Women in Cinema: Scream Queens

Jamie Lee Curtis

If there’s one genre of film where women tend to prevail, it is undoubtedly, and somewhat ironically, horror.

From Halloween‘s Laurie Strode to Resident Evil‘s Alice Parks, horror movies are full of women who manage to outmaneuver and outsmart their attackers. Whether they save themselves or need to be rescued, when it comes to horror,  women are survivors.

Women, of course, are typically more vulnerable than men. Female protagonists give us something a little extra to root for. Unlike men, who can resort to brute strength, women have to rely on their wits and, often, a weapon or two. But we don’t mind because it’s fun to cheer them on as they weave and dodge , hiding in closets or climbing out of windows to get away from their villains.

There’s an obvious reason why women survive horror movies, of course. They are typically produced by men. Men who want to see women survive. At least, some of the women, anyway.

Because, let’s face it, there are two groups of women who are far less likely to make it to the end of a good horror movie: the slut and the snarky friend. First off, the slut–er–promiscuous girls don’t fare well because of the sin factor. (See Randy’s Rules for Surviving a Horror Film.) Some late 70s/early 80s attempt to scare kids away from premarital sex? Perhaps. But mostly I think it’s a way to create an obvious distinction between the friends that don’t make it and the survivor. Or survivors, in the rare case that there are more than one. As for the snarky friend? Who doesn’t love seeing the girl with all the biting one-liners take a knife to the throat? There’s a certain level of satisfaction in it.

The heroine of a horror movie is expected to be innocent, virginal. Free from overt sin. It is her purity that makes her vulnerable. Her chastity that gives her the strength to overcome. It also helps her to become what she really is in the end: a symbol of hope. Hope that no matter what horrors have come, the sun will rise in the morning. Life will go on.

Much is made of the sexual status (or, really the lack thereof) of Laurie Strode in Halloween. Likewise for Sidney Prescott in Scream. At least, until the third act when she becomes the first non-virgin heroine to survive.

Scream

Of course, all of this applies to films where there is a sole survivor (AlienHalloween, Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) or a small group (Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer).

There’s another class of horror films, too, where women survive for a completely different reason: the family is under attack.

We’ve seen this scenario play out in The Exorcist, Poltergeist, Insidious, The Conjuring, The ShiningPoltergeist

Women survive those horror movies because they HAVE to. They are mothers. There is much, much more at stake. You’re not just attacking some teenage babysitter by taunting her from inside the house. You’re threatening children. And that mama bear instinct is strong. There is nothing that will come between a  woman and her children. Not an axe-murderer or the evilest of evil spirits.

Of course, women don’t survive every horror movie. There are some notable exceptions, like The Strangers. But when it comes to horror, if a good guy is going to defeat the bad guy, the good guy is more often than not going to be a woman.