Film

Mad Max: Feminist Road - Patriarchy vs. matriarchy in the latest Mad Max movie

It is as if this patriarchal society is unable to learn from its mistakes and the attempts to create a new civilisation end up on yet another destructive path towards a new apocalypse.

In George Miller’s long-awaited return to the Mad Max films, Mad Max: Fury Road, reluctant post-apocalyptic hero Max Rockatansky once again ends up fighting for his and others’ lives in the future desert world created by war, pollution and a shortage of resources. Spectacular car crashes with spectacular vehicles and explosions are in abundance and it would be easy to dismiss the film as yet another simple summer action film, but there is more to it as Miller’s story includes feminist ideas of a patriarchal society’s oppression of women and how women might only be allowed to grow to their full potential in a matriarchal one.

The post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max: Fury Road, is a patriarchal one and a world which has not learned anything from what caused the apocalypse in the first place. It is as if this patriarchal society is unable to learn from its mistakes and the attempts to create a new civilisation end up on yet another destructive path towards a new apocalypse. The worst aspects of our patriarchal world are very much present in the chaotic mix of ideology self-appointed leader Immortan Joe uses to control the people and justify his actions from his citadel high up above the poor masses below. There is segregating capitalism where the ones who have nothing are asked not to waste and the ones who have access to the resources live in wasteful abundance. There is religious extremism and young boys are bred to die for Immortan Joe hoping to “McFeast” in Valhalla. And in the middle of this mess, we find the women, as passive and as submissive as might be expected in this type of society.

Women are used as cattle strapped to milking machines providing Joe with mother’s milk to be traded and sold to the neighbouring societies, maintaining and furthering his wealth at the women’s expense and he has his own harem of women locked up in a room for him to have sex with and impregnate as he sees fit. Most of the other women seem to serve little purpose except for one of Joe’s best warriors and the driver of the massive truck, the War Rig; the Imperator Furiosa.

Furiosa’s appearance differs from that of the other women seen close to Immortan Joe. She instead shares characteristics with the other male warriors with her shaved head and greasy oil make-up. Even her name is different from the other female characters. While Joe’s wives are named Splendid Angharad, Toast the Knowing (what she would know is never mentioned), Cheedo the Fragile, The Dag (a socially conservative person) and Capable (capabilities unknown), Furiosa’s name holds the very title of the movie and it invokes the saying Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. She would be the perfect argument to contest the idea that patriarchal societies turn women into passive obedient slaves. However, Furiosa is not a native to Joe’s society.

As a child, Furiosa was kidnapped from her birthplace The Green Place of the Many Mothers, clearly referencing a matriarchal society, indicating that she was old enough to remember growing up there and also implying that she had learned to be the strong woman she grew up to be there and not in Immortan Joe’s citadel.

Given the mission by Joe to trade mother’s milk for gasoline from neighbouring patriarchy Gas Town, Furiosa instead frees Joe’s wives with promises of a life in The Green Place, where they will be in control of their own lives and bodies, and sets off in the War Rig to find her old world and the women who made her who she is. This treason against Joe and his property, wives included, must of course be stopped and he sets out after her with his entire all-male army.

The wives at first come across as exactly what can be expected of them. They are passive, somewhat fragile, dressed in clean white, almost angelic, clothes showing that they have clearly not been allowed to leave their room and come in contact with the sandy outside world which dirties everyone else’s clothes. To further show the submissive and male-controlled nature of their lives they have also been fitted with chastity belts, which are being cut off in one of their first scenes, casting off the ultimate symbol of a patriarchal society in complete control over their bodies. As the movie progresses the five wives become more empowered in the presence of Furiosa and the dangers they face. As they come in contact with the last remaining people of Furiosa’s native society they see with their own eyes what women can be like if they are not brought up to be secondary characters in world created by men, for men.

The female Vuvalini of the Many Mothers – the word vulva being quite apparent in the name – consists of a small group of older women and one younger, the same age as Furiosa. They ride motorbikes in the desert, suspicious of anything male and even going so far as to admit to killing men simply to be on the safe side. Being brought up in a matriarchal society, the Vuvalini have never been told what women can and cannot do in the way they are told in a patriarchal society. They are very much capable of fending for themselves and show no signs of weakness when fighting Immortan Joe’s male soldiers in a spectacular battle between patriarchy and matriarchy. Instead, they hold up just as well or even better than the men who behave irrationally due to them being driven by their wish to die for their leader and are kept uneducated to serve their purpose.

What Mad Max: Fury Road ends up being is not only an entertaining summer blockbuster reusing the old tired gender stereotypes and formulaic storytelling. Instead, beyond the spectacular crashes and explosions, there is the idea that our patriarchal world is very much capable of causing an apocalypse and if the post-apocalyptic world is also a patriarchal one, it is doomed to repeat the same mistakes again. In that world, women will be secondary citizens with fewer rights and possibilities, which that world will claim to be simply unavoidable due to the nature of women, a nature consciously or subconsciously created by men who want to justify the advantages given, or taken by, them. Were women in fact, given the same possibilities and expectations as men, they would develop equal abilities. But for that to happen, it seems matriarchy is a woman’s only chance.

Written by Mattias Danielsson, 2015-06-01


The Monstrosity of Female Sexuality

The sexual characteristics of the female monster in horror movies

Please note that when referring to whore in this essay, a female gender stereotype is meant which is portrayed as sexual and at times evil – such as for example the Biblical Whore of Babylon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whore_of_Babylon) – and is the counterpart of the madonna in the madonna-whore complex. It is not used with the intention of being offensive.

Within literature and arts, and society in general, women tend to be placed in to one of two categories. They are either angelic, virginal and basically good characters wanting to care for others or they are sexual beings, at one with nature, almost beast-like in their characteristics. Compare for example the stereotypical mother to the stereotypical girlfriend. They are two almost completely different characters and the idea of the two of them merging into one is often met with disgust for example in comedies, especially if there is even the slightest hint of a mother’s sexuality.

This paradox is known as the madonna-whore complex and is often referred to in gender-based – or feminist – analysis of literature, movies and art in general. So what about horror movies? An earlier text on the subject brought up the madonna-like features of the final girl and the more whore-like tendencies of the women set to be victims in slasher movies. It does not however stop there. The female monster is also highly sexualized and most of the time more so than her male counterparts.

First and foremost it should be mentioned that female monsters tend to appear less often than male ones, which in itself could be a result of seeing women as less capable of committing the atrocious acts needed for a horror film, but of course it could also simply be a result of real-life crimes more often being committed by men. But when female monsters do show up, they tend to be highly sexual creatures, almost as if being monsters have moved them further away from anything resembling the madonna and since they are closer to the whore, the sexuality of the whore seems to be a natural addition to what it is that makes up the monster.

