Why do all mainstream horror movies require the killing of disposable women? They are usually bare-breasted, open-mouthed and clumsily helpless and they always meet their end with blood-curdling screams.

What does the destruction and killing of these disposable women represent in the overall condition our entertainment values as well as our humanity in the heightened expectation of faceless women we meet beyond the movie theatre?

Sometimes the disposable women take up arms and try to fight back against the men who are chasing and trying to kill them.

Are horror movies reflexive or reflective? Do we secretly fantasize about the murder of disposable women and do we find cathartic release in the darkness of the demise of the movie house vixen as her anonymous blood spills over our nameless fears to salt our popcorn; or are there already temporary women who are killed every day in ordinary life?

Do we become less sensitive to violence against women when these slasher films mop up money along with their spewing guts? What lesson are we to take away from these disposable women who are forced to murder their tormentors in order to escape into the next sequel or to recycle their turn in ongoing violent victimization?


  1. I am not a fan of this kind of film – neither am I a fan of the opposite genre represented by the Kill Bill films.
    I guess there are several reasons why they are so popular – naked helpless women tick the box for many men – and horror films of this ilk provide the kick that many seek from pornography and legitimise the fantasy by being mainstream.
    I have an unproven informal theory that a lot of men actually resent the sexual power women have over them and that is what drives them to glorify that type of behaviour.
    The women in these films represent every woman who has ever done them wrong, ditched them, made them feel insecure or rejected them outright.

  2. Well said, Nicola!
    I wonder about the people who write these slasher flicks that portray women as meat in need of being killed and then the producer and director who then provide a green light for production.
    Does making money trump any sense of reasonableness and basic human caring?
    Then we move into the mindset of the movie patron that pays $10 a ticket to see these women mauled on screen.
    We have a new cable TV network here called “Fear Net” http://fearnet.com that shows a wide array of horror movies — none of them very good and none of them old or classic — one of the “horror” movies on the channel included a film from 1970 with a deranged man who would beat and rape women and then slit their throats. There was no heightened sense of the Gothic or surrealism or art. It was just a guy beating up women cowering in a corner, pulling off their clothes, forcing sex, and then murdering them. It was eye-droppingly gruesome in its unsheltered documenting of what felt like a “live” rape and murder.

  3. Number one motivation has to be making money – the closer they push the envelope towards the taboo – the more furore is created – the more advertising ( for free) they get and the more audiences they get and the more money they make.
    Greed and money often override reasonableness.
    Ironically these films ( ie certificated films in the UK ) in their entirety will not fall foul for the new pornography laws included in the Criminal Justice Bill. However if you download a clip or a still image from the film of say a brutal rape and store it on your computer – you will be liable to prosecution for having an extreme pornographic image – with a jail sentence and entry on the sex offenders register to match.
    Talk about double standards!

  4. I hope this link works : here on the twenty-third page of this lovely Doctor Who book it talks about how, when they were first casting for Doctor Who, they basically were looking for the Doctor’s ‘granddaughter’ character to be someone who was both pretty and could scream well. She left the show because she felt her character wasn’t developing at all.

  5. (The point being – if that was the case with a respectable science fiction show initially aimed at an audience of children, how much more so for programs aimed at adults!)

  6. Nicola —
    I don’t understand the difference between the law you are making. If a movie clip is from a documentary that shows brutality to women it would be okay, but if the clip is for private pleasure it is illegal?

  7. That’s a great link to a book, Gordon, and it goes to show how the “female form” on TV and in film is one of outline and shadow and not one of substance. “Screaming” and looking “fearful” is enough of a “characters” while the male version of such a caricature would be laughed off the screen.
    Is this part of the need to rescue a “Damsel in Distress” mentality that is joined with princesses wanting shining knights to save them and weak women who need a man to define them in their lives?

  8. Oh, and Gordon, I do wonder what young girls think when they see mature women “modeled” for them on TV and in the movies.
    Do girls get infantilized by these helpless, toss-away, stereotypes of adult females or does their ineffective femininity work as an indicator of something to want against and a fight to overcome?

  9. I read the bill, Nicola and it seems silly an unenforceable. You could argue the images in my article today were purloined merely for sexual arousal away from their original context.
    If you charged a dollar for sexual home movies — would you be seen as an exempt artists under that bill or not?
    What is the impetus for this sort of action?

