If you’ve seen your fair share of Slasher movies, you must be aware that one of the first people to die will be someone who has snuck off to have sex. Sex gets you killed in horror movies. It’s the kind of fact that channels the genre’s origins in old cautionary tales. The kind of Little Red Riding Hood story except exchange “Don’t stray from the path” to “Don’t have sex in old crime scenes”. While it all seems common sense to the viewing audience, do these old cautionary tales in our modern horror movies promote bad sexual attitudes?
The idea that you will die if you have sex in a horror movie is the kind of abstinence-only sex education that has become out-dated in modern society, which would be relevant if the creators of horror films had any intention of teaching their audience about sex. It’s supposed to be a reflection of the twisted authoritarian ideas of slasher film killers (often pushed onto them by an abusive parent). Also it’s an easy way for horror film makers to get in a little bit of nudity to attract an audience. Follow up that nudity with some gratuitous violence and you’ve got yourself a hit with the young, heterosexual male audience that at one point made up the majority of the horror audience.
One of the major archetypal characters in slasher films that we can all recognise is the “Slut” character. Often she is one of the first characters to get killed off, if not the very first. She will have little to no character traits other that being horny, probably a bit dim and physically attractive. While those character traits are not in themselves problematic, it is a problem that they are the only character traits. Writing female characters this way reinforces the idea that women are nothing more than disposable sex objects. I said before how the Slut character is “one of the first characters to get killed off”, in older horror films there was another archetypal character who was often killed off before the slut which was the Token Black Character, often thrown in to appear inclusive but these days is rarely used because it appears insensitive to make someone’s race (based on ridiculous stereotypes) their sole character trait. The Slut is getting to that point, that it is insensitive and dated and should be put to bed. The fact that the archetype name is entirely derogatory is evidence enough.
To move away from the slasher sub-genre, there are many more sub-genres of horror that are more geared to entire plots focused around sex. There are plenty horror films, such as A Serbian Film, Feed, and The Bunny Game, that centre their plot around more disturbing circles of fetish culture and pornography. The British Board of Film Certification often gives these films a hard time, demanding cuts to be made as was the case for A Serbian Film, or banned outright like The Bunny Game. You would think, maybe if it got banned it’s a film so shocking and exciting that it’s probably fantastic. The Bunny Game is terrible, little plot and heavily promotes sexualised violence. The BBFC are strongly against sexualised violence and it was due to the fact The Bunny Game has little else to offer that got it banned. These films are often extreme and disturbing but the behaviour is almost always betrayed as deplorable. By demonising sexual violence, do these horror films guide people away from acting in a similar fashion?
The Rape Revenge sub-genre was a product of the 70s exploitation cinema era, with notable films including Last House on the Left, I Spit on your Grave, and Straw Dogs. All these films shared a common plot line, that during the course of the film a young woman would be raped (and sometimes murdered) and either the young woman or one of her loved ones would get their bloody revenge. It is often said that the rape scene is acceptable because 1) it is showing a real world horror and it’s terrible nature, and 2) that the rapists are shown getting punished for their horrendous actions. However by making a whole sub-genre of this it seems to trivialise the act of rape, reducing it to nothing more than a standard plot-point that has to be visited before we can move on to the gory retribution.
The last sub-genre I want to mention is the female predator sub-genre. Films like Species, Jennifer’s Body, Under the Skin, and to some level, Teeth, all fall into this sub-genre. While the female characters in these kind of films are generally more fleshed out and interesting characters, they are normally shown as evil. I would say that Teeth is the biggest exception to this because the female lead, while she does use this power to inflict cruel justice, it is still justice. Jennifer in Jennifer’s Body does kill boys out of her demon blood lust, but there is a sympathetic angle because men made her that way. The sub-genre shows that these women (or creatures in the form of women) are evil creatures that exploit the weakness of a male libido to gain power over men and that these women (or women-shaped creatures) should be destroyed.
While horror is a massive genre full of compelling, subversive, and thoughtful films, there are still many that are being made that will often use old tropes and clichés that can be concerning. We don’t need to keep making films where women are nothing but powerless sex objects, and that rape is nothing but a plot-point. There’s nothing wrong with using our insecurities about sex to create new cinematic nightmares, just hopefully more progressive nightmares.