Horror Show: The Exorcist and You

poster for the 1973 film The ExorcistYou feminist horror fans out there probably already know that The Exorcist is being re-released next week on Blu-Ray and DVD, complete with new special features and an extended director's cut. What you might not know, however, is that your friends at Bitch Media (hi, that's us) have five copies of said DVD that we'll be giving away throughout the month of October as a part of our Horror Show series celebrating feminist horror in pop culture!

Each week throughout the month of Shock-tober (scary!!!) we'll publish a Horror Show blog post on a different feminism/horror-related topic. The best comment in the thread will win a copy of The Exorcist on DVD, as well as eternal bragging rights. Be sure to register when you comment so that we'll have a way to get in touch with you and let you know if you're the winner.

The contest starts right now! Here's a prompt: If you were able to remake one classic horror film with female characters/a feminist plot twist, what would it be? How would you do it?

Here's the 1973 trailer for The Exorcist to get you motivated. Watch and enter the contest at your own risk!!! Good luck!

Comments

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George Romero's zombie movies

George Romero's zombie movies are among my favorites, but strong and/or complex ladies are sometimes hard to come by in his flicks. The first of these movies, Night of the Living Dead, is especially bad in this department (though it could be argued that none of the characters are especially well-developed). Either way, I've always wished there was a little less "They're coming to get you, Barbara," and a little more, "I'm Barbara, here to kick yr zombie butt."

Feminist Remake of Romero's Night of the Living Dead

Witchwife, there is an excellent feminist remake of Night of the Living Dead, directed by Tom Savini, someone who worked with Romero on the original Night. In this film, Barbara begins as a helpless, sexually timid creature, but eventually kicks off her shoes and morphs into Ripley from Alien. Moreso, this new Barbara is not just a woman playing a man's role. Rather, the character offers some feminist commentary on the film's action. In the original, Ben and Mr. Cooper fight for dominance, arguing about whether everyone will be safer barracaded in the basement or upstairs. Barbara sides with Ben in the remake, but only because he is not as domineering as Mr. Cooper. Barbara picks up a rifle and is Ben's equal in zombie fighting. Also, she formulates a more effective strategy for survival--escaping the farmhouse armed rather than staying cooped up waiting for certain death. Barbara's strategy is feminist in that she has developed it after considering what both Cooper and Ben have to say rather than just trying to impose her own idea of what's true and right on everyone else. Barbara also takes everyone's needs and feelings into consideration when making decisions, something that neither man does. Alas, what will happen to our feminist heroine in this brave new world? She lives to find help and ends up in a redneck filled camp ruled by scruffy old patriarchs. She'll have to hold on to her guns to survive among these people, who are less desirable than the zombies they are seen tormenting.

June, that's wonderful! I'd

June, that's wonderful! I'd love to see this. Is it widely available? I can't believe I've never heard of it.

I love your mention of the old patriarchs, the people "less desirable than the zombies they are seen tormenting." A good zombie film--at least one that works on multiple levels, not just the "ooh! zombies" one--is a portrait of the psychological states people experience under duress. People, ironically, tend to end up as worse housemates than zombies; there's infighting, trust issues, machismo, conflicting personalities... It's a messy situation, for sure!

Have you read the Walking Dead comic series? I'd love to hear your opinion on it and the female characters (few that there are) in it.

Yes, the remake is widely

Yes, the remake is widely available. Check it out on Netflix. I am a bit familiar with Kirkman's Walking Dead series. I've read the first three, but can't say I am an expert on the whole thing, let alone his treatment of female characters. Wish I could buy the whole set for a reasonable price. I wonder how they'll spin the female characters on the AMC live action version of Kirkman's work.

I do agree with you on Night

I do agree with you on Night but dawn and day are significant improvements in this area

True.

But I'm still waiting for Romero to figure out that Black women exist. I love his movies, but women of color are invisible in them...I think there might have been a two-second shot of one in Diary of the Dead...?

His newest, Survival of the

His newest, Survival of the Dead, has a black lesbian as part of it's ensemble of soldiers. Unfortunately the movie is terrible, and almost all of Tomboy's (yes, that's her name) lines are about how she's a lesbian, just in case you forgot.

