Smashing Pumpkins

But I'm not sure that the current horror wave still adheres so tightly to Oedipal impulses. In Men, Women, and Chainsaws, Clover suggests that the slasher-film high-tide beginning in the mid-'70s (with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween) helped its predominantly male audience confront feelings of gender confusion stirred by feminism. These viewers, she writes, initially rooted for the monstrous parent before embracing the Final Girl's ambivalent conjunction of "masculine" purpose and "feminine" passivity, her/his blending of victim and hero. Today's Scream audiences, though, are heavily female. And the films, too, have altered the slasher-film formula.

Perhaps the most noticeable innovation is the entrance of that older woman: Curtis here, Courteney Cox in the Scream movies. The teen protagonists definitely try to push this (s)mothering figure away, but, against the killer's threat, she proves their ally. This addition may well be a result of the mainstreaming--and defanging--of the genre. The murderous, unsettlingly amorphous parent who enveloped both Ma and Pa has been reduced to stabber dad and fuckable mom, just as the powerfully androgynous Final Girl has split, via the reactionary (and very neutralized) Disturbing Behavior, into action boy and follower girl.

Final Girl meets her match--again: Jamie Lee Curtis and masked man in Halloween: H20
Final Girl meets her match--again: Jamie Lee Curtis and masked man in Halloween: H20

There's another way to look at it, however. In the eyes of today's majority female viewer, the older woman models vulnerability and strength; she has hacked a path through the woods. The girl doesn't have to follow, but she knows now that escape is possible. She's not alone in patriarchy's haunted house, with only the killing demand of gender-role stereotype--"Become a cut-able/fuckable woman!"--for company. She can afford to laugh, even, because this life-and-death game can be won, because the rules underestimate her, because some (soft) boys are on her side. Where Scream delights, and H20 falters, is in acknowledging that this next generation must forge their own identities, fight their own fights. In the end, Miner and Curtis have remade Halloween with too much faith--and too little.

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