Matt Reeve’s Let Me In (2010) is an American film inspired by the Swedish film Let the Right One In. The film concerns a young child of divorce named Owen, who is frequently ridiculed in school, presumably for being small in stature and non-threatening in his preadolescent masculinity. He befriends a young transplant by the name of Abby, who has traveled to New Mexico to live in anonymity with her father. Though Abby is presented as a 12 year old female, she is in fact a vampire. Her status as a vampire complicates her gender performance in such a way that the film appears to be critiquing social guidelines about what it means to “pass” as female.
It seems there are very few examples to draw from in the way that horror generally configures the pre-teen female vampire. The most salient example of a female vampire manifests in Anne Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire.” In the film, Claudia is portrayed by a twelve year old Kirsten Dunst. Though the film never explicitly states her age, she appears to be between the ages of 10 and 12. The book, however, features Claudia as a five year old girl. The casting director’s selection of a 12 year old girl is interesting and calls to light potential consumer concerns regarding horror cinema. Claudia, by nature of being a vampire, is cast as a figure familiar with desire. Vampires and their hypersexualized style of feeding and killing, essentially embody desire. Perhaps the decision to cast an older actress to play Claudia is rooted in the idea that the audience might feel more discomfort at the vision of 5 year old child engaged in killing, than they would a twelve year old. Important, too, is to question the nature of performance in a vampire film: actors and actresses of whatever age are often asked to depict themselves as much older, mature, wiser and worldly than their given age, due to the mythology of the vampire species. That said, Kirsten Dunst’s Claudia and Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz) EMBODY the same physical age in both Interview with the Vampire, and Let Me In. However, their depictions of the young female vampire are very, very different.
Interview with the Vampire’s narrative essentially punishes Claudia for her physical youth and perceived inability to care for herself. Claudia, a wise woman entrapped in the body of a 12 year old, cannot be permitted to exist beyond the scope of the film. She is put to death, in a very sympathetic and tragic scene, because as Armand (Antonio Banderas) states “It is forbidden to make one so young, one who cannot care for herself.” If, as I suspect, Claudia is one of our only cultural examples of a young female vampire in horror (which, I’m sure you’ll agree, excludes Twilight) then we must assume that her death acts to shore up the idea that an empowered and potentially dangerous female, least of all one in a teen body, cannot be permitted to exist. It is important to note that there is NO evidence for us to safely conclude, as the audience, that Claudia could not care for herself if she needed to, given the multiple scenes in which she is shown happily killing people on her own. Claudia dies exclusively because of male jealousy- Armand kills her only because he feels threatened by her existence. Indeed, Claudia’s death implies she was even more powerful than she was ever given credit for based on her physical form.
Unlike Claudia, whose popularity has inevitably set the tone for all pre-teen female vampires, Abby is fortunate in that she does NOT meet a tragic end. Abby’s story then, may represent a shift in the credit we afford pre-teen females. Unlike Claudia, the Victorian doll of the past, Abby is a shabby, rumpled, somewhat homeless looking girl. Her presence is awkward and at many times, bordering on inhuman – or at the very least, disconnected. Her gender performance, PRIOR to her attraction to Owen, is not especially effeminate. Indeed, she is dirty, shoeless, and her hair is sort of limp and haggard. She often looks ill. It appears that prior to the development of a potential romance, Abby’s concern about her hygiene and presentation is incredibly limited. The audience, of course, views Abby from a privileged standpoint: we are treated to her status as a vampire long before Owen. We come to know her as monstrous, or at least understand her potential for monstrosity, through the alterations in her voice and tone when she is yelling at her “father” and dialoguing about killing. We see her kill in action, and her gruesome transformation. The audience understands her capabilities long before Owen has the opportunity to.
Abby doesn’t appear to be ashamed of her status as a vampire within the confines of her home, or in her relationship with her “father”. Nor does she show any remorse after killing the man in the tunnel, or after killing the detective. She is an unremorseful killer, and yet I strongly feel we are never positioned to villanize her. Perhaps this is because Abby’s “human” qualities become more developed through her relationship with Owen. At the very least, we might argue that Abby’s human performance is absolutely inspired by a need for Owen’s approval. After the scene in which Owen remarks that Abby does not wear shoes, and comments that she smells funny, her next encounter with him shows us the “corrections” she’s made to her own appearance and general presentation. The narrative alerts us to the fact that Abby desires Owen’s approval by the simple line, “Do I still smell funny?” to which Owen replies, “No.”
This human performance that Abby is affecting may serve one of two purposes. On the one hand, questions like “Do I smell funny” and insecurity with personal appearance and hygiene are indicative of puberty, and concerns with one’s ability to effectively attract a sexual mate. So, in a way, this actually gives Abby’s character the sort of confused innocence common to preteens and makes her appear a more human subject. Indeed, it is easy to forget, occasionally, that Abby is NOT just a socially awkward child, but a predator. On the other hand, Abby’s concern with Owen’s approval might also be a manipulation on her part. Abby is not stupid, and has clearly been twelve years old for “a very long time” as she quotes. Perhaps she is empowering Owen to make these “corrections” because she wants to please him and thus lure him into a relationship. Additionally, we know that this relationship will ultimately feature Owen as a prominent care-taker for Abby – and a male one, at that. Regardless of which way Abby’s concern with human performance functions, we would be remiss not to identify these corrections as “feminizing.” This begs the question, what function does Abby’s affectation of femininity and young adult, obviously CODED Feminine humanity serve if the film is a cultural symbol?
To examine the facts is to note the film’s failings, honestly. A few problems with this film include our limited understanding of how and why Abby came into her vampirism. The film does not clearly establish rules for vampirism, as other films of a similar nature have before (Lost Boys, Blade, Interview with the Vampire, hell..Even Twilight). For one, Abby is the only creature of her kind featured in the entirety of the film. We cannot then, through inference, draw conclusions about how vampirism affects the individual beyond a single scene in which a woman recently turned vampire is burned by sunlight. Also, Abby never provides us with a backstory of how she came into being. This blatant obscurity of her background prevents us from understanding her point of view. Is she wisened with age and merely well practiced in the art of feigning a 12 year old naivety? Some might claim that the language Abby uses in the notes she passes to Owen point to an authentic twelve year old psyche. They are informal and cute, with requests to “hang out later.” However, the film demonstrates the chronological length of her existence through presenting us with a picture of her “father” as a young child. At the time of his death, he must surely be in his 50s. Therefore, Abby has been alive and on the planet for at least approximately 60 years. What does this say of the way the film structures vampirism? What is vampirism, to this film, but a disability?
