Change women’s roles in postmodern horror films?

Change women’s roles in postmodern horror films?

(question decided when finished)

Has the power women had in their roles and the importance of their roles in the old horror films such as ‘Dracula’, ‘Psycho’ and ‘The Shining’ changed in postmodern films such as ‘Silent Hill’, ‘Cabin in the Woods’ and ‘The descent’. Women used to be portrayed as the beauty that seduces and captivates the creature. This is best summed up by the character of Carl Denham in ‘King Kong’[1] when he said “It wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast”. Although ‘King Kong’ isn’t a horror it is still a clear example of what women’s role in film used to be. Also with the change of women both socially and politically has this had an effect on their role in film?

In many of the old horror films in the early 1900’s such as: ‘Dracula’, ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Phantom of the Opera’, the female role is played by a young woman and is usually seen upon as the object of the creature’s desire. In ‘Dracula’ the women is held captive by Count Dracula and is saved by male protagonist. The film ‘Psycho’, released in the early 1960’s, was considered very controversial as it showed an unmarried couple in bed together, which at the time was unheard of. This then led to a trend in women nudity in horror films and making it acceptable for unmarried women and men to be having sex. Psycho also had the famous shower scene in which Lila Crane (Vera Miles) is stabbed to death in the shower by her killer. This scene also demonstrates this particular woman’s vulnerability and by doing so it then exposes all women’s helplessness in these types of old films.

In postmodern horror films females tend to play a stronger role. This includes playing the role of the main protagonist, main antagonist and playing the majority of the characters. For example, in ‘The Descent’, It is an all-female cast with the exception of one male character who dies at the start of the film. In films such as ‘Resident Evil’ and ‘Silent Hill’ the main protagonist is a strong female role, which is a contrast to the old horrors with the weak female role with lack of control. Here it is interesting to look into how the roles contrast from the old horrors to the postmodern horrors. In ‘The Cabin In the Woods’ there are two female main roles which both contrast each other, one being the stereotypical ditsy blonde who ends up being killed and then the smart, virgin girl (to be seen as pure) who makes it through to the end. Here the comparison between the modern characters can be drawn. The modern women roles can still show some behaviours that also follow old stereotypes such as the damsel in distress.

Women had no rights and nothing was done about it up until the 19th century, in Britain, where the Feminism movement began.[2] Then in the twentieth century things began to change. Many protests took place for women to have the right to vote. This led to them being given the ballot in 1918. But only women over the age of 21 who could vote whereas the voting age for men stood at 18. It took until 1928 for women to be given equal voting rights.[3] At this time women’s role in film still hadn’t changed that much. Examples of this can be ‘The Singing Fool’, ‘Lights of New York’ and ‘Alraune’ which were all released in 1928 and all were aimed around a main male role. Horrors were not popular at this time. In ‘The Singing Fool’ the female is portrayed as a gold digging show girl who Al Stone (the male protagonist) takes a fancy too. In the ‘Lights of New York’ there are two female roles, one is a “chorus-girl with a heart of gold”[4] and the other isn’t spoken about that much and ends up being the killer in the end as she hands herself in. Then in ‘Arlaune’ is based around a rich professor who conducts and experiment on a women from a low social status, she leaves the professor to try and make her own life again but she is tracked and under watch by the professor until she is older where the professor then steps in with her life again, she tries to leave and in the end results in her being chased with a knife by the professor and being saved by the professor’s young nephew Franz. This showing that women are represented as less innocent characters in some films of this time also giving them slight more power that they didn’t have before this time but still displays patriarchy. The horror genre at this time, although uncommon, displayed women as very venerable and having to be saved by another male which is following the ‘damsel in distress’ role. During the twentieth century women also became more important in supporting total warfare, as housewives, munitions workers, replacements for men in service, nurses, and combat soldiers.[5] The second world war was the beginning of women working with a big increase of working women in the 1960’s. This giving women more power. At this time films such as ‘Psycho’ (which is talked about in the second paragraph), ‘City of the Dead’ and ‘Dracula’s Brides’ were released as horror became a more common genre.  In the later half of the 20th century some nations began to legalize abortion. This was a very controversial subject and sparked heated debates and in some cases even violence.[2]


What I will look at in my next paragraphs:

  • The ‘Scream’ films
  • Horror comedy cross genre and its stereotypes
  • Feminism, Post feminism, Third-wave feminism and Patriarchy







[5] Bernard Cook, ed, Women and War: Historical Encyclopedia from Antiquity to the Present (2 vol, 2006)


Youtube – Damselsindistress: Women’s representation in horror


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