The Importance of Women in Horror Month From a Male Perspective
The importance of celebrating WOMEN IN HORROR shouldn’t be confined to just one month. It should be celebrated year round! As a man who loves horror just as much you faithful readers, I would be completely remiss if I didn’t stress the importance of Women being the heart, soul and backbone of our beloved genre.
The unfortunate truth is Hollywood still doesn’t play by the equal rights rules when it comes to pay scales between genders. Women usually aren’t top billed, unless it’s a quote unquote chick flick. However, in the horror and sci-fi genre, women are not only treated as equals, they are the star of the pictures. Yes, in the beginning, women in horror were nothing more than damsels in distress, waiting for a man to save them from the monster. When Hitchcock released PSYCHO, that all began to change. No longer were women seen as just eye candy or needing to be rescued. Now the woman was capable of breaking the law and getting her comeuppance from a meek motel owner who has severe mommy issues.
WOMEN IN HORROR “SLASHED” THROUGH GENDER BARRIERS
While BLACK CHRISTMAS is one of the earliest horror films to feature a predominantly female cast going toe-to-toe with a killer, Tobe Hooper’s immortal classic THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE gave birth to the FINAL GIRL. The Final Girl, by definition is as follows: The final girl is a trope in horror films (particularly slasher films). It refers to the last woman alive to confront the killer, ostensibly the one left to tell the story. While the late Marilyn Burns might have inadvertently given birth to a legacy, a few years later it would be cemented.
John Carpenter created and directed what is considered not only one of the greatest horror movies of all time, but also the blueprint of what a horror film should contain in its DNA. That film of course is HALLOWEEN. Co-written by the late, great Debra Hill, HALLOWEEN was a complete game changer in every sense of the word. It puts women front and center, from co-producer/co-writer Hill to the strong female characters portrayed in the film. The casting had to be just right for audiences to believe that these girls were the real deal, and I think we can all agree that Hill and Carpenter nailed it! Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Myers and PJ Soles all play their roles perfectly and you truly want these girls to survive. While not the official first Final Girl or the last, Laurie Strode is often seen as the most relevant, even to this day. Her journey from somewhat shy and pensive to making a stand against the evil that is trying to kill her and her young charges, Laurie is the ultimate Final Girl and a true role model for women.
Not to be outdone, FRIDAY THE 13TH has its own set of strong female characters that also make the stand against the villainous Jason Voorhees and his deranged mother. Now let’s take a second to explore that in the original film, Jason is merely a jump scare at the end of the film. The person behind the madness was Jason’s mother, Pamela Voorhees. Again, while not the first time there has been a female villain or killer on film, Betsy Palmer‘s portrayal of Mrs. Voorhees is also considered the blueprint of female slasher antagonists. While some cheered her demise (and it’s still awesome to this day), can she really be faulted by her actions? She was merely being a good mother and making sure what happened to her son doesn’t happen to other people’s children. In fact, Betsy Palmer might be one of the strongest Women In Horror as her actions are 100% justified. True, Adrienne King‘s Alice is the Final Girl of the film, but Mrs. Voorhees is the strong female character in that film. In fact if there were any other strong female leads in the entire franchise next to Palmer, it’s absolutely Amy Steel as Ginny in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II. Steel’s Ginny is not only a fan favorite (and considered THE Final Girl of the entire franchise), but she is one of the toughest characters from the word go.
Heather Langenkamp and Lisa Wilcox are brilliant examples of strong female characters in horror films. Both have gone up against the Dream Demon himself, Freddy Krueger, twice (OK, so technically speaking, Heather battled him 3 times and was killed off in DREAM WARRIORS only to return as herself in NEW NIGHTMARE) and both exhibited the shy, girl next door type transforming into an ass kicking, tough and smart woman that vanquishes the evil…for now. These 2 are so popular, they usually have the longest lines next to Robert Englund at conventions.