If Abby has been alive sixty years and yet still perceives the world through a 12 year old child’s lens, we might presume the film is making some sort of subversive commentary on the young female body. Does body dictate perception here? Because Abby has lived in the body of a 12 year old, have all of her public human interactions been reductive or dimunitive and as a result, kept her from developing mentally? Does she simply see the world from a child’s lens because no one has ever expected her to do otherwise? Here, we would look to Abby’s ability to remorselessly kill people and also her relationship with her “father” figure for more insight into this problem. The relationship Abby has with her male caretaker is clearly something that was formerly romantic – which is established because we are meant to understand that her pursuit of Owen is a direct mirror to her former pursuit of her “father”. It seems her caretaker also bears some of the responsibility for keeping Abby alive and well through going out to kill for her – maybe because he is more practiced, but I would certainly argue he is not more POWERFUL. His participation in the killing act seems primarily in an effort to keep both himself and Abby under the radar of local police. However, they absolutely do not have a normative family existence and hardly strive to create an accompanying illusion. His agreement to help Abby seems more obligatory than voluntary, implying that theirs is an expired romance and his human spirit is worn down by killing, whereas Abby’s inhuman nature persists because of it. Additionally, when Abby kills, she does so manipulatively. She uses her appearance and affected human female innocence to ENTRAP her victims. If the film is a cultural symbol, could we argue that Abby is a stand in for tween girls and the power being entrenched in a liminal not-quite-girl/not-quite-woman space affords them?
Abby is powerful on many fronts. Not only is she physically powerful in her ability to kill, but she is also powerful simply by virtue of her status as a tween girl (because she can compel people to help her through looking/affecting innocence). She has an awareness of both powers, and as such, its hard to buy into her status as a mentally 12 year old vampire (!!!!!!) So why does she insist on a relationship with Owen? Is it because of his obvious vulnerability and potential capacity for being manipulated? Owen is called a “girl” by his bullies. Being a girl, to Owen, is to be disempowered. One might be inclined to say that through Abby acting as Owen’s hero, the narrative is trying to teach Owen a lesson that, ironically, girls are actually strong and powerful. HOWEVER – Abby continually insists aloud “I’m not a girl.” She never does verbalize what she actually is, though we can assume she is referring to her status as a vampire. Because Abby resists naming herself as a girl, and girl is thrown around so pejoratively in this film, we might argue that Let Me In villainizes girls. In terms of identification, we really only have two biologically female cites of identification: Owen’s mother is a divorcee whom appears somewhat inattentive and has separated him from his masculine father, perhaps rendering him more susceptible to bullying and criticism. Additionally, we have Abby, whose mental capabilities are obscure while her physical capabilities and limitations are obvious, making her a less palatable subject of identification. I wouldn’t go so far as to argue that this film is truly centered on any point of view other than Owen’s, but he himself is not an especially easy character to identify with. He’s the object of torment. Thus, we sort of see how the union between Abby and Owen– a masculine female (via her ability to kill) and a feminine male (via his reticence and sensitivity), respectively, creates a hybrid being that we can finally identify with.
Abby is likable for some of her innocent human traits, and her ability to accomplish what we, the viewer cannot (and by this I mean, physically protect Owen when he is being tormented) we start to balk at the idea that something could happen to her. Abby can’t be excised from the narrative because her very presence is what keeps Owen from succumbing to violence and bullying. We come to love her because she protects him. Similarly, if Abby were to have left Owen post-pool scene, he would’ve been tried for a gory murder he could never justify as self-defense. The couple becomes the comfortable site of identification at the end of the film, and prior to that moment, that resolution and conjoining of their identities, we are constantly in flux. It’s really a super heteronormative story fulfilling the idea that a man can become more masculine through protecting a female, and a female is free to become more feminine (read; vulnerable) under the illusion of protection of a man.
All those problems aside, this film was beautiful. It was emotionally gripping in all the right places and frequently I forgot I was watching a horror film, to be honest. The scenes between Abby and Owen, especially in the Arcade, are very human and sentimental. I was surprised by the need for horror here at all, and could have easily called this a vampire drama. The traditional vampire narrative is often quite sexual and homoerotic, or at least homosocial. This story is different in that Abby is isolated. Being a vampire, for Abby, is not a glamorous diet of blood and moonlight. Instead, it really is more of a curse. Even if she does not kill remorselessly, she certainly doesn’t do it gleefully, as we’ve seen in many other films. She murders strictly out of necessity. And unlike the traditional vampire narrative, killings here are not erotic, passionate, and drawn out for the sake of romance. Rather they are swift, brutal, and gruesome. Also, in many vampire stories, the characters are smooth and sleek and possess an otherworldly beauty that Abby does NOT display, even when she does groom herself. As stated previously, she often looks sickly and weak. Abby even becomes disfigured when she kills – a truly exciting development in the way of female vampires featured in popular cinema. I believe it is rare that a female vampire, least of all a focal character, is ever permitted to be UGLY in the eye of the camera, and here, Abby becomes quite the animal monster.
MONSTERS IN DISGUISE: Rob Zombie Critiques the Slasher
by Lisa Marie Nohner
Traditionally, the slasher, a subgenre of the horror film, is notorious for its exploitation of female bodies. Most female bodies present in the standard slasher are subject to gratuitous nude scenes usually followed by a murderous blood bath. Generally, these expendable female bodies belong to characters limited by their lack of backstory, development, and other modes of characterization afforded female roles in other genres. Often, their motivations or reasons for being are egregiously hedonistic in nature and inextricably linked to the pursuit of sex (Clover 33). Based on the conventions of the slasher, she who is identifiably feminine in her gender performance beckons the hand of death. In this way, the female supporting cast of the slasher is indeed comparable to members of the walking dead. Though female victims may serve as a pleasurable site of identification for young adult male spectators, these oversimplified impressions of feminine victim-characters present a very limited series of identifications for female spectators. The genre presents female bodies not belonging to the Final Girl as caricatures; they are weak, hysterical women whose giddy, reckless responses to sexuality and danger are designed to reflect the behavior of “average” women. Such women are unworthy of Final Girl status based on their choice to embrace stereotypical femininity. This type of film prizes a certain type of woman: the Final Girl, or she who most closely conforms to patriarchal values–presumably for the benefit of a male spectatorship.
Rob Zombie’s Halloween II (2009) seems to echo this sentiment in its recognition of the slasher as a puritanical mode of storytelling designed to exclude and punish feminine characters in such a way that is monstrous, or socially harmful. It would appear that Halloween II is a direct comment on the destructive gender binaries and regulations imposed by the traditional slasher narrative. In order to critique the conventions of the traditional slasher and expose its monstrousness, Zombie transforms what is ostensibly a sequel to his 2006 film Halloween, (and by turns a remake of John Carpenter’s 1981 slasher of the same name) into a monster film. Through investigating Zombie’s directorial choices in characterizing both Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) and Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) as monsters, and discussing his decimation of the film’s Final Girl, Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris) we may reveal how, in crafting a monster movie disguised as a slasher, Zombie has effectively established the slasher as a problematic text; one which desensitizes the audience to the reality of suffering and problematically favors spectacle over “real” feeling (Briefel 16).
Halloween II opens with a frame of text regarding the image of a white horse in dreams. The frame explains the image of a white horse is “linked to instinct, purity, and the drive of the physical body to release powerful and emotional forces, like rage with ensuing chaos and destruction,” quoted from The Subconscious Psychosis of Dreams. The scene follows with an obvious revision of Zombie’s original Halloween text. In this particular scene, young Michael is not played by Halloween’s Daeg Faerch, but by a new actor, Chase Wright. However, it is clear that the film is trying to establish the scene as something that occurred during the diagesis of the first film; primarily because Michael’s mother, Deborah Myers (Sheri Moon Zombie) is still alive and visiting him at the asylum. During her visit she presents him with a white horse figurine. Young Michael explains that he had a dream about a white horse the night before, accompanied by a vision of his mother dressed in white, standing beside it. This scene functions to establish the significance of the white horse as a central element of Michael’s twisted psychology. It is important to note that while Michael was a killer in Halloween, the portions of the film colored by his own narrative perspective did not include any ruminations regarding a ghost-like image of his mother, or a white horse. His perspective in this film, however, consistently does.