Even though the female monster is not as prevalent in horror as the male one, there have been enough horror movies made to see different aspects of female sexuality portrayed. For example the need to reproduce is the driving force in the 90s sci-fi horror Species where the hybrid of a young woman and an alien escapes a scientific facility to find a suitable male. It could be argued that the movie combines the angelic characteristics of motherhood with the monster’s sexuality, but motherhood here is closer to that of the animal kingdom. Similar to an animal, she feels an uncontrollable urge to reproduce in a manner closer to the idea of it being mating season rather than wanting a child to care for.

The transition from childhood to womanhood as seen in Species, is the main focus of quite a few female monsters and it is this change from an asexual child to a sexual woman which brings out the monster inside. In teenage werewolf movie Ginger Snaps, the titular Ginger is attacked by a werewolf and her asexual self is slowly transformed and with it comes a newfound sexuality making her a predator in more than one way. Her unbitten sister remains asexual and is the one who has to try and save her, but once the transition from asexual girl to sexual woman or beast has begun, there is no stopping it.

Even parts of a woman’s body can become the monster. For males, it is not rare that if this happens it is often a hand that is affected, as in Evil Dead II and Idle Hands, but in Teeth, it is a young woman’s vagina that is the monster as she in becoming a woman discovers that it has sharp teeth, a myth so common that it has its own name; vagina dentata. Having taken a pledge to remain a virgin until marriage, but becoming the subject of sexual violence, her vagina becomes her protection against the young man trying to rape her. So at first, she is acting in self defence, but as she is subjected to more sexual violence she eventually embraces the idea of having a vagina with teeth and uses it to punish sexually violent men.

Since blood tends to be an important part of horror movies, a woman’s period can also be the source of the monstrosity, as in the short film that is the fake trailer for the movie Alien Tampon where a woman is transformed into a monster by using a tampon which has accidentally been in a puddle of alien slime. Menstruation as a symbol of the transition from innocent child to sexual monster can also be seen in Ginger Snaps and the low-budget horror film PMS Cop (or Monster Cop), which uses the stereotype of female anger caused by PMS. The title can be compared to the film it might very well be inspired by, Maniac Cop, where the murderous male police officer is not driven by anything associated with his sexuality.

There is however one male monster that is seen as sexual; the vampire. Especially the character of Dracula is a seducer of women, using his sexuality to lure unsuspecting women into his arms where they are subsequently drained of blood completely or themselves turned into vampires. However, though quite the sexual monster, Dracula is no match for the female vampires who seem to be completely unable to control their sexual desires as they squirm and moan near their master or their victims. The female vampires in the German film We are the Night are clearly sexual beings, but that film also at times show the vampires longing back to their more madonna-like origins, such as looking longingly at a pair of baby shoes. Unfortunately, there is no turning back once you have strayed from the path of the nursing, virginal woman.

And so it goes on in one horror film after the other. In The Exorcist, the possessed, and changed, girl Regan shouts sexual profanities and stabs her vagina with a crucifix. In Zombie Strippers, having already discarded the idea of being the madonna, the strippers fully embrace the idea of turning into zombies, especially since it also appears to enhance their stripper abilities. In Jennifer’s Body, Jennifer is already the beautiful popular girl and when she becomes the monster, she uses that sexuality to lure in boys and kill them. In Splice, Dren, a genetically modified girl, grows up in the care of the scientists who created her and it is of course impossible to leave out Dren discovering her sexuality which even serves as a plot twist in the movie.

Monsters in horror films are more often male than female (as for ghosts and evil humans, that is a topic for a different essay), but when they do make their way into a film, sexuality tends to be a common characteristic. This follows the idea that since the monster is the woman removed from the possibility of becoming the madonna, she therefore becomes the whore – no other option seems available – with all the features that comes along with it; such as violence and uncontrollable sexuality. There are however horror filmmakers interested in more complex female characters, whether they are monsters or not. Lucky McKee’s The Woman, among other films by him, shows a savage, almost monstrous, woman being captured by a “civilised” family and subjected to sexual abuse from the men in the family, whereas she herself seem almost asexual. Rape-revenge horror Savaged (or Avenged) by Michael S. Ojeda is about a woman becoming possessed by a vengeful spirit after having been left to die in the desert. The female body becomes a vessel for the spirit’s revenge on the men, but the possibility for using female sexuality as part of the story is left out. Perhaps this can be seen as a new direction for female monsters, that there is a middle road to take instead of simply reusing the old and somewhat tiresome stereotypes that are contained within the madonna-whore complex.

Written by Mattias Danielsson, 2015-04-23


Another leftist analysis of The Purge (This time, the first one.)

Even though changed, the wealthy middle-class family has not become empathetic enough to offer the man a place to stay. That ending would have been too unrealistic.

This analysis contains spoilers.

Sometimes watching films in the wrong order might not be such a bad idea. A while back I wrote a leftist analysis of the film The Purge: Anarchy, the quite highly acclaimed sequel to the less acclaimed first film, The Purge. As with the sequel, the first film lends itself well to a leftist analysis.

After having watched the second film and seen it from a leftist point of view, the first film, at least to this writer, is not at all deserving of the bad reviews it received. It tells the same story as the second film, but in a more intimate setting which presumably might be more difficult to deal with for some viewers as it might strike a bit too close to home, especially to those with a middle-class upbringing.

Just as in the second film, The Purge takes place in the not-too-distant future US. Unemployment and crime is at an all-time low and this is credited to the new founding fathers’ introduction of The Purge, a night when all crime, including murder, is legal in hopes that people will cleanse themselves of their destructive violent thoughts and for the rest of the year live life in a happy productive manner.

Understandably, companies within the security industry are making huge profits securing the homes of those wealthy enough to be able to afford it. Turning their houses in to almost impenetrable forts, they can be certain they will most likely make it through the night unharmed if the violence was to end up in their neighbourhood, which also is not as likely as it tends to surface within the poorer communities.

The Purge being more a way to deal with unemployment and poverty among the poor is one of the major criticisms of it brought up in the film, but not to the same extent as in the sequel, since in the first film we are firmly situated in upper middle-class suburban America throughout the film. The main character is a well-to-do employee at a security firm who has made plenty of money last year equipping most of the houses in the neighbourhood with state-of-the-art safety systems. As the film begins, he arrives home to his family while they prepare for the annual lock-down.

Being a firm believer in The Purge, the father is at times questioned by his son who seem to cling to the belief that there is more to living an ethical life than simply obeying the law. Young, quiet and somewhat reclusive the son has not yet become able to express himself, but clearly he has trouble seeing the good in the crimes committed.

