I was recently having a conversation with my wife when she asked me if there had ever been any female slasher villains. Such a question is only fair after watching numerous installments of Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday The 13th, Halloween, and other similar franchises. Well first, the answer to her question is: yes. But why is that kind of role almost always reserved for men?
There have, of course, been female slasher villains, but this lead to an issue I found amongst them. One could argue the original slasher queen is Pamela Voorhees, the mother of the hockey-masked murderer Jason, though she did not appear in the franchise until the sequel. Mrs. Voorhees was written by writer Victor Miller as a tragic character: she was a single mother who lost her son then spiraled into a disassociated identity disorder. The campground Jason presumably died at was hallowed ground to Pamela, and she didn't want those memories to be brought up again; hence, she murdered anyone who dared to open up old wounds. Debbie Salt (you may know her better as Mrs. Loomis from Scream 2) is another example of a female slasher. Mrs. Loomis was a mother set out for good, old-fashioned revenge after her son, Billy (the killer in the previous film), was killed by our heroine, Sidney Prescott.
Then in 1998 came the slasher Urban Legend, which banked off the success of the Scream films and continued the slasher renaissance of the nineties. Urban Legend follows the story of a killer picking off college students with murders based on urban legends. At the end of the film, it is revealed that the killer is the main character's best friend, Brenda. Earlier in life, Natalie and her friend Michelle decided to recreate an urban legend known as the Gang High Beam Initiation, which unfortunately ended in the death of a young man who—unbeknownst to them—was Brenda’s fiancé. Therefore, Brenda takes bloody revenge on Natalie and all her friends by killing all of them based on urban legends. I also recently saw Happy Death Day and beware—SPOILERS!—the killer is the main character's roommate. Lori, Tree's roommate, was jealous of Tree’s affair with the handsome Dr. Gregory Butler, a professor at the school.
Are you starting to see an overall theme?
So far I've mentioned cases of vengeful mothers and cases of scorned romances. This is not to say that these are the only female slasher villains; but nonetheless, they do make a mainstream collection of them. One can summarize all these motives even further: they are all just killing for "some guy".
It's somewhat groundbreaking to take women out of the nurturing, gender-specific role society has pigeon-holed them in and put them as the killer. The "stereotypical" woman is not meant to be seen, treated, or raised as violent, aggressive, and physically threatening. These roles have traditionally been given to men, while the women are played as soft and emotional. Things have changed, but it seems that Hollywood thinks the only motive to drive women to want to kill is related to being a mother or vengeful lover. If we look throughout history we can find real life examples that prove this "traditional" thinking about women wrong. Like Belle Gunness, for example, who murdered out of greed.
Hollywood is stuck thinking of females in a "traditional" sense, looking at women as simplistic and innocent: a woman would never kill for power or greed, but because she lost her child or her husband and is facing grief. Hollywood needs to curb this outdated viewpoint. Women have ambitions, fears, goals and their own dark, twisted problems. Not all women are out to start a family and not all are upset that their lustful dream had an affair. Being only human, women too can have power—and an ugly side—like Freddy Krueger.
Skyler Sneathen is a happily married man with a kitty cat for a kid. He's going to school to be a high school social studies teacher and also loves comics and nerdom.
Follow Skyler on Twitter @SkylerSneathen.