Women in horror have not evolved in the same way that women have evolved in real time. They are personified as the Madonna or the Whore, the promiscuous, confident girl who embraces her sexuality and is dually punished for it, or the beautiful, usually socially awkward girl, who seems shackled by her virginity but is rewarded with her life still in tact at the films end, for her good sensibilities and chasteness.
A very high percentage of the horror films you’ve seen can be broken down in to this simplified and extremely offensive view of women, purely based on the premise that it works as a formulaic basis for film writing, and draws crowds, but the most interesting of films are the ones that buck the trends and really try to make you consider why little changes to this formula can make them so much more memorable.
Any horror film can be a feminist horror film, as long as the woman’s strength and power to overcome her enemies has nothing to do with her sexuality, because that is the triumph of her survival – grit and equality over offering the sacrifice of something a male counterpart would never consider giving up as readily in exchange for his life.
Women’s Lib horror is a very small sub genre, popularised with films like The Stepford Wives in the 70s, more psychological and chilling than bloody, and was a stark commentary of the time. The radical notion of women’s rights against the thousands of years of traditional gender roles was starting to catch on, and really starting to worry the menfolk.
Women were working, voting, and even thinking for themselves!
It was almost like something out of a horror film …
Joan Mitchell is a bored housewife. A victim of the middle class, trapped in the ‘burbs, with an indifferent, patronising husband, hen pecked by her gossiping friends, and completely bewildered by the free loving world inhabited by her teenage daughter. Haunted by terrifying and semi prophetic dreams, a foray into witchcraft creates an awakening in her that changes her whole life.
George A. Romero’s third film is an excellent example of his ability to amplify the smallest nuances of human behaviour and create the most disturbing atmosphere from it. Very psychedelic and dreamlike, Hungry Wives (originally titled as Jack’s Wife) is given, a little messy and meandering in parts, but I found it to be a mesmerising watch while, extremely well researched and very respectful of the religious acts mimicked in the performances. Most of the acting is very stilted, granted, as a large percentage of the cast had never acted before or since the movie, although Jan White was completely hypnotising from beginning to end as the housewife shackled by societies expectations.
Many people suggest that this is not a horror film at all, and Romero’s has produced a rare dud, but I saw this film ten years ago, and it left such an impression on me, that I’ve had a soft spot for it ever since. It stands as one of the overlooked classics in my view, along with Martin, Romero’s little known take on the vampire movie. It’s an interesting watch for fans of the Director and indeed, fans of progressive cinema at its very best.
Oh and the soundtrack is proof that even Donovan was capable of producing a damn fine song!