“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” -Margaret Atwood
By the end of 1981 a disturbing movement had fully inundated the movie business. Hundreds of films released in theaters over the course of a few years all fundamentally sharing the same element which was played out over and over and over again. A man brutally seething, hating, stalking, controlling, tying up, cutting up, stabbing, strangling, torturing, burning alive and raping a young woman. Every Friday there was another one being unleashed in movie theaters across the country. With Titles like The Boogeyman. Maniac. Demented. Schizoid. When A Stranger Calls. Don’t Answer the Phone. Friday the 13th. Prom Night. Don’t Go In The House. The Howling. Terror Train. I Spit On Your Grave. Motel Hell. He Knows You’re Alone. Silent Scream. Phobia. Mother’s Day. Every single one was released between 1980 and 1981 and every single one of them depicted young women primarily in the same way. A powerless victim all alone and in despondent terror as her killer sadistically taunts her before he violently attacks. The arrival of so many of these kinds of movies wasn’t a coincidence, and these films weren’t made in the spirit of just good fun and harmless escapism. Something more sinister was afloat. The endless stream of these type of movies coming out week after week was not simply gradual progression of the current state of the movie business. These films weren’t created in the same spirit of the success of classic horror movies like Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween or even The Exorcist. Those films were the gold standard of horror and while women were the victims within them. Most notably Janet Leigh being stabbed to death in the shower by Norman Bates. Two decades later her daughter Jamie Lee Curtis becoming the heroine of horror especially being stalked by Michael Meyers in the Halloween franchise. These films depicted violence toward women, and they were pure pop cinema, but they were also made by serious-minded and significant artists. They were films created in the same dutiful spirit of the world cinema and demonstrated a healthy amount of reverence for the audience to witness them. They respected the art form. They respected the unspoken rules. They respected the standards. They respected and revered the films that came before them. They respected the audience, and their lead female characters who were given much more to do that just get chopped up. Those characters were three dimensional, they were given a life not just having one taken away. These films were low bargain knock offs. Cheap quick buck Filmmakers taking one element from Horror movies and exploiting it over and over and over again. And unlike classic horror these movies were always projected from the viewpoint of the killer. Allowing men to put themselves in the place of a blood thirsty perpetrator instead of the technique used by Psycho creator Alfred Hitchcock and Halloween creator John Carpenter to if not tastefully at least thoughtfully and artfully let the audience slip their feet into the shoes of their female characters and allow the audience to sympathize with the victim. These abuse movies permitted men to now identify with the murder and enjoy all of his murdering. The many quality horror movies that were also coming out throughout this specific trend at the time is unfortunately exactly what allowed these freakishly revolting hate porn movies being pumped out by fast buck sleaze brokers to be able to mix in with the crowd and get by even some of the shrewder studio executives and audiences who should have known better. Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”, Tobe Hooper’s “The Funhouse”, Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead”, John Carpenter’s “The Fog” among others contributed to the horror genre being a respectable and creative art form. These new movies were not just horror movies but mean spirted in both their content and in the sordid methods utilized to make them. They were hateful, spiteful, slasher snuff films. Women being carded out and carve dup like sacrificial lambs to satisfy the rage of angry men was more than a little disconcerting. The women in these films were almost always isolated, alone, and defenseless with their crime being liberated and making decisions for themselves. The men cheering these killers on while sitting in the audience was as disturbing if not more so than the movie makers possibly even intended. As the women in the films were often depicted as independent, single women with sex drives and enjoying life, and the killer was typically a man who is sexually frustrated with this new kind of aggressive independent women, he has no idea what to do with them. He can’t relate to them. He can’t accept them. So, he lashes out. He throws knives. He assaults them with violence. In many of these movies the mother of the killer is even blamed for their son hating and wanting to kill and rape young women. To the men making and watching these movies the women ceremoniously had to pay for these crimes with their lives. Act sexual and die. Wear scantily clad clothing and die. Until it was eventually, be a woman of any kind and die. The question as to why this trend took place in the time that it did might seem complicated until you examine the makeup of the social landscape of the times. Horror movies had been around since the beginning of filmmaking and never before implored this kind of disposition and isolated trajectory. So why did it happen when it did? The biggest jumps in this excessive content that was laser focused in on violence toward women happened around 1975 peaking in 1981. The trip from plain horror to pure hatred was complete and it was open season against women in the movies. This was all of course a symptom of the response attack by men who were opposing the growing women’s movement happening in America. The Women’s rights movement or women’s liberation movement was a diverse social movement, largely based in the United States in the 1960’s and 1970’s and off of the back of the civil rights movement which sought equal rights and opportunities and greater personal freedom for women. Identified as part of the “second wave” of feminism. The women’s movement at this time was most successful in pushing for gender equality in workplaces and universities. These movies coincided with the new feminist movement and as watermarks were reached withing the movement new lows in female torture movies were also achieved. You could set your watch to the leaps and bounds women were making in the country along with the flood of the violent imagery of women being killed and tortured in the movies. These movies were sweeping