If the white horse is important to Michael in Halloween II, but had no part in Halloween, we might infer that the sequel is trying to tell us something new about Michael’s character. Fans of the original Zombie film will recall that it concluded with an image of Laurie Strode sitting atop Michael, after having shot him in the head. After the brief, aforementioned contrived flash back to Michael’s memory of his mother giving him the horse, Halloween II attempts to resituate us in the events that immediately follow the first film. Thus we are confronted with a gore-splattered, tearful Laurie Strode, wandering the streets of Haddonfield in total disarray. A concerned Sheriff Brackett collects her and sends her to the hospital, presumably to recover. Meanwhile, the lifeless body of Michael Myers, mortal head-wound and all, is declared dead and carted off in an armored car to the nearest morgue. However, when the two distracted male attendants hit a passing cow on the road, the vehicle rolls and Michael escapes, mysteriously alive, despite his fatal blow to the head. After killing the attendants, he stalks off into the woods, at which time he sees a vision of his mother, Deborah, his childhood self, and a white horse.
Throughout the film, Michael encounters the three aforementioned spectres in the company of other people (primarily victims), none of which can actually see these projections, so we know they are indeed ghosts. In essence, these three images haunt Michael; they communicate with him and instruct him about his potential return to his mother, and also his childhood self. Zombie has revised the original Halloween within Halloween II in order to communicate that Michael is now indeed both living and dead, as evidenced by his ability to communicate with his mother from beyond the grave. If Michael is both living and dead, then he is genuinely a monster, in accordance with Carroll’s theory of categorical interstitiality (55).
The three figures Michael encounters are all ghost-like in appearance, and function to represent Michael’s definitive cross over into the realm of the interstitial. According to horror scholar Noel Carroll, monsters of the genre are regarded as both threatening and impure (55). Michael is threatening due not only to his hulking, physical presence and ability to withstand tremendous amounts of pain, but he is impure if in Halloween II, Michael Myers is both living and dead. Though Carol Clover comments extensively on the male Killer’s perceived invincibility throughout the traditional slasher (35), I would argue that Rob Zombie has complicated this notion. Michael is not a supreme being; rather he is merely both living and dead. Zombie shows this through explicitly permitting Michael to have contact with actual ghosts. A physical description and brief explanation of each ghost’s importance is central to understanding them as a link to the afterlife.
Firstly, the ghost of young Michael is clothed in the same Halloween clown costume Daeg Faerch wore in the first Halloween when he committed the initial murders that landed him in the asylum.The image of young Michael in this costume when he appears alongside the ghost of Deborah indicates that adult Michael (Tyler Mane) in Halloween II has fully transitioned into a monster. The Halloween clown costume was the last outfit Michael wore prior to a lifetime of captivity that rendered him monstrous or inhuman. It is significant that he should see his former, childhood self clothed in this way because after having been shot in the head, it indicates the human portion of Michael is dead. He has fully transitioned into a monster, and the child that he was prior to captivity is now a mere ghost.
The ghost of Deborah Myers is clothed in a long, modest white dress. Her hair is also a stark white color; when she was alive was an ashy blonde. Additionally, she often wore sexually revealing clothing. Fans of the original Zombie text will remember Deborah was once a stripper. Her long white gown and white hair indicate that in death, she has been purified. Her pattern of speech, once grating and littered with curse words, is now soft and demure. Clearly, death has rendered her calm and serene. In death, Deborah has transformed from her earthly form as the archaic mother, “the mother as the origin of all life” to the pre-Oedipal mother. Kristeva identifies the pre-Oedipal mother in relation to the family and symbolic order (qtd. in Creed 48). If Deborah is no longer sexualized, then as the pre-Oedipal mother, she represents Michael’s Super Ego. However, because Deborah is dead, and a ghost, then we are to infer that Michael’s Super Ego is also a ghost. Essentially, like Deborah, Michael’s Super Ego is dead, rendering him more more animalistic and uncontrolled. In a word, he is more interstitial and thus monstrous (Carroll 55).
Finally, the image of the white horse itself is not nearly so important as the text that describes its implications. A deconstruction of the accompanying text listed in the beginning of the film is essential to understanding the role the white horse plays for both Michael and Laurie. Firstly, if the white horse is linked to “instinct”, its continual presence during Michael’s journey to retrieve his sister enforces the idea that his hunt is an instinctual and therefore primitive act, which lends itself to the idea of Michael as interstitial. Additionally, if the horse represents “purity,” when Laurie finally sees the horse at the end of the film during her death, we understand that death is a purification rite. If her death is a purification rite, then prior to her death, Laurie had achieved monstrousness– especially if, as scholar Shelly Stamp Lindsey asserts, in the monster film monsters die to re-establish the symbolic order and shore up existing ideas of normalcy . Lastly, if the white horse represents “the drive of the physical body to release powerful and emotional forces, like rage with ensuing chaos and destruction,” and is seen only by both Laurie and Michael, we understand both characters harbor the capacity for monstrous acts, which again reinforces their status as interstitial. However, it would be remiss to claim monstrousness operates in exactly the same way for both Michael and Laurie. It is important to note that while the white horse is equally significant to both characters, it does not function identically for each of them. With Michael, we must understand that his vision of the white horse, alongside the ghost of his mother and younger self, is mostly indicative of his interstitial, not living-not dead status. For Laurie, we must understand that the white horse symbolizes her own descent into monstrousness.
Before we delve any further into the nature of Rob Zombie’s use of monsters, it is important to note that his intentions are not quite so explicit as would make for a tidy paper about monstrousness. In reality, it is important to note that it is absolutely possible for a lay viewer to argue that spectral Deborah, young Michael and the white horse are psychotic hallucinations unique to Michael’s psyche, and unrelated to the afterlife. In fact, within the film there are several cues to support that particular kind of reading. Firstly, young Michael receives the white horse figurine within the confines of the asylum. Then, after taking a bullet to the head, Michael begins witnessing said hallucinations. Eventually, his sister, who is withdrawing from an anti-psychotic, mood regulating medication, begins to see the spectral figures of Deborah and young Michael as well. In short, Zombie has done all the work necessary to disguise and obscure the intention of this film. However, the white horse is central to understanding this film as a monster film. During the director commentary, Zombie states that Laurie is dead at the film’s conclusion, and only during the moments of Laurie’s death do we see Deborah and the white horse approaching her. Prior to her the moments before her death, the white horse was absent from Laurie’s visions of young Michael and Deborah. For Laurie, the white horse is a symbol of how she has become like Michael; she is finally a monster. Her death is very important to understanding this film as a critique of the slasher.
