Film theories are like old iPod shuffles; everybody has them, and nobody has a use for them. But I'm still about to force one down your throat (a film theory, not an old iPod shuffle, although hey, there's a use for one). This is partially because I've written a new sci-fi horror novel that's all about punk rockers, acid monsters, and the hidden code that governs the universe, and I'm pretty sure that the marketing people will flay me if I don't do this. But also because this particular theory pertains to two things that are very near and dear to me: horror movies and your genitalia. Allow me to explain ...
5The Most Important Attribute Of A Horror Protagonist Is Their Innocence
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The vast majority of horror protagonists are female, virtuous, and maybe a bit naive. There's Jamie Lee Curtis from Halloween, Ashley Laurence from Hellraiser, and Heather Langenkamp from the Nightmare on Elm Street series. Rosemary had herself a baby and Texas had themselves a chainsaw massacre (featuring Marilyn Burns). The two best horror parodies, Scream and The Cabin In The Woods, both had female protagonists. There's a reason for it: All of those attributes -- femininity, virtue, naivete -- are basically just stand-ins for innocence. Because at its heart, horror is all about the loss of innocence, about finally knowing and understanding something awful. Occasionally, we'll just skip all the metaphors and have the protagonist be a literal child, because symbolism is hard.
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"TWIST! My career's been dead the whooole tiiiime!"
The heroine comes into the scenario innocent -- they never believe what's happening at the start of the movie -- but as nubile teens and skeptical black men are hacked to pieces and the story progresses, the heroine slowly comes to understand and accept the situation. She usually learns how to exploit the rules, and in the process beat, or at least escape from, the monster. Long story short: She starts out innocent, but loses it by the end.
From that last sentence alone, you probably already see where this is going. Dang, I already blew my wad. Hey, speaking of ...
4Horror And Sex Are Tied Together For A Reason
It's practically mandatory that a horror flick has at least one scene where the heroine runs around in their panties. So it's a good thing we've established a reason for horror protagonists to be female -- it's far less jarring when Jennifer Lawrence dances around in a nice pair of panties instead of, say, Jeff Goldblum.
Yes ... j-jarring. That's the word for it ...
Most times, the obligatory panty shot is more clumsily inserted than a junior after prom, but sometimes there's a good excuse for it. In Alien, Ripley strips down to her panties for the climax because she's about to go into stasis. But you can't hyper-sleep in pajama bottoms? Does fleece throw off the chrono-chambers or something? No, that shot, like all horror flick panty shots, is about two things: showing Sigourney Weaver looking awesome in space-underoos, and making an otherwise tough character seem vulnerable.
Cabin In The Woods parodied the trope by kicking it right off with their Kristen Connolly dancing around in panties. In the American remake of The Ring, Naomi Watts finds that pants restrict her journalistic sensibilities, so off they go. In the remake of The Fog, there's ominous banging on the door, and since it's a chilly Pacific Northwest beach night, our heroine does the sensible thing and puts on a warm sweater before stepping outside ...
Just plain forgets the pants, though.
"What's that? Cold? Haha, How could I be cold? I have a sweater."
We famously won't shut up about how Alien was chock full of dick symbols and chest rape, and Hellraiser's demons were literal sex beasts. More recently, there was It Follows, which is important because it's a fucking amazing movie, but also because it is a pure, stripped down example of the genre. In the film (spoiler), the horror comes directly from the sex -- the curse is literally transmitted like an STD. And yet Hollywood says my screenplay about a haunted case of crabs, Crustacean Invasion, is in poor taste ...
Why is sex so closely tied to horror? Because sex is a nerve-wracking time; a period of vulnerability where we're without protective clothing, distracted, and -- unless we're Clive Owen (NSFW) or Nicolas Cage (NSFL) -- we can't fight back if something attacks us. We're scared of sex, scared during sex, and scared of not having sex. Horror movies, like pimps and advertisers, are more than happy to exploit sex for their own twisted purposes.