It is this belief in something more ethical than upholding a law that works as the catalyst in this movie. During the beginning of the night a wounded, black, homeless man stumbles into the neighbourhood crying for help and claiming that he is being chased by people out to kill him. Terrified of any outsiders, no one on the street lets the man in to their highly secured homes apart from the son, who cannot stand hearing the screams and watching the frightened man. He disengages the security system and lets the man in, leading to a fight and the subsequent disappearance of the stranger inside the house. The middle-class dream of a large house with several floors and rooms turns into fear as a possibly dangerous stranger is given multiple places to hide.

Soon though, it becomes clear that the homeless wounded black man is not the real threat to the family’s upper middle-class existence as the group chasing him appear at the house to claim what they see as rightfully theirs. The persecutors are a group of upper middle-class youths out cleansing themselves and their beloved America of the filth and degeneration of society they see the poor and lower classes as.

Donning well-groomed haircuts, expensive clothes and sewn-on patches showing the names of the expensive private schools they attend, there can be no doubt that they symbolise the well-to-do rightwing law-abiding America who are only doing what their country is permitting them to do. However, the wealthy classes lack of empathy and willingness to prey upon each other to gain success is quickly demonstrated when the leader of the group, without hesitating, shoots a fellow purger in the head for not living up the class standards regarding use of language. The other members see this as no threat to their lives, but instead continue supporting their leader, most likely not seeing how they could be in any danger even though the leader’s outbursts of violence at times do appear quite random. As long as you conform to the norm of your society you should have nothing to fear, even though an event has just taken place that clearly demonstrates otherwise.

The group of youths of course manage to enter the house and a violent cat-and-mouse game ensues where the family is at times helped by the wounded homeless man. Eventually the family is rounded up by the group and as all hope seems lost some neighbours storm the house killing all the young people who are left. But as it turns out, this is not an act of neighbourly assistance, but more one fuelled by jealousy as the neighbours have been planning all night to kill the main family and are not ready to have someone else take that opportunity of cleansing themselves away from them.

The reason for their jealousy is the way the family has prospered selling security systems to everyone in the area. While the other families have had some of their wealth taken away from them it has ended up in the pockets of our main character. Greed and jealousy are clearly shown as relative feelings. Even if you are still wealthy, the idea of someone becoming wealthier than you is a threat to your perceived or actual position in a capitalist society. Luckily though, you have The Purge to give you an opportunity to cleanse yourself of those feelings while still being ”a good American” obeying the law.

And this fixation with law and order among the rightwing is clearly being criticised in The Purge as they build their idea of ethics and morale on a notion that as long as you follow the law, you are never doing anything wrong, even if the law is saying that it is acceptable to commit murder once a year. In real life this can be seen time and again as wealthy companies work within legal boundaries in order to keep as much tax money as possible away from being used for the common good and instead ending up in a few wealthy people’s pockets. These actions, both within the movie and in real life suggest that rightwing ideals and morals are to a certain extent nonexistent and are dependent on what the law says. If the law says that is okay to commit murder during one night every year, it is not wrong to do so. If the law says that avoiding paying taxes is okay if done in a certain way, it is not wrong to do so. The problem with having laws as your main guideline for how to be a good person lies of course with the fact that laws are often created and changed by the wealthy and powerful to benefit them. They create the morals and ethics they wish to have and look on in horror and disgust as people break the law, while they are able to act immorally without risking imprisonment.

As The Purge finally ends at dawn, the main family seems somewhat changed since they now have firsthand experience of the brutal reality that takes place during the night and how their wealthy neighbours’ friendly appearance was nothing but a facade poorly hiding a selfish, greedy capitalist personality, only interested in how well they are doing for themselves based on what they earn and what they own.

The homeless man has survived and in helping the family has also provided them with yet another perspective on life. In their well-protected homogenous community, the only one they could trust was the very stereotype of violence and crime in America; a young, poor, black man. As he limps away from the neighbourhood, the wife of the family asks if he will be okay. He nods and then he is off, back to a life of poverty and homelessness. Even though changed, the wealthy middle-class family has not become empathetic enough to offer the man a place to stay. That ending would have been too unrealistic.

Written by Mattias Danielsson, 2015-02-16


Fascism and the Other in The Boxtrolls

The rise of fascism follows the same basic pattern throughout history. It begins with generalised rumours which spread slowly, almost unnoticeably, through society until enough people believe in them. Then more severe rumours are spread and so it continues until an almost complete dehumanisation of the other is complete.

This analysis contains spoilers.

From the creators of the somewhat dark and twisted puppetry-animated children’s movies Coraline and ParaNorman comes their latest animated feature The Boxtrolls. The Boxtrolls are troll-like creatures donning cardboard boxes living in the sewer system of Cheesebridge, a town where those in charge seem to spend most of their time discussing and tasting cheese. During the evenings and nights the Boxtrolls emerge from the sewers to gather whatever garbage they come across to bring home with them to use in various creative ways to improve their lives. Also out at that time is a sinister-looking character by the name of Archibald Snatcher and his goons, busy trying to catch all the Boxtrolls of Cheesebridge. Snatcher has his eyes set on a white hat, the symbol of the highest order in the town; the cheese-eating men in charge.

Years ago, Snatcher convinced Lord Portley-Rind, the most prominent white hat, that not only were the Boxtrolls likely to be targeting the town’s cheese supply but they had also stolen a baby. In exchange for capturing all the Boxtrolls, Portley-Rind promises Snatcher a white hat, which would grant him power and all the cheese he can eat. That he is highly allergic to cheese, bothers him not. The symbolism in being able to taste the cheese is far too tempting.

As the movie progresses, the Boxtrolls turn out to be the friendly ones having looked after and raised the “kidnapped” baby boy as their own since he was brought down to their world. Actually, he was not kidnapped but instead rescued from the anything-but-good Snatcher after a fight with the boy’s father, an inventor who befriended the creative Boxtrolls. Willing to do anything to gain power, Snatcher continues to spread evil rumours and his work follows in the footsteps of real-world fascists throughout history, hopefully helping our children to recognise emerging fascism in our own societies. He even goes as far as disguising himself as a beautiful female artist, who also becomes tremendously popular in Cheesebridge and under that more polished persona he is able to further spread myths of hideous Boxtrolls.

The baby-stealing myth is a very effective one, since it speaks to the humanity in almost all of us when the most innocent are targeted. The people responsible must be truly evil to commit such an atrocious act and the myth has been used to falsely portray the wickedness of among others the Romani people, whom have long been an easy target for various fascist movements until present time. Even though the baby-stealing myth might not be used that often nowadays, people with fascist agendas keep making up new myths to demonise and dehumanise the Romani. In countries where there are Romani beggars, they are said to be wealthy or working for wealthy people. The Romani who are doing well are instead accused of stealing, accusations made in order to maintain the idea of a people not like us and not as good. What this negative stereotyping leads to we know very well from history, but it can also be seen in the abuse the beggars are subjected to every day as they are spat on, beaten and have their camps vandalised and set on fire.

