Gender in the Slasher Film

In the spring of my sophomore year, I took a Horror Film course that has inspired the work of my senior thesis project. I will be exploring the infamous subgenre of horror films known as the slasher film. I am interested in focusing my work on the ways in which gender is portrayed within slasher films. More specifically, I want to consider the influence a surrounding political environment has on the creation of the slasher film. There is an immense amount of readings and research already out there regarding gender and the slasher film, so, my hope is to complicate and challenge the pre-existing ideas. Specifically, I will be relying on Carol Clover’s work on the Final Girl. My primary films will help identify the importance of analyzing gender and its contribution to the art of the slasher film. I will examine the roles of both male and female characters and the ways in which they help define each other. I will analyze sexuality, weapons, and dialogue along with how fear is created through camera and character positioning. In my research thus far, I have been able to determine a disjunction between original readings of gender and current understandings and interpretations. I have acknowledged there is room for conversation about the external influences on the progression of the slasher film.

The first primary film I am interested in is Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This film belongs in the “Golden Age” of slasher films. Released in 1974, director Tobe Hooper creates a film that evokes fear and sparks conversation. The film opens with the vandalization of Sally and Franklin’s grandfather’s grave. The siblings gather together a few friends and make a trip to investigate the grave. However, the group decides to take a detour to visit the old family farmhouse. Shortly after arriving Pam, Sally’s girlfriend, and her boyfriend venture off. The flirtatious and promiscuous couple stumble upon a neighboring farmhouse where they meet their doom. Inside resides a family of crazed murderous outcasts including Leatherface, the films psychologically ill killer. Sally and her boyfriend are quickly and gruesomely killed. When they do not arrive back to the farmhouse by nightfall, Sally and Franklin become worried and decide to search for them. It is important to note Franklin is disabled and Sally must push him in his wheelchair as they look for the others. Not long into the search, Leatherface meets Sally and Franklin in the woods. Sally is able to get away as Leatherface uses his chainsaw to kill Franklin. The rest of the film follows Sally, the Final Girl, on a fight for her life. One of the most infamous slasher film scenes is of Sally sitting at the dinner table with the murderous family after being captured. The camera works to demonstration fear and chaos. Luckily, Sally is able to escape in the final scene leaving Leatherface and his chainsaw behind.

This film is filled with many interesting tropes including gender. A few of the particularly interesting aspects regarding gender in this film are sexual activity, phallic weapons, and the masked killer. These themes are necessities to the slasher film, however, was makes them singularly intriguing is the simplicity. After doing surface level research about the Final Girl and the slasher film, the trope is seemingly obvious in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. What complicates the narrative is the idea of the disabled body. I am curious how Franklin complicates or completes the feminine and masculine attributes in the slasher film. I think it would be important to research the significance of the body and the way bodies identify masculinity and femininity. As stated, it is obvious Sally is the Final Girl and Leatherface is the killer, but what does Franklin’s role contribute to the story? I would like to research outside influences that may relate to the importance of the disabled body during the 1970s. I also would like to look into the significance of the absent mother figure in the murderous family and how this plays into the feminine and masculine roles the characters play.

The problem I am facing with this film is if I spend too much time focusing on the disabled body and missing mother I will be researching more psychological influences rather than political. At this point in my research, I can not determine if this would enhance my field of interest or confuse my interests. Another factor to include is that I am spent the majority of the Horror Film class analyzing Texas Chainsaw Massacre and I do not want to bore myself or repeat myself.

The second primary source I am interested in is John Carpenter’s Halloween. Released in 1978, this film also contributes to the “Golden Age” of the slasher film. Almost everyone knows the story of Michael Myers, but I will refresh you. As a little boy Michael Myers murders his sister and is taken away to a mental institution. Almost two decades later, Michael Myers escapes and heads back to his hometown on Halloween. His mission is to hunt down Laurie and kill her. On this night Laurie and her friend Annie are babysitting across the street from one another. It becomes clear to the audience Annie is the less responsible character who is consumed by sexual thoughts. Laurie agrees to let Annie go see her boyfriend while she watches both the children. Yet, before Annie leaves the driveway she is murdered with a  knife by Michael Myers. Laurie thus becomes the Final Girl. The film follows Michael Myer’s psychologist on a hunt for his patient while Laurie fights for her life. In the final scenes, Laurie is seen struggling to fight against Michael Myer’s knife before the psychologist comes to her rescue. While both the characters believe they defeated and killed Michael Myers, the last scene shows his body missing from where he has fallen out the window.

