Can Jennifer's Body Change Horror Flicks For Women?

By Cate Sevilla

I’ve never really been a hardcore fan of horror flicks. Growing up, the girls in school – those of the Hot Topic persuasion -  loved that old school gore and horror, and I was never quite sure I got it.

As I had never really seen Evil Dead, couldn’t get through the Halloween films or Nightmare on Elm Street because I got too scared, I was left to watch things like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer (And it’s cleverly named sequel, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer).

Courtney Cox and Jennifer Love Hewitt screaming and being chased in the rain with soaked, clingy tight T-shirts by some killer with a pointy shaped weapon never really did it for me. Sure I watched them. But mainly out of peer pressure.

Yet, despite my generations complete lack of actual quality horror films, girls everywhere are loving zombies, vampires, and anything else that is dark, gory, commercially gothic and horror-ific.

Even Topshop have a new collection for AW09 called Horror Girls.

But why? 

In The New York Times this weekend, Michelle Orange has written a great feature on Jennifer’s Body, and the somewhat sour combination of women and horror films.

“This basic appeal for female viewers was given a sophisticated reading by the film theorist Carol J. Clover in “Men, Women and Chain Saws” (1992), in which she refers to a lone young woman who either escapes or overthrows a killer as the “final girl.”

"More comfortable watching a woman in peril than a man, young, male audiences — initially slasher movies’ core viewers — get the best of both worlds, identifying first with the predator and then with the would-be prey. That women also identify with the scrappy heroine is something of a happy accident.”

Orange describes how the horror film genre went from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to the Saw trilogy. Horror flicks became pornographic, and according to Rob Zombie, added “gore for the sake of gore”.

Academy award winning screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Karyn Kusama (Girlfight) are hoping to change all that for horror flicks, and for women.

Cody describes Jennifer’s Body as a “Trojan horse” for their beliefs about women in horror films and just film in general. As Kusama puts it:

 “It may be one of the best ways for a young male audience to experience a female story without feeling like they have been limited by a female perspective.”

Jennifer’s Body features Megan Fox as your typical popular girl, Jennfier Check, and Amanda Seyfried as her her sheep-like unpopular best friend, Needy Lesnicky. However, as Needy says, “Jennifer is evil...and not just high school evil,” as she, ya know, eats boys and stuff.

(Plus, one of those boys is Adam Brody. Hellloooo Seth Cohen!)

Orange says that Jennifer’s Body depicts the “female identity in flux”, and if you’re a woman that’s wanting to see horror films returned to their original glory, Cody and Kusama seem to be your best bet.

Can we trust Cody’s script to be as smart in Jennifer’s Body as it was in Juno?

Can we trust Kusama to bring her Girlfright badassness to Jennifer and Needy?

I most certainly hope so.

Because if they don’t, we’re just going to have another 30 years of Paris Hiltons trying to run around in stilettos, and getting pornographically slashed in the mud by some beefcake psyscho-killer.

Jennifer’s Body comes out in the US on September 18th.

Mon, 07 Sep 2009 11:30 (GMT+01)
1 Response

Clover's work was important for the identification of the "final girl" trope, but she got an awful lot wrong because she had not seen many horror films before that and was unfamiliar with a lot of generic tropes. The Final Girl works for slasher films, but not so much other sub-genres. I'm part of a horror discussion group that's been around since the late 80s (I'm a relative newcomer, having joined in 1994) and one of the surprises people have is that our group is just chock full of women. Horror has always had a huge female following -- but you'd never know it to hear the "experts" speak. There have been a number of books in recent years that address -- often with puzzled looks -- the popularity of horror (film and lit) for women.

K. A. Laity
Mon, 07-Sep-2009 15:23 GMT

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