Feminist Remake of Psycho

I think there are some proto-feminist threads in Psycho, and I would like to see a remake of Hitchcock's classic that might bring them out. At the end of the film, the psychiatrist who barely knows Norman pronounces that his psychosis is a result of being raised by a clinging, demanding mother. This statement frames the film's primary theme, that women who are uncontrolled by men are very dangerous. After all, Norman's mother was "clingy and demanding" because her husband was dead and not there to keep her in line, let alone provide an appropriate male role model for Norman. Because feminine sexuality is represented as dangeous in this film, all open expressions of it outside of marriage are punished by Norman and his knife.

Yet marrige in this film is not represented as particularly liberatory, in spite of Sam's comment to Marion that when she marries, she'll "swing." In Marion's office, the oil millionaire who is busy propositioning her is also busy "buying off unhappiness" for his soon to be married daughter. What does he expect might happen to her? Will her marriage be as potentially unsatisfactory as his must be (if he is married), since he is trying to get Marion to go to Las Vegas to him? And then there's the other secretary, Caroline, whose marital life is risible. Her day consists of her husband calling, and then her mother calling to see if her husband called. She offers Marion one of the tranquilizers that her mother's doctor prescribed to her before her wedding day. It was not uncommon in the fifties and sixties for physicians to prescribe tranquilizers to women to help them adjust to the pressures of marital life and motherhood. It's easier to this unhappiness as the personal problem of an individual woman and "cure" it pharmaceutically than it is to actually address the system that produces it. Sam, meanwhile, does not feel that he can marry Marion since his first marriage has helped make him a less than desirable partner--he must work to pay off both his late father's debts and to pay alimony to his ex until she marries again. And then there's Mrs. Bates lover, who could marry her because he was already married.

A feminist version of Psycho might end with all of the same women dead, but it would also more closely examine the theme of marriage as a stifling institution, particularly in a time when people felt they had to marry in order to have any "legitimate" sexual expression.

A feminist version of Psycho might also let Mrs. Bates speak. What was life with Norman like? Was she the clingy, demanding woman that Norman's psychiatrist believes her to be, or was something else far more profound going on? A clue is found in the clothes that Norman puts on his mother's mummified corpse, and the clothing we see hanging in her wardrobe. Assuming Mrs. Bates was in her forties when she died, the clothing and hair on her corpse do not seem to be age appropriate. After all, Mrs. Bates was in love, and she had a lover. Yet the mother that Norman has clothing and hair more apprpriate to a woman who is no longer intersted in such things. Mrs. Bates looks more like Norman's grandmother than his mother. The clothing in her closet looks similarly dowdy. Did Norman recreate these things too in order to transform his mother from a sexual being with needs of her own into an ideal of normative femininity, the woman whose only source of gratification comes from nurturing her offspring?

Finally, we would have to get rid of that mother-bashing psychiatrist at the end of the film. Replacing him with a female psychiatrist, even a feminist one, would not work either since a feminist version of Psycho should complicate the original narrative rather than facilitate a simplistic narrative about the consequences of women stepping outside of their culturally assigned gender roles.

Evil Dead

I'd like to see the Evil Dead remade with a feminist bent. I really loved all three movies, but there were so few women characters. The ones that had any kind of complexity quickly met a violent and untimely end. Who wouldn't have loved to see a chainsaw wielding heroine take on some Deadites at the S-Mart?

Raimi

It's not a "classic" horror film, but I'd sure as hell change some things about DRAG ME TO HELL, which was profoundly woman-hating. Young woman trying to improve her lot in life? Cool. Young woman competing smartly against aggressive asshole guy in male-dominated environment? Cool. Young woman trying to "do the right thing" in a financially irresponsible environment? Cool cool cool. Young woman facing unbelievable odds? Very cool. But young woman punished and ultimately dragged to hell for all of these things and for no other good reason? Fuck you, Raimi. Seriously, fuck you.

I liked it!

I really liked Drag Me to Hell! I saw the ending (which I won't say too much about for spoiler purposes) as just a really funny, unexpected ending. That there was no good reason for her fate I read as a sign that it could have been anyone, regardless of gender, meeting it. I didn't read it as punishment---it was a curse!