Fans of the John Carpenter Halloween franchise, and the slasher genre at large will find Zombie’s Halloween II a striking departure from convention. In his director commentary, Zombie states “This is more of a story about the emotional journey of Laurie Strode than it is a slasher movie about Michael Myers.” Despite the fact that she is meant to function as the series Final Girl or victim hero, Zombie’s Laurie Strode is only a victim in Halloween II. The original Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) carries on throughout the second Carpenter film; she never pauses to reflect on the gravity or trauma of her situation. Here, Zombie steps in and revises the original story. He humanizes Laurie to illustrate the trauma of her experience. He asks the audience to realistically consider the situation Laurie is in: can a Final Girl really experience such a massive amount of emotional and physical trauma and go on to live a well-adjusted life? Zombie argues through his depiction of Laurie Strode that no; she cannot. And moreover, we should not expect her to, nor should the slasher genre. This is especially important to understanding why Rob Zombie would create a monster film disguised as a slasher.
Zombie’s choice to turn Laurie into a monster seems to indicate his understanding that a human protagonist could not emerge unscathed from the scenarios featured in the traditional slasher, or even Zombie’s first Halloween. The traditional slasher almost always figures the Final Girl as a hero (Clover 24). However, the heroism in Laurie’s case cost her another human life, her heroism is a result of murder. While traditional slashers might make light of the emotional impact of having killed (or presumably having killed) another human being, Zombie refuses to. Laurie’s heroism does not grant her any sunny emotional benefit. If anything, it serves to send her deeper into a spiral of self destruction; it serves to begin her descent into monstrousness. The fact that conventional Final Girls traditionally do escape relatively unscathed is absurd. It is a lie designed to privilege patriarchal coping styles. Thus by humanizing Laurie and her situation, Zombie is depicting the truth of her character, the truth Final Girls have been written to disguise: she will indeed become a monster. Instead of expecting her to triumph and deal, we should anticipate her impending monstrousness and accept it. When the audience is confronted with the haunting reality of Laurie’s situation, we are presented with evidence that the traditional slasher is actually an elaborate contrivance motivated by patriarchal values.
Before we discuss the cues that lead to an understanding of Laurie’s monstrousness, we must recognize her role in Halloween II as a victim. Shortly after Sheriff Brackett has loaded her into the ambulance, we are treated to an overwhelmingly gruesome and realistic scene of a bloody, wounded Laurie. She sobs uncontrollably on her stretcher, asking repeatedly “Am I gonna’ die?” until she is sedated. Post sedation, there is a long and graphic scene of Laurie’s body in the operating room, having her clothing cut off and her body mended. We see the awful, dramatic and yet hyper-real physical and emotional ramifications of her last confrontation in alarming detail. In Halloween, Laurie’s adoptive parents were murdered, her friends were killed or wounded, and she was a victim of stalking and subsequent abuse. Recognizing Laurie as a victim is central to regarding her as a female monster, and the operating room scene establishes her as such. Scholar Aviva Briefel explains that female monsters become violent as a result of earlier abuse (20). Additionally, any and all evidence that would point to her continuing as the series Final Girl is eliminated within the first ten minutes of the film, while Laurie is on the operating table. Briefel explains that menstruation and the lack of bodily control it represents, often indicates the inception or recognition of female monstrousness (21). However, Laurie Strode is 17 and well past the point of menarche at the start of Halloween II. Inserting a scene about menstruation is unnecessary; the fact that Laurie is spread out flat on a table, covered in blood, being completely reconstituted by surgeons is enough to represent the horror of losing agency and bodily control, thereby passively succumbing to monstrousness (22). Thus her scene in the operating room stands in as a metaphor for menstruation, and signifies that she is ripe for monsterhood.
In this film, we are immediately introduced to Laurie as a highly disturbed young woman who has been through a deeply traumatic experience. Laurie’s obvious descent into monsterhood becomes apparent through a consideration of the criteria for Final Girls. Generally whomever is cast and written into the part of the Final Girl is only distinguishable from her fellow female cast mates because she differs from them in terms of behavior. This is not to say the Final Girl is any more attractive, intellectual, or inventive than her peers– however, she is generally figured as a “smart girl” by exercising a paranoid suspicion of strangers, dutifully performing what is requested of her, and resisting the urge to indulge in sexual fantasy (Christenson, 29). As stated previously, the Final Girl is she who follows established patriarchal guidelines most closely. Laurie Strode certainly met that criteria in Halloween, but in Zombie’s second film, she has devolved into the Final Girl’s polar opposite. To clearly illustrate Zombie’s abrupt resistance to Clover’s vision of the Final Girl, it is essential to look at the way Laurie Strode functions as a mirror for Michael Myers. If Laurie is figured as heroic in Halloween, it would seem that in the sequel, heroism doesn’t merit psychological reward. Zombie has taken great care to ensure that the cards are stacked against Laurie in terms of returning to an emotionally stable life. In the director commentary Zombie explains, “This girls’ been through hell. Whether she is likable or not is irrelevant to me. This way, it plays much more real. She’s sinking even deeper and losing a complete grip on reality.”
Laurie’s loss of sanity likens her to Michael Myers, and increases in power and gravity throughout the film. Firstly, a year after the events of the first Halloween, Laurie looks nothing like the previous incarnation of herself. Where her hair was once short and well kept, in this film she has long greasy dreadlocks. In the first film, she wore makeup, glasses, and dressed stylishly. In the sequel, she is bare faced, scarred, scowling and generally avoids wearing glasses. Additionally, she dresses in a grungy style- most of her clothing is mismatched and shabby. Her bedroom features graffiti and Alice Cooper posters, as well as a large Charles Manson mural. She shares a bathroom with Annie, and her side features tons of profanity in the form of graffiti. On a visual level, we can see how deeply Laurie’s trauma has affected her. Interestingly, in her shift toward the monstrous and away from the characteristics that would distinguish her as Final Girl, Zombie has established Laurie as more human than a traditional Final Girl. Here, in monster form, she is more accessible than other Final Girls who continue on with their lives as if nothing deeply disturbing has befallen them.
On a narrative level, Laurie’s point of view offers a look into her nightmares and delusions. The two begin as exclusive events, but eventually the Michael Myers themed nightmares Laurie has experienced bleed into her waking life as the story goes on. When the nightmares emerge during Laurie’s waking life, she encounters the spectral images of young Michael and Deborah the ghost– effectively demonstrating that Laurie is becoming like Michael: like him, we understand she is not living-not dead, and therefore interstitial. These nightmares are like the bread crumbs a viewer might follow to understand that the white horse of rage and destruction that exists inside of Laurie is unmanageable and coming to permeate the surface.
When the nightmares exist exclusively within Laurie’s consciousness, we recognize that she is no danger to anyone but herself. However, as the narrative progresses and Laurie fails to manage her pain, she starts enacting the nightmare scenarios in her waking life. We know her monstrousness is surfacing, and because she is a female monster, and unable to control or manage the pain that empowers her, we know that her narrative expulsion is impending (Briefel 22). Laurie’s total descent into monstrousness is achieved when Annie Brackett, ostensibly this film’s only living example of a potential Final Girl, is murdered.
If, as stated previously, female victims in the slasher film are murdered post-coitally, that is not the case in Halloween II. Female victims in Zombie’s particular vision of Haddonfield only expire because they stand in the way of Michael’s ability to isolate Laurie. The most significant female victim of this story, Annie Brackett, is a carry-over from Zombie’s first Halloween. During coitus with her boyfriend, Annie was attacked by Michael and nearly killed. In Halloween II, Annie and Laurie live together with Sheriff Brackett. Both girls have scarred faces and obviously they share a kind of post traumatic stress. However, Annie is far more like the Final Girl to this movie than Laurie Strode is, primarily because Annie’s entire role is to demonstrate that she has learned, via the events of the first film, how to be more like a patriarchal vision of the ideal woman.
