This is a question that I am often asked; apparently, it’s somewhat strange for an adult woman to enjoy horror. It’s a long held misconception that men are the primary horror movie audience. In actuality, it’s usually women driving the ticket sales. Some believe that males will, eventually, wander away from the horror genre as they mature, while females never leave. Why? Perhaps it’s because women tend to be more emotional creatures and this allows for a more visceral experience for us. Maybe it’s because most horror movies feature a female at the center of the story who, eventually, becomes The Final Girl. The Final Girl makes it to the end of the movie by overcoming her fear and kicking ass! Is there another genre that this story thread is so common in?
As a young girl I would hide in our living room, peeking around the corner into the family room where a horror movie, that I wasn’t allowed to watch, was playing. The fear and excitement elicited by doing this was something that I was both repulsed by and attracted to at the same time. They say that “seeing is believing” until the ages of 5-7; well, I believed that I was going to turn into a werewolf. Witnessing that epic transformation scene in An American Werewolf in London has stayed with me my whole life:I truly believed I was going to turn into a werewolf. This overreaction caused me to take a bit of a break from peeking around that corner.
Curious to see what all of the kids were doing in the back room at a family reunion, I stumbled upon A Nightmare On Elm Street 3:Dream Warriors. I was so terrified that I simply couldn’t look away. Consequently, I lived in complete and utter fear of Freddy Krueger for quite some time. He truly was my nightmare. So, why would I feel compelled to return to this genre that had, thus far, traumatized me?
Some believe that horror films appeal to those of us who are wired to enjoy high levels of psychological arousal. The mental, emotional and physical responses to a horror movie linger long after the end credits have rolled. I find this to be a wonderful distraction from our everyday horror. If forced to pinpoint the moment that horror became a way of life for me, it would be when my parents divorced. I lived a very “Leave It To Beaver” life and then one day, poof!, it was all gone. Pick your “favorite” parent because your life is about to drastically change. (This truly is the most traumatic thing that occurred in my childhood and I am very aware of how blessed that makes me.)
So, where was I to place all of my fear and aggression? Into horror movies! Michael Meyers, Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger and Leatherface were all, ultimately, taken down by that Final Girl. How cool is that? As I grew up, I began to fear more realistic threats and I found horror movies a safe haven to explore these feelings while simultaneously knowing that everything would be o.k. It’s just a movie. Horror movies almost always have a resolution and watching a girl overcome the most ridiculous and terrifying things thrown at her, made me feel as if I could also master a threatening situation. I find the real world to be a truly terrifying place where I have little to no control. While watching horror I can overcome fear, buck up and take the bad guy down. As an adult woman, I abhor showing weakness in the work place or social situations. I find that movies such as I Spit On Your Grave or Martyrs allow me to feel that very specific female frustration and just let it go; it’s very cathartic. So, why do I watch this stuff? Because I can. More than that, I truly, madly, deeply love the horror genre. I love everything about it. I love the adrenaline rush, the ethical questions posed, the awesome F/X and the absolute audacity that some people just don’t die and they don’t need to run to catch up to you.
5 thoughts on “How Can You Watch That Stuff?!”
Love it. Very well said. I never realized how much of a cathartic experience horror films really can be.
“As an adult woman, I abhor showing weakness in the work place or social situations.” – you and I are kindred spirits my friend.
Powerful personal insights and a most interesting analysis. Two questions for L.C. Fremont:
1) What about those movies where the girl (or girls) doesn’t overcome anything? (I remember a double date where our girlfriends walked out on the original Last House on the Left – understandably) Yes, the parents exact revenge, but I’m always bothered that such films just fuel fires for some sicko.
2) Your insights about the emotional/psychological appeal for many women make great sense. May I ask for your perspective on why vampires especially appeal much more to females? My premise may be flawed, but my experience has been that most men have a greater interest in the werewolf motif. Even as a teenager, I would not have been caught dead at any of the Twilight movies. Any vampire angle in a work of literature removes my interest. Partly, for me, it’s PLAYED, but I do have some other thoughts as to the male/female difference in appeal. What does L.C. think?
As far as vampires go, I will refer you to my article “Lestat & Louis Forever”. I’m very intrigued by the notion that men tend to lean towards lycanthropy. Definitely something I will have to look further into. Yes, vampires are bit tired at this point, but every time horror is having a “moment” in society, it’s when society is feeling exceptionally vulnerable, fragile and just plain scared in general. It’s been a bit of a rough go in the world lately.
Of course your dates walked out on Last House On The Left. I saw that at age 16 & didn’t watch it again until very recently. The scariest thing about that movie is that Sadie is the one that is the most reprehensible of the group. Sadie. The woman. She’s the most sadistic. Unfortunately, that is very “lady like”. I believe L.H.O.T.L. to be a classic example of men being portrayed as SO very basic….unless you are a sicko, you aren’t going to identify or sympathize with those characters. Wes Craven made the movie as a reaction to his religious upbringing and things that he was observing in society at the time. No matter how vile it seems on the surface, horror is always mirroring the times that we are living in.
I don’t know why, but this article reminded me of The Cabin in the Woods, where the last person that is supposed to die has to be the virgin girl.
Regarding the vampires vs werewolves discussion, I was gifted Toby Barlow’s Sharp Teeth. I think I may have been hoodwinked into reading a vampire story in disguise, but dammit, I enjoyed it!
Reading sharp teeth that was a gift from a friend
Written in blank verse
so I’m stumbling around
Not really werewolves but dogs
Changing form at will
The bitch (I don’t know her name)
is empowered to revenge abuse
“lying like arsenic buried beneath so much sweet fruit”
Nobody is ever afraid of a beach girl
and a constant small smile
Not a vampire story per se
though the last word is twilight
But still a love story
A dream reality that keeps unfolding
urgent as the moon which really doesn’t matter
I do smell blood and taste carne asada
And I feel trembling
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