Rape: a popular horror theme

Kathryn brostowitz

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Sexual assault is one of modern horror’s go-to themes. Gone are the days where simply a group of vicious birds horrifies audiences to the point of nightmares.

The point of watching a horror movie is quite obviously to be horrified, and one of the most disturbing situations a person could watch is a graphic rape scene.

In a genre where most villains are male, most victims are female and situations are normally extremely violent, it seems as if rape would be an obvious topic. Whether it is being used as a form of artful expression or as the exploitation of women, within either case lays the controversy.

Chicago-based film critic Roger Ebert described last fall’s remake of the 1978 film I Spit on Your Grave as a “loathsome” movie due to the “vicarious cruelty against women.”

A story about a woman who is repeatedly raped and decides to get revenge by killing her attackers, I Spit on Your Grave can be categorized as a rape-and-revenge horror. A sub-category of horror films made popular in the 1970’s, rape-and-revenge films are just as they sound: Stories of women who have been raped and seek revenge on their attackers.

Another movie that falls under this category is the Swedish film The Virgin Spring, which served as inspiration for the American film The Last House on the Left.

After speaking to numerous students about 2009’s remake of The Last House on the Left, many admitted to walking out of the theatre in the middle of the film due to the offensive and far too realistic nature of the pivotal rape scene.

Although it’s understandable why someone would be offended by the graphic nature of such a serious situation, many believe the more realistic rape scenes are portrayed in movies the better.

“Rape is a serious problem and one that needs to be getting our attention,” said Sean Dixon, a member of the board of directors at the Center for the Study of Masculinities and Men’s Development. “If the rape scene can serve the purpose of horrifying rather than sexualizing, then I believe it serves the cultural goal to generate conversation and ultimately action toward eliminating it. If we simply block it from view, we run the risk of allowing it to go unseen.”

Not only do people wish for films about rape to cause action in preventing such occurrences in real life but also to help those who have been personally affected by rape.

Elisabeth Fies, writer, director and producer of Indie horror film The Commune has done just that.

“I find their responses to usually be relief at the accuracy of the portrayal (of rape in The Commune). Most express gratitude,” Fies said of the response she’s gotten from rape victims who have watched her film.

When asked why these scenes may be offensive, Fies said one of the biggest problems is “male writers and directors portraying rape inaccurately and/or sexualizing the portrayal, thus creating more rape fantasies in males instead of inspiring empathy.”

Horror movies are often viewed as films made for the simple purpose of scaring viewers. However, people often argue one of the most powerful human emotions is fear, so viewers may heed warnings in horror movies due to their fear of what may happen if they don’t.

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