In the film, Snatcher continues to point out the evil doings of the Boxtrolls and gradually more people begin to agree with him. It takes years, but fascism is not established quickly. Like a disease it grabs hold of a few who begin spreading it throughout society, testing the waters for what is accepted until they can carry out acts of injustice and violence with either the direct or indirect support of a large part of society. And just as in our real societies it is done with both a more upfront, ugly and violent faction but also with factions that come across as well-dressed, well-spoken and embracing the democratic idea, but they in fact are heads of the same beast. In The Boxtrolls, the duality of fascism is clearly shown in Snatcher’s two sides; the hideous fascist prone to violence that is the real Snatcher and the beautiful female he dresses up as.

The access to the white hat comes with the termination, the genocide, of all the captured Boxtrolls and as it is supposedly completed, the fascist Snatcher – with the support of the townspeople – finally reaches his goal. Even though he is transporting himself in a huge steampunk-like monstrosity which bellows out smoke and seems to destroy the town with every step it takes, people still see him as their saviour, until his true self is revealed as the Boxtrolls appear unharmed in another vehicle and his willingness to murder all the friendly creatures is finally exposed. During the final battle, he falls into a large wheel of brie cheese only to emerge hideously disfigured due to his allergy, his outside appearance showing him as the monster he truly would be with all that power and all that cheese.

The rise of fascism follows the same basic pattern throughout history. It begins with generalised rumours which spread slowly, almost unnoticeably, through society until enough people believe in them. Then more severe rumours are spread and so it continues until an almost complete dehumanisation of the other is complete. On the way, the waters are tested in small-scale violent attacks until enough of society is either openly supportive of the violence or indifferent to the fate of the other. What follows is government-sanctioned persecution and murder and as the fascist monster reveals itself in all its ugliness, we are by then too blind to see what comes out of the brie. The Boxtrolls provides an opportunity for parents and children alike to learn about the emergence of fascism, hopefully before it is too late.

Written by Mattias Danielsson, 2015-02-12


The Unknown Guest as Catalyst

Family. A group of people who are supposed to be the closest to us and also a group of people we cannot choose.

The importance of an outside character to set a family drama into motion in Adam Wingard’s The Guest and Takashi Miike’s Visitor Q.

Family. A group of people who are supposed to be the closest to us and also a group of people we cannot choose. That very premise alone is enough to inspire plenty of stories due to its complex nature where family members are more difficult to avoid having a relationship to than other people. Someone who is not family we can simply decide not to be friends with – though that at times can prove difficult as well – but a family member is someone we already have some sort of relationship with and that is harder to get out of. There are several stories where the family itself is enough to both begin, set in motion and end a complete family drama. Then there are those families who seem to be stuck in limbo, incapable of moving forward. The family situation might contain several elements which make up a good story, but the members are too traumatized or have long given up any hope for change that nothing is moving forward. This is where an outside force is needed. An unknown or unexpected guest who enters the family and sets things in motion. In Adam Wingard’s The Guest and in Takashi Miike’s Visitor Q, this is precisely what is necessary.

The Guest
The Guest (2014) is the feature-length follow-up to director Adam Wingard’s You’re Next which might best be described as a survival horror film set in a house and its surroundings as a group of young people are attacked by people in animal masks. In his latest film however, he seems to have been given a higher budget which he spends on a more open environment. We are introduced to a family stuck trying to maintain an image of a functioning family, but since the oldest son died in Iraq, things are understandably not what they used to be.

Each member of the family has enough to deal with that a family-only storyline would have worked. The father seems to be stuck in the same position year after year at his work with a promotion close, but never within grasp. How he deals with the loss of his son is not explicitly told – and neither is it for any of the others in the family – but a drinking problem is hinted at. Being a stay-at-home mom, the mother tries to go about her day keeping her family together and at first she might actually appear to be the least interesting character. The younger son is still in high school and is the victim of quite severe bullying from the more popular sporty students and his older sister works as a waitress during the day and spends the evenings with her stoner friends. And this is their lives and there is no sign of it changing any time soon.

Enter the guest, a young good-looking man who claims to have been a friend of the dead son during his time in Iraq. The mother immediately takes him in and her reaction to meeting this, up until now, unknown person fills a void in her and the offering of her dead son’s room to this guest clearly suggests that she sees him as more than just a friend of her son’s. The other family members are at first a bit more suspicious, but it doesn’t take long before they are all on board and the story can be set in motion, thanks to this catalyst that is the guest. Bullies are dealt with, job opportunities open up and things just might be heading in the right direction for the family. At least at first.

Visitor Q
Similar to The Guest, Takashi Miike’s Visitor Q (2001), also introduces us to a family stuck in limbo, although there is no doubt of this family’s problems. Miike is not a director known for subtlety, and while The Guest hints at problems and dysfunction, the family in Visitor Q would provide a team of family therapists work material for decades to come. The father is a failed television reporter trying to achieve some success by documenting the bullying of his son without him knowing it. The son meanwhile takes out his frustration caused by the bullying on his mother in violent bursts of outrage. Being a Miike film, the problems do not end there as the mother is a heroin addict and a prostitute and the daughter in the family is a prostitute as well. The situation is so severe that no one knows where to even begin trying to save this family. The father comes across as impotent in both a figurative and literal sense being unable to control neither his life nor his family. And the film would simply stop right there with no change or twist taking place. An outside catalyst is desperately needed.

This is where Q appears in the film. He introduces himself to the audience and the father by smacking dad on the head with a brick. Invited home to the family by the father after the incident, Q sets the story in motion and what unfolds before our eyes is one of the darkest, most twisted, but somehow lighthearted, comedies/family dramas ever made.

Finally, even though there are several films that could be used for this particular type of story, The Guest and Visitor Q provide two examples of films where the problems of the family are interesting enough to provide at least the backbone of a story, but all the family members are too deeply involved emotionally with themselves to bring about any change whatsoever. An outsider is needed. A guest is needed.

Written by Mattias Danielsson, 2015-01-19


Who will survive and what will be left of them?

40 years of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Dedicated to the memory of Marilyn Burns (1949-2014)

This text contains spoilers. Lots of them.

Introduction

In 1974, a movie was released that quickly gained notoriety for being a gritty, scary film that got under your skin and stayed there. The title – The Texas Chain Saw Massacre – probably helped in gaining that notoriety too. Growing up in Sweden, the Swedish title Motorsågsmassakern – which somehow sounds even more frightening – would throughout my upbringing appear every now and then, especially during debates on video violence. But it was not until I was in my early 20s that I actually sat down to watch it with a friend and it changed me from preferring action to horror and I have been a horror film fan ever since.