Annie’s character in the first film was sexually interested, very feminine in her gender presentation, and clearly reckless. While she loved Laurie, her attitude toward her was certainly not nurturing in any respect. In Halloween II, the traumatic events of the first film seem to have changed her character to reflect a caution about life she did not previously possess. Now, she lives with her father. She is a dutiful daughter who cooks, cleans, and cares for him. Also, her behavior toward Laurie is very nurturing and motherly. Essentially, she has come to embody the favored good-girl qualities the traditional slasher bestows only on its Final Girls. In this film she is stable, thoughtful, smart, kind, and caring. She is modest and considerate. When Laurie goes out drinking and partying on Halloween night, Annie opts to stay inside by herself, cooking and later preparing to call it an early night. By the logic of the traditional slasher, Annie should survive this movie. She has earned the right to survive by transcending her wild, socially unapproved feminine style and behavior. When Laurie began transforming into a monster and pursuing potentially harmful activities (drinking, partying, etc) Annie definitely stood in as a contender for the role of the film’s Final Girl. However, in order to critique the slasher, Zombie opts to let Michael kill Annie Brackett. Her death is necessary to Zombie’s critique for several reasons.
As stated previously, Zombie’s decision to fundamentally alter Laurie suggest that traditional Final Girls aren’t human, or realistic depictions of humanity. Their female bodies have been regulated and their behaviors changed to represent an ideal model for the ramifications of patriarchal acculturation. It seems that in transforming Annie’s character into a “good-girl” or Final Girl in Halloween II, Zombie is commenting on the fact that her original spirit and unique self has been punished into submission by the events of the first film. Essentially, to let Annie in this Final Girl role live, is to reward her for becoming a slave to patriarchal values, to applaud her for “learning a lesson”–when in reality, Michael Myers initially attacked Annie for exercising her basic human rights and demonstrating her agency. Allowing Annie to become the Final Girl would imply that Annie is apologizing for her own victimization, and atoning for the “sin” of her feminine gender representation in the first film.
By allowing Michael Myers to kill Annie in Halloween II, Zombie is communicating that gender performance and adherence to patriarchal codes of conduct cannot save her, nor can it save female spectators of the slasher genre. He establishes that monstrousness, as exhibited via Michael Myers, is linked to the psyche of the murderer himself; a claim reinforced by the fact that interstitial Michael communicates freely with his dead Mother and his childhood self. Thus what Annie does with herself and her body are irrelevant to the psyche of a monster like Michael Myers. To allow her to live on in this renewed, Final Girl state, would be to posit female spectators can control their potential victimization if only they were more appropriately masculine in their gender presentation. This choice communicates that Zombie understands the traditional slasher’s implication, that women should force themselves to be more like inhuman, unfeeling Final Girls, is an example of oppression.
Annie’s death also operates as a severance of the final thread that connects Laurie to her sense of humanity. When Laurie discovers Annie lying in the bathroom, slashed to death, the entire scene is a blood bath. In her final moments with Annie, Laurie becomes drenched in Annie’s blood. Earlier we addressed the poignancy of menstruation in establishing a female monsters (Briefel 24). While Laurie’s operating table scene serves to prime us for her Frankenstein-esque monstrous transition, Annie’s blood bath is the final menstruation metaphor that signals Laurie’s fully crossing over the threshold into monstrousness. This is indicated by Michael Myers sharing the screen with Laurie directly for the first time in the film, during this scene. When he begins to break down the bathroom door, Laurie, doused in Annie’s blood, flees the scene. It is not insignificant that she is covered in blood, running across a moonlit field – the atmosphere of the scene itself points to its representation of menstruation.
The story’s conclusion reveals the slasher’s status as a harmful text, by making the monstrousness of Laurie explicitly clear. Michael finally catches up to Laurie and takes her to a shack in a field, where both characters simultaneously experience the presence of both Deborah and Young Michael. Again, this is an indication that like Michael, Laurie has become interstitial: she is experiencing the undeniable presence of ghosts. Young Michael holds Laurie down by her arms while Michael himself looks on, patiently. Dr. Samuel Loomis bursts into the shack, presumably to rescue Laurie. However, this scene confirms Laurie’s monstrousness: Dr. Loomis tells her, “Laurie. Get up. It’s time to go.” To which she responds, “I can’t, he’s holding me down!” in reference to the ghost of Young Michael. She is physically experiencing the gravity of her transition.
In a fit of rage, Michael Myers removes his coveted mask and speaks for the first time in 20 years. He grabs Loomis and they burst through the wall outside of the shack. Michael stabs him to death. Moments later, a firing squad of police officers shoots Michael to death. When he dies, the spectral version of Young Michael lays down, dead beside him. However, when Laurie slowly emerges from the shack, the camera is in her point of view. She has a wry smile on her face, much like the smile Michael had as a child, prior to making a kill. She slowly approaches Michael’s dead body and removes the knife from his grasp, and encroaches upon the lifeless body of Dr. Loomis. She moves in a trancelike way, and the implication is that she is prepared to stab him. Before she can, she is shot multiple times by a trigger-happy police officer. In her discussion of how female monsters exert violence, Aviva Briefel explains that female monsters generally kill or exert violence on themselves because they cannot control their impulses and therefore understand the threat they present and strive to eliminate themselves (22). The eerie calm expressed by Laurie as she wields a knife before an enormous crowd of gun-toting police officers indicates that she possesses an awareness of the danger she is in. In this way, we might read Laurie’s expulsion from the narrative as an act of self-destruction. The choice to wield a knife and finish Michael Myer’s slaughter of Dr. Loomis, after seeing him shot and killed, implies Laurie knew she was putting herself at risk, and perhaps welcoming the gunfire that would destroy her, and her unmanageable monstrousness.
Zombie states that the closing moments of the film are meant to represent Laurie Strode’s last conscious visions before her death. After she is shot down, the scene cuts to a psychiatric ward. Laurie sits on a bed, wearing the same disturbed expression so familiar to young Michael in Halloween. From a distance, the pre-Oedipal mother, the ghost of Deborah Myers. She leads a white horse. This marks the first and only time in the film Laurie witnesses the white horse. If Deborah Myers, as the pre-Oedipal mother represents a return to purity, and as stated earlier the white horse signifies purity, then we are to read this scene as confirmation of Laurie’s death as a purification rite. Because she has been eliminated, her monstrousness has been eliminated, and the symbolic order is as it should be.
