Women in Horror Month (WiHM) is an international, grassroots initiative, which encourages supporters to learn about and showcase the underrepresented work of women in the horror industries. Whether they are on the screen, behind the scenes, or contributing in their other various artistic ways, it is clear that women love, appreciate, and contribute to the horror genre. Psycho Drive-in is joining in by sharing articles – some classic, some new – celebrating the greatest women in the genre! [Editor’s Note: A version of this article was originally published on September 2, 2016] I’m not really into slasher movies. I think part of the reason for that is that gore doesn’t really affect me all that much: I wanted to be a forensic pathologist growing up and saw my first autopsy at the age or 13. To this day, I can eat a rare steak while watching open-heart surgery on TV without a twinge. So one of the major appeals (to adolescents, anyway) of slasher films—the shock of seeing recently cut open flesh, for example—just wasn’t a draw for me. Which meant that, despite being the teen target audience for so many of the horror films during the 80s, I just wasn’t interested in Jason, or Mike, or Freddie. But a friend did manage to get me to go with her to see the original Nightmare on Elm Street in the theatres, and I have to admit that I loved that film, primarily because I knew I was seeing something different. Long before I read Carol Clover’s Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, I found what she calls the “Final Girl” to be disturbing and unbelievably anti-feminist—another reason I didn’t enjoy these films. But Nightmare’s Nancy was something else. She didn’t fall into the easy categories of fleeting sexualized victim nor boyish, asexual horror heroine. She didn’t avoid her own slaughter largely through happenstance. She was smart about who she was up against, how she could defeat him, and the importance of controlling the “Terrible Place” Clover talks about as the final battleground for the Girl and the killer. I loved the film because I loved Nancy. And while slasher flicks aren’t my thing, psychological thrillers are. So despite the fact that the trailer for Red Eye looked like it was going to be over-the-top schlocky fare where Rachel McAdams’ character would be a fragile flower at the mercy of a bad guy built to take advantage of Cillian Murphy’s attractive but unnerving looks, I ditched my thriller-averse boyfriend and went to see it. I had no idea at the time that it was a Wes Craven film. Because Craven does horror, not thrillers, right? But the same things I loved about Nightmare emerged—more fully formed—in Red Eye. Lisa Reisert, a pretty but not particularly charismatic hotel manager, is running late to catch a flight from her grandmother’s funeral when she finds herself stepping up to defend another service industry worker from a uselessly enraged customer. The customer blows her off at first, but a young man steps in and supports Lisa and eventually, the jerk backs down. Lisa and Jack continue to make their way separately through the rigors of getting to their plane (including sharing a drink and some nachos), only to find out they are seated next to each other on the flight. It’s a total rom-com beginning. Things soon take an ugly twist when Jack reveals himself as terrorist-for-hire, and his current assignment is using the threat of murdering Lisa’s father to get her to call her hotel and change the room of a traveling dignitary to one that will make it easier for Jack’s compatriots to carry out their planned assassination. Lisa must make a terrible choice or find some way of escaping Cillian’s Jack while trapped in the claustrophobic confines of a plane, and try to get to her father before the order comes down to kill him. What ties Red Eye to the earlier Nightmare is the heroine. Rachel McAdams is physically delicate at 5’ 4” and maybe 105 pounds. And unlike the Final Girl of Clover’s work, she is extremely feminine in her soft wraparound sweater and spike-heeled slingbacks. But unlike what we are so used to seeing in films and on TV, her femininity does not mean that she is a victim. Lisa Reisert’s ability to handle herself isn’t something brought out by the trauma she suffers in the movie. Writer Carl Ellsworth and Craven go out of their way to establish Reisert as so capable and in charge that she’s virtually indispensable at the hotel she manages. Her second-in-command at the hotel, Cynthia (played with addled-pated charm by Jayma Mays), calls Lisa repeatedly for guidance on dealing with various crises, and Reisert lets Cynthia know how to resolve each with a clear-headed, decisive touch that bespeaks confidence and competence. So what should be a game of terrified mouse against sadistic cat simply isn’t. Once Jack reveals himself, Reisert literally makes virtually no mistakes in trying to thwart/escape him. She takes advantage of every opening he gives her (he underestimates her as much of the audience does initially) in order to stop the murders he has planned. And once she’s averted those, she uses her knowledge of her father’s home—the Terrible Place where Jack tries to take revenge on her—to outwit and eventually defeat him. Lisa is Nancy, all grown up, and healed from her previous encounter, and determined that she will not be a victim ever again. What really sells the film is the acting. Both McAdams and Murphy treat their characters with respect and make us do the same in a film that might otherwise have gone badly astray. Ellsworth’s script is almost miserly when it comes to plot. Most of the action is just Lisa and Jack facing off in a tense conflict that everyone else around them is oblivious of. Neither have much in the way of backstory or even emotional exposition, so the actors and director had to mine the script for opportunities to make them compelling. McAdams does this by creating a character who is vulnerable and likeable without being weak. And Murphy manages to pull off the turn from potential romantic interest to manipulative sociopath in a way that suggests depth and conflicting drives, while embodying the potential danger even smart girls are in from the men they sit next to public spaces. What should have been an otherwise forgettable summer thriller instead becomes a slow-burning but taut story that repeatedly surprises. And makes you wish that Craven had spent as much time with this kind of real-life terror as he did with his more fanciful tales. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.