How has the role of women in horror films changed? Using Carol Clover, ‘Theory of Final Girl' to analyse 1 scene from ‘The Hitcher', the changing roles of women in horror films will be explored.
Traditionally horror films have seen women take on the role of the victim. More recently this has changed whereby the women has taken on a more powerful and dominant position. ‘Carol Clover' a professor of film wrote a book called ‘Men, Women and Chainsaw: gender and the modern horror film' which focused on women. She developed a theory, which changed the way gender is looked upon in horror films. In a lot of ‘slasher films' the women are represented as victims although what interested me is how the women's role has changed in recent years to what ‘Carol Clover' claimed to be the ‘final girl'. Women have been subject to different representations throughout time, within the horror genre; of which female audience consider being a sexist image. I will be exploring how women are represented in the films mentioned, analysing the scenes and comparing this to Carol Clover, and how the roles of women have changed through time.
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To do this I will look at ‘The Hitcher' a 2007 remake (Michael Bay production) (Director - Dave Meyer) which presents a clear representation of the ‘final girl'. Grace Andrews (Sophia Bush) and Jim Halsey (Zachary Knighton) decide to hit the road for spring break. However the film turns from a chick flick to the two of them fighting for their lives and trying to save others. The 1986 original is some what different from the remake where there is no final girl and the boyfriend is the only survivor. Dave Meyers wanted to create ‘female empowerment' which is an added twist to the remake.
Female empowerment is also demonstrated in a film series called ‘Saw'. Directed by James Wan, the plot revolves around ‘Jigsaw Killer' who kidnaps his victims, put them in traps and gives them a chance to repent from their previous lifestyle in which they took for granted. One victim from Saw named ‘Amanda Young' (Shawnee Smith) survives the trap and becomes ‘Jigsaw Killer' partner. ‘Amanda' is a heroin addict which she started while in prison. She is ‘Jigsaws' only known survivor and believes it has made her a better person. This film clearly displays the female role changing from victim to survivor although this film goes against the theory of Carol Clover, in terms that ‘Amanda becomes a murderer'.
Women throughout horror film history have been stereotyped to victimisation and the focus of brutal murder. History has seen change from women not being able to vote to having basic human rights and a high status in society. Feminists have come along way to changing this stereotype, this being, able to direct films and having the chance to control a piece of media which affects the way people (women) are perceived by an audience.
(Bridget (1999) “Without feminism there would have been no final girl or avenging women”. This quote shows that even though films such as ‘The Hitcher' or ‘Scream' were not writen, directed or produced by women, feminism has come a long way where women have more power in soceity and is being portrayed in films just as Dave Meyers wanted to create. This is to do with social change.
According to film maker magazine blog, women are now attending the cinema to watch horror films more and are exceeding male figures. Carol Clover questioned who the audience identifies them with. It is assumed that the male identifies with murderer who is usually male. Many argue that men in the audience are sexually aroused by the victimisation of the female. This is caused by the camera angles and lighting. Murder of the female if shot from the mens point of view - ‘Gaze Shot' (masculine voyeur vs feminine victim).
Carol Clover argues that the audience identifies with ‘final girl', and that the viewer (male or female) identifies with the fright of being attacked rather than the satisfaction of the murderer as he attacks. The final girl remains ‘virginal' and ‘pure' while her friends do the opposite. She escapes because she does not partake in adult hood such as drugs, and sexual intercourse. The final girl fights back and is the damsel in distress. The unempowered woman makes a movement to power over men.
In order to compare Carol Clover's theory to ‘The Hitcher' I shall look at 2 scenes from The Hitcher. The first scene opens and the viewer see's Grace (Sophie Bush) and Jim (Zachary Knighton) walk to a motel. There, they take a shower together and Jim steps out of the room to make a phone call, telling her that he will be gone for 15 minutes. He's gone for several hours and Grace falls asleep watching a Hitchcock film. She is then awakened by someone in the bed who is feeling her up. She assumes it is Jim but then sees that it is Ryder (Sean Bean) trying to rape her. She tries to push him away, but Ryder gets on top of her. We see his hand over her mouth trying to stop her screaming.
