When people think of horror, low budget slashers with an overabundance of fake blood or movies saturated with poorly executed jump scares might come to mind. Moreover, horror has had a reputation for having female protagonists but being severely unkind to them. So, imagine my surprise when I realised most avid horror fans, who I knew personally or found on internet forums, were women.
The most obvious explanation for this might be that horror allows people to experience thrilling, suspenseful situations from the safety of their own homes. The situations can often be fictitious, like a zombie apocalypse in Dawn of the Dead (2004). However, a great deal of horror lies in amplifying what we experience in the real world, with Get Out (2017) being an example. For women, this can be a form of escapism as we can experience those emotions in a safe environment. In reality, the daily lives of women are filled with danger in every corner, so horror movies provide a safe outlet to escape those.
Another interesting reason would be "The Beast Within" theory. Professor Malcolm Turvey said the theory "…argues that an unconscious, repressed part of every human is actually savage; that the veneer of civility is very thin, and beneath that is essentially a monster. According to this idea, although we consciously disapprove of what the monster is doing, deep down part of us enjoys seeing the murder and mayhem the monster unleashes — because if we could, we would do that."
That may not explain the majority's love for horror, but it may provide insight as to why women appreciate the genre. Women can project themselves onto the female protagonists who become monstrous and vengeful, like the premise of the 2007 horror-comedy movie Teeth.
Building upon the theory, another reason could be the evolution of the "Final Girl" trope in horror movies. As the name suggests, the Final Girl is the female character who confronts the killer and survives until the end of the movie. The name was coined by Professor Carol J. Clover in her book Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Clover's theory regarding the trope was very precise as most of the Final Girls of movies made in the golden age of slashers operated on a moral high ground.
For example, Alice in Friday the 13th (1980) finds out the antagonist drowned because his supervisors were partaking in "morally corrupt" activities. However, Alice survives and becomes our Final Girl because she refrained from doing all of that. Apart from Halloween (1978), other movies enforced the idea of the Final Girl being pious as well, which can have underpinnings in misogynistic ideals. However, in recent years, the trope has done a complete 180-degree turn. Nowadays, the Final Girl ends up becoming the very entity that she was fighting against. The most well-known example of this would be The Witch (2015). The movie follows the struggles of the traditionally pious girl and her evolution into becoming a monstress, freer and more powerful than she ever was. This particular evolution of the trope developed to cater more towards a sense of empowerment in a genre that has had a history of being brutal to people identifying as female.
Horror has always provided a space for women, which has evolved from its problematic underpinnings to masterful storytelling of empowerment. The genre will always continue to hold a place for the woman and the monstress.
Fatima Jahan Ena likes to complain about capitalism and her forehead. Find her at firstname.lastname@example.org