I wish this NYTimes article, “Girls Gone Gory,” had some hard numbers about how much female audience is driving horror movies. Instead, it reads mostly as Diablo Cody promotion. (Who is her publicist? She gets the best press!)
And yet recent box office receipts show that women have an even bigger appetite for these films than men. Theories straining to address this particular head scratcher have their work cut out for them: Are female fans of “Saw” ironists? Masochists? Or just dying to get closer to their dates?
“Jennifer’s Body” (out on Sept. 18), a high school retro-horror romp — written by Diablo Cody, directed by Karyn Kusama (“Girlfight”) and starring Megan Fox as a satanically possessed sex bomb who literally feeds on boys — offers another, more reassuring explanation for the draw: Audiences love a woman who can take back the knife.
Ms. Cody, 31, whose Academy Award-winning screenplay for “Juno” featured a distinctive female voice, said she gravitated toward horror as a girl because she could see herself represented on screen. “When I watched movies like ‘The Goonies’ and ‘E.T.,’ it was boys having adventures,” she said. “When I watched ‘Nightmare on Elm Street,’ it was Nancy beating” up Freddy. “It was that simple.”
This basic appeal for female viewers was given a sophisticated reading by the film theorist Carol J. Clover in “Men, Women and Chain Saws” (1992), in which she refers to a lone young woman who either escapes or overthrows a killer as the “final girl.” More comfortable watching a woman in peril than a man, young, male audiences — initially slasher movies’ core viewers — get the best of both worlds, identifying first with the predator and then with the would-be prey. That women also identify with the scrappy heroine is something of a happy accident.
It is really true that women enjoy watching 9/10 of the women in a movie be gruesomely tortured and 1/10 strike back against the torturer? And is it a “happy accident” that women would identify with a “scrappy heroine”? That seems natural to me.
I think A) Horror is a safe date movie. It guarantees an excuse to grab your date. B) Horror movies are often quite conventional in their morality. It is no accident that the kids who have premarital sex are often the first victims.
Neither of these reasons would explain a larger-than-even appeal to female audiences. If more women are seeing these movies that means either 1) they are going alone (unlikely); 2) they are going in a group as a ‘girls night out’, or; 3) horror movies are popular among lesbian couples; or some combination of the three.
Without any demographic data, all I can offer is speculation. My best guess is option 2 is what is skewing the numbers, which means that groups of women are going to these movies. Could it be that these women not only identify with the plucky heroine, but also identify their friends, enemies and frienemies with the female torture victims (and perhaps bad ex-boyfriends with the male torture victims). Could it be that women also are able to identify with the killer?