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The female fear factor

Young women are flocking to, and revolutionizing, horror films.

November 08, 2003|Lorenza Munoz | Times Staff Writer

Is it exploitative, as some feminists have contended for years?

"The shortest route to getting that audience is to put Jessica Biel in a tank top," she said. "If you mix sex and violence, you are sure to get a crowd."

Beverly Gray, who worked as a writer and producer for producer Roger Corman, said she sees these films as female empowerment tales.

"The young female lead [faces] the dangerous, though sometimes sexually enticing, male head-on and triumphs, bloody but unbowed," she wrote in an e-mail exchange. "No wonder young female moviegoers find such films appealing."

For the horror movies to strike a chord with young females, the lead must be a strong, take-charge character, said Bob Weinstein, chairman of Dimension Films, which released and marketed the "Scream" and "Scary Movie" franchises.

"The female audience wants to see a female heroine," he noted, but women serve a dual purpose. "From a filmmaker's point of view, who else but a female seems more vulnerable?"

The mother of all vulnerable but strong horror heroines was Ripley, many observers believe.

Sigourney Weaver's fierce, sweaty, alien-fighting astronaut in Ridley Scott's 1979 "Alien" changed the gender roles in horror thrillers forever, said Barker.

Twentieth Century Fox's head of production at the time, Alan Ladd Jr., suggested that the filmmakers change the lead to a female, recalled Ronald Shusett, who served as executive producer of the film and co-wrote the story with Dan O'Bannon.

"We thought they should all be equal so you wouldn't know who was killed next," he said.

Equal-opportunity killing

Today's female audience wouldn't fall for the helpless, dim-witted, curvaceous female who "tripped in the forest or went into a dark basement with a faulty flashlight," Barker said.

"Cinema never leads, it always follows sociologically," he said. "It is a reflection of what we think. Women were fed up with watching themselves as empty-headed bimbos. They wanted equal-opportunity murder.

"If you were going to murder some cute girl at Camp Crystal, you were going to have to murder some cute boys too."

Weinstein, who began distributing Barker's "Hellraiser" movies starting with the third in the series after he launched Miramax's Dimension Films label, said Barker had to convince him that females should be targeted in the marketing campaign.

"I questioned that," said Weinstein. "I didn't realize that women were as big an audience as men. It's not perception of action or violence" that draws them. "What you are selling is fright."

"Texas" producer Michael Bay said New Line executives were very wary of the gore factor because girls ordinarily don't like blood and guts.

They warned him that women would not like the movie unless some of the gore was eliminated. Bay, who had the final cut of the film, says he toned it down a bit but was still "very surprised that they would like this movie that much. There are groups of girls that have seen this movie three times."

He said he learned something new in his first horror movie venture:

"The girls run the show."

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