Serious Frustrations | Rape In Horror

I’m going to preface this with the obvious content warning. This is going to be discussing rape, and my frustrations with how it’s used in writing – particularly in film. Not going into details, but just be aware if this is a topic that can upset or trigger you. This also might not be the most cohesive piece of writing, but the title says it all. I’m frustrated.

Now. On with it

I’m sitting here, watching a horror movie. It’s October, and a custom for me. It’s spooky season. The time for fright. I tend to like to indulge that by watching whatever horror/suspense movies happen to be on the number of subscription services I pay for. Today, it’s some trash on Hulu.

I’m minding my own business. The movie isn’t great, but the entertainment isn’t really supposed to be in an award-winning plot or outstanding characters, it’s supposed to be what scares me or makes me jump or say ‘woa, that’s super fucked up.’ I like gore and good ‘ol hack ‘n’ slash movies like any other horror junkie, okay?

Anyway. Group of young folk in the middle of the woods. The why isn’t really important, it’s a small sliver to the plot but the important thing is most of them are going to die. Also, apparently all the women have to be raped. That’s a main plot device. All three of the women who are murdered are raped prior to their murders, and the two surviving women are threatened with it – them being raped is key to the assailants’ master plan – before they are saved. It’s all very, very scary.

If agitation was a font, I’d have used it just then ^

It’s something that comes up in a lot of horror films – hell, it’s something that comes up often in other genres, as well – but I’ve found that horror likes to sprinkle in a overzealous dose of rape to their plots. Just to top off all the blood and gore, why not add in sexual assault. And… why? Why is it necessary?

I know, this is probably a silly question to be asking of subpar to decent-grade horror, but I’m asking it regardless.

I suppose the argument could be made that, well gee, Paris, you’re watching a slasher film and you expect there not to be rape? but my issue is less with the fact there is rape, and more in the fact that it just seems to be tossed into the equation as only something that (1) can happen for women characters and (2) will happen to women characters. Because they’re women, and women just get raped. That’s the message that I get anytime these movies go for that ‘shock’ scene. It’s not a very good message, in my opinion. Wild axe murderers and cannibals, or zombies and other undead are things most people will never experience, because they’re wild situations or simply impossible. Rape is one of those things that isn’t and it’s portrayal in horror (and again, film and writing in general) is problematic at best and damaging at worst. It’s either the ‘slut’ character (which, oh boy, we could have a whole discussion on that can of worms) the ‘innocent virgin,’ the ‘troubled youth-‘ regardless, the rape is coming, and it’s obvious, and it’s somehow the only bad thing that can happen to you as a woman, so the plot has to capitalize on that sexual violence. You can almost feel the urgency within the plot narrative that screams, if we don’t have them all raped, then that’s a wrap! After all, it’s obvious people crave it. Audiences sickeningly eat up the tragic mid-horror rape scenario and love it when it happens again and again. Because it breaks the woman down. Or it builds her up. Whatever stupid excuse people make to justify the needless rape plot device, though I think the excuses say a lot about how people view the act outside of seeing it in film.

Maybe I’m asking for too much creativity when it comes to horror films. It could be the case of me wanting more (says the woman who admits to liking hack ‘n’ slash, I know.) Perhaps that’s my issue – I expect too much. But I feel there’s no limit to expectation, regardless of genre, and to accept the uncritical application of a theme like rape within any genre of film or writing, in my opinion, is lazy. To not ask yourself and other’s viewing and enjoying why it doesn’t seem like a big deal, why people don’t cringe in the ‘oh, why did they need to do that like that’ sort of why. Perhaps it’s my personal experiences with things like sexual abuse and rape that prevent me from seeing the entertainment value in willy-nilly, uncritical, downright badly written, poorly-used rape scenes.

Whatever the reason, I still find myself unrestrained in my frustrations that that’s where writers and directors and whomever else working on a piece go when they think of things that will horrify. As if rape is a marketable commodity that will better sell the product you’re putting to market.

That seems wrong to me. We can do better. We should do better. It’s easy to fall back on ‘this will shock people,’ but is it necessary? Is it worth it? Why is it always excused as a genre trademark?

How do we change it?

4 thoughts on “Serious Frustrations | Rape In Horror

  1. THIS is why I love Horror….unbeknownst to most folk, a lot of early Horror was written by women — as commentary on women’s issues. This is the real impetus behind the Ghost Story — a truly great venue for exposing the minimalization and abuse of women and minorities… heightened by the revenge of the Other. Horror is so feminist fiction! All we have to do is decide HOW we should be telling the tale… rape isn’t the entertainment, it is the vehicle for literary commentary: We simply “take back the Night…” and leave the gratuitous writers in the dust!

    Liked by 2 people

    • This is actually something that I didn’t know – I had no idea women were early writers of horror! That is amazing. It’s like discovering Mary Shelly all over again.

      That, though, has always been my critique of rape in film and writing. The how almost always leaves me feeling as though the act is there for entertainment value – not there for a specific purpose.

      Take back the night, indeed. I love it.


  2. Great post. I like horror a lot, but I usually don’t go for the slasher sub-genre, so I haven’t really experienced a movie that uses rape in the over-the-top throwaway manner you’re describing. But I totally agree with your point. If you’re going to put rape in a story, it shouldn’t be just a cringe-factor. It should teach something. It ought to make the audience feel the betrayal and the violation, not necessarily with over-the-top graphic imagery (please no), but with the pacing, the setting, the context, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Definitely.
      I’m someone that writes a lot of dark work. I’ve written rape before, and it’s something that comes up as a reality in my stories. The choice to write a rape, or even have it in a story, is one that I think needs to be made with caution. It’s more than just a plot choice – how you handle it and how it’s written has a very real impact and it’s one of those things that simply can’t just be used as a shock factor, in my opinion.
      I like a lot of horror sub-genres and I’m very guilty of enjoying slasher films but I’ve always held an issue with how these films use very serious issues as simple throw aways. We can do better.

      Liked by 1 person

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