  10. (Finally found this!) A friend once sent me the following results from a survey concerning men’s propensity to rape. I’ve been searching for that again and found it in an article that argues there is a connection between the effects of pornography and sexual violence. Here are the results from the survey:
    This other study suggests that although men who have never committed sexual abuse are far less aroused by the idea of rape than rapists they too can be pushed to commit rape when exposed to certain circumstances:
    (…)”For most men, hearing a description of an encounter where the man is forcing the woman to have sex, and the woman is in distress or pain, dampens the arousal by about 50 percent compared to arousal levels during a scene of consenting lovemaking,” said Dr. Howard Barbaree, a psychologist at Queen’s College in Kingston, Ontario.(…)
    “When these men subsequently went into the lab, they had the same degree of arousal to the rape as to consenting sex,” Dr. Barbaree said.(…)
    “With the right combination of factors, most men can be aroused by violent sex,” Dr. Barbaree said.(…)
    “Rapists often recall being intensely angry, depressed or feeling worthless for days or even months leading up to the rape,” Dr. Barbaree said. “Very often the rapists say that the trigger for the rape was when a woman made them angry, usually by rebuffing a sexual overture. The men experienced the rebuff as an insult to their manhood that intensified their emotional misery.”(…)

    This scientific study proposes that (ishipress.com/rapeevol.htm) Rape is a Natural Product of Evolution. This theory was widely criticized as it would appear to excuse the act of sexual violence and might serve as a pretext to commit rape.

  11. Iris – thank you for those links – I will feed them to the group who are opposing the pornography law. We are trying to get as much of the available research into one place as we can.

  12. Sexual violence is a recurring theme in film industry, but perhaps this is better illustrated by the comic book “industry” – both western comic and manga in Japan, and also in adult videogames.
    In comicbook fandom this phenomenon became popular as the “Woman in Refrigerators” syndrome. This is the official site that made a list of female characters that were killed, tortured or de-powered at some point in the story and now the expression “Women in Refrigerators” became canon to describe this theme.
    This site made a list using western (predominantly American) comic characters. Being mostly a manga reader I can say this is just as popular in Japanese comics and anime (animation films). Curiously, French, Belgian and some South American comics I have read usually allow female characters a bit more dignity.

  13. iris —
    I fear I don’t put much scholarly research stock in those sites you quote. The first one is a strange woman with a definite fundamentalist agenda and her main website called talkingtrash.com.
    Your NY times link is from 1991 — hardly new research! 😀
    The final link is just curious. Did you read around the base URL before your linked it? ishipress.com?
    I am going to go back and kill the live URLs in your comment to dissuade future readers from hitting those sites from here as clickthroughs.

  14. Good God, David, you’re right!
    I reached the first link by searching a transcript from an email a friend of mine sent me and I eventually found it as part of that file so I used it.
    The search returned me the direct link to the PDF file, so I didn’t check the site… until now. Do erase the link, I’m mortified! :-s
    The (ishipress.com/rapeevol.htm) link I found when looking for the text I mentioned above and I posted it, because a similar theory had been discussed regarding human evolution in Origins of Man and Civilization I class.
    As for the NY link, if since then things changed for the better I should be glad!
    The last link was part of discussion in a comicbook store conference here.

  15. I’m with you, iris!
    We used to use Wikipedia here a lot as a source even though their reputation was never one of scholarship or accuracy.
    Wikipedia also gets first hits many times while doing a Google search — so we always have to look a little harder to double check and make sure our sources are third-party verifiable/verified. Most mainstream newspapers are fine as are most websites that end in .edu or .mil or .gov
    Sites like NewsBusters.org are never acceptable. 😀

  16. David they intend to pursue this along similar lines as Operation Ore. They would arrive at your house and take away your computer, your external back up drives and any disks/storage devices.
    I am at particular risk as I have a whole load of teaching material on matters such as edge play – needle play , single tails etc etc – the right way to do it, what not to do, where not to tie etc etc.
    I am not at risk of outing myself here – that has already been done when I took part in the consultation process.
    They are investigating ways of blocking certain types of websites – not sure how far down that road they are and how they will categorize them.

  17. That’s a terrible thing, Nicola. So they’d basically be putting you out of business, then?
    What are the chances for it to become law?
    Can you recant and turn over all your stuff to avoid prosecution? 😀 Or can they go back in history and get you for previous behaviors?
    It would be hard to block some sites that are centered on commentary and are also editorially varied when it comes to making news and investigating the news.

