Horror Film and Gender Roles a Formal Research Paper

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Horror Film And Gender Roles

A Formal Analysis of Gender Roles in John Carpenter's Halloween and Guillermo del Toro's Mimic

According to Katherine Bennhold (2009), the Women's Movement of mid to late twentieth century America opened the world of science to women, so much so that they currently earn 42% of all science degrees around the world. Therefore, it is no surprise to find that Guillermo del Toro's 1997 horror film Mimic has a female scientist (an entomologist) as its heroine. Unlike the archetypal horror film, John Carpenter's 1978 Halloween, starring a young Jamie Lee Curtis in a more traditionally feminine role -- babysitter, Mimic's heroine takes the horror genre gender role in a new direction. Interestingly, the heroine of the monster-bug film begins the film as a young professional, who, like Shelley's Frankenstein, has created a monster; the female unwittingly takes on the role of the male scientist from the Romantic/Enlightenment horror novel; and in doing so, must track down the bugs and kill them. Unlike, Curtis' character Laurie Strode, Mira Sorvino's Susan Tyler is not the helpless innocent victim who has to flee danger just long enough to be saved by a masculine authority. Tyler leads an expedition into the subway tunnels to destroy the danger. Yet, one similarity the two female characters display is that they both, ultimately, are responsible for the life of a child. Both gender roles confirm a maternal imperative that in other horror films, such as Species, is viewed as alien and deadly. This paper will show how both Halloween and Mimic use visual and narrative horror genre conventions to communicate both conformity to and departure from dominant codes of gender.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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A Structuralist Approach to Horror

TOPIC: Research Paper on Horror Film and Gender Roles a Formal Assignment

Guillermo del Toro's Mimic effectually blends genres just as it blends gender roles. The opening mise-en-scene reveals a desolate city, recoiling from a collapse of industry. Soft white snow covers every shot, like a pall, resembling a kind of film noir aesthetic, where good and evil are as tangled together as light and shadow. The images of empty buildings and gated lots convey a stark reminder of death -- which is at the heart of all horror films. Del Toro's Mimic begins by paying homage to two genres (noir and horror), the latter of which it will have tried to reinvent by the end of the film.

Carpenter's Halloween also establishes itself in the horror genre. In fact, Halloween essentially reinvented the horror genre in the late 70s. Halloween

brought together the essential elements of obsession, madness, immortality (previous slashers could be killed), one-by-one teenage victims, hints of the mythic and supernatural (the killer, who is compared to the boogeyman, is fueled, at least in part, by the energy and folklore of Halloween…), the butcher knife, the mask, the unspeaking killer, the resourceful female survivor, and sex (that is, sex scenes that are associated with bloody death) (Mast, 2006, p. 628).

Halloween, in fact, spawned a litany of horror classics, from the Friday the 13th franchise to a Nightmare on Elm Street; in which characters of the former are massacred for possessing libidos that are freed from authoritative restraint, and characters of the latter are forced to "stay awake" or else be slaughtered by a pestilence in their dreams. Halloween's gift to gender roles in the horror genre is the lone survivor, whose resourcefulness is coupled with a genuine goodness of character -- a moral uprightness in the face of pre-marital sex. The fact that Curtis' Laurie Strode does take a hit from a marijuana joint presages her later trial; perhaps since her flirtation with drugs does not lead to sexual behavior, she is spared her life at the end.

Del Toro's Mimic is equally adept at maintaining its horror genre footing by giving the giant menacing bugs a mythical characterization. Again, it is a mythical characterization that identifies itself with childhood -- just as Halloween is a season that centers on children. The child in the case of Mimic is a boy who explains the appearance of the giant bugs to the adults through a mythical association. It is the adult's first clue -- in this case, Sorvino's female scientist Tyler -- and ultimate initiation into the underground world of horror. Through the mythical associations in both films, the heroines are introduced to the danger by way of a child's observations. What stands Mimic apart is that Tyler will abandon her modern, sexless scientific role for the more traditional gender-oriented role of mother, protectress, and self-sacrificer. As E. Michael Jones (1997) notes:

Like Species, Mimic follows in the tradition of Them! But it is different on both counts. To begin with, there is no army anymore waiting outside the tunnels ready to save the people from the giant bugs. Beyond that, there isn't even a scientific plan to deal with the bugs. The female entomologist who created the bugs by mixing DNA spends a lot of time wandering around the subway station, but doesn't really have a plan. In fact no one does, which leads one to believe that there is no plan anymore.