The camera shot is high angle which is used to make her look vulnerable and powerless. We see her bite Ryder hand and he hits her. The shot is then focused from Grace Eyes also known as point of view shot. When the low angle shot is used it emphasises the power and strength that Ryder has being on top of her. Throughout the scene a master shot is applied whereby the director cut from Ryder to Grace and back to Ryder throughout most of the scene. This showed the reaction of the two characters and established a clear spatial (space) and temporal (time) relationship.
The audience then sees Grace grab the phone on the side table, of which she then hits him over the head and tries to get off the bed. Grace hits him over the head with the lamp she picks up from the floor and runs to the bathroom. Grace is trying to shut the door and the camera is focused mainly on her. Here a Close up is used. This is to draw the viewer/audience closer and involve them in what is happening. The close up shot also enables the audience to observe the reactions of Ryder and the emotions of Grace.
There are two sorts of lighting being displayed in the scene; these are artificial and key light. The artificial lighting is low key to create a slight shadow on Ryder to make him seem dark and mysterious just as his character is portrayed throughout the film. The key lighting was needed as the scene was shot in the bathroom where there is no natural light available. Grace manages to close the door as she reaches for a gun and Ryder walks out of the room. She then makes her way to find Jim who she sees tied up between two trucks of which is stretching Jim every time Ryder accelerates. Throughout the whole of the last scene you see her fight for her life and she survives but she becomes extremely weak in this next scene when Jim's life is on the line.
Ryder keeps hitting the gas, brutally hurting Jim and tells Grace to get in and close the door. Grace begs and pleas with Ryder to stop and begins to cry but asks him questions such as what do you want and calls him sick. Her character changes from being strong to being very weak. Ryder says he can't stop and he wants to die. Here the theory of Carol Clover audience identification takes place. The close up shot enables the audience to identify with him or her and clearly the director wanted the scene to be focused on the audience identifying with the female. When focusing on editing of the scene there is a lot of cuts from Grace to Ryder and a two shot in between, this is often used when two people are in conversation. When counting the cut shots, when focused on Ryder they add up to less than 30 while the shots focused on Grace are over 30.
The cops show up and see Grace with Ryder at gunpoint. They tell her to drop the gun, but Ryder tells Grace not to listen to them. Ryder then tells her to point the gun between his eyes. Grace can't do it so Ryder does it for her. Ryder then tells her to shoot him, but she can't, puts the gun down and says for Ryder not to hurt Jim. Grace shows a sign of femininity whereby she becomes very emotional and shows how much she cares for Jim Throughout the scene the audience can hear Jim moaning and groaning in agony. Ryder then gets impatient and snatches the gun out of her hands. He then mutters under his breath, "Useless waste".
There is a FX sound effect where the audience can hear a ‘splat' where the blood explodes outwards to make the audience feel as thought they are the experiencing what has just happened to the victim (Jim). Although there is more to this than blood and emotion that makes the scene work, if she shoots him the foot will come off the brake and he will die and if she doesn't he puts his foot on the accelerator and Jim will die. It's a no win situation making you wonder what will be her decision.
At the end of the film Grace does shoot and kill Ryder. Before hand Ryder smiles and asks Grace if it feels good. Grace tells him she doesn't feel a thing shoots him and walks away.
The analysis has made the theory of Carol Clover more clear in terms of audience identification. Who does the audience identify with and why, are questions Clover asked when watching the slasher films. According to her theory, Carol said that audience identification was down to gender fluidity whereby the male killer was sexually repressed and therefore the male viewer could not identify themselves with them. For example: films such as Halloween, Psycho and Nightmare on Elmstreet, all the killers are sexually repressed and having something wrong mentally. Freddy Kruger (Nightmare on Elmstreet) was the result of him being brutally raped, and ‘Halloween' was in response to his sister indulging in adulthood. However Ryder is not sexually repressed. Here her theory does not work. I believe that the camera shots and cuts affect who the audience is ‘forced' to identify with. The audience (male) was being made to identify themselves with the female (Grace). Whereby there were more cuts of her, the audience had no choice but to see her emotion and hear her plea. At times Grace was isolated and alone making the audience only identify with the character they are being shown. I also feel as though the male audience identifies with Grace rather than Ryder because he lacks masculinity and deep down is weak as I will explain.
