to force the audience into the villain’s point of view and mindset. The most insidious moment of voyeurism occurs when the audience thinks a shot is from the killer’s point of view but is instead from Peter’s. This moment, and all the moments that are seen from an unseen male’s perspective, work to align the audience’s eyes with the voyeur. If POV is meant to be an alignment of perspective and identification, as Calvert repeatedly states, then more often than not in horror, the viewer is aligned with the killer (69-70). Clover argues that, although POV switches between killer and Final Girl, at the end of the slasher film the point of view stays with the Final Girl and that the audience is then meant to identify solely with her. Dika similarly argues “that through the eventual shift from the killer to the Final Girl, the audience is allowed to morally identify with the Final Girl” (89). However, in Black Christmas, the film ends from the killer’s point of view. The audience is allowed no lasting identification with the Final Girl, and is returned to the keeping of the serial killer, suggesting that the audience’s final relationship in the film is with Billy. This coerced POV works to eliminate sympathy for the Final Girl and to establish identification with the killer. Black Christmas celebrates the punishment of women through POV, with no investigation of the killer from a female perspective.

 

Conclusion

Slasher films have often been dismissed as misogynistic and gratuitously violent, especially the early films. If  “the slasher film, not despite but exactly because of its crudity and compulsive repetitiveness, gives us a clearer picture of current sexual attitudes” (Clover 68), then the slasher film is potentially representative of society as a whole, not just its own gore-loving fans. When audiences are encouraged to identify with killers and engage in secondary violence as a “fun” outlet, it must be considered that slasher films “function in ways that are more complex—perhaps even more insidious—than might be first recognized” (Freeland 183). Because the genre has continued to be recycled, revamped, and revered since the 1970s, the reasons for its tenacity should be investigated and critiqued. The films have not died out, but they have been altered to fit new social norms.

 

Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007) both upholds its original’s view towards women and simultaneously inverts it. The killer, Michael Myers, is given much more screen time and a backstory. Throughout the film, Michael Myers does still pass judgment on sexual teenagers, yet at the end he chooses to let his prey go free, suggesting that his complete and total killing desire has waned over the years. His choice to release his victim suggests at least a grudging acceptance of her existence. In Glen Morgan’s 2006 remake of Black Christmas, the motivation behind Billy’s killing spree is given much more explanation, as in Zombie’s Halloween. Furthermore,  in Morgan’s film, unlike its predecessor, the sorority sisters vanquish their stalker and end the horror in a much more definite way. This female victory suggests that the killer (and therefore society) has accepted female presence at college. Remakes aren’t the only slasher films that have reinvented their female characters. Both Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead (2013), a remake, and Dan Trachtenberg’s 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016), an original film, introduce women who are victimized but free themselves. While both protagonists rely on help from others throughout the films, by the end they are totally self-sufficient and warrior-like. These changes suggest that audiences are no longer satisfied with the meaningless killing of women, and the fact that the main female characters live in both films suggest a new kind of hero—a woman who lives, a woman who “wins.”

 

And yet all is not well for women in the world of horror. Movies like Lords of Salem (2013), The Witch (2015), It Follows (2015), and The Cabin in the Woods (2012) all demonstrate women being punished for their sexuality. In her article “Sockin’ it to the Sluts: The Horror Genre’s Troubling Trope” Hannah Bonner states that “[w]hile films such as The Cabin in the Woods, Jennifer’s Body, and It Follows rework the slut trope as something artificially constructed . . . the trope creates the same results as the slasher films of the ‘70s and ‘80s.” Bonner refers to the way in which these films show women being forced into the “slut” role. In It Follows, the main character is must have sex to prevent her own death. In Jennifer’s Body, the main character is a succubus who must feed on and sexually seduce men to survive. The Cabin in the Woods is a play on the typical horror movie, with teenagers being forced into the dramatically oversimplified roles of athlete, whore, fool, scholar, and virgin. Although the “whore” in the film is actually a monogamous girl, she is manipulated into playing the “whore” role.  These films call attention to the roles women are forced to take on, both in slasher films and American society.

 

The range of female protagonists in contemporary horror films reflects America’s confusion about what it means to be a woman. There are still the old standbys: slut, damsel in distress, virgin. But new horror films are introducing new females: women who fight (not only out of self-defense), women who are pigeon-holed into “slut” roles but do not define themselves that way, women who save others. While these women, be they heroes, victims, or a mixture of the two, follow their own paths, they are united time and time again through the villains they face in their movies: the faceless killer/rapist, a more intimate lover, boyfriend, or father; and the implacable mythological elder, witch, or demon. The slasher genre has endured for over four decades, showing a deep cultural tie with its audience. As America navigates its own attitudes toward women, we see female characters in turn navigate the world of horror, both as individuals and as a community. The multitude of versions of the same essential story of woman vs. killer mirror the modern American woman’s struggle to identify herself and navigate through a country with constantly changing ideas about gender.