I also kept thinking about Rosemary's Baby, which is problematic on a lot of levels, but terrifying to me in the way that a woman's concerns about her body are being met with complete dismissiveness from the people and authorities she trusts. What I liked in Drag Me to Hell was that she kept insisting something was wrong, and finally her boyfriend listened and tried to help. Not that he was the one to continually save her (and he, and their love, couldn't save her...which i appreciated from a genre perspective). Anyway.

that the worst things ever

that the worst things ever happen to the nicest person in the world is one of the best jokes in the movie. It's a cruel joke, of course but very much in keeping with raimi's shtick where nobody is above being the butt of a big cosmic joke. I mean, what is ash but a hapless dork who gets his ass handed to him time and time again but keeps trying like wile e. coyote?

She wasn't actually hapless,

She wasn't actually hapless, though. Now, let me say here that I'm a HUGE fan of the Evil Dead movies. Am actually friends with one of the actors, too. I love Raimi's sense of humor, but this to me was horribly mean-spirited and not his normal fare. In DRAG ME, she gets punished for being a feminist. If only she were hapless and a dweeb! But she's not, alas. She's smart, sexy, sweet and on her way up. I felt like I was watching the artistic result of a bad breakup.

But she also kills her

But she also kills her kitten. In my mind, that just wipes away any sympathy I had for her, regardless of her being a feminist. You just don't kill your kitten. I live in the deep south where people are normally armed. If a big, bad-assed demon is coming to get you, grab your gun and go down shooting, but do not kill your kitten.

I don't think she was

I don't think she was punished for being a feminist; she was punished for letting her competitive spirit overcome her humanity, in a not-particularly-feminist or sweet way. From the very beginning she's compromising herself in order to get to the top--leaving her drunk mother and her rural past behind, using dialect tapes to get rid of her accent. She doesn't extend the old woman's loan, even though she wants to *and she has the power to*, because she wants to beat the jerkass and get the job that she thinks she deserves. When the demon starts coming after her, she murders her kitten and shows relatively little remorse (which is why her sacrifice didn't work--it didn't mean enough to her, because she would gladly sacrifice someone/something else in order to save herself). By the end of the film she's progressed to the point that she's willing to shove off the curse on anyone who maybe, possibly deserves it, just so that she doesn't have to suffer--the jerkass (who she spares because he's just too pathetic), or even the waitress who was slightly rude to her. Hey, that guy with cancer doesn't really enjoy living anyway, right? When she thinks that she's beaten the curse (by damning the old woman to hell instead of herself), she's not glad that she gets to live or that she doesn't have to go to hell--she's triumphant because she's *won*. "I beat you, you old bitch!"

The movie is really about the dangers of compromising your morals (and losing your soul) in order to get ahead. However, I can understand finding it troubling just because, for women, *any* ambition is generally regarded as too much, and so the line between "this is a woman who is genuinely corrupt and cutthroat and hurts others" and "this is a woman who works hard at her job and doesn't take shit" is blurred.

The Descent (let's pretend it's a classic.)

Because, seriously, that was the worst Lifetime Movie I've ever seen.

The Bride Of Frankenstein Takes Elizabeth

I'd like to see an uncensored remake (the original was censored) of the The Bride of Frankenstein with a twist: In the end the bride Henry had intended for his monster would fall in love with Henry's fiance Elizabeth, it would become reciprocal, and the two of them would run off and live happily ever after.

My favorite parts of the exorcist were the scenes where Linda Blair spews green puke on the priest and the part where her head spins around.

Jaws feminist remake

Jaws has the perfect set-up for a feminist plot. The original movie focuses on three disparate men having to deal with their dislike and distrust of each other in order to kill the shark. There's the marine biologist, the fisherman, and the sheriff. The marine biologist and fisherman have more of an intrinsic "everyman vs. elitist" rivalry that makes for rich scenes. However, the sheriff is the weakest link in this scenario and would have had far more material to mine if it had been played by a woman.

There are a lot of patriarchal stereotypes this role could have addressed. Particularly in the 1970s, a woman at the top of law enforcement was uncommon. Moreover, this woman would have been a small town sheriff subjected to old boy-style bigotry. This would make the sheriff's ineptness (i.e.: unable to make people heed warnings to close the beaches, etc.) part of a feminist subplot. The sheriff's fear of water could be played as a character development metaphor. Initially, the female sheriff being afraid of the water can represent her apprehension to fully immerse herself and take charge of the situation.