What Mimic does go on to do is convert the gender identity of Tyler from childless scientist, whose sole creation to date has been a horrific mutating, man-eating bug, to a child-rearing, rosary-wielding mother-figure. In a sense, her admission into the world of mythology through the boy's description of the horror she herself has created moves her by the end of the film to embrace another cultural myth whose emblem is typified by the rosary beads, and whose hero is the sacrificed Christ. Del Toro not only blends genres, he also blends gender roles and mythological traditions.

Apparatus Theory and Psychoanalytic Theory

If apparatus theory maintains that film derives its ideology from the culture of the viewers, horror film is especially adept at revealing the dominant gender codes of the past several decades. Yet, as Stephen Jay Schneider (2004) notes, analyses often differ, and none are combated more than those offered by psychoanalytic theorists:

Especially since the late 1970s, there has been a tremendous diversity of psychoanalytic approaches to the horror film. These approaches differ, and often conflict, in substantial ways. But the objections levied in recent years by analytic philosophers, film aestheticians, sociologists and cultural theorists, cognitive and feminist film theorists, and empirical psychologists…constitute a far more serious threat, or challenge, to psychoanalytical horror film theory.

Schneider continues, stating that "horror film monsters are typically defined as male, with women as their primary victims." Such a statement certainly applies to Carpenter's Halloween. And to a certain extent it fits Mimic as well. The giant cockroaches, for example, blend into society by imitating, or mimicking, adult males in trench coats. Why such a theory helps explain the general horror genre paradigm may have something to do with the spate of horror film that came out of the late 70s and 80s.

The dominating ideology of the sexual revolution of the 60s and the Women's Movement of the 70s, whose leaders, like Betty Friedan, expounded the Feminist cause, contraception, and legalization of abortion, found relief in the horror genre of American cinema. Sexually transmitted diseases, legalized abortions, the rise in the divorce rate, and women in the workforce, all contributed to a redefining of gender norms and imperatives.

How such norms are reflected in Halloween and Mimic is what theorists cannot agree upon. And while Schneider argues for a more psychoanalytic approach, Jones takes a line out of apparatus theory: "Horror is a sign of ambivalence. it's so bad, people like Mary Shelley seem to tell us through her fictions, I can't talk about it, but then she turns around and says the exact opposite too. it's so bad, I can't not talk about it either. Hence, the monster, who in many ways does the talking about the unspeakable for her (2004)."

Jones asserts that just as Shelley repudiated Enlightenment doctrine through her novel Frankenstein, modern horror films do the same, either subconsciously, or -- as in the case of Mimic -- consciously.

According to Jones, Halloween would be an example of subconscious repudiation of Enlightenment doctrine -- and for that matter the feminist social doctrine of the 1970s. By casting the heroine, not as the sexually active, independent woman type but as the chaste, innocent, strong and grounded girl, whose morals reflect traditional gender mores, such as domesticity for women, authority for men, Halloween suggests that gender equality may not mean exactly what people like Friedan say.

However, a psychoanalytic interpretation might easily render a different analysis, such as: the male threat of patristic society is embodied in the abnormal, psycho killer Michael, whose soul desire is to curb the sexual desires of teenagers and chase the other women, such as Laurie (who have not yet fully abandoned "the nest," but may be on the verge of doing so) back into the house and up the stairs to check on and rear the children.

Jones makes no mention of Halloween but he… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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