There is something special about this low-budget film shot in the warm Texas summer in 1973. It gets to you, you become part of the madness and the film is not only violent towards its characters, it is violent towards the viewer as well. It is as if the security and filter that the TV or movie screen normally is, no longer provides that protection. At least that was what I felt the first time I watched it and I still feel the exact same way when I watch it today, which is a remarkable thing to pull off for any movie.

Now, 40 years later, the movie is still relevant and praised by old fans and gaining new fans. It is still screened at cinemas every now and then and a new 4K HD transfer is heading to blu-ray after a tour of US cinemas this summer. So what can be said about the film and its place in history?

Plot synopsis

After an opening shot of a desecrated grave in the hot Texas sun, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre continues with Sally, Franklin and three other young people in a van on their way to a small rundown Texas town to make sure that the graves of Franklin and Sally’s grandparents have not been desecrated. Before coming into town they pick up a hitchhiker who tells them he used to work at a slaughterhouse nearby, killing animals with a sledgehammer, but now he and his entire family has been laid off due to newer technology and the recession. Taking a photo of Franklin, the hitchhiker then proceeds to demand money for it. When he is denied he becomes hostile, burns Franklin’s photo and cuts his and Franklin’s hands. Once they have managed to get him out of the van they continue into town. After stopping for fuel – and finding out that there is none – the group decides to visit the old house just outside of town where Franklin and Sally used to spend their summers with their grandparents. What they do not know though is that nearby to that house live the hitchhiker, his father, his grandfather and his brother – a huge man who wears masks made of human skin – in a house decorated with human remains, some from the graveyard and some from people they have cooked and eaten. Upstairs the remains of a long-dead older woman keeps the grandfather company.

Looking for fuel, two in the group find the house and the man wearing the skin mask, referred to as Leatherface. What follows are the deaths of the young people by sledgehammer, meat hooks and of course chainsaw until only Sally is left and is forced to participate in a frightening and bizarre family dinner where she is to be killed by a blow from the sledgehammer by the very old grandfather in a drawn-out scene where he can barely hold the hammer and tries again and again to swing at her head, which is held down over a bucket by the rest of the family. In the middle of the commotion Sally manages to break free, jumps through a window and runs for the passing road with the hitchhiker and Leatherface running after her. A big truck accidentally runs over the hitchhiker before it stops and the driver gets out. Panicking, the driver still manages to throw a wrench at Leatherface who falls and cuts into his own leg with his chainsaw. As the driver runs away from the scene Sally, who cannot catch up, is left behind with Leatherface who has got back up on his feet. Luckily a smaller truck drives by and Sally manages to get on to it. As the car drives away, we see Sally on the back of it with a bloody face laughing maniacally, her eyes wide open watching Leatherface frustratingly swing his chainsaw back and forth in what almost looks like dancing.

Real-life inspiration

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre begins with a text claiming that the movie “is an account of the tragedy which befell upon five youths” often leading to people believing that the film is based on true events and to a certain extent it is, but the main story is fictional. There are certain elements of the film which are based on the crimes committed by murderer and grave robber Ed Gein (1904-1984), also known as the Butcher from Plainsfield, who in the 40s and 50s plagued his Wisconsin town by digging up bodies and even murdering two women before being caught.

Having grown up with a very strict mother and, after her death, fascinated by stories of head hunters, cannibals and Nazi war crimes he begins to decorate his house with human remains from the local cemetery. He sews lampshades and masks – and a full female body suit – out of human skin, he makes cups out of skulls, belts out of nipples and much more. When he is arrested, the body of the last woman he killed is found hung up by her feet with her head and insides removed.

Ed Gein’s crimes and his life has been the inspiration for some of horror’s most famous villains, including Norman Bates in Psycho (the relationship with his mother and dressing up as a female) and Jame “Buffalo Bill” Gumb in The Silence of the Lambs (the female human skin suit and the desire to be female). There have also been films made about Gein himself where Deranged tends to be seen as the best one.

It was the desire to wear masks made out of human skin and to decorate the house with human remains that were the most obvious influences on director Tobe Hooper when creating The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. However, it can also be argued that a mother is nowhere to be seen in the all-male cannibal family and the remains upstairs of what might be the grandmother also were influenced by Gein’s life.

A movie of its time

Apart from the apparent and admitted inspiration from Ed Gein, the film is also very much a product of its time. Filmed and taking place in 1973, the US recession of 1973-1975 can be seen both in the people sitting outside the gas station but more so in that some members of the cannibal family have lost their jobs at the local slaughterhouse. While it is fairly clear that the twisted moral values of the family have long been present, it is not at all too far-fetched to claim that the acts of cannibalism may be a result of a loss of income.

Furthermore, the oil crisis of 1973 is also very much affecting American lives and it is ultimately this that leads to the young group’s encounter with the cannibal family. Having been told that there is no fuel available at the local gas station, the youths still head to Sally and Franklin’s grandparents’ old house and there two of them come across the house where Leatherface and the rest live and go inside hoping to be able to buy some petrol from them, but instead they are killed. Of course, without fuel it is also impossible to escape the fate that awaits the rest of the group and they are forced to move around on foot. So the actual situation in the US in 1973 both lends credibility to the film and adds documentary-like qualities to the story.

In addition, due to budget constraints the film was shot on cheaper 16 mm film stock instead of the standard 35 mm used on bigger-budget films. The choice of film stock, the fact that the film was shot on location in the blistering Texas summer and cinematographer Daniel Pearl’s photography give the film a gritty, almost documentary look as well, which – along with the story – probably has added to the belief that the film is based on real events.

A video nasty or not?

Despite its reputation for being a very gory and bloody film, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is actually not as gory as people seem to remember. In fact, Tobe Hooper toned down the violence hoping the film would get a PG rating (Parental guidance suggested – some material may not be suitable for pre-teenagers) in the US. Instead it received an R rating (Restricted – under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) and it is not hard to understand why when watching the film.

Though toned down regarding the onscreen violence directed towards the characters, the film is very much a violent assault on the viewer. From the soundtrack consisting of for example slowed-down camera flashes run through a filter instead of actual music, to the intrusive close-up and first-person photography that puts us as viewers in the film both as victims and perpetrators, the film not only allows us to see the madness going on but also truly feel it. In other films, we feel for the characters as well, but that is more through empathetic emotions. In The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the screaming, the background sound effects and camera work makes us terrified and mad as well.

It was this general atmosphere along with the title which contributed to the movie gaining its notoriety. It was banned in several countries upon release in cinemas and sometimes again or for the first time once countries began to apply a rating system to home video in the 1980s. In the UK it was actually not on the famous “Video nasties” list created in 1983 under the Obscene Publications Act, which saw 72 films on the list before becoming somewhat obsolete with the Video Recordings Act of 1984 where the British Board for Film Classification (BBFC) finally were given responsibility to rate films released on video and not just in cinemas. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre was however not released uncut in the UK until 1999.