The monster film is meant to reinforce a distance or boundary between the audience and the film’s diagesis; it exists to shore up the boundary between what is pure and impure. What does it mean, then, when a director remakes or reinvents a film that has is for all intents and purposes coded as a slasher film, but is actually structured to reflect the conventions and values of the monster film? Because the final scene is so symbolic, it would appear that Zombie’s Halloween II has figured the slasher as monstrous. The slasher and its patriarchal values, its puritanical ideology, is a monster to be killed. It is a tool that shames, oppresses, threatens, and harms female victims and imparts similar feelings on its female spectators. If this film was truly a slasher, and not just a monster film in disguise, then theoretically speaking the Final Girl should survive and carry this series into another sequel. Zombie has metaphorically destroyed the slasher by killing both the monsters, and the potential Final Girl. As it stands neither Killer, former Final girl, nor potential Final Girl have survived. The slasher is dead, and moreover, the series is dead because it cannot exist without its Final Girl. Essentially, Rob Zombie has dismantled the master’s house with its own tools.
Briefel, Aviva. “Monster Pains: Masochism, Menstruation and Identification in the Horror Film.” Film Quarterly 58.3 (2005) 16-27. Web. 2 May 2012
Carroll, Noel. “The Nature of Horror.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Critcism 46.1 (Autumn, 1987): 51-59 Web. 5 May 2012
Christenson, Kyle “The Final Girl versus Wes Craven’s A New Nightmare on Elm Street: Proposing a Stronger Model of Feminism in Slasher Horror Cinema.” Studies in Popular Culture 34.1 (2011): 24-39. Web. 12 April. 2012
Clover, Carol J. Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1992. Print.
Creed, Barbara. “Horror and the Monstrous Feminine.” (35-63) Web. 3 March 2012
“Director’s Commentary” Prod. Rob Zombie. Halloween II: The Director’s Cut. Dir. Rob Zombie. Dimension, 2009. DVD.
Halloween. Dir. Rob Zombie. Perf Tyler Mane, Scout Taylor-Compton, Brad Douriff and Sheri Moon Zombie. Dimension, 2007. DVD
Halloween II: Director’s Cut. Dir. Rob Zombie. Perf Tyler Mane, Scout Taylor-Compton, Brad Douriff, Sheri Moon Zombie and Danielle Harris. Dimension. 2009. DVD.
This Essay: My Director’s Cut… Deleted Scenes Below:
David Slade’s Hard Candy (2005) is classified as a suspense/thriller film, but on the face of it appears to be a revision of the slasher film with a female spectator in mind. The story operates within the conventions of the traditional slasher in that it features an ostensibly psycho-sexually motivated killer, a terrible place, a series of penetrative weapons, female victims, and a Final Girl. However, these five criteria are stylistically unique in comparison to the ways they function in a conventional slasher. In part, these revisions serve to complicate identification in the film, and point to the anticipation of a female spectator.
For example, Slade’s psycho-sexually motivated killer, Jeff, appears quite masculine. However, Jeff is only a killer according to events that occurred prior to the film’s diagesis. He does not kill anyone in the context of the film. Perhaps that is why he is not physically interstitial or monstrous as scholar Noel Carroll describes villains of art-horror (52.) Additionally, he is not the hulking, slightly feminized representations of the killers Carol Clover discusses in “Her Body, Himself”. Instead he is rather ordinary – his style of dress is modern, his gait nonthreatening. His physical appearance is both marginally attractive and identifiably male. He is dissimilar to the Hitchcock’s Norman Bates in that he is not externally confused about his gender performance. Rather, he seems very secure in his portrayal of contemporary masculinity. What complicates Jeff’s character, then, is not his physicality, but his physical response to vulnerable (read: young partially clothed or unclothed) female bodies. Thus Jeff is mostly monstrous in proximity to the female body. Of course, no one can verify that claim, as the entirety of the narrative features Jeff in relationship to Haley, but based on his relationship to his neighbors and his ability to maintain what appears to be a comfortable, if mildly secluded lifestyle, we can infer that Jeff alone or in the public eye is no real danger. In fact, the narrative supports this sentiment through many scenes of dialogue in which Jeff makes blatant statements of his awareness about the law, and the ramifications of being alone with under-age women. Haley’s character echos the idea that Jeff’s response to young female bodies is unnatural, mentioning at one point early in the film “Your drug is the body of a fourteen year old girl”. Jeff is a monster, but only in conjunction with young people of the opposite sex. His monstrousness is in his response and not cued in anyway by his physical appearance. So, like the oral telling of Red Riding Hood (Short, 30) he is a predatorial figure despite the fact that he does not kill in film. Rather, his role is likened more closely to that of a victim. However, in the traditional slasher, the victim is usually female. Jeff’s gender performance is complicated by his position of vulnerability at the hands of Haley.
Haley’s gender configurement is even more complex than Jeff’s. Her online identity, which we later learn to be a clever contrivance, is initially very feminine and flirtatious. Her icon of choice is a red heart, her screen name “ThongGrrl”- and during her online meeting with Jeff, she repeatedly asserts that she is not a baby, while simultaneously reinforcing her “babyhood” by agreeing to meet a much older man. The camera is quick to establish that we are meant to identify with Haley’s character by positioning us in her point of view during her online consultation with Jeff, and later, through a shot of her widened, curious eyes when she first greets Jeff at the cafe. The shot is long enough to imply that hers is what Williams and Short would refer to as an “investigative gaze.” Throughout their time in Nighthawk’s diner and their journey to the car, the camera treats us to shots of Haley’s face that betray her giddy, precocious exterior and enlighten us to the savvy, intelligent young prosecutor that she reveals herself to be. In this way she is similar to Clover’s notion of the Final Girl. However, Clover’s perception of the Final Girl is that of a masculine female-bodied feint who functions as a stand in for the pubescent male spectator. Perhaps then, she aligns more closely with Sue Short’s discussion of the Final Girl, “a re-vamped Red Riding Hood who proves that she is capable of ‘independent existence’.”(32) True to this form, Haley relies on her own physical and mental skills alone to subjugate Jeff.
While the traditional slasher shifts from identification between the villain and the Final Girl, the majority of this film keeps us in Haley’s point of view – only permitting us to see from Jeff’s point of view to increase the film’s suspense. And even then, we only experience a total of three solid shifts. They are in the film to show us Jeff struggling with his confinement, and stalking Haley down in the house once or twice before his demise. When Jeff is featured, given the evidence stacked against him, it is difficult to sympathize or empathize with his character. Instead, his POV moments seem like more of a spectacle than anything else. Although the nature of this week’s prompt appears to invite a critique that recognizes Haley as the antagonist and Jeff the figure of sympathy, through viewing the movie, I did not experience a shift in sympathy. However, that’s coming from the perspective of a female spectator who is educated about sexual predators and familiar with the overwhelming statistics. I think the film wanted me to experience sympathy for Jeff when he was in danger of being castrated, because the camera was intent to capture his facial expressions. Haley’s character was at a distance to the audience during that scene, as she adopted an entirely different costume and a malicious sense of humor. Admittedly, I did imagine how awful it might be to have a limb removed – but at that point, Jeff was already fixed with the indentity of predatorial murderer/molestor, and as such, I felt very little compassion for him.
