Archive for November 9, 2010

Mark Your Calendar: February Is Women in Horror Recognition Month

November 9, 2010

In truth, Women in Horror Recognition Month shouldn’t be necessary. It is necessary, but it shouldn’t be. A human being shouldn’t have to pass up sitting at the horror table just because of what’s between her legs. (Or the sci-fi table, for that matter. Or the western table. Or the superhero table. Or any goddamn table.)

From Wikipedia, I learn that Masters of Horror, in addition to spawning an eponymous cable-TV series, “is an informal social group of international film writers and directors specializing in horror movies.” Most of these Masters are white males. Only two listed on the Wiki page, director Mary Lambert and YA literary editor Kat O’Shea, are female. There may be others, but they are apparently not considered notable enough to include in the Wiki entry.

I do not think, since I can only give them the benefit of the doubt, that the Masters of Horror group is purposely barring women from some He-Men Women-Haters club. The immediate, if not quite accurate, answer is that not many women direct horror movies; in fact, not many women direct any movies. This is true, but only up to a point. If you’re talking multimillion-dollar Hollywood productions, the playing field is by and large XY-chromosome. If you include low-budget indies, the female directors of horror are there if you look. Women in Horror Recognition Month is there in part to help you look.

The consensus is that Nice Girls Don’t Like Horror. Some girls don’t. Some boys don’t, either. Actually, I should rephrase that, given that many female horror fans would choke on being considered Nice Girls. The real consensus is, Women Shouldn’t Like Horror. Horror is gross. Horror is sexist. Horror is about slicing up women. And the weird thing is — like the bipartisan attacks on metal rock in the ’80s — this sort of stupidity comes from the right and the left. As a card-carrying liberal, I’m not proud of some of the leftist objections to popular culture masquerading as protecting women, as if they were fragile little things who might get the vapors. Call it what it is, regardless of political origin: fear of what they like. You know who they are. The poor. The non-Harvard-educated. The non-white. The non-male. It’s elitism.

At the same time, horror is supposed to offend the elite. That’s what it’s there for. (Well, that and being scary.) And what better way for a disenfranchised part of society to get its revenge than to make gutbucket horror films? Women in horror are like a blood-drenched Carrie bringing down the whole rotten contraption that has kept them down. The old sexist joke goes, “I don’t trust anything that bleeds for seven days and doesn’t die.” Well, let’s reclaim and rewrite that for women in horror: who better to make horror films than someone who bleeds for seven days and doesn’t die? Women are very much familiar with gore and death, thanks very much. They have an innate intimacy with the basics of horror that bespeaks great potential for them to shoulder men aside and tell new stories, scare us in new ways, take horror into new neighborhoods.

We’ve known for decades that, musically speaking, women could rock out with their (figurative) cocks out. Back in the ’70s, when all-grrl bands were starting to gain a foothold, the great little-acknowledged feminist Roger Corman was handing women the keys to horror and exploitation movies. Corman’s instructions to men and women alike were simple: Do what you want, as long as you give me something I can sell. Amy Jones took this to a whole other level in Slumber Party Massacre, in which the camera lingers so long on naked young women in a shower scene that it’s pretty clearly a joke. A joke that cuts both ways: Jones was giving Corman what he wanted — T&A to sell to the drive-ins — but she was pointedly giving him so much of it that it came across as ironic, sarcastic. It was Courtney Love’s “Do you have the balls to fuck me?” ethos ten years early.

Dare we mention Mary Shelley? The daughter of a famous feminist, Shelley wrote some book you might’ve heard of called Frankenstein when she was eighteen. One critic harrumphed at the time, “The writer of it is, we understand, a female; this is an aggravation of that which is the prevailing fault of the novel; but if our authoress can forget the gentleness of her sex, it is no reason why we should; and we shall therefore dismiss the novel without further comment.” Another judged the novel, in a choice of words that might please many horror creators today, “a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity.” Hell, these days that’s a money quote. Anyway, gentle-sex Mary Shelley stands with the titans of horror, having created something that permanently changed and influenced the genre for centuries. Its reach extends far outside horror: if not for Shelley, to name but one example, there’d be no Hulk.

So women in horror have an obvious pedigree. Why, then, is the concept considered so unusual that we have to have a month set aside to recognize it? I suspect it gets back to what scares those in power. Women are scary (“they bleed for seven days and don’t die”). Women are horror. The well-meaning and not so well-meaning on the left and right attempt to infantilize women, to disregard them in all their complexity, to reduce them, to name and label them, to backhandedly “praise” them by putting them on a pedestal where they are supposedly morally and aesthetically above the low goals of horror. These are all ways to make women less of a threat. Male culture saw what the Maenads did to Pentheus and never got over it.

Among other things, to muse on women in horror is to dabble in what it means to be “male” and “female.” If a woman can cheerfully direct a film in which human beings are butchered, that up-ends a lot of assumptions, some of which go beyond the question of whether women can or “should” do horror. Women in Horror Recognition Month not only recognizes women in horror; it recognizes that they belong there, as they belong everywhere else.


Women in Horror Recognition Month had its debut in February 2010. Bookmark that site and keep yourself posted.