in to help raging men attempt to drag women backwards if not literally then at least symbolically. The passage of Title IX in 1972 forbade sex discrimination in any educational program that received federal financial assistance hence we get a movie about a crazed male killer raiding a female dormitory and slicing up scantily clad coeds. The Title IX amendment had a dramatic effect on leveling the playing field with men in girl’s athletics and the men in these movies were increasingly using women as sport. On August 26, 1970, the 50th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote was celebrated as women went on “strike” in cities across the United States. Organized by the National Organization for Women whose leadership said the purpose of the rallies was “the unfinished business of equality.” So, we get men in the movies chasing women through the streets to knock them off. The United Nations declared 1975 International Women’s Year and organized the first World Conference on Women, held in Mexico City. Susan Brownmiller’s iconic and landmark book “Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape” was published as the number of rapes and attempted rapes in these types of films hit the roof. The Supreme Court ruled in Taylor v. Louisiana that it was unconstitutional to deny women jury service. Women were being able to decide things for themselves and for men in the country the only thing they wanted women to decide was whether they preferred to be killed by a knife or by a gun. American men were sitting back watching life changing and country altering events unfold and many of them wanted to lash out. One of the avenues that allowed them to do it was a calculated barrage of movies laden with ultra-violence and hatred loaded like a rocket and aimed toward these new independent women who had now become competition and a thorn in the side of the men who couldn’t deal with it. Discounted quick buck filmmakers took advantage as most of these movies were made on shoestring budgets within a couple of weeks and without permits and Hollywood executive sleaze merchants communally picked up on the menacing rage men were emoting through the country toward women at the time while all observing the women’s movement materialize and decided to partner with these slimeball directors and pander to male hatreds as well as inflame female detestation and profit off of it by buying these movies and distributing them to wide audiences. These movies were functioning as a not-so-subtle threat to women to stay in their place. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t leave the house. Don’t do anything. This was a fuming reaction by a lot of frustrated and detestable men who were feeling the same anger and wrath themselves as they sat in the dark theater eagerly awaiting the experience to satisfy their vicious hostility on images and sounds of inaccessible, unaccompanied, and unprotected young women being violently attacked, tortured, and murdered. While that doesn’t sound like such a dangerous thing to some because good horror movies can be healthy even therapeutic, but these movies were aimed at pleasing vicarious sex criminals and their fantasies. These movies put bad ideas in already warped and odious minds which were condemning the women’s movement. They weren’t outlets for hate and rage they were prompts to fire them off. This trend was also damaging to film and to the identity of women in film, art and in society. The lasting image of a woman in peril and then being mutilated was the entire building block of a whole genre of film and that was all there was to it was that image. Imagine if the movie Psycho was just the shower murder scene over and over. The dominant mental image not just of women in cinema but in cinema itself was of a woman shrinking in her place, being silenced as a knife was being wielded at her and then her being cut to pieces and being raped simply for wanting all the freedom that men enjoy. If men do fun stuff like hitchhiking or driving across country and enjoying good male company and sexual freedoms in the movies it’s always celebrated, ethereal and even portrayed and conveyed as a sacred and a necessary rite of passage. If a woman, does it, she gets hacked to pieces. There were men killed in these films as well, but they were afterthoughts within the grand scope. Unrequired but acknowledged collateral damage as one of the goals of directors was to boost up the blood and gore and the body count as much as possible no matter who got it. What happens often with white male hatred manifesting itself in one way or another in society is that the initial target of the hatred and violence is often not the only eventual target as they begin to hurt others close to them and even themselves with this hateful and destructive behavior. Horror movies reflected this outcome as they continued in Hollywood but women being used as sport and to be degraded being sold off as good family entertainment had its consequences as it began to translate down to children and eventually just anybody. So, in a sense the entire process was corrupted and even corrupted itself as it began to burn itself out while turning in on itself. No longer as profitable as women became the dominate demographic for corporate America to target for their money and they weren’t going to be willing to pay money just to watch themselves on screen being used as helpless targets and screaming knife holders. As the women’s movement marched on for progress and gained victories it affected the movies as much as it did any other business in America. If any audience members and film fans are happier with the higher quality of films to follow the 1980’s and more equality and in-depth social content within film. Happier with the stronger diversity and representation within film and the movie business itself. They can thank the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement and the women’s movement. They all had their time of being exploited and abused by Hollywood and they all had their time to rise up. At the end of the movie Don’t Answer The Phone one of these abused women looks at her attacker and says, “Adios creep”. The consensus seems like women have mutually and representatively expressed that very sentiment to a world of men who want to hurt them, control them, and make more money than them while doing it. Today Hollywood more than ever has to continue to factor in women’s humanity, feelings, thoughts, and ideas partially because more of them work in the business which now has to be wary and sensitive of the images put up on screen for everyone to see in a society that is still infested with angry men wanting to lash out at them with violence.