 

The hope that Charles Derry provides in his essay “More Dark Dreams: Some Notes on the Recent Horror Film” is that the violence in slasher films resolves pre-existing social conflicts and may even be the outlet needed to move past those conflicts. Derry states that “the violence in certain films can be revealed not as reactionary, but as a release of social tensions, perhaps even a necessary first step toward a more liberated society with more responsive social and familial structures” (165). Thus the violence in Black Christmas may have been an evil necessary to society’s acceptance of women attending college, and that violence in other, more modern slasher films may actually represent society’s progression and internal “working-out” of socio-cultural and socio-economic disputes. The ever-changing Final Girls in slasher films are getting progressively more fleshed out, and will hopefully become as versatile and unique as their real-life counterparts as more modern films are released.

Works Cited

 

10 Cloverfield Lane. Dir. Dan Trachtenberg. Perf. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman. Paramount Pictures, 2016.

 

Aliprantis, Dennis, Timothy Dunne, and Kyle Fee. “The Growing Difference in College Attainment between Women and Men.” Economic Commentary vol. 3, no. 21/22, 2011, pp. 1-6.

Black Christmas. Dir. Bob Clark. Perf. Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder. Film Funding Ltd. of Canada, 1974.

Black Christmas. Dir. Glen Morgan. Perf. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Michelle Trachtenberg. Dimension Films, 2006.

The Cabin in the Woods. Dir. Drew Goddard. Perf. Kristin Connolly and Chris Hemsworth. Lionsgate, 2012.

Calvert, Clay. Voyeur Nation: Media, Privacy, and Peeking in Modern Culture. Westview P, 2004.

Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things. Dir. Bob Clark. Perf. Alan Ormsby and Valerie Mamches. Geneni Film Distributors, 1972.

Clover, Carol J. “Her Body, Himself.” Waller 66-113.

Conklin, John E. Campus Life in the Movies. McFarland, 2008.

Dead of Night. Dir. Bob Clark. Perf. John Marley and Lynn Carlin. Quadrant Films, 1974.

Derry, Charles. “More Dark Dreams: Some Notes on the Recent Horror Film.” Waller 162-74.

Dika, Vera. “The Stalker Film.” Waller 86-101.

Evil Dead. Dir. Fede Alvarez. Perf. Jane Levy and Shiloh Fernandez. TriStar Pictures, 2013.

Freeland, Cynthia A. The Naked and the Undead: Evil and the Appeal of Horror. Westview P, 2000.

Fulfs, Patricia Ann. “The Horror of Feminism: Understanding the Second Wave through the Reception of Controversial Films.” Diss. U of Texas, 2010.

Grant, Barry Keith, ed. The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film. U of Texas P, 1996.

Halloween. Dir. John Carpenter. Perf. Donald Pleasance and Jamie Lee Curtis. Compass International, 1978.

Halloween. Dir. Rob Zombie. Perf. Malcolm McDowell and Sheri Moon Zombie. Dimension Films, 2007.

It Follows. Dir. David Robert Mitchell. Perf. Maika Monroe and Keil Gilchrist. Northern Lights Films, 2015.

Jennifer’s Body. Dir. Karyn Kusama. Perf. Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried. Fox Atomic, 2009.

Koven, Mikel J. Film, Folklore, and Urban Legends. Toronto P, 2008.

Lords of Salem. Dir. Rob Zombie. Perf. Sheri Moon Zombie and Meg Foster. Alliance, 2013.

Piñedo, Isabel Cristina. Recreational Terror: Women and the Pleasures of Horror Film Viewing. State U of New York P, 1997.

Psycho. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. Perf. Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins. Shamley Productions, 1960.

Rockoff, Adam. Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film, 1978-1986. McFarland, 2002.

Telotte, J. P. “Through a Pumpkin’s Eye: The Reflexive Nature of Horror.” Waller 114-28.

Waller, George A., ed. American Horrors: Essays on the Modern American Horror Film. U of Illinois P, 1987.

Williams, Linda. “When the Woman Looks.” Grant 15-34.

The Witch. Dir. Robert Eggers. Perf. Anya Taylor-Joy and Ralph Ineson. Parts and Labor, 2015.

Wood, Robin. “Returning the Look: Eyes of a Stranger.” Waller 79-85.

Lenore Hipsher graduated from NAU with a bachelor's in English. She has been published creatively in The Tunnels and in the science fiction graphic novel New Nebula. Lenore has embraced her love of dark and stormy nights and now lives in Seattle.

 
  • White Facebook Icon
  • White Twitter Icon
  • White Instagram Icon