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October Frights - Day two - Slut shaming and the serial killer


TW: discussions of rape, misogyny and murder.


There is a time-honoured tradition in horror that youngsters who have sex will be the first to die and the last person standing will be the virginal, pure, teen. Mario Bava’s 1971 film Antefatto is cited as the first to use the “have sex and die” cycle. It seems appropriate that Italy with its Catholic guilt should be the home of slut-shaming and the serial killer.


This idea that sex equals death has a long history in Western culture. The French call the orgasm “le petit mort” or little death. Horror films explore our fears and it is natural that it should reflect our fear of sex as well. Victorian vampires were regarded as an allegory for sexually transmitted diseases. The sexually prolific were regarded as unclean, diseased and by extension sex became unclean in the popular imagination.


Teenage boys as well as girls are killed for having sex. However, horror reflects the attitudes of our society, and it is the women who are shown as temptresses or harlots, who twist the minds of boys and men towards sexual thoughts, just as Eve was blamed for tempting Adam.

Female characters are often portrayed as sexual beings first, people second (if at all). Male characters are the heroes or the villains, and if their sexuality is discussed, it is in terms of the female character(s); whether it be repulsion, lust or a combination of the two. It tends to be the woman’s death that is sensuously, almost lovingly shown, as in Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013) when Nikki seduces Heather’s boyfriend in a barn. She begs him to have sex with her then she is punished in classic Horror Movie style, being brutally slaughtered on camera, whereas the boyfriend’s death takes place off screen.


In Se7en (1995), a sex worker is found dead in a room with LUST written on the door. Also found in the room is a visibly shaken man forced by Doe at gunpoint to wear and use a strap-on dildo with a blade attachment; to rape and kill the woman.


And here’s the rub. A female victim does not have to partake in the sex act to be killed for her sexuality. She need only make the male killer want to have sex with her and feel guilty for that desire. In horror there is often a close relationship between the killer’s hatred of women and his relationship with his mother. His mother has made him ashamed of who he is and what he desires. To punish his mother, he punishes all women.


In Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), Henry’s first victim was his mother who, when he was a child, used to make him watch her have sex with men. He continues to kill after her death, replaying his frustration and shame while transferring the blame to other women. The Deep Red Horror Handbook describes one such scene. “A woman is seated on a toilet, arms and legs spread and bound, underwear in violent disarray, with a jagged soft-drink bottle crammed halfway down her throat.”


In the more mainstream, Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), Norman Bates as his assumed identity of mother explains “her” son’s pathological jealousy. He killed her and her lover with strychnine, framing mother for the murder/suicide. Feeling guilty, he stole her body from its coffin and assumed her identity. In both Psycho and Psycho II (1983), mother is critical of the women Bates finds attractive. It is his projection of her disapproval which drives him to kill.

In Don’t Go in the House (1979), Donald Kohler, who as a child was punished and disciplined by his sadistic mother, hangs his female victims in a bespoke steel-plated room and burns them alive with a flame-thrower.

And in Maniac (2012), Frank kills women because he feels his mother was more attentive towards sexual partners than her son.


Sydney, the female hero in Scream (1996), is discussed in a bathroom scene between two cheerleaders. “Maybe she’s a slut, just like her mother.” Sydney’s mother’s affair with the father of one of the two serial killers is considered the motive for the brutal murders. Scream goes on to point out with humour the “have sex and die” cycle when Randy discusses the rules of survival. “There are certain RULES that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie. For instance, number one: you can never have sex.”


Feminist Horror Theory argues that “during the 1970s and 80s the motivation for the crazed psycho killer was the negative feelings that he associated with a relationship with a woman. This woman was most commonly his mother, sister or a romantic interest that has rejected him. This can be seen in films such as Psycho (1960), who has some serious issues with his mother, or Halloween (1978), in which the killer is incited by his sister’s neglect. Thus, the female (the individual and the gender as a whole) is blamed for his rage, as well as the victim(s) of that rage […] and is punished throughout the film for its creation. She is also indirectly responsible for the death of male characters within the film as they are victims of the rage she incited… The film positions women who are sexually active as deserving of punishment. The murder of these women is often shot from the murder’s point of view or the “gaze shot” - thus forcing the audience to participate in the murderer’s voyeurism.”


Why do I think this “slut shaming” horror tradition is problematic? When you blame all women for the actions of one it normalises misogyny. In punishing all women for the crimes of one they are homogenised and dehumanised. They become objects on which to focus rage and frustration. Horror reflecting life, reflecting horror, while the “have sex and die” and the “make me want you and die” cycles keep turning.


Check out this year’s free books from participating authors.


Other blogs to visit during October Frights -


Always Another Chapter

Be Afraid of the Dark

Hawk’s Happenings

Carmilla Voiez Dark Reads and Intersectional Feminism

GirlZombieAuthors

Frighten Me

Brain Matter – The Official Blog of JG Faherty

Angela Yuriko Smith

James P. Nettles




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