If we consult Short’s comparison to Final Girl figures as recreations of Red Riding Hood-like characters, then Haley’s skilfull, cunning, manipulative behavior–which likens her to a wolf in sheep’s clothing, is actually borne of a deep-seated inherent responsibility to others (Short 36). Even if she is not the Final Girl in the traditional sense, Haley embodies a modern vision of the Final Girl: a woman who is powerful and yet responsible with that power – if we agree that ending a string of sexually motivated murders is a responsible act. Clearly, the film believes it is, and celebrates Haley’s vigilante status. There is a scene in which Haley speaks to the camera, (eyeline matching Jeff) and states that she is every girl that he has ever touched, hurt, and killed, implying that her suspicion of his record is likely founded by some extensive research. Moreover, Haley’s acts of violence only occur in self-defense. Even her weapons are not traditional to the weapons used in the slasher. Instead of penetrative instruments, Haley relies on stun guns, ropes, and her own wits to battle Jeff. Granted, she restrains him several times throughout the film, and sedates him with pills, but essentially she never physically harms him for the sake of subjecting him to pain. She even resists the opportunity to castrate him, opting instead to fake the procedure. Though she inspires Jeff to take his own life at the end of the film, it is difficult, however, to merely label Haley as the Killer in the traditional slasher, because the fact that she has killed in only implied (as with her mention of the character Aaron,) and Jeff’s death was not something she physically prompted. I think perhaps it is important to note the power in Haley’s victory over Jeff. Through discourse, restraint, and mind games, Haley manages to get him to kill himself. Whether this is a statement to women’s intuition or merely an example of female wishfulfillment designed to vindicate victims of sexual abuse is unclear, but there is definitely much to be explored in that particular ending. If Red Riding Hood tales are meant to imply a coming-of-age in the Final Girl, perhaps this incarnation of the story does not strive to achieve the same ends. If Haley is the Killer, and Jeff the Victim, it seems the story is more concerned with Jeff coming to a realization about himself, and Haley’s role is to act as the forceful catalyst for it. In this way, the film appears to gel with Sue Short’s assertion that horror is a further exploration of fairy tale narratives. If Red Riding Hood had simply run away as she did in the oral telling of the tale (Short 24), the wolf would have been free to kill again. Slade has retold the story in a way that leaves Red Riding Hood’s hands clean, while also allowing her to be the victor.
Carol Clover’s concept of the Final Girl relates, in part, to contemporary horror films. First, it is important to note that not all contemporary horror films are categorized as slashers, and as such many current films do not feature all five established conventions Clover so carefully details in “Her Body, Himself” (ie: The Weapon, the Victim-Hero, the Killer, Victims, and The Terrible Place). However, despite the presence or absence of the aforementioned conventions and their adherence to slasher standards (by this I mean, in a slasher a weapon of penetration is used, the killer is figured as a psycho-sexually motivated, the Final Girl is a pubescent boy in disguise, etc) I would argue that Clover’s theory still relates to contemporary horror in that like Noel Carroll’s “The Nature of Horror,” the theory she details acts as a framing device for further study of horror films. Through studying Clover’s take on the basic tenets of slasher films, one gains the ability to examine other subgenres of horror (ie: super natural horror, comedy horror, and psychological horror) and analyze its content based on its use or disuse of Clover’s criterion. This is an essential tool, I believe, for developing arguments about horror films. While I know much of Clover’s work is operating in service to further discourse related to the camera Gaze, I don’t necessarily believe that her idea of cross-gender identification, (which essentially privileges male spectatorship of the genre) is as particularly as workable as it has been in the past, given that scholars like Sue Short have identified its short comings in relationship to female experience.
Like Short mentioned in her introduction to Misfit Sisters, I tend to elide portions of the cross-gender identification section of “Her Body, Himself” as it does not register as especially progressive for today’s horror audience (see: Brigid Cherry’s studies on female spectatorship) nor does her data strike me as professionally ascertained, given the nature of her study (ie: video rentals.) This is not to say that I believe her work on cross-gender identification lacks merit and is undeserving of recognition, only that it seems a tenuous theory and one that despite its appearance as a text in service of feminism, it falls short in its insistence on detailing the experience of only a male gaze and a male spectator. While admittedly incomplete in its failure to discuss female spectatorship, I’ve found cross-gender identification theory is useful for students who are trying to wrestle with the idea of gender as a social construct. It inspires them to think about gender and identification in productive ways and can be used to promote constructive discussion. That portion of “Her Body, Himself” is certainly thought provoking, but its failure to acknowledge female spectatorship with the equivalent attention and detail it affords male spectatorships registers to me as marginalizing, counter-intuitive, and slightly sloppy. Despite my conflict with that portion of the text, I still consider it a useful tool and am reluctant to disavow the method of analysis she constructed in terms of breaking down the various components of the slasher.
In terms of whether Clover’s theory is still operative in the modern slasher, I would say it truly depends on the director one is studying. Though I imagine the slasher is still a thriving subgenre based on the amount of scholarship it attracts, my experience of the genre’s contemporary incarnations is somewhat limited. In fact, the most recent popular examples of the contemporary slasher that come to mind are both Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007) and Halloween 2 (2009), Samuel Bayer’s Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) and Wes Craven’s Scream 4 (2011). In Nightmare on Elm Street, Nancy is again the Final Girl but receives a wealth of assistance from a male counterpart. Though the way she single-handedly slaughters Freddy would seem to align her with Clover’s theory, I think Clover’s theory is complicated or problematized by the addition of Nancy’s helpful, competent male counterpart. In Scream 4, Sydney survives against a female villain who does not appear to be psychosexually confused, which also complicates Clover’s theory about cross gender identification. Though the five standard criteria for Clover’s slasher are still intact, their use has been revised – perhaps to reflect anticipation of a female audience. It seems the contemporary slasher that is closest to Clover’s theory without drastic revision of gender roles, then, is Rob Zombie’s Halloween.
Upon reading Kelly Connolly’s “From Final Girl to Final Woman” I found myself comparing her account of John Carpenter’s original Halloween to Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake. It has been an extremely long time since I’ve revisited Carpenter’s original, and I was amazed by the difference in depiction of Laurie’s character after 30 year timespan. Rob Zombie’s Halloween absolutely depicts Laurie as the embodiment of Carol Clover’s Final Girl. Unlike Carpenter’s Laurie, Zombie permits Laurie to fight Michael Myers with brutal vengeance from the point of their first encounter. She does not, as Connolly mentions, fool around with ineffective (read: coded-feminine) weaponry such as nylon stockings or knitting needles. Additionally, whenever she has the opportunity to wield Michael’s knife, she does. Also in contrast to the original, Dr. Loomis’s role in Laurie’s portion of the story is meager and relatively unimportant. He never actually saves her. For a moment he believes he does, but like Annie in Carpenter’s original, he pauses to admire his reflection in his rearview mirror when Michael lunges forth and chokes him out, leaving Laurie again to her own devices. Where in Carpenter’s work Loomis shoots Michael Myers, Rob Zombie gives Laurie the gun. She climbs atop an unconscious Michael and shoots him in the head repeatedly at the close of the first film.