In Sweden, who underwent a similar debate as the UK on the damaging effects of video violence on children, the film became the main representative of violent films on video and as a result was banned completely in 1984, released cut in 1994 and finally uncut in 2002. It should be noted though that the film probably could have been released uncut earlier if someone had bothered to resubmit it for classification.

Since then, the film has received what appears to be more and more praise over the years. It is seen as one of the classics of horror cinema and a very good example of American low-budget horror in the 1970s. To this day it is still screened during film festivals and other occasions, most recently in selected American theatres in a 4K HD restoration which is also due for blu-ray disc release later in 2014. Make no mistake though, the film is still controversial and not for everyone, but nowadays the controversy is at least not overshadowing the masterful piece of moviemaking that it is.

“The saw is family” – sequels, remakes, prequels and new sequels

After the success of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in 1974, Tobe Hooper went on to direct most notably a TV mini series adaptation of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, big-budget horror Poltergeist and the space-vampire movie Lifeforce before finally in 1986 releasing the sequel The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (note the spelling). Just as the first film is clearly set in early-70s America, so is the second one a product of the shallowness and capitalism of the 1980s. More a dark comedy at times than a horror film, the film is more superficial and we follow the now-named cannibal family – the Sawyers (most likely pun intended) – as they have moved and set up home in an abandoned amusement park. Drayton Sawyer, the father, is now a fairly successful entrepreneur and cook, famous for his barbecue and chili, of course containing meat from the victims of new chainsaw killings happening in the area.

In 1990 and 1994, two more sequels were made of which the latter one is most famous for starring Renée Zellwegger and Matthew McConaughey before they became stars.

In 2003, blockbuster director Michael Bay’s production company Platinum Dunes released a remake of the original The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, entitled The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (spelling again). The remake shows all the usual problems of remaking a 1970s film in the 2000s. Since the original film is to such a large extent a product of its time, it is virtually impossible to recreate that atmosphere and although set in the 1970s, the cast and the production make that quite difficult to believe. The remake depicts a group of young people on their way to a Lynard Skynard concert in Dallas who run into the family of chainsaw-wielding Leatherface, now named the Hewitts and we also find out that the reason Thomas ‘Leatherface’ Hewitt wears masks is due to a skin condition instead of what might have been a mental condition implied by Hooper in the original.

What the movie lacks in grittiness and authenticity it tries to make up for by showing as much of the violence as possible and also making it more sadistic, changing the whole atmosphere of the original to more resemble that of the more sadistic horror films of the 2000s such as Saw and Hostel.

Though at times quite effective, the soul of the original is lost in the remake, which often is the case when moviemakers try to cash in on the fame of older films. A film made in the 1970s or 1980s will never feel the same if remade today due to a number of factors; most prominently that movie-making today is different and since millions of dollars are spent on these remakes, they have to cater to the audience of today, which is also different in its expectations. Furthermore, very few remakes are made based on artistic motifs, which often was the case of the low-budget originals.

The remake made enough money though to spawn a prequel in 2006 and in 2013 a sequel to the original was released in 3D. Marketed as taking place immediately after the events of the original film, the story quickly changes its setting to the present and becomes as complete mess of inconsistency and poor story telling, with its only merits being the 3D-converted scenes from the original used in the opening credits.

Sally – remembering Marilyn Burns (1949–2014)

Known as one of the original scream queens, Marilyn Burns’ in her portrayal of Sally and the character itself deserves more praise than only that of a screaming victim, because Sally is so much more.

The group of young people whom we meet in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre share some characteristics with groups of young people we come across in horror films later on, like the Friday the 13th series or A Nightmare on Elm Street. Most notably, there is no clear hero in the film and it is not even certain that there is one at all. If there is a hero, that person will have to emerge during the course of the film as if the horrible events are a rite of passage. In The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, that person is Sally, but whether or not she is a true hero or not is debatable.

She is clear proof that women can handle themselves as she is the only survivor and that is not because the cannibal family lets her off easily. She watches her brother die and is forced to flee for her life only to end up at the house where she is supposed to meet her demise as a guest of honour placed at the end of the dinner table and subjected to the taunts of the family who mocks her tears and screams. Her placement at the table is similar to the treatment of people who are about to be sacrificed by savages in older stories. They are treated like royalty right up until they are thrown into the volcano. Here, she is a sacrifice to the grandfather who will get to use his sledgehammer just like in old times as a gift from the rest of the family which they think will cheer him up.

Luckily the bludgeoning does not go as well as planned and in the commotion that ensues, she manages to break free and flees, first running in to the man in the big truck who is of little help to her as he escapes the scene on foot. The second smaller truck that arrives slows down somewhat so that she, by the use of her own strength, can pull herself up on the back of it. As the truck speeds off we see Sally with a bloody face laughing hysterically as if completely overwhelmed with emotions which most likely is not that far from the truth. She may have survived, but at what cost?

Marilyn Burns’ portrayal of Sally shows her as a strong woman whose will to live overcomes the most savage of circumstances, which probably would leave the rest of us completely paralysed and accepting our fate. Even though she does not kill anyone, the fact that she manages to flee is what makes her a hero in a movie where no one else is able to escape death. That she also probably is scarred for life is what makes her human.

Written by Mattias Danielsson, 2014-08-28


A postcolonial view on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Luckily for the message of the film, none of the the apes are Bonobos who have a much more liberal view on sex and are known for settling disputes by intercourse – both hetero- and homosexual...

The following contains spoilers.

The first film in the reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise, The Rise of the Planet of the Apes, lets us meet with the bright ape Caesar and other apes as they slowly evolve into something more than the ordinary simians they used to be and eventually start an uprising which ends with the apes disappearing into the woods to lead their lives free from human influence. It is a very good film raising questions of human nature, animal testing and the closeness between humans and apes.

The sequel to Rise… is entitled Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and it takes place ten years after the first film. A virus, which began spreading towards the end of the first film, has now almost eradicated humankind apart from smaller groups of people, with one living in an old quarantine zone in San Francisco. Meanwhile, the apes have thrived in the woods and use their increased intelligence to lead a life similar to that of hunting cavemen living in simple huts using simple tools and resenting modern human technology. Caesar is still the leader of the group, but as humans come in contact with the apes Caesar’s more peaceful approach is resented by Koba, an old ape scarred from years of medical testing and understandably more skeptical to all things human. From here on the film becomes a standardized story of advanced versus primitive, western versus non-western and with an all-too common admiration for the simple savage, in the same style as for example James Cameron’s Avatar.

