Horror movies’ obsession with torturing women

Illustration by Monique Rojas | The Signal

Horror movies are a staple in any movie lover’s diet. With a pandemic raging across the world, movies are one of the few safe ways that lovers of the spooky and mysterious can stay connected to the genre. 

While consuming an above-average amount of horror-related content this season, one thing stands out: The horror genre loves to torture women psychologically, physically and emotionally, especially relative to their male counterparts. 

While the fear this torture elicits is supposed to be rooted in fun, it occasionally mirrors the genuine violence women face every day and sends male audiences the message that such suffering is acceptable. 

Women already live in fear of male violence daily, so to see it in high definition during a movie can be uncomfortable. Horror movies have always been used as a form of escapism, to leave the real world behind. For women, a genuine part of our world can be victims of violence, such as kidnapping, rape or murder.

Movies such as “I Spit on Your Grave,” where the protagonist is attacked and raped by a group of men in her own home, might seem absurd and beyond male audiences’ reach. For a woman, it’s just her worst nightmare come to life on the big screen.

Xavier Frith, a junior at Georgia State, had a different outlook on the claim that a viewer may label such movies as “torture porn” for male audiences. He says he tries not to use that label but “couldn’t deny that … the hell horror heroines go through sparks joy, whether it’s rooting for their comeuppance or escape.” Gender can affect our perception of violence. 

In many movies where a killer murders a couple, the boyfriend is usually the first to go. Often by blunt force trauma to the head or something instant, the killer gets him out of the way so they may be left with their real target: the girlfriend.

Tobe Hooper’s 1974 classic, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” is a prime example of this. The protagonist, Sally, is tied up and forced to endure the company of murderous outcasts after the brutal murder of her boyfriend and friends. Her boyfriend got a swift whack to the head while she received hours of psychological torture. 

Some websites offer a list of trigger warnings, ranging from sexual assault to generally emotional scenes. These websites can be life-saving for women. Although people’s triggers and comfort levels are not anyone’s responsibility but their own, we must ask why a director wants to create a narrative that closely resembles a real evil. Male directors dominate the genre and need to be held accountable for their movies’ message about violence towards women, without shrugging it off as creative fun. 

Directors and production teams are marinating in female torture and undoubtedly enjoying it. Movie lovers and the industry need to step back and reevaluate the direction in which horror films are going. With so many other creative options, we have to ask ourselves: Why do we love torturing women?