This film was so influential to the slasher subgenre that many remakes and sequels have been done since its original. What I find so interesting about the 1978 version are the phallic symbols, the Final Girl, and the sexual references. Similar to my interests in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, gender is understood through these themes and are crucial to the understanding of a slasher film. Specifically, the Final Girl in this film represents a transition of power. I am interested in looking at how masculinity can be taken from the killer giving power to the Final Girl. I want to research how power is determined through masculinity. I then want to look at the sequels and compare the role of each Final Girl. I am particularly interested in looking at the gaps between the 1978 film and the newly released 2018 Halloween. This is where I see myself using political influence to analyze how the Final Girl has been redefined.

However, this research comes problems. I am struggling to decide if using three different versions of Halloween is this too much of a task considering it is basically three primary sources. Will I have the time to properly give detailed close readings on each of the films? I am also concerned that I will struggle with incorporating the correct political sources and information. In my research thus far I have only come across the idea of using political influence in reading the slasher film. Therefore, my research will be newer and I want to make sure I have the right tools and knowledge to do so.

At this point, I was pretty set on using Halloween as my primary text. However, after thinking more about Texas Chainsaw Massacre there is plenty of room for conversation there. The main concern I have using this film as my primary would be that there is nothing groundbreaking about my research and rather just a repetition of the work already done. On the other hand, using Halloween as my primary source seems to be a bigger task. While I am up for the challenge I want to make sure this is possible. I want to make sure I have enough time to create a comprehensible argument.

Works Cited

Carpenter, John, director. Halloween. Compass International Pictures, 1978.

Hooper, Tobe, director. Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Vortex, 1974.

3 thoughts on “Gender in the Slasher Film

  1. I remember taking the horror film class you talked about and loving it, so it’s really cool to me that you’re using what we learned as inspiration for your Thesis! I think noting the Final Girl’s presence in Texas Chainsaw and Halloween are particularly important, as these films are so foundational in this figure’s prevalence within the greater history and trajectory of the horror genre. I understand your concern of simply retelling what has already been written about when it comes to the Final Girl (especially, from what I remember, it might appear that Clover has already said all that needs to be said on this) HOWEVER, I think your emerging focus on Sally’s disabled brother in Texas Chainsaw can actually lead you towards a compelling and original frame for understanding the Final Girl. I feel like your research might potentially benefit from looking further into disability studies (and perhaps body studies), and maybe looking into how Franklin’s disabled body actually masculinizes (aka ‘strengthens’) his sister’s female, able body in comparison? Like, what structures are the film manipulating when it puts the male disabled body alongside the female able body in a horror setting? Additionally- you write that you’re concerned focusing on the disabled could make you stray from your focus on political influences, however, I think the argument can certainly be made that the disabled body is (rather unfortunately) political given the fact that its presence ultimately disrupts able-bodied sociopolitical standards and spaces. These are only suggestions, but I hope they are helpful for you!

  2. I find it interesting how you’re focusing on more subtle aspects of these slasher films, such as the role of Frank in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and how political influence has affected the “Halloween” movie series. I also think it’s great that you’re analyzing key components of these films that may not be so obvious to most audiences such as the symbolism of gender and sexuality. I’m curious to see how you plan on incorporating the film studies related concepts that you mentioned (camera and character positioning) into the greater argument of your thesis. You talk about how the camera is used to skillfully capture the emotions of Sally at the dinner table in “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” How are you going to use the field of film studies to contribute to your thesis? As someone who has never taken a film course, I would like to see you elaborate on the significance of filming techniques in addition to storytelling.

  3. I find it interesting that you chose to look at gender in the slasher film for your thesis, and how other outside influences can affect the development of slasher films over time. I understand your concerns about spending too much time focusing more on the psychoanalytical aspect of the film as well. I would suggest looking at key events or issues that took place during the production of the film. This might help you develop more of an understanding of the political aspect of the film, taking a break from the psychological side.

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