As a director, Zombie appears to possess a similar understanding of what it means to become the Final Woman, as expressed in Connolly’s discussion regarding Halloween, H20: to fully succeed and become the Final Woman, Laurie must also become Michael Myers. She must usurp his masculine power – she must learn to wield a knife. She must learn to become the killer. This is, in effect, exactly what happens in Zombie’s Halloween 2, but not in the empowering way it occurs in H20. Rather, at Halloween 2’s conclusion, Laurie is depicted as a victim of mental illness and sequestered at a psychiatric ward. She is the Final Woman, but instead of killing Michael, she has somehow merged identities with him. She even goes as far as to lift a knife threateningly above Dr. Loomis, implying she would like to kill him – before she is shot at by cops, and eventually detained in a psych ward. As a result of merging with Michael’s identity, she has not managed to maintain any of her feminine characteristics. If the story’s conclusion finds a character like that totally disempowered, and stationed in a psychiatric ward, the message seems to be very problematic indeed. On the one hand, this permits female spectators an opportunity to identify with a killer in a female body, but on the other, it seems to be making a harmful claim that women who are victims of trauma, or women who lash out, have no place in society. Women stripped of traditionally feminine characteristics are “insane” by this logic. I’m not entirely sure this idea is correct, but I’m very interested in studying Halloween 2 for my midterm paper, as the scholarship we’ve read detailing female spectatorship has drastically changed my opinion on Zombie’s Laurie. I once appreciated her concluding monstrous status, but now that I’ve seen examples of Final Girls who have killed their killer, adopted Monstrous traits and lived to see another day (such as Stretch in Texas Chainsaw 2 and Laurie in H20), I’m not certain Laurie is as strong or compelling as I once believed. I’m really curious about what sort of spectator Zombie’s work in the Halloween films attempts to appeal to, and I intend to find out.
What’s interesting about the way witchcraft or supernatural power operates in “The Craft” is that three of the girls (Nancy, Rochelle, and Bonnie) do not come to their power naturally. Rather, they construct it themselves through training and practice. They only find themselves capable of manifesting true power through using Sarah as a vehicle. You’ll remember the movie informs us that Sarah is a “natural witch”. I think as the viewers, we are positioned to sympathize and appreciate Sarah for her power, where the other girls are villainized and vain.
Nancy, Rochelle and Bonnie used their powers, once they have them, to manipulate their public image. Bonnie discovers that she feels more confident without scars, Nancy discovers she can punish men (who very obviously deserve it, though the film would like us to believe Nancy is simply insane and scorned) and Rochelle uses her power to inflict revenge on tormentors. Sarah, meanwhile, uses her power ESSENTIALLY to impress and make friends. …Granted she turns Skeet Ulrich into a lovesick psychopath, but it appears to be an effort to show off moreso than anything else.
To be honest, all three of the things Rochelle, Bonnie and Nancy use their power for equate to gaining social capital. These women are using their powers to get what they want, and to “get ahead”. But when they are empowered, they become less friendly, less likable. Because most of the story is told from Sarah’s perspective, we see them behaving rudely and obsessing over power. Additionally, when they begin disrespecting Sarah, she gains a heightened awareness of just how much control she has over THOSE women. When they begin to torment her, she has no choice but to revoke the power, potentially threatening them with the subjugation they’ve only just escaped.
I would like to mention that the narrative only takes a turn for the bleak when Nancy decides to invoke a male spirit into her body. Sarah, in turn, invokes the same spirit, to show Nancy that she’s abused masculine power and that Sarah herself can control and manage it. This brings to mind a wealth of stereotypes about women as earth-mothers and moral gatekeepers. Basically, at the heart of it, I think Nancy and Sarah could be great friends. But that movie needs to reinforce that women, especially subversive women, cannot be trusted with power.
Unfortunately, that movie looks like a pretty disgusting moral lesson about how much power (coded masculine) a woman should be permitted. Remember– all the true manifestations of real power in this movie are the result of invoking a male god.
…is essentially the idea that the tenets of the classic slasher are even capable of being manipulated with a feminist aesthetic. Even Rob Zombie’s lady-loving Halloween duet is not a flawless example of a feminist slasher triumph. More below:
I sort of suspect horror and feminism will always be at odds with one another if we’re talking about cinematic Hollywood horror. As Monika Bartyzel points out in her response to Heidi Martinuzzi’s scathing critique of “feminist” horror films, Hollywood horror almost always has an ulterior motive in the way it constructs female characters. She’s absolutely right that no matter how “strong” a female character might be on screen, we are still confronted with at least some images that sexualize her. That’s the nature of Hollywood cinema. It’s disgusting, but Hollywood Cinema is not a feminist enterprise. Forgive my apathy, but my understanding is that it’s run by rich white men for rich white men; for further evidence: see the Academy. Anyway, I think horror might manage to agree with feminism in other genres; even other styles of production. Independent directors and foreign directors, (ie: “Martyrs”) are far more focused on the film’s content than its ability to titilate some imagined heteronormative audience.
Given the nature of this week’s film, I’m sure people would counter the argument I listed above with a defense that Jill Roberts was not an especially sexualized character–nor were any of the core females in Scream 4. However, part of her power comes from manipulating Charlie and giving him the impression that they’re going to be romantically and therefore sexually involved with each other. Jill exploits Charlie’s feelings for her in an effort to make him into her accomplice whom she later sells out anyway. To this end, I would say that the character is still in some respect sexualized (even if it’s not in her physical presentation) because the implication of her relationship to Charlie is that sexual favors will stem from their particular criminal union. Though Jill kills him, and we can all have a good laugh about Charlie’s naievty, we’re still figuring the central antagonist as a sexually manipulative young girl, which honestly isn’t necessary to produce a horrific plot line. However, this “solution” makes sense because Hollywood perceives women as either crybaby whores or lusty, vindictive whores (or ugly girls who are inhuman, or girls who are boys in disguise.)
I really took issue, however, with Heidi Martinuzzi’s critique of Jennifer’s Body. Her opinions on the film seem to be coming from a place where she is more concerned with shaming Megan Fox for her appearance and focusing on that to the detriment of all else. I agree that reversing the body count from exclusively female to exclusively male is not in any way a feminist act: however, the RATIONAL for switching the body count–or rather, the THINGS characters do before they are killed, can reveal a feminist motivation. For example, every time a male character verbally objectifies or physically disempowers a female character in Rob Zombie’s Halloween I and Halloween II, he dies. This happens so often that the male death count outweighs female death. Anyway, I don’t believe that Jennifer’s Body is a feminist horror film, and I suppose perhaps Heidi is merely responding to something Diablo Cody herself might have said about the film. I don’t think it’s a powerful feminist critique of anything on a surface level, but frankly I also don’t believe Martinuzzi has watched the film closely enough if she’s so ready to dismiss it. My understanding of the film is very different. Jennifer’s “pretty” exterior has long rendered her an object of desire – she’s been held on a pedestal for such a long time no one has ever really paused to regard her as a human being. Her best friend, Needy, idealizes her and worships her. Likely this is isolating to Jennifer’s character. When Jennifer is finally dead, I think her ruthless killings are also coming from a space of having never truly lived; having spent so much of her life objectified for her sexual wares. Her response to that is to do violence to the people who regarded her as pristine and precious and inhuman anyway– which is what makes Collin’s and the Football Player’s deaths so meaningful.
To create a feminist horror film, you must do so much more than simply reverse the body count and the kill methodology. You have to talk back to an existing text in a meaningful way that ISN’T dependent on gender identity or binaries. I’m not sure the slasher film can ever be figured as a feminist text, given the nature of the conventional text as a sort of patriarchal cautionary tale. I also don’t think feminist politics support the themes of the slasher. I think there are plenty of examples of feminist horror films, but the slasher is NOT the place to start looking for them.