Saturday, February 7, 2015

Women In Horror Month: Topless Crusaders

In today's celebration of Women in Horror month, it's time to look at the most frequently derided character archetype of the slasher/horror genre: The Slut. There's one in every group of teen vacationers/camp counselors/students on a field trip to a meat packing plant. This character is created for the sole purpose of taking off her top, usually in the process of servicing the nearest schlub.

It's a construction, and a lamentable one at that. But on occasion, these characters use the power of sheer personality to wrest control away from the inherently misogynistic screenplays and become some the most interesting characters in their movies. Today we celebrate these victors, the Sluts who broke away from their one-dimensional construction to thrive as distinct personalities - before they get hacked to bits, of course. But that's fine, it happens to everyone.

The Top Ten Designated Sluts Who Are Secretly Awesome

#10 Helen Shivers (I Know What You Did Last Summer)

Played by: Sarah Michelle Gellar
Method of Demise: Slashed with a hook during a parade

Helen Shivers is the most stereotypical "skank" of them all. Prom queen, pageant princess, wannabe blonde actress... She's designed specifically for unadulterated audience hatred. Maybe it's because she's played by inveterate horror hotshot Sarah Michelle Gellar, but she manages to be the most likable teen in an resolutely unlikable bunch (Kevin Williamson pulls no punches when he's writing high schoolers, bless him) with her upbeat optimism and unflagging devotion to her best friend.

#9 Wendy (Prom Night)

Played by: Eddie Benton
Method of Demise: Hacked to death with an axe

OK, Wendy is a terrible person. She despises our heroine Jamie Lee Curtis because she "stole her boyfriend" which - let's face it - is a petty high school complaint at best unless they started dating at gunpoint. She seethes with rage and plans to Carrie poor innocent JLC at the prom, so maybe she's not the best role model. But she's a magnetic, unforgettable villain of soap operatic grandeur and high school villainy.

#8 Lisa (Final Exam)

Played by: DeAnna Robins
Method of Demise: Stabbed to death

Lisa's a pretty young co-ed in a college movie. So of course she's gonna use her looks to seduce a good grade from her chemistry professor. Can't blame her for that. But just like all the other characters in the surprisingly effective Final Exam, Lisa is brought to life as a living, breathing personality through copious interpersonal connections and actual, human dialogue. It's a miracle!

#7 Terry (Friday the 13th Part 2)

Played by: Kirsten Baker
Method of Demise: Killed offscreen

Terry is one of my absolute favorite characters of all time. Not only does she have the ingeniously licentious line "I think I'll stay. [My dog] Muffin may show," she gives the franchise its first full-frontal nudity without ever having sex with anybody. Meanwhile the Final Girl gets it on left and right! Way to bust stereotypes, girl! I love your Mickey shirt.

#6 Ingunn (Cold Prey)

Played by: Viktoria Winge
Method of Demise: Pickaxed in her hotel room

Cold Prey is yet another solid slasher in which the characters are fleshed out instead of merely being flesh fodder. Although Ingunn is the first to die, she charms the audience in her brief appearance by being utterly believable in her relationship and her relative discomfort hanging out with her beau's group of friends. We've all been there. Luckily, the rest of us haven't been slashed to death in the process.

#5 Tina and Terri (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter)

Played by: Camilla and Carey More
Method of Demise: Speared in the back; Thrown out a window

Proving once and for all that the Friday the 13th writers couldn't go five minutes without ripping each other off, Tina and (ahem) Terri provide double the trouble in this installment of Jason Voorhees' misadventures. Because The Final Chapter is essentially a John Hughes flick with edged weapons, it's far from painful to spend time with these girls, who draw from their experience as real-life twin sisters to bring a warmth and humanity to their roles.

#4 Tatum Riley (Scream)

Played by: Rose McGowan
Method of Demise: Neck crushed in the cat flap of a garage door

Although most people remember her for her adventures in a freezing cold garage, Tatum is the world's best best friend. She's Sidney's rock, a spunky, fun-loving chick who doesn't trivialize her pain but encourages her to cut loose. She's always on hand when you need another beer, want to shut down a boyfriend's bravado, or need the deets on where exactly to pause movies just right so you can see Tom Cruise's penis. One gets the sense that, had she lived to see the new millennium, she would've been a huge fan of Gone Girl.

#3 Lynda Van der Klok (Halloween)

Played by: P.J. Soles
Method of Demise: Strangled with a telephone cord

Halloween was the film that firmly cemented in the rules of the slasher genre, so Lynda might just be the first Slut ever to strut her stuff on the silver screen. Because the film is an actual work of cinematic art, it's no surprise that this sapphic prototype should appear on our list today. Totally.

#2 Tina Gray (A Nightmare on Elm Street)

Played by: Amanda Wyss
Method of Demise: Slashed apart on her bedroom ceiling

Although Tina only lives through about twenty minutes of the film, she is the character that first draws us into the world of A Nightmare on Elm Street. It is her dream that introduces the shadowy dream demon Freddy Krueger and it is her frantic clawing as she's dragged onto the ceiling that brutally drops us into the killer realities of his handiwork. But before all that, Tina is a perfectly realized all-American teen, shining with youthful vigor and idealistic energy.

#1 Joyce (He Knows You're Alone)

Played by: Patsy Pease
Method of Demise: Stabbed to death offscreen

I know it's unorthodox to pick a deep cut for the number one slot (insert pun here), but trust me. Joyce is worth it. He Knows You're Alone is already a special little duckling for featuring Tom Hanks in an early role and some surprising feminist undertones, but - much like many of the examples on this list - my favorite element is by far the well-developed characters populating the rote Halloween rip-off. Joyce falls into the Designated Slut category due to her early death and her torrid affair with a professor, but their love is so genuine and real and their sex scene so erotic and oddly emotional, that you are firmly in their camp before the horror strikes. And that's really all I can ask of a well-heeled slasher.
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