Rape culture and horror may not seem to be synonymous, but I believe horror has made a lot of commentary about this topic throughout the years. A very alarming trend in the media is stories about these issues from the point of view of people who do not understand their subjects. When Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke testified in Congress regarding women’s access to contraception, especially birth control, Rush Limbaugh called her a prostitute and a slut and said that she should post sex tapes.
In 2012 Representative Todd Akin stirred controversy when he claimed that if a woman is legitimately raped, her body will actually shut down and she will not be able to get pregnant. We also constantly hear about rapes and sexual assaults more and more on college campuses or even at high schools. So what has horror done over the years to add commentary to all of these issues?
There are a few horror movies from decades ago that come to mind when I think about rape culture. Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby has been a trailblazer in horror in many different ways. For a film that came out in 1968, it was definitely ahead of its time in the horror genre. One particular scene that has always stuck with me is when Rosemary had a dream that she became impregnated by what she thought was her husband. Polanski shot this scene in such a way that it seemed beautiful and not as gruesome as people would imagine rape would be. The dream was gruesome because Satan was raping her, but Rosemary did not make a fuss. It is an eerily beautiful event since it ended up having her conceive a baby, but it also was a complete nightmare considering that she was being raped by Satan with cult members watching in the background.
A few years after Rosemary’s Baby came Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange in 1971, which is a disturbing tale of “ultraviolent” youth in Britain whose protagonist is arrested and convicted of murder and rape. Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left came out in 1972, and the rape scene in this movie has made many lists of top disturbing horror movie scenes. Not long after this came Meir Zarchi’s I Spit on Your Grave, famously known as a classic rape and revenge film. In this film the female protagonist is gang-raped but then makes her comeback by seeking vengeance on these rapists by killing them. Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust in 1980 pushed the envelope for horror in many different ways, one being the graphic rape scene of a local tribe of Amazon women. Many of these films have been remade within the last few years with the same titles. Eli Roth’s 2014 film The Green Inferno has a lot of the same premises as Cannibal Holocaust.
Rape and sexual assault can be hard topics to tackle or deal with, but I think horror has done a decent job in bringing these issues to light. It’s interesting to see how different sexual assault has been shown over the years in horror from different directors’ perspectives. There are definitely more horror films and shows that have included these issues, and I know there will be more in the future now that sexual assault is talked about more and more in the media. That is one of my favorite things about these issues being included in horror: Yes, these scenes are hard to watch at times, but they also strike up conversations. One of the most important things about rape culture is for people to have conversations and educate others on it.
Horror has indeed done that.