Once the sheriff is on the boat with the marine biologist and fisherman, there would be more interesting scenes than simply the fisherman and marine biologist making quips at one another. Fixing the boat, harpooning the shark, shoveling bloody chum, bawdy drinking and singing - these are all viewed as stereotypically male activities. The men could harass her about her abilities, but she's able to do all of them just as capably as them. It is important to note that the sheriff is not a love interest at any time. There would not be any sexual tension besides the men harassing her on being the "weaker" gender.

In the end, the sheriff still kills the shark. She quells her fears of water and jumps in to get the job done; thus, her character development arc reaches a satisfying feminist conclusion. She also gets the memorable one-liners, like "Smile, you sonofabitch!" While it might be satisfying to see the town embrace her in the aftermath of the shark's death, it would make for a stronger ending to have the marine biologist rise from the depths (as he did in the original) and have that one man recognize her accomplishments and pay her respect. Then they set off on the makeshift raft, both on each side, kicking together to get to shore.

Jaws

Hey Rachel R. your feminist-film remake would be my pick for a prize, even if Jaws may not be seen as a typical horror film. Excellent ideas!

I could see the whole film working really with a female sherrif, especially as a retelling of the discrimination and bigotry women in positions of authority received. When watching the BBC original of Life On Mars, it was a jolt to see the way female police officers were treated, to remind us that it was not that long ago that women were OVERTLY patronised by chauvinists at work on a daily basis, and it was still part of the culture at large.
We need to be reminded of this, I think, to fight harder to keep what was won in the 70's and 80's.

Winner!

Hi Rachel,
We all LOVE your idea for the Jaws feminist remake (and so do other commenters, it looks like)! We're officially declaring you the winner of this week's copy of The Exorcist. Look for an email from me later today to get your contact info.

To the rest of the commenters this week: EXCELLENT feedback! Keep commenting on future Horror Show posts- we've still got four copies to give away this month!

--Katie Presley
New Media Intern, Bitch Media

Winner

Awesome!! I'm a huge horror fan from when I was a child (yes, my mother gave me full "remote control"), and The Exorcist is, in my opinion, one of the best horror movies of all time. I know what I'll be watching this Halloween. Thanks!

Rosemary's Baby

I can't imagine anyone other than Mia Farrow playing Rosemary so in order to make this happen I'm going to need a time machine and/or cloning technology, but a re-telling of Rosemary's Baby from a feminist perspective would be amazing. First of all, the way Rosemary's sexual assault is shrugged off has always bothered me. I know from talking to other feminist-minded horror fans that I am not alone. Her reaction to what she at first believes was her husband having sex with her while she's passed out was explored in a bit more detail in the book but was still essentially a non-issue. I would be interested in seeing Rosemary able to identify what happened to her as rape instead of the slightly annoyed but accepting response we get in the film and book. She could leave Guy (her husband) and maybe stay with the Castevets, allowing more development regarding Rosemary's relationship with Minnie Castevet (my favorite character in the film), who always struck me as kind of a human and Satanic version of Miss Piggy.

I would also like to see reproductive choice approached differently. Abortion is mentioned once and immediately dismissed. I think it would be interesting to have Rosemary give more consideration to terminating the pregnancy, especially when the pregnancy starts to really effect her health. With so many politicians talking about banning abortion, even in cases of rape or incest (Christine O'Donnell is a living horror movie) it's a nice response to the "What if Jesus' mother had an abortion?" bullshit the crazies often spout. There is a minor character named Laura-Louise, who is a friend of Minnie's and a member of the satanic cult. I can't remember if it's in the film or not, but in the book she's campaigning for some conservative politician, presumably to help mask her satanism. We could instead present Laura-Louise as a Pro-Life zealot who finds a way to talk Rosemary out of terminating the pregnancy. I would love to hear Laura-Louise using the Bible as justification for not aborting the secret child of Satan.

Another bonus to remaking Rosemary's Baby is that Roman Polanski's name wouldn't be anywhere near it...

Splat

I'd kind of like to redo all those Rob Zombie splatter films--House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil's Rejects. I don't know if he was going for "irony" in paying homage to 1970s exploitation movies, but they were full of gratuitous shots of dead naked girls, girls in cages and all manner of sexualized misogynist crime. I'd like to see the captive girls break out, organize, and stage a nice bloody rebellion against their captors. I'm all for splatter--just not misogyny.