Female Representation in Slasher Films
I am doing my final project on female representation in slasher films. I specifically want to address why women are the first to be killed in slasher movies/and or the last to survive in slasher films. To support my argument/thesis, I watched two Hollywood slasher films: Psycho (1960), directed by auteur Alfred Hitchcock, and A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), directed by Wes Craven. I also did scholarly research and found sources by Carol Clover (â€œHer Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Filmâ€? and Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film); and Laura Mulvey (â€œVisual Pleasure and Narrative Cinemaâ€?).
Slasher films are a sub-genre of horror films, typically involving a psychopathic killer (who sometimes wears a mask or a disguise). The victims tend to be young, female, attractive and often nude. They are usually high school, or college-aged adolescents who engage in vice-ridden activities such as sex, alcohol, drugs, and crime. These films typically begin with the murder of a young woman and sometimes end with a lone female survivor who manages to subdue the killer. In a slasher film, the killer almost always uses unconventional weapons, such as blades, chainsaws, cleavers, and blunt objects. The killer rarely, if ever, uses guns. There is often a story that explains how the killer developed his violent mental state, and why he focuses primarily on a particular type of victim or a specific location.
One of the big contributions of Cloverâ€™s work is her Final Girl Theory. A Nightmare on Elm Street is a good example of this when the main character, Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) is the lone survivor of the killer, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund). Clover notes that the Final Girl is usually smarter, more conscientious, and more morally pure than her cohorts. The Final Girl tends not to have sex or use drugs, and is often the first of her group to sense danger. The killer is often a man who is feminized in some way (for example, Norman Bates character in Psycho), and there is often a relationship or history of some kind with the person who turns out to be the killer. Over the course of the film, the Final Girl tends to become more and more masculine and phallic, as she becomes more active and aggressive, turning from hiding and cowering from the killer to fighting back or in fact hunting him down.
Laura Mulvey uses psychoanalysis to understand the fascination of Hollywood cinema. This fascination can be explained through the notion of scopophilia, the desire to see. Classical cinema, adds Mulvey, stimulates the desire to look by integrating structures of voyeurism and narcissism into the story and the image. Voyeuristic visual pleasure is produced by looking at another (character, figure, situation) as our object, whereas narcissistic visual pleasure can be derived from self-identification with the (figure in the) image. Mulvey has analyzed scopophilia in classical cinema as a structure that functions on the axis of activity and passivity. This binary opposition is gendered. The narrative structure of traditional cinema establishes the male character as active and powerful: he is the agent around whom the dramatic action unfolds and the look gets organized. The female character is seen as passive and powerless: she is the object of desire for the male character(s).