  18. To be honest we are not sure yet – we are in consultation with our local police and out MP about the situation. It may well be that we will have to demonstrate live as opposed to using images.
    It may well be that I can gain clearance for certain image use.
    The law will be back dated there is no wipe the slate clean or period of amnesty.
    We forecast several truck drives on the ferry to Holland where it can be stored on their servers or in safe keeping. The Swiss are also offering storage facilities.
    And we will have squeaky clean hard drives.
    They can go back with credit cards to previous behaviours – they can go back via credit cards to book purchases.
    They can go back over your computer if your spouse gets nasty in a break up and wants to get even – etc etc.
    Or we could encrypt and loose the key ?

  19. Any picture you have on your computer or storage , however it was taken, whether it was sent as virus porn , a mate sent you – or one you took of yourself and emailed your partner or any web page you have visited – puts you at risk. They can and will track up loads and downloads from your ISP records.
    It is a case of locking it up somewhere safe and accessing it on holiday – ie not from this country.
    Goodness knows what I am going to do with all my original signed photography from China Hamilton.

  20. Up to three years in jail and 5 years on the sex offenders register for possession and a fine.
    Up to five years in jail and 10 years on sex offenders register for making it ( taking the picture) and distribution ( emailing it to your mates).

  21. Correction this is from the guidelines accompanying the paper.
    ” On conviction on indictment, the maximum sentence is imprisonment for three years for possession of images covered by clause 65(6)(a) or (b) (life threatening acts, or serious injury), and imprisonment for two years for possession of images covered by clause 65(6)(c) or (d) (necrophilia or bestiality). The combined effect of the clause and the transitional provision in paragraph 14 of Schedule 22 is that initially the maximum sentence on summary conviction of the offence will be 6 months imprisonment. On the commencement of section 154(1) of the 2003 Act, the maximum sentence on summary conviction in England and Wales will rise to 12 months.
    398. In cases where the sentence given is for a term of imprisonment of at least 24 months, and where the offender was 18 or over at the time of the offence, he will also be subject to the registration requirements under Part 2 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. ”

  22. No one seems to stand up in the House of Commons to oppose the law. Standing up for pornography is akin to loosing your seat.
    We have two hopes – Human Rights Act – EU Legislation – the government has already said it contravenes certain sections, but argues that is needs to for the greater common good.
    Our second hop is The House of Lords – there are already a lot of other issues in the bill that they want to get their teeth into.
    There are a lot of barristers and ex barristers in the House of Lords

  23. Your life must be surreal now. Are you stopping all actions and behaviors right now in case they begin going back in time against you?
    I heard today on the news that Gordon Brown is behind in the polls and some new upstart is on his heels and in the popular lead. Is that a good thing for you?

  24. David,
    I think having a character murder a vulnerable and helpless woman character serves to straightaway vilify that character in the audience’s mind for the remainder of the show. i mean, if your intention is to paint a character as irredeemably evil the easiest way to do it is by showing him/her hurt women/children. events that will then be countered by an equally or even more gruesome and spectacular end at the hands of the protagonist or nature. like you suggest in the article, it’s a common, reliable and much overused plotting trope.

  25. It has a degree of that yes – but because it is retrospective – I am already technically *hung* if they wish me to be.
    I carry on doing what I do best and that is keeping people safe as possible and making them aware of the risks involved.
    The young upstart from the opposition (Conservative Party) has voted with the government more times that he has voted against.
    If they call an election it might be interesting and would certainly ( hopefully) mean shelving this bill or a delay in rushing it through.
    Our hopes on this one come from the third party the Liberal Democrats – two of who have been handling the amendments in the committee stage very well.

  26. Dananjay —
    I think that sort of female-sympathy-creation/bad-guy-demonizing is bad writing.
    Horror movie writers would get a much more emotional reaction from the audience having the “Bad Guy” kick a dog than chasing a woman with an axe.

  27. I try not to think about it too much …………..
    We will see what the final wording for our section of the bill is soon and then go from there.
    Our MP is a barrister – he has conceded that although he supports the intentions of the bill the current wording makes it unworkable and possibly contravenes the European Human Rights Directive.
    He has agreed to come back to us to discuss further when the final wording has been drafted.

  28. I think (as it is worded at present) it will come down to the jury in the end.
    If I can show the jury that the materials are for teaching purposes and I can justify that and demonstrate that I doubt if I would be convicted.
    However I would be seriously inconvenienced by the loss of my computer and all my records and materials.
    We intend to talk to our local police when the wording is finalized about the materials we have and where we stand. We may turn over certain images if necessary to be destroyed.
    Our local police are aware of what we do here – and we have a very good relationship with them.
    It maybe that we can obtain some kind of licence/exemption for some of the material.

