Most horror fans will tell you an elaborate, coming-of-age tale about their first brush with the genre, whether it was an R-rated movie their parents let them watch or the moment they shared their first kiss in a dingy movie theater. Not me. My encounter with the undead demons came from peeking through the staircase railings to get a glimpse of what on earth my older sister was watching. It was Bride Of Chucky; safe to say I’d only lasted 10 minutes before bursting into a bout of tears and never touching my dolls again. Beyond the red-haired gremlin and his gruesome murders, it was the cutthroat blond bombshell and embodiment of sass from Tiffany Valentine (played by Jennifer Tilly) that would have me returning like a dog to water, from scared kid to unhealthily obsessed adult spending my entire income on memorabilia instead of rent.
Read more: 15 horror movies Jennifer’s Body fans will love
But what’s so endearing about the bimbo badass we’re seeing pop up more often in shows like Scream Queens or American Horror Story: Coven? Perhaps the duality of bubblegum lipgloss and super cute pink heels paired with blood spatters and visuals of cutting men in half is pretty badass. Women who are often overlooked as the airheads riding off looks who would die first in the genre, taking power back, often in an act of vengeance against men, makes a larger statement. It’s no surprise that beyond the “podcast bf spooky goth gf obsessed with horror” meme, many women are invested in true crime and horror because it brings them comfort or relatability to an extent. Some of the leading names in true crime are women, with Bailey Sarian, Eleanor Neale and Kendall Rae all boasting gigantic followings on their YouTube channels. In an interview with BBC, Julia Davis, editor of Crime Monthly magazine, agrees: “Women are fascinated by true crime because it’s a facing your fears thing.”
But if we rewind to the early 2000s, finding a horror character that celebrated femininity and fierceness without it being at the character’s expense was near impossible. Though studies conducted by Google and the Geena Davis Institute show that women are more commonly featured in this genre over any other, their place within the genre becomes problematic when most roles are whittled down to the slutty bimbo, the virgin loser, the evil villain or the final girl who saved her fate by upkeeping slut-shaming standards so her life is valued over those pesky jezebels. Much of horror hinges itself on the penalization of women’s sexuality. As Mic’s “Why Exorcism Movies Are Secretly All About Shaming Women” examines, you either die a whore or live long enough to see yourself be the virgin savior. Many of the beloved cult classics (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday The 13th, Halloween, Cabin Fever, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D) fall victim to the outdated death-by-sex-trope. You’ll find much more empowerment in Jennifer Tilly being a badass, biker jacket-wearing killer doll than you will in the virgin hero who let her whore friends suffer.
Jennifer’s Body is a prime example of how these female-led horror/thriller flicks that don’t pander to the typical tropes are overlooked. They perform poorly in their initial run and are celebrated a decade too late. Early reviews of the Megan Fox-starring 2009 horror flick, where an alt band’s botched satanic ritual on this poor teenage girl turns her into a man-killing demon, was still criticized by The Atlantic for its dull plot, and the UK Times put it more bluntly with their Jennifer’s Body review: “The feminist pretensions are deflated the moment the two central female characters snog each other for no discernible narrative purpose.”
In this post-Me Too era, many have come to criticize these movie standards weaved with sexist ideologies of women’s value. From Refinery29’s analysis on “Proof These (Infuriating) Horror Movie Tropes Are Changing,” and The Independent’s ‘Torture the women!’: How horror’s final girls are turning the tables on misogyny.” Scream, Cabin In The Woods and other aforementioned gems have helped pave the way for a whole new generation of horror heroines in Scream Queens, Happy Death Day and American Horror Story: Coven, where the “bimbos” bite back. Once the first to die, they’re now using their bobby pins as makeshift slingshots and killing bad guys with their sparkly heels. If there’s one thing to learn, don’t underestimate the airhead bimbo. Whores run horror movies.