Many times Ryder says he wants to die and for them to kill him as he can't do it himself. He makes Grace strong enough to kill him by killing others. However it's always a no win situation. It is as if he doesn't want to die alone and is scared. The analysis above demonstrates a no win situation.
Eric Red (director is ‘Hitcher' 1986) talks about the film in 1986 and states that,
“Because of the hell living inside his skin, John Ryder wants to die. But he wants to make Jim Halsey strong enough to kill him and he does.” (Eric Red Interview)
In the 2007 remake, Grace is made strong enough to do this. There is a connection between her and the killer just like there was a connection between Jim and Ryder in the original Eric Red says,
“I really think that this strange psychological connection between The Hitcher and the Kid, the irony that something of value is passed from this horrific guy Ryder to Halsey, strength to persevere in a nightmarish world” (Eric Red Interview)
Looking closely at the film, it has made me has made me think about the narrative structure and that although the target victim in cab scene was not a girl; Ryder used Jim to get to Grace. Ryder was making Grace even more vulnerable and weak by taking away the man (protector) of her. She proved her weakness by not shooting Ryder and letting her boyfriend (Jim) die. This causes the narrative to move on and have Grace as Ryder's last victim and for her to be the avenging women/ final girl. The audience does not need to know the killer past, but here the killer is trying to pass what he does and what he feels onto someone else so they can kill as well. This also happens in Saw. Amanda takes on the role of Jigsaw. Ryder many times says he wants to die and for them to kill him, but it's always a no win situation. It is as if he doesn't want to die alone. For example the analysis shown above demonstrates a no win situation.
Moving on, Clover argued that the final girl fights back just as Grace is doing. Grace is the one who sees everyone die.
“Final Girl is chased cornered, wounded; whom we see scream, stager, and fall, rise, and scream again. She alone looks death in the face, but she alone also finds the strength either to stay with the killer long enough to be rescued (ending A) or to kill him herself (ending B)”. (Screams Of Terror)
The two different endings are due to the evolution of feminist movement in film. If we look back at one of the first Final Girl films such as in Psycho, Lila figures out the unknown and when Bates attacks her, she is not given the chance to fight back as she is almost immediately rescued. This is ending A. Halloween, Laurie, was the first final girl to fight back (Ending B). Hitcher has ending B whereby the female (Grace) has empowerment to kill Ryder and to be just as strong as a male. This is where gender fluidity of the final girl plays its part. This enables the final girl to be identified by the male audience. She is not too feminine but has masculine traits such as being brave, intellectual and strong. The Final Girl is the one to make it to the end of the film.
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However I feel as though that her theory has left out an important thought that females can be crazy and psychotic as men. ‘Urban Legend', ‘Friday the 13th' and ‘May' show that females can be serial killers too. I feel as though her theory is one sided. ‘Urban legend' is the result of her boyfriend dying due to few girls carrying out an urban myth. The killer in ‘Friday the 13th' is revealed as a middle-aged woman whose son, Jason, drowned years earlier as a consequence of negligence on the part of the camp counselors. The women in these films commit each murder as an act of revenge. However ‘May' just like the male according to Clover theory is also sexually dysfunctional. ‘May doesn't understand how to react around others and this frightens people, so the only way she can keep them in her life is by killing them and keeping parts of them to make a ‘big doll'. The big doll won't even leave her as a doll isn't real.
Carol Clover (1992) Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender and the modern horror film, BFI Publishing
Bridget, Cherry (1999) Refusing to look: female viewers of the horror film', Publisher
Saw 1, 2, 3
Mass Media and Society edited by A. Wells and EA Hakanen. 1997. Greenwich, CT; Ablex Publishing
Hitch with Red, Jan. 16, 2007 http://www.joblo.com/arrow/index.php?id=6449 - Eric Red Interview
http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1775841 Feminist Horror Film Theory Mon Jan 09 2006
http://www.screams-of-terror.com/teenie.asp screams of terror 14/2/08
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