Friday, February 18, 2011

Women in Horror Pt I: The Victims

As long as there have been motion pictures, there have been Horror movies. Indeed, one of the Edison Company's first movies was a version of Frankenstein. 

And for almost as long as there have been Horror movies, there have been women as the victims of the monsters in those horror movies.  Whether it's Mary Philbin as Christine in the 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera (pictured to your left); Mae Clark in James Whale's 1931 Frankenstein or Janet Leigh in Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 Psycho, women have often been the target of some monstrous force or being. 

Of course, this is a stereotype derived from the idea that women are "the weaker sex." In the 1931 version of Dracula, Helen Chandler is Mina, helpless against the evil charms of the Hungarian vampire:

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has been adapted on film many times. Nita Naldi (1920); Miriam Hopkins (1931): Ingrid Bergman (1941) and Julia Roberts (1996) have all played the female victim of Robert Louis Stevenson's notorious Mr. Hyde in various incarnations of the story about man's dual nature. None of them survived to tell about it.

In the 1950's, Horror movies were concerned with genetic mutations and actresses such as Julia Adams; Yvette Vickers; Joan Weldon and Peggie Castle were at the mercy of Gill-Men, aliens and giant insects.

In the tumultuous 1960's, Horror movies continued to victimize women, as evidenced by Tippi Hedren and Suzanne Pleshette in The Birds; Candace Hilligoss in Carnival of Souls; Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby and  Judith O'Dea in Night of the Living Dead.

The 70's came along and though women were finally starting to be heard as powerful members of society, Horror movies continued to paint them as victims (though many films of the era turned them into the monsters - but more on them in an upcoming post). In what many consider the scariest movie ever, Linda Blair; Ellen Burstyn and Kitty Wynn are all victims of the demon Pazzuzu. 

By the late 70's, a new type of female Horror character would emerge, and I'll be all over that in my next post about The Final Girl. Until then...

More, anon.


Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I can't believe you left scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis out of this roundup. I feel so betrayed :P Just kidding. You know, horror definitely has a certain formula to it. For example, how often are villains or horror elements placed on the left side? The left-hand, afterall, is considered to be associated with the devil for some reason. Anthony Hopkins cell in Silence of the Lambs was the last cell on the left...he also beat to death the cop using his left arm if I remember correctly. Not so subtle..."Last house on the left"...etc.

Prospero said...

That's because she's not a victim... you'll find out why in the next post.

And yes, teh left is often used to signify evil. In fact, the word "sinister" comes from the Latin "sinestre," meaning "left."