Felissa Rose and Danielle Harris are prime examples of two women who were but children when they entered the industry and are now well known in the horror genre. The following these two have speaks volumes not only about the loyalty, but the importance of Women In Horror. I know Felissa Rose personally, and I’ve been her assistant at a show as well. I can tell you first hand how much people love her and her role in SLEEPAWAY CAMP. People always thank her for playing that character, because they felt like for once someone understood what it was like to be and feel different. Danielle Harris is more than a “Scream Queen”… she is an Icon in the horror genre. Her contributions and her positive attitude are the reasons why people stand in line for hours at a con just to say hi to her and get a picture.
The SCREAM series is a total play on strong female characters, as usually it’s Neve Campbell‘s Sidney Prescott and Courtney Cox‘s Gale Weathers that always have to defeat the men and women behind the Ghostface mask. Sidney and Gale are polar opposites, however, when it’s a life or death situation, they stand tall together to end the reign of terror.
I know this may seem like a one sided article, where it’s only giving praise to slasher films, but I promise this is going to cover much more women in horror shortly.
WOMEN IN FRONT OF AND BEHIND THE LENS
The Slasher Film gave way to having women in the forefront, so much so, that other sub-genres of horror opened up to women. Amanda Bearse and Jami Gertz are known for their work in MARRIED WITH CHILDREN and TWISTER, respectively, however they cut their teeth (or is it fangs?) in the horror genre with what many consider to be the two greatest vampire films of all time: FRIGHT NIGHT and THE LOST BOYS. To this day, both women are beloved for their roles in such classic and legendary films.
Mary Lambert, a name only diehard horror fans know, became one of the first female directors to successfully release a commercial horror film with her adaptation of STEPHEN KING’S PET SEMETARY. The movie was a modest success, however it is somewhat of a cult classic with horror fans. In fact, how many of you are AMERICAN PSYCHO fans? Did you know that Mary Harron was the one in the director’s chair? Or how about out of all the female horror authors, Anne Rice made a nice payday on the film adaptations of her novels INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE and the cult classic QUEEN OF THE DAMNED? Or how THE SOSKA SISTERS are always in such high demand for projects and horror conventions?
SMALL SCREEN SCREAM QUEENS
Small screen terrors are just as big (if not bigger) than their big screen counterparts. AMERICAN HORROR STORY is one of the few shows to feature a succession of female leads that you would never think to see with horror in title. Lily Rabe, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Taissa Farmiga, Sarah Paulson, Lady Gaga and the incomparable Jessica Lange are but a few of the iconic women that have graced AHS over the years and keeps audiences coming back for more. Danai Gurira leads the charge as the warrior Michonne, along with Lauren Cohen‘s Maggie and Melissa McBride‘s Carol on AMC’S THE WALKING DEAD. In the post-apocalyptic world over run by Walkers, these are the women you want on your side when the going gets tough.
Vera Farmiga turns a brilliantly flawed character like Norma Bates into something of a tragically strong women on BATES MOTEL. Perhaps no one in recent memory has captivated audiences quite like Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven on the smash Netflix series STRANGER THINGS. Think about it, a 12 year old girl, has become an overnight sensation. Her portrayal of El was a star making performance, and the future is definitely bright for this little lady.
And it’s all thanks to such iconic TV figures as Lily & Marilyn Munster, Morticia & Wednesday Addams, Agent Scully, and Buffy Summers breaking the mold. Of course, no film or television conversation is complete without mentioning The Mistress of the Dark herself…Elvira. Cassandra Peterson is arguably one of the most iconic women and characters in horror and pop culture as Elvira. She has transcended decades and generations to become a true legendary figure. There will never be anyone remotely close to her.
THE FUTURE OF HORROR
Women have come a long way in the horror genre. Now we have women who do more than just scream and try to survive the villain. Now we have movies like THE DESCENT with a full female cast, we have women like Debbie Rochon and Tiffany Shepis writing and directing films consistently, we have female artists that design our favorite horror gear and horror prints, we have female horror podcast hosts, women who run their own horror conventions, and women who run their own horror websites like our own Stephanie Malone…who busts her ass day in and day out to bring you all the content you see here on the site. I want to thank her for giving me a chance to find my voice in writing. I’m blessed to know her and talk with her daily.
Thank you to all the trailblazing women in horror I didn’t mention by name. Believe me, your contributions do not go unnoticed.
HAPPY WOMEN IN HORROR MONTH!