Why the sinners always die in horror films

Scream_movie_posterIn the 1996 film, Scream, the unwritten rules to survive a horror story are finally made explicit. They were:

Rules to succesfully survive a horror movie:

  • You may not survive the movie if you have sex.
  • You may not survive the movie if you drink or do drugs.
  • You may not survive the movie if you say “I’ll be right back”, “Hello?” or “Who’s there?”

Forget rule number three. The first two have a consistent theme: sinners die. It’s fun to consider why this is.  And, when thinking about this, we should probably consider it from two perspectives. First, from the film-maker’s perspective, it just makes sense. Kids are rule breakers and obsessed with sex. You want your audience identifying with the victims in a slasher.

Several academics have analyzed the gender of the perpetrator of violence, the victims of violence, and proximity in time of violence to sex or sexuality in slasher films – including Carol Clover’s Men, Women, and Chainsaws. Clover establishes the idea of a ‘Final Girl’ who is often the last, lingering victim of the perpetrator. This woman represents fear itself, “Abject terror, in short, is gendered feminine, and the more concerned a given film with that condition — and it is the essence of modern horror — the more likely the femaleness of the victim. It is no accident that male victims in slasher films are killed swiftly or offscreen, and that prolonged struggles, in which the victim has time to contemplate her imminent destruction, inevitably figure females.”

Andrew Welsh examines the sex of violent offenders in these films and finds that, as expected, the perpetrator of violence is most often male (72.8%, n=776 male vs 6.3%, n=64 female), leaving a much higher than expected number for ‘unknowns’. Actually, I don’t know that this really tells us anything at all. Most violent crime actually is perpetrated by males. The department of justice (DOJ) provides figures indicating that males are the offenders in violent crimes 88.8% of the time. So, if anything, slasher films under-portray male offenders.

Welsh also finds that a significant majority of violence against women depicted concomitant with sex (compared to violence against males under the same conditions). This is where slasher films do depart from an accurate portrayal of the real world. In the real world, the DOJ reports that only 23% of violent crime targets women.


n = 131, p=0.005

Of course, here’s the money shot: How often are women targeted for violence during or shortly after sex? Welsh gives us the numbers below. The DOJ doesn’t (can’t) really give us a comparable figure (note: data exists for sexually-related crime, but doesn’t for violence perpetrated within a certain time-frame of people appearing naked).
Screen Shot 2014-10-03 at 11.00.11 AM

But, if we look at the logic within the films, there’s a good reason for violence being tied to sex or sexual portrayals as well.

Mrs. Vorhees explains…

From Friday the 13th (the original)

                              MRS. VOORHEES
                 Oh, this place... It should never have 
                 been a camp.  Not for children.  They 
                 had so much trouble here.
                                   MRS. VOORHEES
                      You know a boy drowned the year before 
                      those two others were killed?  An 
                      accident?  It was inadequate 
                      supervision. The counsellors were not 
                      paying enough attention... They were 
                                                making love when that boy drowned.


So remember. The next time you feel like you're being watched:
1. Don't have sex
2. don't do drugs
3. don't be a woman (but if you have to be, try to be the 'Final Girl.' 
It might not be fun, but at least you'll come through it in the end.

One comment on “Why the sinners always die in horror films

  1. […] Check out my new post on sex and violence in slasher films at my film blog. […]

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