Freaky Chicks in Horror and Why They Creep Us Out
What makes a horror chick freaky? Why do we find some scary and not others?
Western culture’s earliest depiction of women teaches fear and distrust. In the Book of Genesis, Eve convinces Adam to disobey God’s order and eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. Both of them are banished from paradise for their disobedience. In Greek mythology, Hephasteus - a reject amongst the gods – makes the first woman out of malleable clay, in order to enact vengeance on Prometheus for giving fire to man. She is later named ‘Pandora’ and associated with the opening of a box that wreaks disease and havoc throughout the world. Then there are the feminine manipulators and betrayers: Circe turns Odysseus’s shipmates into swine and tricks him into eating them. Delilah betrays Sampson to the Philistines. Clytemnestra murders her husband when he returns home from the Trojan War. The depiction of a woman as a betrayer in the waiting even passes through to modern stereotypes, where women are portrayed as more ready to stab each other in the back to gain the favor of men.
Yet, there is also the motif of Lady put in front of dragon female helplessness in Western tradition. Penelope waits in fear until Odysseus returns and kills all her suitors. Throughout the King Arthur stories, Gwenievere gets into trouble from which only a gallant man can save her.
The counter-culture movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s sought to abolish the stigma associated with the female character. Feminist efforts provoked an attitudinal transition where some stereotypes are reinforced and others are discounted. Modern horror movies portray this cultural confusion – depicting women as victimized, evil and empowered.
What scares us about women in horror movies is not the gore, or their evil intentions, but the juxtaposition of their malevolence to their innocence – the collision of our cultural stereotypes. Our minds have difficulty digesting this duality when it is so rawly displayed before us. Thus, they become freaky horror chicks.
As horror fans, we can agree that not all women in vicious roles creep us out. In Hostel, the female perpetrators take on their tried and true role as betrayers. They are distrusted almost from the beginning, due to their promiscuous affection for strangers. In Daughters of Darkness they play the seducers. In both examples they turn more into objects of forbidden sexuality than anything truly scary – there is no duality of roles. On the other hand, Ginger Snaps juxtaposes the relative innocence of a teenager with the violent bestiality of a werewolf. Yet, the metamorphisis into a wolf takes more the form of a building of individual confidence and happens so gradually and stylistically that we don’t see her as a terribly scary girl and by the end she is more of a traditional monster. There is no dualism in a metamorphisis.
Then there are those chicks who all of us would likely rate as creepy… bloody girl in the movie Carrie.
Carrie is the quintessential movie that depicts the current cultural flux associated with attitudes towards women. The protagonist is a victim, who begins to understand the extent of her power. She is oppressed both by a puritanical mother who wants to separate her from her sexuality and a cabal of girls who see her as abnormal. Carrie is at once a pitiful girl, a hopeful adolescent and an enraged monster, who inflicts all manners of destruction against friends and foes alike. In Carrie, women dominate, absolutely. The girls at school are evil instigators. The female gym instructor is the tough and supportive vindicator. Carrie herself embodies the conflict between the two. Men are depicted as stupid and malipulable. Carrie’s innocence and fragileness are apparent on her face even as she inflicts the worst horrors on her classmates and teachers. At that point she transforms into the most disturbing type of monster, whose image reverberates in the minds of movie goers when they think of freaky horror chicks.
The Exorcist plays on the same theme without the nuanced portrayal of women. Linda Blair is an innocent girl, transformed into a grotesque and evil personage, who violates herself with a knife and inflicts harm on others - both physical and psychological - just to satisfy her own twisted appetite. Blair is not as unnerving as Carrie, in that the audience accepts that she has no control over her actions. Her emotions do not cause things to happen – she is a helpless victim. Yet, her innocence is transformed into a vehicle to shock and horrify and it is this juxtaposition that the audience finds so disturbing. What can be more innocent than a little girl? Yet, she is the personification of evil. It is notable that The Exorcist debuted during the height of counter-culture movement and may even be seen as somewhat reactionary – playing on the traditional cultural prejudice of a woman as both evil and victim. Regardless, it is her innocence mixed with the perversity of her actions that make her the most renowned freaky horror chick.
The Ring and Ringu depict similarly empowered freaky horror chicks. In each movie, a victimized girl with awesome psychic powers is capable of a rage that blindly kills. Neither girl looks particularly grotesque. The girl in The Ring is arguably the scarier of the two, as there is less sympathy built into her back story, but she succeeds in horrifying with only long hair and pale skin. It is her capabilities and intentions in the body of an innocent girl that disturb us. It would be much less scary if a ferocious dragon barreled through the TV screen, as we are psychologically prepared for its destructive power, but we are not prepared for such things from a girl and it disturbs and horrifies us – so much power – yet so much innocence – yet so much rage. Ringu also demonstrates that this dynamic is not unique to the West and that the expected innocence of girls, regardless of the distrust associated with women crosses cultural boundaries.
The duality scares movie goers even when the freaky chicks do not play a large role. In The Shining, the twins that appear several times in the corridors of the Overlook Resort are seemingly innocent victims, but their smiles and the audience’s knowledge that they are ghosts, together with the creepy theme music lets us know that their role is more nefarious. Hence, they gain the ability to terrify even though there is no gore or deformity and their total screen time is less than a few seconds.
The most empowered version of a woman is depicted in High Tension. Marie is blatantly masculine. Brave and daring, she is capable of foiling a seemingly unstoppable beast of a killer – reminiscent of Jason in his relentlessness. The traditional dichotomy between evil and innocent victim is overcome, as Marie becomes a resourceful heroine who attempts to save her friend’s life. Yet, the audience’s faith in her is shattered when she is revealed as the killer and the love within her eyes that propelled her to risk life and limb for her friend is the same love that fuels her maniacal obsession with killing her. The new empowered woman is capable of heroism and great evil and they are one in the same for her – all due to that most pure, admirable and feminine of motives. It is the duality of a woman capable of the same malevolent acts as male stalker killers, but from the most innocent of motivations, graphically displayed before the audience, that makes blood-soaked Marie one of the most memorable freaky horror chicks.
There are many more that fit into the category of freaky horror chicks. I’m sure the more interested (or perhaps, just bored) will post comments about the ones I left out. I will close with a note about theatricality: all freaky horror chicks embody the disturbing duality of innocence and malevolence, yet what makes them truly freaky is how well that duality is portrayed to the audience. Images of freaky horror chicks remain etched in our minds. They are imbued with more chills than others because of how their duality was presented. There is no secret formula: It’s possible to do it with story. It’s possible to do it with effects. One key ingredient seems to be good acting. We have to BELIEVE she embodies an innocent malevolence. Mrs. Voorhees in Friday the 13th possesses the same duality of an innocent woman capable of murder, but there wasn’t that memorable look onscreen action that associates her face to the acts. We are left to imagine the extent of her innocence and malevolence only if we allow our minds to go there. Hence, while we are disturbed by the movie for other reasons, due to how she was presented, she cannot be counted as a freaky horror chick.