In Avatar we as viewers are supposed to feel admiration for the primitive, close-to-nature, Na’vi who are portrayed as the good in the film compared to the evil technologically advanced humans who only wants to destroy nature. To make sure we as viewers see them as closer to nature the Na’vi are given characteristics of groups of people seen as primitive by western standards; they are tall and slim, of different colour, have braided long black hair, stretched ear lobes and wear primitive jewellery. In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the apes paint themselves, decorate themselves with primitive jewellery and live under what can best be described as simple human conditions and at one with nature. They can talk in very simple sentences but need to use sign language to fully express themselves. Their ability to survive out in the wild without the use for electricity and lights creates admiration among the humans and even their family values are of the simple traditional kind, with males and females living together in monogamy producing offspring. Luckily for the message of the film, none of the the apes are Bonobos who have a much more liberal view on sex and are known for settling disputes by intercourse – both hetero- and homosexual – have non-monogamous relationships and even use oral sex as a form of greeting. All the other species of apes are in the film, but not these, our closest relatives, since that could have messed up the portrayal of the traditional monogamous nuclear family. The admiration of ape life hardly even stops when Caesar’s female nearly dies in a fairly common disease, treatable by antibiotics. This “Disneyfication” of animals – giving them very human characteristics – and exotic portrayal of the simple other are quite common in mainstream movies and as can be seen, Dawn… is unfortunately no exception.

Another similarity to Disney films lies in the portrayal of the conflict within the group of apes itself. In for example Disney’s Aladdin or The Lion King the hero, even though not supposed to be western, show clear characteristics of being exactly that. Aladdin’s skin has a lighter complexion than evil Jafar’s, their noses are shaped differently and Aladdin even looks different from all the other men in the city who all are drawn with more Arabic characteristics. The same goes for Simba, the hero in The Lion King, compared to the villain Scar.

In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the good ape, Caesar has a Latin name, can speak with a fairly good American accent and is the chimpanzee with the whitest complexion. The evil ape, in comparison, is named Koba, a more oriental or exotic name, he is not as good at expressing himself through speech and his accent almost sounds sub-Sahara African and his complexion is dark. It is amazing that the filmmakers actually got away with that portrayal. Koba is also a very deceitful ape that cannot be trusted, fitting in even more with the portrayal of the other, such as the evil and selfish Jews in older literature and Arabs in more recent. He does however use the dumb ape cliché to his advantage when putting on a comedic performance to be able to steal weapons from the humans, but since he is so obviously supposed to be the evil other, the scene is sadly reminiscent of the racist old dumb house negro stereotype, with Koba making fart noises instead of crying out “Lordy, lordy” all the time.

While the first film raised valid questions about humankind and our relationship with other species, the second one instead plays out like material for a beginner’s course in postcolonial studies with pre-colonial admiration for the primitive and portrayal of the westerner as rational and thoughtful and the non-westerner as deceitful and emotional. That is sad, because the apes are impressive and the idea of using humans as more of a supporting cast to Caesar and his tribe could have worked out great.

Written by Mattias Danielsson, 2014-08-12


A leftist view on The Purge: Anarchy

The people at the top prefer to have the people at the bottom battle amongst themselves to keep them distracted from what is going on higher up. Instead of one night of legal violence, we have native workers clash with immigrant workers fighting for scraps while the large corporations rake in the big money.

The following contains spoilers.

In future America, one night every year, crime is legal. All authorities look the other way for twelve hours as US citizens cleanse themselves of their violent needs in an event known as “The Purge.” The first film - entitled simply The Purge - uses this as the backdrop for a home invasion thriller. The second film, The Purge: Anarchy, takes us to the streets as the event itself takes centre stage and what we as viewers get is perhaps a purge of our own, a cleansing of our needs to ventilate our own frustrations of a class society.

The movie follows five characters during Purge night; four trying to stay alive and one out for revenge. There are plenty of people who have taken to the streets voluntarily and they are all out for blood, some with an agenda and others to randomly kill whomever should happen to cross their paths. However, all these people tend to come from the lower classes in society. The wealthier classes have their own ways of purging without risking their own lives and the government participates in order to maintain the idea that the United States has become a much better place since the “new founding fathers” came into power and also introduced the “holiday” as it is referred to.

The movie establishes early on that even though only the lower classes will openly participate in The Purge, the ones who do only make up a small percentage of all those people, leading to frustration from the government since not enough people are dying, which will have negative impact on their statistics showing that poverty has been decreasing since the night was introduced. The ones at the top have clearly misunderstood the ones at the bottom whose social classes among other things are characterized by a sense of community, solidarity and empathy for your fellow man. The ones at the top tend to think that everyone will do bad things if they are given the opportunity, a statement which says more about them themselves than people in general. Parallels can be drawn to an ordinary society where for example politicians will call for stricter regulations to put an end to welfare fraud when the statistics tend to show that most people in fact want a job and to do what is right and very few will take advantage of the system causing new regulations to punish almost exclusively people who have done nothing to deserve it. Therefore numbers to support these policies and statistics has to either be made up or as in The Purge: Anarchy; be created by government participation in the killing.

While the government is busy keeping up numbers by going after the lower classes, the wealthy are the ones portrayed as the true savages, lacking in empathy and gathering behind closed doors to safely be able to carry out their perverted urges. There is not a single rich person in the film showing any regret or empathy, which most likely is the way it was supposed to be. Despite their appearance outwards, these are the people who will cheat or kill if given the chance to do so without getting caught, but they are the ones whose support of the government matters the most and killing them off will not improve poverty numbers. Along with the elected politicians, who most likely belong to the same social classes, the rich classes’ characteristics are the ones being unfairly projected onto the poorer citizens; making the movie a classic portrayal of rightwing and rich versus leftist and poor.

To add to the idea of class warfare a sub story of an emerging revolution among the poorer, directed towards the government, has also been inserted in to the film and although it does not get much screen time, it could work as a setup for perhaps a Hunger Games-like third film. The screen time it does get though is highly satisfying as the wealthy finally are punished for the horrible deeds they have been able to get away with for so long. Also, the fact that they are completely caught off guard, thinking that they were safe to commit whatever atrocity they wanted only adds to the satisfaction.

As with so many films set in the future, what we get in The Purge: Anarchy is a story of our own society, although satirized of course. The people at the top prefer to have the people at the bottom battle amongst themselves to keep them distracted from what is going on higher up. Instead of one night of legal violence, we have native workers clash with immigrant workers fighting for scraps while the large corporations rake in the big money. We have moronic reality TV - our equivalent of gladiator shows - and other forms of shallow entertainment keeping us entertained instead of actually getting information about laws being passed and treaties being signed above our heads. However, salvation might come in the form of revolution, but it will only happen if the lower classes rise up against the higher ones.

Make no mistake, The Purge: Anarchy is a violent film, but does that mean that it supports extreme violence as a way to achieve change? Of course not. This is fiction and should be treated as such. The film is no more a call to arms for the poor than American Psycho is an instruction manual for a wealthy lifestyle. It is satire and art and as such it has the right to convey its message the way it sees fit and if that results in some people seeing the film as yet another proof for the violence historically inherent in leftist ideology it would both be wrong and forgetting that there is also violence historically inherent in liberal rightwing ideology. But that can quickly be forgotten when there are not many battles left to fight and the ones still out there are being fought with the help of the wealthy and the powerful.