  29. Adds – the irony is that one jury could convict you for having a certain image and four or five others wouldn’t – depending on the make up of the jury.

  30. Nicola —
    Do you anticipate any trouble in using the “we’re teachers” argument with a jury?
    Don’t most people see “teachers” as altruistic, pure and of total moral competency — you know what I mean — and when they see what you are teaching for profit… will they buy that argument or feel you’re parsing onions?

  31. The trouble is not in the teaching it is in the subject matter.
    BDSM is not illegal in this country – just frowned upon by the moral majority.
    The fact that we have the gall to teach people how to do it safely and properly will not sit comfortably with them.
    This is an article from last weekends Sun newspaper. (Sorry to lower the tone with tabloids)
    The pertinent part is that three of those named are frequent visitors here and we have worked on collaborative projects in the past and will do so again in the future.
    It is a classic mix of shock horror titillate – isnt that dreadful – all in one go.
    Having said that there had already been issues between the lesbians who arranged the event and the local population – if I had those kinds of issues there is no way I would be organising such a public high profile event and advertised it in that manner that they did to bring it to The Sun’s attention in the first place.

  32. That article is a fascinating read, Nicola! I agree it really does you no good, though, to be lumped in with radicals like that who are seeking attention and not righteousness.

  33. David!
    that would depend on the story, but yes, horror is more gripping and resonates deeper when its manifestations are subtler than a zombie/lunatic/undead chasing a screaming woman with an axe.

  34. Dananjay —
    In 1989’s “Turner and Hooch” starring Tom Hanks, the dog — Hooch — dies in the end. There is still web outrage today over the “unnecessary death” of that dog in the movie’s plot:
    Can you name a similar outrage that has lasted nearly 20 years where the death of a woman on screen is so publicly mourned in the same way?
    I still contend generally and specifically it is more acceptable to kill a woman on screen than to injure or kill an animal with malice on screen.

  35. David,
    that’s a great read! i haven’t seen the movie but from what you say it’s clear that the way hooch in the end was made to be a disposable character broke many hearts. is it reasonable to say that a movie where animals die (as opposed to slaughtered) make us sad and weep, whereas only movies where human characters are disposed off truly constitute horror?
    i suppose it’s doubtful that the death of a woman on screen would warrant any outrage. maybe because it’s the staple of the genre? at any rate innocents whose deaths have no way been justified or even made plausible by the plot and whose deaths are then captured on screen don’t make sense to us as an audience. and there’s no way one can make the death, even one made as an act of sacrifice, of an animal justifiable in a story.

  36. The trouble is that the good stuff about BDSM rarely gets reported. It is nearly always reported in the likes of The Sun and Bizarre Magazine as a freak show – or in the mainstream news when things go terribly wrong.
    There is no need in this day and age with all the information that is available and the people who are willing to share their knowledge for things to go wrong.
    The main reason we teach is to prevent things going wrong and to give them the physical, mental and emotional skills to explore BDSM safely.

  37. Your comments about the furore about Turner and Hooch also touch on something we were discussing the other day – that we treat our pets and animals better when they are ill and dying than we do our elderly and sick.

  38. It is fascinating to track movie deaths, Dananjay. I can only think of one human example that sort of comes close to Hooch’s death. When Leonardo DiCaprio died in Titanic, his on screen death was mourned — without outrage — by the movie going public and yet he was killed by nature instead of murderous intervention.
    It’s interesting I can’t think of one case of a woman being killed on screen by any means that even comes close to the generally expressed sadness of that DiCaprio death scene.

  39. Nicola —
    BDSM will always be considered “dirty” and in need of punishing by the mainstream mind because it is foreign and unfamiliar and, frankly, easy to condemn while lifting yourself up in the process.

  40. yes, probably because mainstream conditioning only permits the fatal noble act that is performed by the man for the woman.
    it reminds me of this old-time army veteran i once had the fortune to chat with on a long train journey. he was against having women in the army and defended his position with, “if we let women fight with us in the army, what are we fighting for?”

