The "Halloween" films that continue to be so popular are prime examples, but just about any horror film made within the past three decades follows basically the same formula, they have just gotten increasingly sexual and violent, as society has continued to embrace the genre. There are literally hundreds of other graphic examples, such as "Saw," an extremely violent film that has spawned six other films, and the examples of so many films being released in 2009. These films do not celebrate the woman, they demean her, and the fact that they are celebrated by society is troubling and agonizing at the same time.
Some of the films that empower women into the hero roles include "Terminator 2," the "Alien" series, "Misery," and other films glorify or at least acknowledge the female predator or warrior, offering up a different view of women as successful anti-heroes. However, most of these films are not the traditional horror film this paper discusses, they are other types of films, leading to the conclusion that in most horror films, even those where the final female victim outwits the murderer, marginalize and compartmentalize women as weak and ineffectual victims.
The codes of ethics that are relevant to this issue are the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) guidelines that govern film releases. These ratings, which range from "G" for general audiences to NC-17 for no one under 17 admitted, give credence to slasher and other horror films. In most cases, they normally rate them at an "R" rating, where moviegoers under 17 are supposed to have a parent or guardian with them, but most theaters do not uphold that rule, and with the availability of DVDs and on demand films on home televisions, there are numerous ways to outsmart the system. In other words, people of all ages can view these films, even if they are not appropriate, so the relevant codes do not work, and the professional guidelines are misguided at best. One critic notes, "It is interesting that those who want to ban pornography on the assumption that it encourages violence against women are rarely heard urging the censorship of horror films, in which the violence against both genders is much more graphic" (Zuckerman 158). Thus, the moral issues associated with horror films are not being addressed in society, and that is a worrisome dilemma with society today.
Clearly, these films and their ethical dilemmas represent Aristotle's Virtue Ethics, which believes that the morality depends on an individual's character rather than their actions. There are two relevant issues here. First, this would seem to indicate that in these films, the character of the murderers are ethically challenged, because their characters and actions are reprehensible. They are morally and ethically challenged in every way. However, there is another issue, and that is the character and actions of the viewers. Many women view these films as absolutely anti-feminist and demeaning, and that challenges every aspect of the work feminists have completed in the past. Another writer notes, "The postmodern horror film's routine staging of the spectacle of the ruined body, particularly the female body, calls for a feminist analysis" (Pinedo 70). This analysis must question why women accept these films in the first place, and why they allow them to persist. This is part of the ethical dilemma of these films, and it illustrates Value Ethics in that the character of those women who view these films is certainly not a question of their actions, if that were the case they would certainly boycott the films in great numbers.
The ethical dilemma posed by these films also represents Kant's Categorical Imperative, which states that humans are special in creating, and morality is made of duties and obligations, and one must act only if their actions would represent universal law. Clearly, the protagonists in these films are amoral and ethically challenged, and their treatment of women bears this out. Another journal author notes, "As Wood states, 'the true subject of the horror genre is the struggle for recognition of all that our civilization represses or oppresses'" (England 354). Thus, the true subject of these films is the recognition that they victimize and oppress women in the most violent and aggressive ways, and that they marginalize women into beings who are somehow deserving of the horrific fate they receive in these films. The ethics of these portrayals are so opposed to ethical and moral behavior among humans that it makes them a travesty to society and to those who produce them.
In conclusion, women in horror films suffer horrific fates at the hands of maniacal murders. That these films continue to be so popular is another ethical dilemma, and so is the idea that so many women view and support them. They are challenged in the way they portray women, but they are also challenged ethically because society supports them, and seems to revel in their violence. These violent and distasteful films are ethically and morally reprehensible, and they represent just about everything that is wrong with society today, including the continued dehumanization and victimization of women.
England, Marcia. "Breached Bodies and Home Invasions: Horrific Representations of the Feminized Body and Home." Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography; Apr2006, Vol. 13 Issue 4, p353-363.
Graser, Marc. "Production Houses Pump Out the Horror." Variety. 2008. 10 March 2009. http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117994266.html?categoryid=1019&cs=1&query=horror+films.
Iaccino, James F. Psychological Reflections on Cinematic Terror: Jungian Archetypes in Horror Films. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1994.
Lally, Kevin. "For the Love of the Movies." Film Journal International. 1999. 10 March 2009. http://www.filmjournal.com/filmjournal/esearch/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1000692252.
McIntyre, Gina. "Studios Know: Horror Sells." Los Angeles Times. 2009. 10 March 2009. http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/reviews/la-ca-horror25-2009jan25,0,3573619.story.
Phelan, Lyn. "Artificial Women and Male Subjectivity in 42nd Street and Bride of Frankenstein." Screen 41.2 (2000): 161-182.
Pinedo, Isabel Cristina. Recreational Terror: Women and the Pleasures of Horror Film Viewing. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1997.
Sapolsky, Barry S. "Chapter 3 Content Trends in Contemporary Horror Films." Horror Films: Current Research on Audience Preferences and Reactions. Ed. James B. Weaver and Ron Tamborini. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1996. 33-46.
Tamborini, Ron, and Kristen Salomonson. "Chapter 11 Horror's Effect on Social Perceptions and Behaviors." Horror Films: Current Research on Audience Preferences and Reactions. Ed. James B. Weaver and Ron Tamborini. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1996. 179-193.
Zinoman, Jason. "A Bloody Cut Above Your Everyday Zombie Film." New York Times. 2007. 10 March 2009. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/10/movies/10zino.html?_r=1&scp=3&sq=horror%20films&st=cse.
Zuckerman, Marvin. "Chapter 9 Sensation Seeking and the Taste for Vicarious Horror." Horror Films: Current Research on Audience Preferences and Reactions. Ed. James B. Weaver and Ron Tamborini. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1996. 147-158.