One problem with the movie though, is how sincere is its criticism of our current society? Is it really calling out for change? The reason for these questions is that the film is produced by Platinum Dunes, a horror film production company founded by among others Michael Bay, better known as the director of such blockbusters as Armageddon, Transformers and other films known for their thin, formulaic plots covered up with bombastic visual effects, the exact type of shallow entertainment (with perhaps the exception of The Island) mentioned above. However, it could be argued that his films often use every-day working people as heroes, but that is probably more a result of the formulaic plot lines.

Furthermore, Platinum Dunes is mostly famous for producing watered-down remakes of successful horror films such as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street and what is watered down are the storylines, which are replaced by more graphic violence turning them into glossy slaughterfests. So why the interest to produce a film with such a political message and in fact, not very much in terms of graphic violence since most of the killing is done by using fire arms? Perhaps simply because the first Purge film was a small success (though not with critics or the horror scene). Or perhaps the film in itself is a Purge for the frustrated leftist viewer.

There is no denying that The Purge: Anarchy contains elements that speak to an audience tired of the injustices in society and the wealthy getting away with what at times feel like murder and in that sense watching this film becomes our own Purge. For 103 minutes we get to cleanse ourselves and see our frustrations being taken seriously and dealt with, in a violent fictional way but nonetheless we get to see those who are rarely punished, but deserve it, being served the justice this piece of fiction has to offer. The question is, what do we do next? Do we take the film’s message of change having to come from the bottom up seriously or are we cleansed and satisfied, going back to bed waiting for another film to provide us with yet another small opportunity for a Purge?

Written by Mattias Danielsson, 2014-08-04


HE’S NOT GONNA GET YOU - The Final Girl in Slasher Movies

The phallic-looking weapons penetrate their bodies, blood flows and as punishment for a lost virginity, it could hardly be more fitting.

Having had all her friends killed by a madman with a taste for stabbing weapons, over the course of a 90-minute-movie, the good girl finally realizes that she must fight for herself and in an act of what at first might be seen as panic begins to stab, beat and finally is able to do what seemed impossible, she kills the madman and in doing so becomes part of a select group of women in slasher movies: the final girls.

John Carpenter’s Halloween from 1978 is generally seen as the movie that established the “rules” for all slasher films to come. The general theme of the slasher film was nothing new in 1978, but the success of Halloween – critically, but perhaps more importantly, financially – ensured that the slasher films to follow would not stray too far from the story penned by Carpenter and Debra Hill.

Halloween is the story of the inevitable confrontation between good girl Laurie Strode in the made-up all-American small town of Haddonfield, who is spending Halloween babysitting, and deranged killer Michael Myers, who escapes the mental institution where he has spent almost all his life and heads for Haddonfield and Laurie.

The contrast between Myers and Strode could not be greater and to contrast it even further, Laurie is portrayed as even more of a good innocent girl by the actions of her friends who spend Halloween drinking and having sex. To make it perfectly clear just how much of an opposite Myers is to Laurie, Dr Loomis, Myers’ psychiatrist, early on the movie states that Myers is “purely and simply... evil.”

This contrast may well be the reason as to why horror films tend to have a final girl instead of a final man, more common in action films. In order to cope with something truly evil, the audience must have something truly good to believe in. However, it may also be a case of using these opposites to make evil even more evil and terrifying.

Since the killers in slasher movies often are male, or at least made out to be male throughout the movie, having a male hero simply will not do, especially since the idea of male virginity tends to be more a source of comedy and ridicule. It has to be a female virgin, this being with almost angelic characteristics, who in gender studies is the Madonna in the Madonna/whore paradox.

The women in slasher films are often portrayed as exactly that, either Madonnas or whores. The whore characters are the ones who drink, do drugs and engage lustfully in premarital sex and for that reason will not make it to the end of the movie. They are however a necessity in slasher films since their characteristics help define the good in the heroine, something perhaps not easily done otherwise, but now all the heroine has to do to define herself as the Madonna and not the whore is to say no alcohol, drugs and sex. There are also of course financial reasons behind adding drugs, sex and female nudity into a film targeted toward a male teenage audience.

The Madonna, being the stereotypical good woman, is also in need of her more immoral female companions since she is of course rather passive and it is her active friends who set things in motion which our final girl eventually will have to react to, making her story one of coming of age. She matures and comes out at the end of the movie as a different, more adult, person than she was in the beginning. This should be compared to her friends who are still children, but have adapted certain adult behaviors such as drinking and having sex.

Pretending to be an adult will not go unpunished and their deaths by various sharp and stabbing objects can be seen as reprimands for the premarital sex they engage in. The phallic-looking weapons penetrate their bodies, blood flows and as punishment for a lost virginity, it could hardly be more fitting.

But the final girl instead saves herself and becomes an adult by finally taking responsibility and fighting back. In no slasher movie is this more visible than in A Nightmare on Elm Street, where final girl Nancy wakes up from an encounter with dream-stalking killer Freddy Krueger with a few strands of her hair turned white or grey.

As mentioned above, the concept of the final girl was not invented by Carpenter/Hill in Halloween, but has existed in several movies before. Many of them have however relied on a final man suddenly appearing and saving the day. The final girl does put up a fight, but leave it to a man to come rescue the woman in the end. This is also the case in Halloween, signaling that the road towards a final girl who actually puts an end to the monster herself has been long and even in the 1970’s our heroine was not ready to finish things off. That however changed in the 80’s where for example Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street give us final girls who possess enough strength to finally put an end to the killer themselves.

There are more examples to give to support both the need for a final man up until the 70’s and nothing but a final girl in the 80’s and onwards, but these are left out in order to avoid spoiling them for anyone who has not seen them. The concept of the final girl is also present in many other horror films and not just slasher movies, but since those films seldom follow the rules of the slasher movie, an analysis of that final girl might be somewhat different and is therefore left out in this text.

To summarize, the slasher movie tends to have two types of female characters; the good passive girl who is still a virgin, but because she is not able to drive the story forward and set things in motion and is more defined by what she does not do than what she does, a group of more (sexually) active girls are also needed in order to convince the audience of the good in the heroine and to do all the things that draw the attention of the killer. The good girl is also the complete opposite of the killer, making the movie a fight between good and evil. There are of course also male characters present in the slasher movies and even though they may portray different personalities, they often end up as nothing more than something to add to the body count or serve the same purpose as the sexually active girls. Occasionally there is a good boy who gets the final girl in the end. But only if it turns out he was actually only wounded.

Written by Mattias Danielsson, 2014-03-17