  41. Right, Dananjay! It’s the old male “heroic” stereotype that is so old and so played out. Do we have any hardcore, mainstream, female film heroes that aren’t cartoons or non-human? I think Sigourney Weaver came closest in the Alien series — but wasn’t that long over a decade ago?
    Ooo! That’s an excellent story about the Army fellow and certainly telling. The old chestnut in the US military is women should not serve in combat because the men will not be able to take hearing their screams for help on the battlefield or while the women are raped and tortured by the enemy and the men will “freeze” on the battlefield at the sight of a wounded woman.
    The sad fact is that women are already serving in combat because the “battlefield” in modern warfare is the entire footprint of the combat theatre. Women are just as much in mortal danger in a tent on base and in trucks en route as they are firing guns and setting off bombs.

  42. David …….
    “BDSM will always be considered “dirty” and in need of punishing by the mainstream mind because it is foreign and unfamiliar and, frankly, easy to condemn while lifting yourself up in the process.”
    That is my raison d’etre in a nutshell. If people can understand it and relate to it they will no longer fear it.
    At its highest form it is the purest of sexual exchanges because of the levels of trust and consent.
    (Lighting a candle in the darkness?)

  43. Nicola —
    But how will you convince the unwashed that leather and whips and wheels and needles and chains and spikes are enjoyable, average, necessary and important to the everyday life when they are of the mindset that anything other than missionary style is perverted and dirty. That doesn’t even bring up the matter of gender power and the master/slave dyad.

  44. David –
    You ask them the following –
    How many of you have used a blindfold or scarf whilst making love? How many of you like to bite and scratch in a moment of passion? How many of you like dressing up? Who likes rubber, leather, or boots?
    Then welcome them to the world of BDSM – as they are already playing with power exchange!
    Then tell them that you hope they will enjoy their stay – and to be consensual, and have fun!
    (Paraphrased from my closing paragraph from my first public speech to the Sexual Freedom Coalition in 2004).

  45. That’s a great way to make your case, Nicola! I hope you find great universal success with it.
    I’m concerned with the conservative cores that will not even entertain the idea of “inappropriate” sexual touching that would include a scratch or even an ear nibble.

  46. David,
    but isn’t that sort of pluralist and relativist approach often interpreted as moral ambivalence? the good/bad type of thinking abhors that which stands aside and refuses to take sides. it earns mistrust, fear and ultimately hatred.
    when two sides have a heated debate about religion the last thing one should do is say that they’re both just as wrong and just as right. it’s a recipe for getting lynched.
    i guess finally it’s a question of courage and strength of character.
    searched around and found this –
    “In fact, all competitive practices are steeped in moral ambivalence. Winning a contest has little to do with moral achievement and this is fine when it comes to sports. Sporting events should be amoral; this is part of their attraction. The problem is that competition has become the hallmark of too many aspects of modern culture, and transplanting the competitive ethos of games and sports into the social and political realm can be a disaster.”

  47. I share your concerns – the more fundamentalist religion becomes, the more repressed we will become as a society.

  48. Hi Nicola,
    and maybe vice-versa. the disenfranchised and the repressed find refuge in a belief set to the exclusion of others which leads to fundamentalism.

  49. Dananjay —
    Your TinyURL link provides this as its base URL:
    Not much research there or scholarly citations. That site is more personal and colloquial and opinion-steeped than fact-centered.
    I think the problem is there is no morality in winning. Winning at any cost is more important than winning the right way.

  50. Danajay – you a very valid point there although I am not sure it holds true in the UK as much as it does in the rest of the world. I think in the UK – crime is the new religion.

  51. David,
    maybe a problem with the special characters in the url i entered. try this –
    there are no citations, but i think the person makes an interesting point.
    but when we say there’s no right/wrong, doesn’t it lead to the problem you mention? and this is what i found interesting in the article that it presents the case for amorality only in certain spheres.

  52. Dananjay —
    If you “back up” that TinyURL after it loads one level you get the homepage I provided that includes this disclaimer:

    In this homepage we’ll attempt to set the tone for this ‘remedy’ website which will present a few offerings for your enjoyment. A different path of ‘treatment’ – words and images. We are not authorities in any sense other than having had some experience and limited success in the challenges of existence. We are two humble Questers who wonder at the mysteries of Being, Consciousness and Joy – who marvel at the beauty of the natural world, and at the productions of the human mind – the art and the printed word and the introspective, meditative pathways and oases of the creative heart. Accompany us in our quest for truth – the search for words and images that will enhance human energy and completion.

    That’s the real “home page host” for the article you provided.

  53. And predictable, it’s always the same formula (as you described above David). I’m surprised some people are even still scared when it’s always so obvious what’s coming next. x)

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