by Lindsey McNeill
I’m currently participating in a national independent film competition with my film concept called Gillian’s Just Right. It’s a fractured fairy-tale/classic horror film that explores rape culture and gender roles. Here’s my story…
I was born in the 80’s, a decade where Steven Spielberg dominated the film industry with some of the most celebrated action-adventure films ever made. It was a great time to be a kid. I wore out the VHS copies of The Goonies, E.T.- The Extra Terrestrial and Back to the Future, but I was always left with this incredible sadness that my life would never be as magical.
See, I too wanted to go on adventures and ride my bike alongside humorous side-kicks as we hunted for treasures. I wanted to befriend aliens and deformed strong-men, or travel through time and ride hover-boards. But what I came to understand was that being a girl meant to be left at home, to be afraid to cross the bridge when the bad guys descend, and maybe available for a kiss from a dirty, undeserving boy. I didn’t want to be the girl who helped the boys overcome dangers because she knew how to play the piano. I wanted the trench coat with all the booby-traps. My favourite films taught me that it’s a boy’s life and girls aren’t allowed.
And then I saw the film that changed my life: Nightmare on Elm Street. Finally, a female protagonist!
Nancy was an ordinary girl thrown into a terrifying situation and unlike Spielberg’s romantic side-dishes, Nancy sought out the danger and went in alone. Because of this, I became an instant horror fan.
The years of the “Final Girls” demonstrated to me that women were strong, even though they were afraid. Even when writhing on the floor in a wet T-shirt, women were often the last person standing against an unspeakable oppressor. Because fear, vulnerability and the idea of victim vs. Monster are dominant themes, the horror genre has been simultaneously one of the most destructive mediums to female identity and the most open for feminist narrative.
Historically, Final Girls were all about innocence. These characters were young, virgins, and acted out of survival more than initiation found in films like Friday the 13th and Halloween. As we progress to having more women behind the scenes as writers, directors, and producers, I’m seeing a transition from the monster as an external force, to exploringthe idea of the monster lies within.
Films such as Teeth, which takes on vagina dentata; Diablo Cody’s horror debut, Jennifer’s Body, in which a young girl possessed by a demon feeds on high school boys; and Ginger Snaps, a Canadian classic that uses the metaphor of menstruation to depict a girl who becomes a werewolf. Unlike the final girls, these female characters are sexual beings, even predators, and they possess a delightful strength even when the villain. If we look at how an action-adventure responds to the call for female protagonists, Lara Croft from Tomb Raider comes to mind, the result isn’t as interesting or authentic. But maybe that’s just me, relating more to the wolf than the archeologist
Because horror is packed full of fans who are avid consumers always looking for the next big scare, and because the genre has lent itself to being fairly inexpensive to produce, it’s the perfect playground for women to enter and get their hands dirty. Unlike action-adventures, where the audience wants to escape and live vicariously through a hero, the horror audience wants to be uncomfortable, pushed towards the taboo, and brought into the unknown. This is the revolutionary site for change. As more women step forward to offer their own interpretations on fear, the genre will propel itself in wild and exciting new directions. And the new films, written and directed by women, will not be for the faint of heart.